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Following a morning trip to the Coronados Ialands, Grande returned to Point Loma where we re-boarded and 38 participants (20 from out of state) departed for the Nine-mile bank at 5 p.m. We didn't make it to the Nine-mile before dark because we stopped on the way for an incredible show of a Blue Whale lying on its side, lunge feeding on krill, pectoral fins slapping as it moved just beneath the surface, visible to all. It was quite a show – one seldom seen even by experienced pelagic observers.
A rare low pressure system chose this weekend to make it all the way down to SoCal; the seas grew in the middle of the night with the passage of the cold front. As we moved out of the shadow of San Clemente Island, Captain McDaniels slowed our pace to 6 knots to make the ride more comfortable.
Sunrise greeted us about 90 miles offshore with Yellow Warbler, Mourning Dove, Spotted Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs.
Post-front northwest winds combined with high seas throughout most of the day, making it difficult to spot storm-petrels. No pterodromas were seen. Despite the seas and winds, we were rewarded with 2 Xantus's (hypoleucus) Murrelets, 3 Buller'sShearwaters and the surprise bird of the day, a BROWN BOOBY approx 90 miles offshore! Mammals included an enormous cavalry (1000 or more animals) of Common Dolphin leaping out of the water straight at, then surrounding, Grande.
The swells grew as the day progressed. We anchored and laid a slick at Bishop Rock on the Cortez Bank, watching in awe as enormous breakers crashed just a half mile away. Afternoon birding was quiet when Dave Pereksta said, "Look up!" and Todd McGrath thundered "Tropicbirds!!!" quickly waking participants from their naps and emptying out the galley/salon for magnificent views of two RED-BILLED TROPICBIRDS flying high directly over Grande.
As the day neared an end, our chummer Wes Fritz was determined to bring in Black Storm-petrels, as yet unseen by many of our out-of-state participants. We reached the western shelf of "The Butterfly" 30 minutes before sunset. Wes laid an enormous slick that eventually stretched a half-mile, immediately attracting 6 or 7 POMARINE JAEGERS actively feeding on Wes's beef fat. Photographers had a field day, finding it hard to choose WHICH of the many Poms to photograph in the soft light of the setting sun.
Half an hour after its creation, Wes's storm-petrel slick worked it's magic during a beautiful sunset. BLACK STORM-PETRELS were seen by most participants, followed by several harder-to-see LEACH'S AND LEAST STORM-PETRELS. A lone Ashy was seen by one of the on-board experts.
Sunday’s weather was bracing with 15 – 20 knot winds and some 12-14 foot swells in mid-day, making for a big-seas adventure with some unexpected surprises; a deep water Brown Booby, crashing breakers at the Cortez Bank and the spectacle of 6 or 7 Poms flying around the boat will be remembered for years. The close-ups of the lunge-feeding Blue Whale and the image of the two tropicbirds directly over the boat were still being talked about as we disembarked Monday at 6:00 a.m.
As the day drew to a close, the seas finally calmed; the skies cleared. The stars came out as a group of us on the stern enjoyed the setting of Venus with Jupiter still riding high in the sky near the first quarter moon.
Buena Vista Audubon thanks our tireless leaders: Todd McGrath, Paul Lehman, Matt Sadowski, Dave Pereksta and Wes Fritz
TRIP LIST Sat/Sun Oct 4-6, 2008 CORTEZ & TANNER BANK
Pomarine Jaeger at "The Butterfly" 5 Oct 2008 (c) Tom Blackman
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