The Twitch For Vancouver's 1st Short-tailed Shearwater!

Two days ago, my friend Christopher Di Corrado aka CDC and his co-worker William O'Shea found a Short-tailed Shearwater during a work survey at sea. When he sent me the photo I'm like "woah! I gotta see that. Congrats CDC this is the first photo documented record for Metro Vancouver!" So I went to the ferry jetty and scanned for hours and dipped. Later around 7pm, I’m at home watching tv, when Mike Toochin calls and says we got a Shearwater sitting at the ferry terminal between the berths. Amazing! So I run down there racing against the light and I dip again but I knew I'd be there at dawn to try again. 

This is a new bird for Metro Vancouver county for everyone because it is the first official record.  So we come back in the morning and scope with others and dip again.  We went to breakfast with Rob at Ricky's and then went to Boundary Bay (at the worst tide) just to try our luck at a Sharp-tailed, Buff or Ruff. We dip on all but get a Horned Lark. I had plans to meet Bridget before she heads back to Uni in the US, so we say goodbye to Rob and head to Vancouver. At 12:45pm my friend Kaichi Huang calls me to tell me he's on the ferry en-route to Nanaimo from Tsawwassen and guess what? He had the Short-tailed Shearwater!!!! Not only that but he gives me the coordinates and tells me the Franklin's Gull he first found on Aug 31st, between the berths, is still there!

So I call Bridget to let her know and she's as gung ho as me to get out on the water. So just as Keith, B and I do every year, we decide to head out on the boat to look for this bird and whatever else out there.  Our little group has had good luck during our annual trips. Last year we found an Arctic Tern with its begging baby! If you want to read that remarkable story click HERE. This year we found a Heermann's Gull and Brown Pelicans. You can see our checklist HERE and HERE from that trip.

So back to the present day. We are out on the water, when my buddy Christopher Di Corrado calls to say he just had an adult Pomarine Jaeger off the Iona South Jetty by boat. We didn't see it on the way out but planned to look for it on the way back. We were birders on a mission! Bridget brought reserves of delicious cookies to provide us energy (thank you Sheryl!). I don't think Bridget or I have been so excited before on a twitch and we have been on many together. The guys joked we had counted the bird before we even saw it. B and I felt in our gut we would find it and we were so so excited! We booted out straight to Tsawwassen. We went to Kaichi's pin but could not see the bird. We drove in the berths and didn't see his Franklin's Gull either. We drove over to where the pelicans used to be (they left Sept 2). We couldn't find anything over there except for a juv LONG-TAILED JAEGER (A new Metro Vancouver bird for 2 of us!!). It is so cool that all 3 Jaeger species were present in the Vancouver area that day!!! We head back and cross paths with a Belted Kingfisher at Sea. We go up to the Coal Port Jetty where Christopher first found the bird the day before. Nada. We then crisscross between the ferry breakwater and back to the Coal Port. We then sit out in open water thinking what will be our best course of action. We really didn't know what to do next. We decide to use our heads and we collectively agreed to search the gull flocks so we drove near the tankers searching the flocks! All of a sudden guess who we spot sitting like a little duck on the water?! Yep it was the SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER!!!!!! A new Metro Van Bird for us all! We all high fived! We took so many photos and we watched it dive and successfully motor along and catch fish.

As I have said in previous posts, my friend Gord Curry was seeing 2000-4000 pure flocks of these birds by Sointula. Birders from Nanaimo to Port Hardy are seeing large numbers of these birds. It is unprecedented in Aug/Sept. As my friend Bill Tweit in WA noted to me though, these birds are not in awful condition but look good with nice feathers, full bellies and eating well, so maybe a food crash in the Bering Sea is not the answer. The fact is NO ONE knows yet why this is happening but I don't personally believe it is a good thing.


As we watched this little Shearwater we told those standing on land to look from the taxi pullout and scope towards the big blue tanker ship with the words "MOL" on it. Surprisingly all the birders looking there got it until 6:30pm. After that the bird flew out and could unfortunately no longer be seen. Note the white chin, shorter bill than Sooty, steep forehead and no shaft streaking on the underwing feathers. Did you know that these Shearwaters and their chicks are commercially harvested for their flesh, feathers and oil in Australia?  These birds migrate all the way from Australia to the Aleutians in Alaska in the USA. My friend Rob took a pic of us in the boat as we searched.

Juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger flying near to the Short-tailed Shearwater - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Shearwater searching in Delta - Photo: Rob Lyske

It was such a cool moment and a great send off for B. I told her when she comes back on Xmas break she needs to bring some of the amazing rarities she finds in Cali back to Vancouver. I think we all would appreciate rare Tanagers, Vireos and Canada Warblers! Anyways, this girl deserves the best! She always makes the days more positive and happy. She is a skilled birder, spotting everything left, right and centre. As we made our way back, birders told me they got the bird, many thanked me for their lifer and Metro Van bird. It was so nice for us to be able to relocate the bird for so many. It was a team effort and a rewarding moment. I was especially happy that friends Rob Lyske and Roger Foxall got the bird because they were both there with us in the morning searching from land. 

Bridget took a photo of the Shearwater and me.

Photographing the Shearwater while B photographs me! - Photo: Bridget Spencer

Short-tailed Shearwater doing a wing stretch in Delta - Photo: Bridget Spencer

As we headed back, we stopped at Sand Heads Jetty. We did not see a Heermann's Gull this time or a Sabine's Gull like my friend Sabine had recently found out there. We also did not see a Herring Gull like we did in August but we did find an Iceland (Thayer's Gull). We all said this is an awesome bird for August but then we sadly remembered it was already Sept and fall was in the air.  Still for Sept 5th, it is still rare for Metro Vancouver. On the jetty we watched both California and Steller's Sea Lions bark and grunt at us. We looked at one California carefully because we wanted to make sure he did not have something stuck around his neck, that could hurt and maim him. We could not see anything and I took photos to make sure. If we had found something, we would have called the great people at Marine Mammal Rescue to help him.  Luckily, it was an old injury where probably they had removed the fishing line from his neck and the fat folds had just grown in. Bridget has helped rescue these animals before. Please call 
(604) 258-7325, if you notice a Marine Mammal in distress. I used to work for them, they are great! Speaking of Marine Mammals, we saw Harbour Porpoises, Harbour Seals and as I said both California and Steller’s Sea Lions on the voyage. Humpbacks were way far out (seen by birders on the ferry) and we watched Salmon jump right near our boat.

Iceland Gull (Thayer's) in Richmond - Photo: Melissa Hafting

California Sea Lions at Sand Heads Jetty in Richmond - Photos: Melissa Hafting

This Steller's Sea Lion grunted disapprovingly at us in Richmond - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We left the jetty and decided to concentrate on looking for small terns and jaegers. We were really hoping for another Arctic Tern (ARTE) and for Christopher's Pomarine (POJA)! Well we came across 17 Common Terns but no ARTE. We also came across 2 beautiful adult Parasitic Jaegers (PAJA)! 1 of them was an uncommon dark morph and the other a light morph. We watched the light morph grab a dragonfly out of mid air and eat it! It was so cool to see and the first time I had witnessed such behavior. We joked about the first time Bridget saw a PAJA with me on one of our young birder pelagics. I can’t believe how long I’ve known her. She really was a tiny cute tot when we first met now she’s way taller than me! A talented young birder, that’s now all grown up!

Common Tern in Richmond - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Adult dark morph Parasitic Jaeger in Richmond - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Adult light morph Parasitic Jaeger eating a dragonfly in Richmond - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Dark morph Parasitic Jaeger in Richmond - Photo: Bridget Spencer

Light morph PAJA with dragonfly and dark morph PAJA in Richmond - Photo: Bridget Spencer

Keith and the Short-tailed Shearwater - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Bridget and I and the Short-tailed Shearwater - Photo: Melissa Hafting

2 great people I’m blessed to know - Photo: Melissa Hafting 

The greatest little sis from another mother I got! - Photo: Melissa Hafting 

We drove back to the dock, cold but really happy campers. Then we had pizza on the beach and watched the sunset at Iona. A truly great day with great friends and company. Thank you Keith and Bridget for making our day so special. I cannot wait till our next trip! I will miss you so much when you go back to Uni!


  1. Congratulations on finding great birds and great pictures!

  2. this is so interesting. beautiful photos and I love your enthusiasm,

  3. beautiful posting melissa. that long-tailed jaeger eating the dragonfly is so cool! thank you for sharing these beautiful photos with us all. I really love your photos of the short-tailed shearwater.


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