Short-tailed Shearwater 10 Jan 2009 (c) Neil Gilbert
Snow covered Santiago Peak sparkled in the brilliant sunshine as the day dawned full of promise. A gentle warm breeze wafted from east as the Sea & Sage Audubonís chartered Sea Explorer spent 6 delightful hours on a PERFECT day birding the waters of Orange County. Every participant was thrilled with the results: Common Dolphin, bow riding Bottlenose Dolphins, hundreds of dancing Bonaparteís Gulls, hordes of hungry gulls, six oystercatchers, murres, murrelets, auklets, loons, plenty of jaegers and three species of shearwater.
At no time did we ever have fewer than 200 Ė 300 gulls behind the boat, the Western and Heermannís Gulls giving way to predominately California Gulls further from shore. An banded adult Western Gull followed the boat for miles (left leg banded blue on top, pale yellow on bottom).
Glaucous-winged Gulls were plentiful on the jetties (10) and throughout the trip (12) to and back from Lawson Knoll at the Fourteen-mile bank, about half way to Santa Catalina Island.
Departing the harbor we counted six Black Oystercatchers on the jetty. Our first alcid was seen when we were still at the breakwater: a Rhinoceros Auklet less than a quarter mile off shore (the first of 22 seen on the trip). Participants had great opportunities to work on alcid identification as we saw Cassinís Auklets by the dozens, a with a grand total of 92 for the day, plus a pair of distant Common Murres.
Black-vented Shearwaters were never abundant, but were plentiful (100), coming close to investigate the commotion caused by the enormous gull flock following Sea Explorer. 2 SOOTY SHEARWATERS took passes as well to see what the fuss was about. Also attracted to the feeding gull flock were 8 POMARINE JAEGERS, with five coming within 200 yards of Sea Explorer.
Bonaparteís Gulls were plentiful at the 14-mile bank in many small flocks and in several big (300- 500 individuals) flocks performing their choreographed ballet up and down, side-to-side over the water.
A pair of very cooperative XANTUSíS MURRELETS were encountered 17 km southwest of Dana Harbor.
The star of the show was a SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER on the water, quarreling with the gulls over chum, 22 km southwest of Dana Harbor. The captain brought Sea Explorer right up close so everybody had great close-up views of its rounded dove-like head, small slender bill and pale chin. Its uniformly pale underwings could be seen when it squabbled with a gull.
All of the participants on this trip agreed that it doesnít get any better than this. And thatís part of the allure of being at sea, itís a treasure hunt. And we struck it rich.
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