SEABIRDS, DOLPHINS AND WHALES TRIP From Helgren's Sportfishing, Oceanside Sponsored By: Buena Vista Audubon Society January 31, 2009 8:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Sunshine and deep blue skies greeted 112 adventure seekers (including guests who came all the way from Wisconsin and Seattle to be on this trip!) who boarded Helgren’s flagship “Oceanside 95” Saturday morning 31 Jan 2009 for Buena Vista Audubon Society’s third annual “Seabirds, Dolphins and Whales” trip.
Guy McCaskie, Todd McGrath, Jon Feenstra, Stan Walens, Pete Ginsburg and Terry Hunefeld were aboard helpingspot, identify and interpret seabirds.They were joined by Sue Morris, Helgren’s marine mammal specialist, who found us not one, but two species of whales.
Before boarding, some participants observed the wintering Glaucous Gull between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m. near the mouth of the San Luis Rey river just west of the bridge (photo).Others observed a Peregrine Falcon on the beach near the jetty (photo).
Pacific and Common Loons, Brandt’s and Double-crested Cormorants, Western and Eared Grebes and Royal and Forster’s Terns were noted in the harbor as we headed to the ocean.A Wandering Tattler was spotted on the “ocean” side of the jetty and a Marbled Godwit flew overhead as we departed Oceanside Harbor.
The weather could not have been more perfect; jackets were shed within 30 minutes of leaving the harbor.We encountered Rhinoceros Auklets almost immediately.“Rhinos” were flushed all day, totaling an extraordinary 250 by the end of the trip – an incredible count when you consider that they have been recorded by Dave Povey at sea in his boat on only 6 of the last 20 Oceanside Christmas bird counts, and then usually in numbers of one to three!This is the second “invasion” year in a row for this dark, chunky flat-headed alcid.Other alcids included Cassin’s Auklets, totaling about 100 throughout the day, and two Xantus’s Murrelets, seen by Stan Walens.
Before we boarded the boat we spotted two Glaucous-winged Gulls flying around and sitting on the roof of Joe’s Crab Shack; at least four more joined the popcorn-chum-enjoying gull flock at sea.There seem to be more “Glaucous-wings” in SoCal this winter; perhaps more are further south than usual due to the extreme conditions earlier this winter in the Pacific Northwest, the same severe weather that is suspected of catching many Brown Pelicans off-guard.
Counting the Glaucous Gull seen at the river, we enjoyed a TEN SPECIES DAY of gulls:Western, Ring-billed, Heermann’s, California, Glaucous-winged, Bonaparte’s, American Herring,Mew, Thayer’s and Olympic (Glaucous-winged/Western Hybrid from the Pacific Northwest; okay, so it’s not technically its own species).Our gull numbers came as a result of the popcorn that Jeff Coker, Major, U.S.M.C. was dropping off the stern with help from his able assistant, Sebastian (photo).
Three species of shearwaters were seen throughout the day:about 65 Black-vented Shearwaters with their snappy flap-flap-flap-glide flight style flew by, some sailing into the wake to check out what all the gull fuss was about.A Sooty Shearwater flew up the wake and stayed with the boat so long and came back so repeatedly (Short-tailed behavior) that some questioned why it wasn’t a Short-tailed, but, nope, it was a Sooty (photo).A Pink-footed Shearwater was also seen by Stan Walens and several others.
A highlight of the day (and a lifer for many) was a Minke Whale surfacing five times within 200 yards of the boat.Tom Blackman obtained some superb photos of this small, stealthy whale.A Minke looks like a small Fin Whale, but does not show a spout (or, a “blow”).They’re fast, too.One day off La Jolla, several of us chased a Minke in Dave Povey’s boat at 17 knots with the Minke pulling away. Todd McGrath writes: “The Minke whale photo has what looks like a fresh cookie cutter shark bite. I checked my other Minke photos, an exact match.”
A Blue Shark was briefly seen by some of the participants.
Another – and exceptional – highlight was a big pod of at least 50 Risso’s Dolphins first spotted in the distance breaching completely out of the water. When the entire pod came over to check out the boat, we observed five or more calves.While many pelagic birders have seen Risso’s Dolphins before, a nursery with calves were a lifer for many of us. One adult was photographed with two calves (photo).
Stan Walens writes:“If Risso's calving season is the summer, as researchers speculate, these calves would be 5-7 months old by now, and would have stopped nursing before now. Thus, they'd be a bit more independent from their mothers.Since Risso's form nursery pods, or as we saw yesterday, super-pods, which may be matriarchy-based (so that groups of related females band together) it's possible that the second mother was there but a little further away while one of her sisters guarded both their calves, and thus was not in the frame.”
A marine mammal specialist friend at the Seattle NOAA office writes, "If I am interpreting the pictures correctly, one of the younger animals looks a bit older than the other to me. What also might explain is a lactating female nursing her own calf and another's for some reason."
And finally, when we all thought that it couldn’t get any better, a third highlight, the grand finale: a close Gray Whale surfaced and blew repeatedly near the boat (photos).The Gray Whale has no dorsal fin (well seen in the Minke) but instead has a row of 6 to 12 humps or “knuckles”(well seen in Tom Blackman’s photos on this page).Barnacles and whale lice (amphipods – a kind of crustacean like shrimp) could easily be seen on the animal.
Gray Whales make an extraordinarily long migration from the Arctic Ocean to Baja, traveling near the coast approximately 12,500 miles each year. They feed in bountiful nutrient-rich Arctic waters in the summer, then travel south to calve and mate in the warm, protected tropical lagoons off Baja, Mexico.
As we neared the Oceanside jetty on our return, we passed near what the captain called “the sea lion buoy” and it was LOADED with California Sea Lions.Shortly thereafter, a Parasitic Jaeger came screaming by the boat.
Following the trip, eight birders joined Guy McCaskie at Oceanside’s Buccaneer Park where the Rusty Blackbird was relocated at it favorite haunts.The rusty wing edging is much reduced from when it was first seen on December 27.
As you can see in the photos, the weather was SoCal fantastic.Captain Joe and first mate Mike worked seamlessly with the leaders to get us on birds and mammals.Sue Morris, our whale and mammal spotter, worked closely with the leaders and exceeded our expectations.Today’s trip (Risso’s nursery pod, 350 alcids, both Minke & Gray Whales, the sunshine and the awesome openness of the ocean) will be talked about for years by all aboard – especially by the many families who brought their children.It was a day to remember. Location:San Diego County Pelagic Observation date:1/31/09 Notes:Buena Vista Audubon pelagic trip from Oceanside Harbor north up the coast to Box Canyon at north end of San Diego County then south to Carlsbad Canyon.
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