9-Hour Pelagic Trip To The Nine-mile Bank and Mexico's Los Coronados Islands Whales, Dolphins & Seabirds
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!
By Terry Hunefeld
(San Diego) Mr. Black-crowned Night-Heron perched on the boat in the next slip to Grande and greeted Bird Festival Pelagic passengers as they boarded Grande in Sunday’s pre-dawn glow. Grande pulled out of Point Loma Sportfishing Landing just as the sun was majestically rising over the San Diego downtown skyline.
Participants observed Black Turnstones and a Spotted Sandpiper on the bait barges as Captain James put the bow of Grande right up at the barge, affording all good looks at the gulls, shorebirds, herons and sea lions loafing there. More Elegant Terns were in evidence Sunday than on Saturday's Trip or Thursday's Trip (16 counted through out the day) as this species begins it's spring migration. 5 Royal Terns and a Caspian Tern made Sunday a 3 tern day.
12 Black-vented Shearwaters (70% fewer than were seen Thursday and 30% fewer than were seen just the day before on Saturday’s trip) were seen throughout the day as that species continues its retreat to breeding territories on islands off the coast of Baja, Mexico. Elegant Terns coming north, Black-vented Shearwaters heading south.... it must be spring.
Clay Taylor of Swarovski Optics brought myriad binoculars for participants to try in real time, under real life conditions. The San Diego Audubon thanks Swarovski for their ambitious and generous support of our pelagic programs.
Sunday was the day for alcids: Nearly 250 Rhinoceros Auklets were counted throughout the day - a spectacular number off San Diego for any winter except the past two. Many was the time that a 90 degree scan would bring at least 6 to 8 into view. Cassin’s Auklets were also seen in good numbers, more than 40 for the day.
35 Xantus’s Murreletswere counted throughout the day, 10 in Dan Diego waterslifers for many aboard. We saw 25 more in Mecixan waters as we neared the Coronados Islands where they're returning to breed after winter dispersal. Captain James was able to bring us pretty close to many of these seabirds, listed as threatened in California and endangered in Mexico. Fewer than 10,000 breeding Xantus’s Murrelets are thought to exist, making them one of the rarest seabirds in the world. Light pollution from the commercial squid fishing boats anchored at night off the Channel Islands comprise a serious threat to the Xantus’s population, as these seabirds are attracted to and disoriented by the bright lights used at night by these commercial vessels.
Several jaegers were seen at the Nine Mile Bank, at least one (perhaps two) initially called "Pomarine" because of their wide-winged and burly broad-chested gizz (jizz) but a post-trip photo analysis of their smallish-appearing heads suggest that at least two may have been Parasitic, thereby illustrating the challenge in identifying between these two species (which is exactly why eBird has a category to report “jaeger species”).
Over the Coronados Canyon in Mexico we were greeted by ghostly fairies dancing a delicate ballet over the ocean’s surface. Appearing like terns from a distance because of their white plumage, diminutive build, pointed wings and nimble fight, these were Bonaparte’s Gulls foraging over the water’s surface in unison, in a carefully choreographed ballet.
The BIRD OF THE DAY was a Common Murre in basic-type plumage, in Mexican waters. It was very cooperative and many photos were taken. We also found a Sooty Shearwater that was very worn in the coverts giving it a distinctive look as it sat on the water.
As we approached the Coronados Islands we were treated to an air show of two Peregrine Falcons hunting their ghostly fairy prey. We did not see a Peregrine come up with a Bonaparte’s Gull, but not for lack of trying!
We counted 19 Brown Boobies on and around Middle “Booby” Rock, got great views of three female Elephant Seals hauled out on the cobble beach with sea lions and Harbor Seals on the back side of Middle Island and managed 13 Black Oystercatchers (with two more in San Diego County on the Zuniga Jetty for those keeping ABA life lists).
Sailing down the east side of South Island, a first cycle hybrid gull was found flying in the gull flock off the stern. It was Herring sized with an all black Herring-like bill. Plumage was pale brown with clear but muted patterning on the coverts and scapulars. It possessed the Herring Gull character of paler inner primaries, and its underwings were pale silvery like Glaucous-winged making it a hybrid Glaucous-winged x American Herring.
Marine mammals included Gray, Minke and Blue Whales. Leader Jim Danzenbaker pointed out the blow of a distant Blue Whale to several nearby participants - like a "firehose pointed up". In addition to our stampeding herd of Common Dolphins, we saw a good sized pod of Bottlenose Dolpin, followed a northward pod of Risso's Dolphin and had Pacific White-sided Dolphins riding the bow,
On our return trip to San Diego we encountered a Northern Fulmar, the only fulmar seen on the bird festival, and one of the very few seen offshore San Diego this winter. Another great trip on Grande!
Common Murre coordinates: 32.490256° -117.298168°
Gray Whales were seen each day of the San Diego Bird Festival (c) Thomas Blackman
San Diego Harbor Brant (Black) 2 Surf Scoter 17 Bufflehead 2 Common Loon 2 Brown Pelican 50 Brandt's Cormorant 175 Double-crested Cormorant 2 Great Blue Heron 15 Great Egret 1 Snowy Egret 1 Black-crowned Night-Heron 2 Spotted Sandpiper 1 Willet 1 Whimbrel (American) 1 Black Turnstone 1 Heermann's Gull 40 Ring-billed Gull 1 Western Gull 32 California Gull 3 Caspian Tern 1 Forster's Tern 21 Royal Tern 5 Elegant Tern 11 Rock Pigeon 3
Transit from San Diego Harbor to 9 Mile Bank USA. Overcast with calm seas. Brant (Black) 4 Surf Scoter 5 Common Loon 1 Eared Grebe 1 Black-vented Shearwater 11 Brown Pelican 23 Brandt's Cormorant 40 Double-crested Cormorant 1 Bonaparte's Gull 13 Heermann's Gull 30 Western Gull 20 California Gull 6 Elegant Tern 4 Parasitic Jaeger 1 Xantus's Murrelet (scrippsi) 2 Cassin's Auklet 6 Rhinoceros Auklet 117
Islas Los Coronados Brown Booby 19 Brown Pelican 900 Brandt's Cormorant 300 Pelagic Cormorant 4 Peregrine Falcon 1 Black Oystercatcher 13 Spotted Sandpiper 1 Western Gull 850 Herring x Glaucous-winged Gull (hybrid) 1 Glaucous-winged Gull 2 Royal Tern 21 Parasitic Jaeger 1 Rhinoceros Auklet 1
Nine Mile Bank - Mexico Northern Fulmar 1 Black-vented Shearwater 1 Brown Pelican 5 Double-crested Cormorant 3 Heermann's Gull 25 Western Gull 125 Royal Tern 1
San Diego County Transit from the Coronados Islands to SD Harbor. Black-vented Shearwater 1 Brown Pelican 3 Heermann's Gull 15 Western Gull 30 California Gull 3 Elegant Tern 1
San Diego Harbor Surf Scoter 8 Red-breasted Merganser 1 Brown Pelican 40 Brandt's Cormorant 95 Black Oystercatcher 2 Black Turnstone 3 Heermann's Gull 10 Western Gull 20
Brown Booby (c) Todd McGrath
Sooty Shearwater (c) Todd McGrath
Sooty Shearwater (c) Thomas Blackman
Grande is surrounded by Common Dolphin at the San Diego Bird Festival (c) Todd McGrath
This 9-hour 3/4 day trip differs from Saturday's trip in that it gives us 2 additional hours to 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 10 years and older.
Leaders will also include Clay Taylor of Swarovski Optiks. 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: 4:15 p.m. Bus Returns to Marina Village Bird Festival Headquarters: 4:45 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, Nine 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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