7-Hour Pelagic Trip To The Nine-mile Bank and Mexico's Los Coronados Islands Whales, Dolphins & Seabirds
Saturday March 7, 2009
By: W. Terry "Tuna" Hunefeld
(San Diego) A full bus of festival-going pelagic birders departed bird festival HQ at 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning. The short bus ride featured a brief introduction by Bruce Webb of Swarovski Optics, the sponsor of our pelagic trips, inviting attendees to try out any of a dozen pairs of various Swarovski Binoculars while on the trip.
35 minutes later, at 7:35 a.m., Grande departed the dock on a sunny San Diego morning. All was good as we embarked on adventure, the day a blank canvas before us, waiting to be painted. A Peregrine Falcon flew by. Royal Terns foraged above the harbor. Two first-winter Glaucous-winged Gulls gave participants a “new” species of gull as they enjoyed California Sea Lions, Ruddy Turnstones and Spotted Sandpipers on the bait docks.
A couple of breeding plumaged Double-crested Cormorants sporting their “Albert-Einstein-white-eyebrow” crests loafed on the bait docks. Just outside the harbor a Pelagic Cormorant flew by for all to admire its breeding-plumage white-saddle-bag flank patches. 3 newly arrived Elegant Terns were spotted as well.
And then it got good. Really good. The first two black-and-white shearwaters we saw a couple of miles offshore (within a mile of each other) took us by surprise. As we watched them bank, they both were, amazingly, bright white underneath with a sharp black to white contrast – MANX SHEARWATERS! Photos confirmed our suspicions as all aboard congratulated each other on our good luck of finding such rarities before 8:30 a.m. Who would have ever thought that we would see TWO Manx Shearwaters as our first tubenoses of the day? Wow!
We were watching Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers harass gulls and terns as we approached the Nine Mile Bank when we had another unexpected encounter: a loose group of 16 Pink-footed Shearwaters, freshly arrived from their nesting islands off Chile, wheeling around a life zone!
A total of 18 Black-vented Shearwaters (40% fewer than were seen Thursday) were seen throughout the day as that species continues its retreat to breeding territory on islands off the coast of Baja, Mexico. Pink-footeds coming up, Black-venteds going south. Ahhhh…. spring is in the air!
We explored the Nine Mile Bank and found some of the rarest seabirds in the world - 8 Xantus’s Murrelets. Adding to our alcid count throughout the day were 59 Rhinoceros and 6 Cassin’s Auklets.
We crossed the Coronados Canyon and the international border into Mexico where we counted a total of 26 Brown Boobies coming to greet us (and check out our gull flock) and on Middle “Booby” Rock. Two were on nests, and a young bird that was seen and photographed in downy white plumage in January and February was now wearing immature brown plumage. 7 Black Oystercatchers were well seen, and a hybrid Black x American Oystercatcher was spotted briefly.
Captain James and his crew put us right on Gray Whales for great photo ops. While sailing amongst the Coronados Islands, a Humpback Whale breached behind Grande! One of the participants hollered “breach!” and a dozen spectators turned in time to see the whale breach a second time, its long pectoral fins positively identifying it as a Humpie. Other marine mammals seen included Bottlenose, Common, Risso’s and Pacific White-sided Dolphins along with Elephant Seals, Harbor Seals and California Sea Lions.
Bonaparte's Gulls - Ghostly fairies dancing across the ocean (c) Keerthana Sastry
San Diego Harbor Mallard 1 Surf Scoter 20 Bufflehead 4 Common Loon 1 Brown Pelican 35 Brandt's Cormorant 150 Double-crested Cormorant 2 Spotted Sandpiper 1 Whimbrel (American) 1 Black Turnstone 2 Heermann's Gull 75 Ring-billed Gull 2 Western Gull 50 Glaucous-winged Gull 2 Royal Tern 7
Transit from the harbor to the 9 Mile Bank USA. Sunny with about 5 foot seas. Surf Scoter 3 Red-throated Loon 1 Pacific Loon 1 Manx Shearwater 2 Black-vented Shearwater 18 Brown Pelican 12 Brandt's Cormorant 10 Pelagic Cormorant 1 Red Phalarope 10 Bonaparte's Gull 250 Heermann's Gull 25 Mew Gull (American) 1 Western Gull 25 California Gull 7 Royal Tern 26 Elegant Tern 3 Pomarine Jaeger 1 Parasitic Jaeger 2 Xantus's Murrelet (scrippsi) 2 Cassin's Auklet 4 Rhinoceros Auklet 58
Nine Mile Bank (USA) Pink-footed Shearwater 16 Bonaparte's Gull 5 Heermann's Gull 10 Western Gull 30 California Gull 10 Xantus's Murrelet (scrippsi) 6 Cassin's Auklet 2 Rhinoceros Auklet 1
Islas Los Coronados Brown Booby 26 Brown Pelican 800 Brandt's Cormorant 275 Pelagic Cormorant 12 American x Black Oystercatcher (hybrid) 1 Black Oystercatcher 7 Western Gull 250 Royal Tern 1 Belted Kingfisher 1 Black Phoebe 1 Horned Lark 1 Rock Wren 1 House Finch 1
Manx Shearwater (c) Steve N.G. Howell
Xantus's Murrelets (c) Keerthana Sastry
Brown Boobies (c) Keerthana Sastry - Islas Los Coronados
Photos by Keerthana and Kiran Sastry
This 7-hour day trip will explore the bird-rich Nine-mile Bank from the comfortable 85-foot live-aboard Grande to find seabirds and view migrating California Gray Whales as they make their way to the warm lagoons of Baja California to breed and give birth. This majestic, once-endangered species is now making a comeback.
We expect to see two to four species of dolphins (Bottlenose, Common, Pacific White-sided and Risso's) and numerous seabirds including fulmars, shearwaters, auklets, murrelets, and jaegers. This is also a good time of year to find three species of loons, three species of cormorants, five to six species of gulls.
After exploring the birds and sea mammals at the Nine-mile, we'll turn south and cross the border into Mexico. The rugged yet scenic Islas Coronados are situated in Mexican waters within sight of much of San Diego. The steep-sided islands are an important sanctuary for birds and sea life.
On our way out of the harbor we'll motor slowly by the San Diego live bait tanks for close-ups of several dozen lounging sea lions, several hundred Brandt's cormorants, several species of gulls, and dozens of egrets and herons.
At the islands, the captain will put Grande right up next to the steep cliffs for excellent opportunities to see rocky shore birds such as Black and American Oystercatchers, Wandering Tattler, Black Turnstone and Surfbird. Peregrine Falcons are often seen at the islands; on one of our 2008 trips, we were trying to identify a sparrow flying over the water when a Peregrine stooped and snared dinner right in front of us!
While at the Coronados Islands we'll observe immense breeding colonies of Brandt's Cormorants, Western Gulls and Brown Pelicans. We'll sift through the Brown Booby colony on Middle Rock and try find the elusive Blue-footed and Masked Boobies that have been seen off and on for the past two years.
Rarities: A Cory’s Shearwater was seen on the islands for 3 years (2005-2007) but was not been seen in 2008. An immature Blue-footed Booby was seen with the Brown Booby colony on our Grande October 4, 2008 trip. A Masked Booby was seen 19 Jan 2008 and 10 Feb 2008 on a Bird Festival Pelagic trip. 2 or 3 pair of Craveri's Murrelet were seen from Grande 4 Oct 2008 on the return from the islands to San Diego. A Red-footed Booby rode the mast of Grande from Ensenada, Mexico to San Diego Harbor, directly past the islands on September 28, 2008.
We expect to see migrating Gray Whales, pods of dolphins, as well as snoozing Harbor Seals and California Sea Lions. We'll also peek around the back of Middle Island to see if there are any of the once-thought-extinct Elephant Seals.
AGE: This trip is appropriate for children 8 years and older.
Leaders will also include Clay Taylor of SwarovskiOptiks. Clay usually brings along a big case of every Swarovski Binocular known to man so that you have a great opportunity to field-test them in real-life birding conditions. Bus Departs Marina Village Bird Festival Headquarters: 6:30 a.m. sharp Grande Boarding Time: 6:50 a.m. Grande Departure Time: 7:00 a.m. sharp Grande Return: 2:15 p.m. Bus Returns to Marina Village Bird Festival Headquarters: 2:45 p.m.
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.
LOCALS: BRING A CHAIR - Grande has a spacious salon/cabin/galley with plenty of comfortable "restaurant-booth" seating for meals, reading, resting socializing or napping. Seating is very limited on the spacious, stable aft deck, and you're strongly encouraged to bring a sturdy nylon outdoor folding chair aboard. If you prefer to be where the action is, outside on deck the entire day, 7 hours can be a long time to be on your feet -- you'll appreciate a chair.
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.
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.
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