San Diego to the Channel Islands and the Continental Shelf Edge
Noon Labor Day Sep 7, 2009 to 6:00 a.m. Friday Sept 11, 2009
Sponsored by: Searcher Natural History Tours
Surrounded by the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, land was nowhere in sight. Through the shimmering haze, a speck moved on the horizon. The speck grew larger and turned into a “shearwater.” Todd McGrath, never taking his binoculars from his eyes, called to the bridge, “Stop the boat!”
We were on a quest for rare seabirds aboard the Searcher, a 95-foot live-aboard natural history boat, exploring seldom birded regions near the edge of the continental shelf. Todd studied the distant bird while murmuring to himself, "It doesn't look quite right… (pause)… what is it?... (pause)… probably just a Pink-footed, but… no… it just doesn't look right…"
As the bird drew nearer, Steve N. G. Howell (who was photographing the bird from the lower deck) shouted, “Look at the rump!” There was a pause as Todd studied the bird – then he thundered, "DARK-RUMPED PETREL! DARK-RUMPED PETREL!" The pterodroma approached, flew directly to the boat, took a look at us and looped back the way it had come. Everyone aboard had a good look at this mega-rarity – one of a handful of sightings of Dark-rumped (Hawaiian) Petrels off the coast of California. I get goose bumps just writing these words as I recall the electricity of that moment.
The deep water expeditions on Searcher find rarities and mega-rarities in deep water along the edge of the continental shelf on nearly every trip. Since 2003, Searcher has seen: Dark-rumped (Hawaiian) Petrel, Cooks Petrel, Laysan Albatross, Murphy's Petrel, Bulwer's Petrel, Manx and Flesh-footed Shearwater, Fork-tailed Storm-petrel, Xantus's and Craveri's Murrelet, both Red-billed and Red-tailed Tropicbird. Review the trip logs.
The diverse array of birds seen from Searcher is a result of a diverse itinerary - from near-shore to inter-islands to the edge of the Continental Shelf. We depart San Diego at noon and spend the day birding our way up the Nine-mile bank and other underwater banks, ridges and canyons. The morning or our second day at sea will find us in the Channel Islands. From there we travel north past Point Conception to Arguello Canyon, Rodriguez Dome, then spend two days bearing south past the San Juan Seamount and other seamounts at the edge of the Continental Shelf, 40 miles southwest of Cortez Bank, 150 miles offshore. We see lots of birds near shore and around the Channel Islands, fewer birds out along the shelf edge - but the shelf edge is where the rarities roam.
The primary focus of Searcher Expeditions is to ensure everyone aboard sees all the regional bird specialties. A special effort is made to find rare species on every trip (see list below), and we always encounter and take time to study marine mammals. The luxury of 4 days at sea with 3 days in deep water allows us to enjoy natural wonders few people ever experience.
The beauty of Searcher is that we can spend full days - from sunrise to sunset - birding. After two days birding up the coast and around the Channel Islands, our focus shifts to exploring life zones in deep waters 120 mile or more offshore where southern hemisphere birds are usually found only by research ships. No day trips venture this far. As we venture out further to hunt for rarities we expect to see birds that most birders have never seen. And there is always the tantalizing possibility of seeing a mega-rarity - a bird with fewer than 10 accepted records in all of California - a bird that birders only whisper about. Thev're been seen before on Searcher trips. What will we see on this trip? There's only one way to find out....
Observing albatrosses in the wake from Searcher's top deck
ADVANCE RESERVATIONS: Advance reservations are $1015 and include all meals, snacks, beverages. Reservations for this trip are handled by Searcher Natural History Tours (619) 226-2403 or the Searcher Natural History Tours website
INCREDIBLE SPECIES-SEEN LIST: September SEARCHER trips from 2003-2008 have amassed an amazing list of species seen: Black-footed Albatross, Northern Fulmar, Bulwer’s Petrel, Murphy's Petrel, Cook's Petrel, Hawaiian Petrel, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Buller’s Shearwater, Pink-Footed Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Black-vented Shearwater, Least Storm-Petrel, Leach's Storm-Petrel, Ashy Storm-Petrel, Black Storm-Petrel, Red-billed Tropicbird, Red-necked Phalarope, Red Phalarope, South Polar Skua, Pomarine Jaeger, Parasitic Jaeger, Long-tailed Jaeger, Sabine's Gull, Arctic Tern, Pigeon Guillemot, Common Murre, Xantus's Murrelet, Craveri’s Murrelet, Cassin's Auklet, Rhinoceros Auklet. Visit the Searcher website for bird lists of every trip since we began in 2003. Learn more about what species we will probably see and what species might be seen.
Todd McGrath will be the senior leader in September. Todd knows how to find rare birds
SoCal Checklist (c) Todd McGrath and Jon Feenstra
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