This is the pelagic birding trip report for Sept. 27, 2015. This was a new trip for us out of Mission Bay aboard the Privateer. The Privateer is a purpose built boat for whale and dolphin watching, not the usual sport fishing boat. That gave us some benefits, such as abundant seating, a large second deck, and a little more speed. We also had a friendly and knowledgeable crew. The draw back if there is one is that Privateer carries a much larger passenger load than boats we have used in the recent past, and the permanent seating can be in the way, such as in the stern.
We gathered the group of eager birders on the patio behind Seaforth Landing for sign in, then a quick orientation. Eighty-three passengers and eight leaders boarded under partly cloudy skies for a 7:30 a.m. departure. Leaders were Tom Blackman, Peter Ginsburg, Guy McCaskie, Jimmy McMorran, Gary Nunn, B J Stacey, and Justyn Stahl, and myself.
The Seaforth dock is right next to the Mission Bay bait dock, so we did a quick scan of the usual pelicans, cormorants, long-legged waders, gulls, and lazing California Sea Lions resting there. Then we were on our way out of the basin and into the channel leading out to sea. A benefit to Seaforth location is the quick access to the open ocean.
The Mission Beach jetty turned up a WANDERING TATTER. Offshore the first thing noted were the numerous RED-NECKED PHALAROPES and smaller number of RED PHALAROPES. Likely a thousand phalaropes were scattered around the bay's tidal out-flow lines and the kelp debris drifting down from La Jolla. Our estimates for the day was a ratio of about ten RED-NECKED to two RED PHALAROPES,with a slight gradient of more Red-necks inshore and more Reds offshore.
BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATERS put on a good show – first at a distance, then closer to the boat, and finally right in over our wake among the chummed gull flock. BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATER numbers are down of late, which may indicate the food source has moved further up the California Coast. There are now numbers being seen and reported off San Luis Obispo and Monterrey Counties in the central coast, and a few even further north.
The now ubiquitous BROWN BOOBY made a showing here. We now think of them as regular and expected. I thought only eight for the day to be a little weak. I'd think the usual is more like 15 - 25 for a day at sea of late. Perhaps they were not flying today. The mantra these days is: any booby other that a Brown Booby. How short our memories!
This inshore area also had a flyby LONG-BILLED CURLEW.Nice to see that somewhat troubled species anywhere, but always nice to add to the offshore list. Two large tern species were seen inshore. Both ROYAL and ELEGANTTERNS were seen on this first leg of the trip. ROYAL TERN is the larger of the two and tends to be more inshore, often right along the beach. ELEGANT TERNS are slightly smaller and slimmer. They may be anywhere offshore, sometimes at quite a distance.
ROYAL TERN numbers increase slightly into winter. ELEGANT TERNS decline in the fall and they leave by mid October, returning in March. Telling the two apart at sea and in-flight requires study and practice. The two species sitting side by side on the beach are actually much easier to distinguish. The most abundant tern species today were COMMON TERNS.Unlike the name suggests, they are relatively uncommon most of the year and inshore. Numbers can be pretty good out here in migration.
Three early COMMON LOONS flew across the bow, as did an EARED GREBE. Both species are regular fall migrants offshore and their numbers will increase as migration continues. These two are not usually thought of as "pelagics".
About five to six miles offshore we turned north to follow the curve of the drop-off towards La Jolla (see the trip track). This area often has good numbers of birds, with a little mix of inshore and more offshore species. So it was today. The reports were coming in on the radios from leaders so fast it was difficult to get them all out over the P.A. New species here were a PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER, several BLACK STORM-PETRELS, aLEAST STORM-PETREL,POMARINE JAEGER, PARASITIC JAEGER, a bunch of CASSIN’S AUKLETS, anda possible Murrelet sp., and all this among many BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATERS and phalaropes.
West of La Jolla we turned out over the drop-off and headed further west toward the THIRTY MILE BANK. The numbers of birds decreased, but we added some new species such as SOOTY SHEARWATER, LEACH'S STORM-PETREL, SABINE'S GULL, and an ARCTIC TERN that was seen by a few birders. Further westwe picked up more PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS, BLACK STORM-PETRELS, another LEAST STORM-PETREL, two more PARASITIC JAEGERS, a number CASSIN’S AUKLETS, and COMMON TERNS.
Twenty miles out PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS had taken over, as had LEACH'S STORM-PETRELS, including a "TOWNSEND'S" LEACH'S STORM-PETREL. This is a smaller, darker, more rounded-wing appearing storm-petrel with a bright white rump. Photos showed the white did not wrap under the tail and the legs were short. Perhaps someday it will be a separate species. Also seen here was a hatch-year LONG-TAILED JAEGER. Nice looks, lots ofphotos. LONG-TAILED JAEGER is really a much sought after species locally. The majority of the LONG-TAILED JAEGERSmigrate well west of the Southern California Bight. Also seen in this zone was another possible ARCTIC TERN.
This is the point where my tale takes a change in direction, both figuratively and literally. Sometimes plans change and they did so dramatically today. We had a gentleman fall and hit his head. He lay unconscious on the deck as folk rushed to help him.
Now the good news is he is fine, but we didn't know that at the time. The possibility that the worst had happened caused Capt. Christin to change directions for home and contact the Coast Guard. We drove a relative beeline back to Mission Bay. Conveniently it was not the arching course we had taken getting to that area, so it was "new" water for us to look at (see the trip track). My sincere thanks to the folks (medical and non-medical) who helped this gentleman. Medical emergencies such as this are rare, but it's nice to know help is there. Particular thanks to RN Iris Kilpatrick, who gave up her birding time on the rest of the trip back in order to keep a close eye on our patient. My apologies to the many that had hoped to get to The THIRTY MILE BANK. I was also disappointed. We had missed our target area on the Thirty Mile Bank by as few as 4.3 nautical miles.
Once all the excitement had died down and the Coast Guard determined that we should continue to the dock, the gentleman in question seemed back to an appearance of being OK. We returned to birding.
The first notable new bird on the return was a NORTHERN FULMAR; not sure whether these are new arrivals or holdovers from last winter. This bird was a dark morph with many missing feathers and some growing in, at any rate rather scruffy looking.
We also got our best looks of the day at an ARCTIC TERN, which circled the boat repeatedly for maybe 15 minutes – often right over our heads. Nice comparisons with any number of COMMON TERNS in this same track.
We also got looks at more LEACH'S, BLACK, and LEAST STORM-PETRELS, POMARINE and PARASITIC JAEGERS, CASSIN'S AUKLETS, and SABINE'S GULLS. Tons more RED-NECKED and RED PHALAROPES, and of course 4 more BROWN BOOBIES.
We docked at Mission Bay, unloaded our patient, and returned to sea with time to make the NINE MILE BANK – our last of the four planned legs of this trip. We topped off with an additional well-seen LONG-TAILED JAEGER, another ARCTIC TERN, the highest numbers on the day for PARASITIC JAEGERS (10), a SABINE'S Gull and COMMON TERNS (40). We had acouple of reports ofmurrelets, none well seen, and many more CASSIN"S AUKLETS. On the way back were several more close in LEAST STORM-PETRELS, a photographed ASHY STORM-PETREL, and of course a couple more BROWN BOOBIES. We also got nice looks at a BLUE WHALE and a HUMPBACK WHALE.
The return to Mission Bay had two SURBIRDS on the Ocean Beach Jetty.
Nice trip overall, the boat served us quite well, we had a nice mix of birds with few misses, no mega rarity, but that's why they’re mega-rarities. The weather was exceptionally nice, though warmer than I'd usually expect.
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