SAN JUAN SEAMOUNT CONDOR EXPRESS - Santa Barbara Sponsored By: Los Angeles Audubon Society Saturday, July 25, 2009
By Terry Hunefeld & Todd McGrath
(Santa Barbara, California) The Condor Express was brimming with 75 birders as it departed Santa Barbara Harbor at 7:00 a.m., July 25, 2009. The day was a blank canvas spread before us. "What would that canvas look like by day’s end?" we speculated.
Old friendships were renewed and new ones forged as birders from Nevada, Maryland, Kansas, Illinois, Texas, California, Arkansas, New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia, Georgia and Florida discussed the Pacific Ocean specialties and rarities they hoped to see. There were hushed whispers of pterodromas being seen in deep water by research ships earlier in the week.
Pelagic birding lovers and experts were in abundance: Todd McGrath, Kimball Garrett, Jon Dunn, Steve N.G. Howell, Brian Sullivan, Jon Feenstra, Paul Lehman, Bernardo Alps, Dave Pereksta, Matt Sadowski, Dave Compton, Mike San Miguel, Peter Gaede, Olga Clarke, Oscar Johnson and, yes, master chummer, Wes T. Fritz.
GPS Trip Track Thanks To Matt Sadowski
The sun rose gleaming red as we motored on a southwest course into the life-rich waters of the Santa Barbara Channel. The prevailing northwest winds fill the western portion of the channel with cold nutrient-rich water from the California Current resulting in the some of the coldest water in the Southern California Bight. Here krill and bait fish are found in abundance, making this part of the channel one of the best places on earth to see Blue and Humpback whales. Captain Matt headed the fast catamaran towards the gap between Santa Rosa and San Miguel Island where both whales and seabirds have been feeding.
The ocean began belching seabirds and marine mammals within 10 km of the mainland. We encountered a steady stream of Sooty Shearwaters and a generous helping of Pink-foots while speeding along at 25 knots, then came upon several large, mixed feeding flocks dining on the abundant krill. These life zones held several pods of long-beaked Common Dolphin, many of them diving and splashing to the bow of the Condor Express, frolicking like giddy schoolchildren. We also found Humpback and Blue Whales. As a special treat, everyone on the boat witnessed a young Humpback Whale putting on a show of tail slapping and lob-tailing, as well as a spectacular full breach.
Pink-footed Shearwater (c) Steve Howell
Just before we reached the “gap” between Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands, nearly all aboard had good looks at a few scattered Common Murres and nearly a dozen Cassin’s Auklets while a steady stream of Sooties paced the boat at 25 knots. A single Rhinoceros Auklet posed near the boat, some of us on the bow got a brief look at an Elephant Seal and an early returning Black-vented Shearwater flew by, our only one of the day.
After enjoying the whale show it was time to head southwest to deeper water and the chance to find our target species. We saw our first Pigeon Guillemots of the day as we motored through the gap between Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands.
Black-footed Albatross (c) Steve Howell
As we proceeded southwest of San Miguel Island, a couple of Black-footed Albatrosses came into to the wake. The two birds hung around in the stern for quite a while as we proceeded to head to deeper water. 5 or 6 Fin Whales were spotted in the distance – too far away and off our track line to investigate more closely.
Cook's Petrel (c) Matt Sadowski
About 35 km ssw of San Miguel we reached a small feature called the "Condor Bank" nicknamed for the original Condor out of Santa Barbara (now the Condor of San Diego) which was primarily a party fishing boat. The original Condor used to fish Albacore in this area, and it’s also an area that can hold interesting bird life. As we moved up the bank from 1000 fathoms to 700 fathoms the water warmed a half degree, and the first Cook's Petrel was spotted at 11:15AM. Chum was released by master chummer Wes Fritz and over the next few minutes as many as four Cook's Petrels made passes by the boat to check out the chum.
Ashy Storm-Petrel 25 July 2009 (c) Brian Sullivan
After the first Cook's Petrels, high fives were jubilantly exchanged, the birding gods were praised, and we continued to the southwest towards deeper water and the hopes of more good birding. A single Ashy Storm-Petrel popped over the waves long enough to be photographed at a distance, but was quickly was lost behind the swells.
Cook's Petrel (c) Dave Pereksta
Todd McGrath charted a course with Captain Matt to run ssw toward the Patton Escarpment drop off where the depth increases to 2000 fathoms (2 miles deep!) just east of the San Juan Seamount. Over the next 25 kilometers until we reached the drop off, we counted 25 more Cook's Petrels – two here and three there. A fur seal was seen in its characteristic “jug-handle” pose.
Leach's Storm-Petrel (c) Steve Howell
As we crossed into progressively deeper water, a few, then a fairly steady steam of Leach's Storm-Petrels began to appear, a mixture of light-rumped birds, likely non-breeders from populations to the north, or intermediate and dark-rumped birds from the south. As we moved across the edge of the escarpment, Cook's became even more regular, flushing off the water in groups of five to ten and arcing up in small groups in the stiff breezes – perfect pterodroma weather.
Cook's Petrels (c) Todd McGrath
A Wilson's Storm-Petrel was seen briefly by a few birders on the upper deck, but was lost in the swell, and eluded most of us. As we approached another temperature break we found several groups of Cook's Petrels sitting on the water, each group with 10-12 individuals. A couple of these groups allowed close approach (see amazing photos below). Another slick produced a handful of Cook's at very close range and a pair of heavily worn Northern Fulmars. Our Cook's count was now approaching 100. There were many smiling participants.
Cook's Petels (c) Dave Pereksta
After cruising over the escarpment to the deep 2000 fathom edge east of the San Juan Seamount, we decided to head east, looking for warmer water and some new species. Two separate Xantus's Murrelets were briefly seen, one of the northern breeding scrippsi and one of the southern breeding hypoleucus subspecies. The chop and wind made getting good looks at these alcids difficult. A first-summer Long-tailed Jaeger put in an appearance. Another would be seen a bit later in the trip.
Red-billed Tropicbird (c) Thomas Blackman
We had now crossed from Santa Barbara County into Ventura County where we saw 16 more Cook's Petrels. The water warmed further and it wasn't long before a commotion was heard in the back. A beautiful adult Red-billed Tropicbird had materialized above the boat and made several low, close passes to the delight of all aboard. Many participants said it was the nicest looks they ever had of this SoCal specialty – and they have the photos to prove it.
Red-billed Tropicbird (c) Dave Pereksta
It was now close to 3:30 p.m. and we were about 5 hours from port. We turned the boat north and started the run back to Santa Barbara. As we headed north and up on the shallow Santa Rosa shelf, two more Xantus's Murrelets were seen, as well as hundreds of Pink-foots and a few Sooties. A single Black-storm Petrel was seen briefly ahead of the boat, and a South Polar Skua was sighted starboard and quickly passed us on its way north. The gap between Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz island was full of more Pink-footed Shearwaters and two pods of Risso's Dolphins.
Cook's Petrel (c) Thomas Blackman
We dined on a delicious dinner of chicken, tri-tip, rice and vegetables and socialized in the large comfortable galley until we arrived back in Santa Barbara at 8:45 p.m. In 14 hours we covered over 200 miles of water, almost 10 degrees of temperature change, and 136 Cook's Petrels. Captain Matt Curto and the wonderful crew of the Condor Express exceeded expectations as usual, and a great trip was had by all.
Cook's Petrel (c) Steve Howell
Saturday was the third 2009 pelagic seabirding trip on the Condor Express. The first trip recorded Parakeet Auklets. The second saw a Horned Puffin. This third trip recorded a tropicbird and 136 Cook’s. One more trip is scheduled this year on the Condor Express: an 8 hour trip on September 26 that will head out past the Channel Islands at the peak of fall seabird migration. A Streaked Shearwater was seen near Santa Cruz Island on September 7, 2002. Can we keep our “streak” going? We hope you will join us and find out.
There are also several deep-water trips scheduled from San Diego. The August 24-26 Grande trip is sold out. The September 7-11 deep-water trip aboard the live-aboard Searcher may have one spot available and provides your best chance of seeing rarities in this exceptional year for seabirding in SoCal - call Celia now to get the last spot or a place on the wait list.
2009 is proving to be an outstanding seabirding year. The Queen of Seabirding, Debi Shearwater, has several trips designed especially to find rarities and pterodroma. Her Fort Bragg trips have incredible success ratios for finding Hawaiian Petrel. This is the year. Carpe Diem.
Species List - Totals
Pelagic Bird Totals – See next section for more detail
(totals may vary from eBird subtotals below due to leader positions on the boat)
eBird Sector Species List
Species List By eBird Sectors Thanks to Jon Feenstra
Santa Barbara Channel Depart Santa Barbara Harbor at 7:00 a.m. and proceed SW to the Rosa/Miguel gap. Pink-footed Shearwater 30 Sooty Shearwater 300 Black-vented Shearwater 1 Brown Pelican 5 Brandt's Cormorant 3 Red-necked Phalarope 3 Heermann's Gull 3 Western Gull 18 Royal Tern 1 Common Murre 6 Cassin's Auklet 11
Santa Rosa / San Miguel Inlands Gap 9:00 a.m. Seas choppy with a stiff wind. Pink-footed Shearwater 2 Sooty Shearwater 1 Brandt's Cormorant 15 Pelagic Cormorant 2 Western Gull 30 Pigeon Guillemot 7
San Miguel Island--pelagic waters 9:30 -a.m. - 1:00 p.m. SW from San Miguel Is over the Condor Bank and along the 1000fn line toward the San Juan Seamount. We turned south slightly to avoid the worst of the wind and swells. Black-footed Albatross 2 Northern Fulmar 2 Cook's Petrel 39 Pink-footed Shearwater 150 Sooty Shearwater 100 Leach's Storm-Petrel (Dark-rumped) 5 Leach's Storm-Petrel (Intermediate-rumped) 9 Leach's Storm-Petrel (White-rumped) 5 Red-necked Phalarope 2 Western Gull 18 Parasitic/Long-tailed Jaeger 1 Xantus's Murrelet (scrippsi) 2 Cassin's Auklet 1 Rhinoceros Auklet 2
Patton Escarpment NE of San Juan Seamount (Santa Barbara County) 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Santa Barbara Waters - the 1000 fathom line running south to the deepwater finger east of the San Juan Seamount. Cook's Petrels and Leach's Storm-Petrels were scattered throughout. Wilson's Storm-Petrel was north of the deepwater finger. One possible white-rumped "Townsend's" Storm-Petrel was also seen. Black-footed Albatross 2 Northern Fulmar 2 Cook's Petrel 120 Pink-footed Shearwater 7 Sooty Shearwater 12 Wilson's Storm-Petrel 1 Leach's Storm-Petrel (Dark-rumped) 25 Leach's Storm-Petrel (Intermediate-rumped) 21 Leach's Storm-Petrel (White-rumped) 35 Red-necked Phalarope 8 Common/Arctic Tern 1 Rhinoceros Auklet 1
Deep water west of San Nicolas (Ventura Co.) 2:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. 180 n. miles due west of San Elijo Lagoon between Encinitas and Solana Beach. Transit east from the deepwater east of San Juan Seamount toward the Santa Rosa/Cortex Ridge. There were two possible "Townsend's" Leach's Storm-Petrels, one white rumped and one dark-rumped. Cook's Petrel 16 Pink-footed Shearwater 11 Sooty Shearwater 9 Leach's Storm-Petrel (Dark-rumped) 10 Leach's Storm-Petrel (Intermediate-rumped) 4 Leach's Storm-Petrel (White-rumped) 24 Red-billed Tropicbird 1 Red-necked Phalarope 1 Long-tailed Jaeger 1 Xantus's Murrelet (hypoleucus) 1 Xantus's Murrelet (scrippsi) 1
Santa Rosa Flats 5:30 pm. – 7:00 p.m. Heading north along the Santa Rosa ridge toward the Rosa/Cruz gap. Pink-footed Shearwater 150 Sooty Shearwater 50 Leach's Storm-Petrel (Dark-rumped) 15 Leach's Storm-Petrel (White-rumped) 25 Black Storm-Petrel 1 Brown Pelican 2 South Polar Skua 1 Long-tailed Jaeger 1 Xantus's Murrelet (hypoleucus) 1 Xantus's Murrelet (scrippsi) 1 Cassin's Auklet 1 Rhinoceros Auklet 1
Santa Cruz/Santa Rosa Passage 7: 105 p.m. Sooty Shearwater 2 Western Gull 13 Pigeon Guillemot 4
Santa Barbara Channel 7:30 - 8:45 p.m. Coverage in the waning daylight from the Cruz/Rosa gap back to Santa Barbara harbor. Pink-footed Shearwater 1 Sooty Shearwater 210 Heermann's Gull 2 Western Gull 13 Common Murre 1 Pigeon Guillemot 4
Cook's Petrel (c) Todd McGrath
300 km due West of San Elijo Lagoon
The southernmost point of the day put us 300 km due west of San Elijo Lagoon, Solana Beach California
Flying over the Pacific Ocean at 30 knots aboard the Condor Express on March 1, 2009 in flat calm conditions with blue skies and golden seas stretching for miles in all directions - pure heaven on earth. Life is short. Seabird often. Video by: W. Terry "Tuna" Hunefeld. Best viewed full screen by clicking the icon near the lower right hand corner of the video beneath the "you" in YOU TUBE. Enjoy!
WOW! An army of short-beaked "Saddleback" dolphins comes over to investivate Grande on Sunday's March, 8, 2009 San Diego Bird Festival Pelagic Trip. Seen in this movie: Todd McGrath, Steve N.G. Howell, Thomas Blackman. Photographer: W. Terry "Tuna" Hunefeld. Best viewed full screen by clicking the icon near the lower right hand corner of the video beneath the "you" in YOU TUBE. Enjoy!
Leach's Storm-Petrel (c) Thomas Blackman
NEW! FOUR WAYS TO MAKE A LOS ANGELES AUDUBON PELAGIC RESERVATION
Los Angeles Audubon Pelagic Reservation Instructions 2009 Option 1 MAIL A CHECK OR CREDIT CARD INFO: Mail your check or Credit Card information and a SASE (for trip confirmation and information flyer) for each trip requested to: Los Angeles Audubon - Pelagics P.O. Box 931057 Los Angeles, CA 90093-1057 Option 2 TELEPHONE WITH CREDIT CARD: Call Los Angeles Audubon at (323) 876-0202 (Mon. - Thur.) 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Option 3 EMAIL WITH CREDIT CARD: E-Mail reservation request to: firstname.lastname@example.org Option 4 FAX WITH CREDIT CARD: Fax reservation request to: (323) 876-7609
CREDIT CARD USE: You may now use Mastercard, Visa or Discover to charge your trip. A small credit card processing fee will be added. Please be sure to include the trip you wish to reserve and provide the cardholder?s billing name, card number, expiration date, and the last 3 numbers (security code) from the reverse of your card. Also, provide the name(s), mailing address, contact telephone number, and email address (if used) for each person requesting a reservation. If you have any questions, please telephone the Los Angeles Audubon at (323) 876-0202 (Mon. - Thur.) 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
CANCELLATION POLICY: Trips on this website are sponsored by different organizations using different boats departing from different landings and harbors. As such, policies vary from trip to trip. Prior to registering, please familiarize yourself with your trip's policies regarding reservations, cancellations, refunds and substitutions as well as reviewing driving directions, check-in times, procedures and equipment allowed on the boats.
Before setting out on any Los Angeles Audubon pelagic trip, please call (323) 874-1318, #4 for a recorded announcement of last moment changes.
The Pacific Ocean is a vast, virtually unexplored frontier, enormous beyond comprehension, replete with seldom seen and little understood birds. The secret to finding rarities and mega-rarities is to be out there, in deep water life-zones, with knowledgeable leaders who know where and when to look, following temperature and current breaks, chumming, watching, waiting.
A TRISTRAM'S STORM-PETREL was captured and photographed on Southeast Farallon Island 22 April 2006. One was seen by Steve N.G. Howell and several leaders and participants from The Condor Express on July 21, 2007. The only way to have seen this super-mega-rarity was to be on the Condor Express that day.
From the LAAS Pelagics Trip Page: This trip departs from the Santa Barbara Harbor on the fast catamaran Condor Express at 7:00 a.m. and will return approximately by 8:00 p.m. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are available in the spacious galley. ADVANCE RESERVATIONS: Advance reservations are $195 IMPORTANT DETAILS: Click for important logistic information about the boat, the landing, driving directions, maps, lodging, weather, refund and cancellation policies, on-board facilities, meals and snacks,
HOW TO PREPARE: Click for tips on how to prepare, what to wear, what to bring and when to arrive.
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. Birds often seen from the Condor Express in July: Black-footed Albatross; Northern Fulmar; Pink-footed and Sooty shearwaters; South Polar Skua; Pomarine Jaeger; Black, Ashy and Leach’s storm-petrels; Pigeon Guillemot; Common Murre: Xantus Murrelet; Cassin’s and Rhinoceros aukJets. This time of year Cook’s Petrel and Red-billed Troplcbirds have been seen in the area. Mega-rarlties to be looked for are Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Dark-rumped (Hawaiian) Petrel, Stejneger’s Petrel and Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels.
We will head to the deep water past the edge of the continental shelf. At this time of year potential rarities include Cook's Petrel and Hawaiian Petrel. Red-billed Tropicbirds are uncommon at this season, but seen regularly. Our July 2007 trip found a Tristam's Storm-petrel, highlighting the opportunity for rarities that exisit at this time of year. This is also an excellent time to study various subspecies of Leach's Storm-Petrel, including the summer breeders from Guadalupe Island, which are a good candidate for a split. The southern race of Xantus's Murrelet as well as Craveri's Murrelet are possible on this trip. We have run only one trip on the Condor Express in July, and due to the boat's poularity for whale watching charters, it is difficult to run trips. I don't believe we will be able to run this trip annually, so if you are interested, this is the year.
Over the last couple of years there has been a tendency for particpants to delay signing-up until a few weeks before the trip. Please try and sign-up as early as possible, as it is difficult for LA Audubon to risk the financial loss of failing to cover the costs of a trip. These trips are priced close to break-even, so we need a good showing early to be confident of filling the boat.
Please contact me if you have any questions about the trips or would like additional information. Each trip is $195, which is quite reasonable to cover the 250 mile round trip to the san Juan Seamount. I hope to see you on board!
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