Dana Point Pelagic Trip Sponsored by Sea & Sage Audubon Saturday September 19, 2009
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By Terry Hunefeld
43 birders aboard the Ocean Institute’s Sea Explorer departed Dana Point at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, September 19, 2009 to see what we could see at sea. Heading out of the channel we watched a Belted Kingfisher foraging along the jetty.
No sooner were we at sea than the call “Black-vented Shearwater!” went out as we encountered first tubenose species. These small shearwaters are just now returning from their breeding season in Baja Mexico to winter in the nutritious offshore waters of Southern California (Yes, they migrate north for the winter!).
Within a half an hour we added a couple Pink-footed Shearwaters, a Sooty Shearwater and a few Red-necked Phalaropes. We also attracted a few early returning California Gulls in the gull flock chasing the chum with the Heermann’s and Western Gulls.
We turned Sea Explorer west to deeper waters towards the Fourteen Mile Bank and it’s highest point, Lasuen Knoll, in search of more species, encountering Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers along the way. A few more Sooties and Pink-footeds investigated the raucous gull flock fighting over butter-flavored popcorn, then a pod of inquisitive Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins brought their young over to ride the bow and check us out.
When we reached the Lasuen Knoll we enjoyed a close encounter with a Fin Whale, a dark-morphed Pomarine Jaeger with “full spoons” flew directly over the bow, and a less-close but satisfying view was had of a Black Storm-Petrel loping along about a football field away. As watched the Fin Whale making it’s “deep dive” without showing it’s flukes, the Sea Explorer Captain explained that “flukeless dives” was a characteristic exclusive to Fin Whales of all the whales in our region.
The ocean floor surrounding the Fourteen Mile Bank is about a half mile deep. The “Bank” is actually an underwater mountain ridge, rising to within 342 feet of the surface at it’s “peak” – the Lasuen Knoll. Marine currents in the trench between the Bank and Catalina Island carry nutrient-rich waters which is pushed to the surface by the Bank, giving birth to phytoplankton that feed tiny crustaceans, shrimp, krill, sardines and anchovies which in turn comprise the diet of seabirds birds and marine mammals.
We turned and headed north towards Huntington Beach, spotting an Elephant Seal along the way, head out of the water watching us, looking for all the world like a post in the water, except that here the water is a half mile deep! Hundreds of thousands of these magnificent animals once inhabited the Pacific Ocean. They were slaughtered by the tens of thousands in the mid-1800s for the oil that could be rendered from their blubber. By 1892,somewhere between 50 and 100 individuals were left, many of the remaining killed by museums for their collections of what they thought would soon be an extinct animal. The only remaining colony was on the Guadalupe Island off the coast of Baja California when the Mexican Government finally stepped in and afforded them protected status.
We turned Sea Explored due east when we were west of Newport Beach and came across a dark-morph Northern Fulmar perched on the water. A few minutes later we crept up on a Red Phalarope hiding with a flock of Red-necked Phalaropes. All participants got good views of the subtle differences between these two species – the Red was clearly larger, thicker-necked, paler gray, less contrasty and bigger headed than its Red-necked cousins.
We followed the 150 – 200 fathom line back southeast along the coast about 3-4 miles offshore from Newport Beach, passing Crystal Cove, Abalone Point, Laguna Beach, Aliso Creek and Salt Creek on the way back to Dana Point. We were met along the way by 400 very active Common Dolphin with juveniles porpoising out of the water, literally throwing themselves into the air. It was quite a show!
Off Aliso Creek we encountered 3 Parasitic Jaegers tormenting an Elegant Tern, saw a flock of “Sterna” (medium-sized) terns (probably Common Terns) in the distance and continued Black-vented Shearwaters and another distant pod of 400 or more Common Dolphin.
The seas were calm, the weather warm and sunny, and we all enjoyed great close-ups of a nice variety pelagic seabirds – birds that are rarely, if ever, seen from shore without telescopes.
Sea Explorer is a fast, comfortable boat with plenty of room up top, on the bow and on the stern. The crew is friendly, helpful and extremely knowledgeable about sea life offshore Dana Point. Our next trip aboard Sea Explorer, sponsored by Sea & Sage Audubon, is January 23, 2010. We hope you’ll join us as we go in search of winter seabirds!
On the trip, the captain told me that the skipper of a marlin fishing boat saw a frigatebird 5 miles east of Avalon “a day or two after the hurricane blew through south of here about 2 weeks ago…” Moral of that story: “If you’re near the coast, keep looking up.”
N. Fulmar 1 (Dark morph) Pink-footed Shearwater 8 Sooty Shearwater 5 Black-vented Shearwater 161 Black Storm Petrel 1
Brown Pelican 135 Double-crested Cormorant 40 Brandt's Cormorant 15
Red Phalarope 1 Red-necked Phalarope 46
Western Gull 350 California Gull 9 Heermann's Gull 60
Forster's Tern 3 Common Tern 1 ( maybe 8-10 more Sterna terns ). Elegant Terns 43 Royal Terns 2
Pomarine Jaeger 3 Parasitic Jaeger 5 jaeger sp 2
In the harbor & channel;
Great Blue Heron Snowy Egret Willet Black Turnstone Osprey Belted Kingfisher
Calif. Sea Lion 15+ Elephant Seal 1 Common Dolphin 700-900 Pacific Bottle-nosed Dolphin 50+ Fin Whale 1
Red Plalarope (c) Dave Pereksta
The annual autumn trip to sea sponsored by the Sea & Sage Audubon Society will take us from Dana Point out to the Fourteen Mile Bank on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 7:00 a.m.
Last year's trip surprised all aboard with Incredible views of a close Blue Whale that repeatedly surfaced and submerged close to the boat, seen well by everyone just 5-10 feet below the surface, its giant flukes just 50 feet in front of us! Wow! Other highlights included 3 species of shearwater, a Pom Jaeger a migrating Black Tern, 2 Sabine's Gulls and a Common Murre.
Our destination is the Fourteen Mile Bank, an underwater ridge about half way to Catalina Island, with its highest spot lying about 600 feet under the surface. The westernmost side of the bank has a fairly dramatic drop to 2400 feet (nearly a half-mile - think “steep mountainside”). Ocean currents push up against this underwater "cliff" and create upwellings of nutrient-rich water creating a chain of life: protoplankton > zooplankton > small fish > birds > bigger fish > bigger birds > marine mammals.
The Fourteen Mile Bank is unique among area underwater features because it has one of the shallowest offshore locations (only 350 feet deep at Lasuen Knoll) surrounded by much deeper water (1800-2400 feet) in fairly close proximity to the mainland. The bottom topography beyond the bank drops to deeper water with a flat and featureless bottom structure until the bottom rises rapidly at Catalina Island.
Catalina Island often acts as a wind break from westerly winds. Warm water tends to pool in the lee of Catalina between the island and the bank and as a result, temperature breaks often form near the bank, attracting life: crustaceans, small fish, seabirds, marlin, swordfish, tuna, sharks, marine mammals and whales.
We will be using the Sea Explorer, a research vessel belonging to the Ocean Institute of Dana Point. Sea Explorer is a large, comfortable 70 foot research vessel with ample deck space & seating for great viewing of the ocean, good restroom facilities, great deck stability, two decks (upper and lower) and good power for quickly covering the distances not occupied by birds.
For more information, contact Sea & Sage Audubon at (949) 261-7963 or visit their Field Trips Page.
Check-in Time Sat 9/19/09: 6:30 a.m. Boarding Time: 6:45 a.m. Departure Time: 7:00 a.m. sharp Return: 1:00 p.m.
REGISTRATION: Advance reservations are necessary.Trip fee is $50 per person (payable to Sea & Sage Audubon). Mail to: Pelagic trip, c/o Nancy Kenyon, 32 Almond Tree Ln, Irvine CA 92612. Include your phone number & your email address, or a self-addressed legal size envelope for trip confirmation and additional information.
DETAILS: After you register with Sea & Sage Audubon, look for more infomation from them about the landing, maps, parking, driving directions, policies, snacks, etc. CANCELLATION POLICY: SoCalBirding.com trips are sponsored by five different organizations using different boats departing from different landings and harbors, with different policies. Please familiarize yourself with your trip sponsor's policies regarding reservations, cancellations, refunds and substitutions as well as check-in procedures and equipment allowed on the boats.
HOW TO PREPARE: Click for tips on how to prepare, what to wear, what to bring and when to arrive for a typical Southern California pelagic seabirding trip.
EXPECTED SPECIES: What we see depends on the season, the itinerary and how far from shore we venture. Learn more about what species we will probably see and what species might be seen.
(c) Todd McGrath and Jon Feenstra
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