Tuesday, July 28, 2015

BREAKING NEWS: MASSES OF SEABIRDS OFF POINT PINOS, MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA

eBird Checklist 
An eBird Checklist posted this morning by Brian Sullivan, Don Roberson and Rita Carratella from Point Pinos on the Monterey Peninsula had the following seabird highlights:

60 PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS
90,000 SOOTY SHEARWATERS
1 BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATER
275 BRANDT'S CORMORANTS
4 PELAGIC CORMORANTS
4 PARASITIC JAEGERS
23 COMMON MURRES
 3 PIGEON GUILLEMOTS
**1870 SABINE'S GULLS**
300 ELEGANT TERNS

This is an astounding count of Sabine's Gulls in particular. I can only guess that they must not be finding food offshore, and are searching closer to shore. 
Shearwater Journeys' first pelagic trip of the fall season is this Friday, July 31. 
Leaders: Brian Sullivan, Scott Terrill, Steve Howell, Nick Levendosky, Jennifer Green, Rick Fournier, David Pavlik, Debi Shearwater
If you are in the area, or can make it down to Monterey for this trip, jump on board!! 
Email Debi for details: debi@shearwaterjourneys.com
To see the entire checklist including awesome video by Brian Sullivan, click here
 Point Pinos, above, is a wonderful birding spot on the Monterey Peninsula. 
The oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West coast is at Point Pinos.

DO YOU eBIRD?
SHEARWATERS FOREVER,
Debi Shearwater
debi@shearwaterjourneys.com

Monday, July 27, 2015

LEADING AT SEA: SHEARWATER JOURNEYS

LOVING SEABIRDS with a PASSION

At Shearwater Journeys, we are very proud of friendly and knowledgable  our leaders who accompany you on each pelagic trip. 
Many of them have been leading with us for decades and most have unmatched worldwide experience with seabirds. Some have authored very helpful books about seabird identification. Below, you will find our complete schedule along with the leaders. All of our leaders are volunteers. They are out there because they love seabirds, marine mammals and ocean life. 
JUL. 31 MONTEREY: Scott Terrill, Steve Howell, Brian Sullivan, Nick Levendosky, Jennifer Green, Rick Fournier, David Pavlik. Okay! That's a lot of leaders. It is the first trip of the season — everyone wants to get out!!
AUG. 2 HALF MOON BAY: Peter Pyle, Scott Terrill, Linda Terrill, Steve Tucker, Steve Hampton
AUG. 7 MONTEREY: Brian Sullivan, Jennifer Green, Rick Fournier
AUG. 8 HALF MOON BAY: Scott Terrill, Linda Terrill, Steve Hampton, Will Brooks
AUG. 9 FARALLON ISLANDS: Peter Pyle, Gerry McChesney SOLD OUT
AUG. 16 HALF MOON BAY: Steve Tucker, Todd McGrath, Scott Terrill, Linda Terrill, Al DeMartini, Will Brooks
AUG. 21 MONTEREY: Nick Levendosky, Jennifer Green, Rick Fournier
SEP. 5 MONTEREY: Tim Miller, Jennifer Green
SEP. 6 HALF MOON BAY: Gerry McChesney, Jim Holmes, Will Brooks, Steve Tucker
SEP. 8 MONTEREY: Rick Fournier, TBA
SEP. 9 MONTEREY: Nick Levendosky, Tim Miller
SEP. 10 MONTEREY: Nick Levendosky, Jennifer Green
SEP. 11 MONTEREY: Mary Gustafson, Jennifer Green
SEP. 12 MONTEREY ALBACORE: Scott Terrill, Linda Terrill, Mary Gustafson, Nick Levendosky, Rick Fournier
SEP. 13 MONTEREY (DEBI'S BIRTHDAY TRIP!): Chris Wood, Jessie Barry, Mary Gustafson
SEP. 15 HALF MOON BAY: Chris Wood, Jessie Barry, Tim Miller, Mary Gustafson. Marissa Ortega-Welch
SEP. 16 MONTEREY: Chris Wood, Jessie Barry, Tim Miller
SEP. 18 BODEGA BAY: Steve Howell, Abe Borker, Steve Tucker, Peter Pyle, Nick Levendosky
SEP. 20 HALF MOON BAY: Gerry McChesney, Scott Terrill, Linda Terrill, Steve Hampton, Nick Levendosky
SEP. 25 MONTEREY: Rick Fournier, TBA
SEP. 26 MONTEREY: Scott Terrill, Linda Terrill
SEP. 27 MONTEREY: Nick Levendosky, TBA
OCT. 3 MONTEREY: Tim Miller, Dena Spatz, Jennifer Green
OCT. 4 HALF MOON BAY: Steve Hampton, Will Brooks
OCT. 10 MONTEREY: David Vander Pluym, Lauren Harter, Jennifer Green
OCT. 11 HALF MOON BAY: Tim Miller, Jim Holmes, Will Brooks, Marissa Ortega-Welch
OCT. 18 FARALLON ISLANDS GREAT WHITE SHARK: Peter Pyle, Gerry McChesney, Jim Holmes, Steve Tucker

The Monterey Bay Birding Festival is scheduled for September 24 - 26 and is headquartered in Watsonville. Friday, September 25, Scott Terrill will present a workshop about pelagic bird identification from 3:30 - 5:00 p.m. If you are a beginner at seabirding, don't miss this informative workshop by Scott.

Note: Debi Shearwater will be co-leading on ALL trips. Leaders subject to change without notice. Leaders may be added to trips. Click here to read more about the leaders and see images of them. Images: Magnificent Frigatebird and Red-billed Tropicbird by Todd McGrath, copyright. Please do not use without permission. 

Living the Salt Life,
Debi Shearwater
debi@shearwaterjourneys.com

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

ABOUT: The ALBACORE OFFSHORE MONTEREY TRIP


A HOLISTIC APPROACH to SEABIRDING
ALBACORE GROUNDS: OFFSHORE MONTEREY
with 
SHEARWATER JOURNEYS
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2015
After the record shattering El Nino of 1982-83, Shearwater Journeys began offering offshore pelagic trips departing from Monterey to the albacore fishing grounds because fisherman had reported incredible numbers of many of specialty seabirds and marine mammals that were often associated with albacore. 

From the get-go, these trips had a holistic approach. "Holistic" has been defined as: "characterized by the comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole."More than any other pelagic trip, this trip focused on the "whole picture" — the whole ecosystem — from the tiny krill to the Pacific saury and the massive blue whales that fed on the krill, to the albacore that fed on the saury, to the surface-feeding Buller's shearwaters, to the plunge-diving Arctic terns that fed from above, to the swarms of jaegers above them — when all these parts come together in one vast ocean scene, it is simply spectacular! This is a trip not to be missed, especially this year with another, massive El Nino in progress. 
Above, Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies 1982 El Nino
Albacore (Thunnus alalunga), is al large, migratory tuna that visits the central coast of California some years, mostly during fall. This fish is built for speed with long pectoral fins. Albacore populations have shifted northward with changing oceanographic conditions. The bulk of the catch now comes from Oregon and Washington.
Above, our Captain, Tinker, and I with an ALBACORE that I caught on one of our many trips. 
Fishermen have been harvesting this fish for over 100 years. It is most often caught by trolling or pole-and-line. Sometimes, we use live bait if available, usually live anchovies. Watching the albacore chase and catch the bait is amazing! Whether trolling or using a fishing pole, once a fish is hooked, the fisherman yells, "FISH ON!" The boat will stop and the captain will assist the fisherman in bringing the fish on board where it will be stored under the seat. This is called, "having one in the box."
PACIFIC SAURY, above, is a pelagic schooling fish found in the North Pacific. Often, whole schools burst out of the ocean, indicating that an albacore is chasing them from below! Sometimes, the albacore itself will launch itself out of the water! In fishermen's terms, this is called sighting a "JUMPER."
A columnar whale blow shooting some 30 feet high is a sure sign of a BLUE WHALE! 
The largest animal that has ever lived on Earth, BLUE WHALES are observed on about 90% of our albacore trips. The tiny dorsal fin, steely-blue and freckled skin are the field marks of the very sought after blue whale. 
Flocks of SABINE'S GULLS sitting on the water are common on albacore trips. 
Pomarine, and sometimes, parasitic jaeger chase Sabine's gulls until they drop their food.
Sometimes, flocks of ARCTIC TERNS sit on the sea, too. 
Tuna fishermen call the Arctic tern, "tuna birds," indicating that albacore may be nearby.
More often, Arctic terns in are the sky, being pursued by LONG-TAILED JAEGERS.
The jaeger show can be incredible, with long-taileds topping 100 individuals. As many as 30 can be around the vessel at one time. 
We have a near 100% record of finding SOUTH POLAR SKUA on this trip!
The murrelets, tiny alcids of the sea, are the most prized birds on this trip. 
Generally, flat-calm seas are necessary to be able to spot this alcid, the size of one's hand at a distance. 
SCRIPPS'S MURRELETS, above and below. 
GUADALUPE MURRELET, below, is the rarest of the three species none of which have been found along the central coast of California recently — until the warm water showed up in 2014. So, 2015 looks very promising.
There's always a chance for a rarity on a 12 hour trip. 
Twice on albacore trips, we have found RED-TAILED TROPICBIRDS
Almost all records for this species have been more than 100, and closer to 200 miles offshore. 
The rarely observed BAIRD'S BEAKED WHALE is often seen on our albacore trips. 
Note the bulbous head and protruding "beaks" on these large toothed whales, below. 
Listen to their sound, here
Typically, we do go much further offshore on an albacore trip than the standard Monterey trip. But, there are times when offshore reports from the fishermen might indicate that going offshore is like heading into a giant dead zone. Once such year this happened, and I elected to go north to the many canyons located off Davenport. 
That was a historic day: OCTOBER 14, 2006. 
At the crack of dawn, leader David Vander Plyum spotted a STREAKED SHEARWATER! 
This mega-rare shearwater is usually found in nearshore waters off Japan! 
A GREAT SHEARWATER, above, was soon spotted as well! This shearwater occurs in the Atlantic Ocean!
By day's end, we had once again SET A WORLD RECORD for the HIGH COUNT OF SHEARWATERS SEEN IN ONE DAY!
*EIGHT SPECIES OF SHEARWATERS*
Shearwater Journeys also set a world record of eight species of shearwaters on October 1, 1994. 
And, it was a different set of eight shearwaters on each trip!
In 2009, record numbers of COOK'S PETRELS showed up near a canyon south of Monterey. Incredibly, we found them on many trips that stayed out beyond the regular hours. 
HAWAIIAN PETREL, below, is still a good contender for any offshore trip, although nearly all of the Hawaiian petrels I've seen have been within 10 miles of shore, sometimes much closer. 

During an El Nino, it is possible for just about anything to show up.
WEDGE-TAILED SHEARWATER, above, has been seen from shore in Southern California this year. WEDGE-RUMPED STORM-PETREL (2 mist netted at the Farallon Islands this year), BULWER'S PETREL (found on a late July Shearwater Journeys' trip after El Nino), and maybe even WAVED ALBATROSS (2 sight records by good observers, neither confirmed)  could show up this year — who knows?
A surprise BROWN BOOBY fly by our September 13, 2014 albacore trip. 
The massive body of a BLUE WHALE, above, showing the splash guards and blowholes. 
Rarely seen, blue whale tail flukes.

Our typical Monterey seabird trips depart at 7 a.m. and return at 3 p.m. 
The albacore trip departs at 5:30 a.m. and returns at 5:30 p.m. 
If you could only do one Monterey seabird trip, do this one!

THERE IS ONLY ONE ALBACORE TRIP:
SEPTEMBER 12, 2015
LEADERS: SCOTT TERRILL, LINDA TERRILL, MARY GUSTAFSON, NICK LEVENDOSKY, RICK FOURNIER, DEBI SHEARWATER
DON'T MISS OUT!
DEBI SHEARWATER
debi@shearwaterjourneys.com

Special thanks to the photographers: Dave Pereksta, Todd McGrath, Beth Hamel, Bryan Hix, Scott Terrill, and Dave Pavlik. Please do not use images without permission. 



Friday, June 26, 2015

ALBACORE TRIP REPORT: SEP 13, 2014

THE BEST JAEGER SCHOOL

64 JAEGERS & 2 SOUTH POLAR SKUAS, Oh My!

OUR 2015 ALBACORE TRIP  SEPT. 12
Monterey seabirds and marine mammals delighted and thrilled folks on the Shearwater Journeys' offshore albacore trip on September 13, 2014. Because the marine forecast was excellent, we headed south toward the Sur Canyon area. Highlights were non-stop: BROWN BOOBY, MANX SHEARWATER, SCRIPPS'S MURRELETS, SABINE'S GULLS, ARCTIC TERNS, BLUE WHALES, BAIRDS' BEAKED WHALES, GRAND SLAM on the JAEGERS: POMARINE, PARASITIC, and LONG-TAILED putting on an amazing show to the delight of all! The albacore trip is a specialty trip, being 12 hours long, as compared to the classic trip which is 7.5 hours long. IF you can only make one trip in Monterey, make it this one! Shearwater Journeys is the only company that offers this trip. 
At daybreak, already many miles offshore, the first bird was a RED-NECKED PHALAROPE, above.
It was also the last seabird of the day when we returned to the dock!

LONG-TAILED JAEGER, above, is often a very difficult to find nearshore, and even more difficult to photograph. Read on!


The best reading from Terrafin, a service I subscribe to that provides SEA SURFACE TEMPERATURES, above, was a blended map due to fog. The warm water 'blob' was present everywhere. This is not necessarily good for birding. Finding the edges of where cooler water meets the warmer water is important for seabirding.

Storm-petrels have been largely absent all fall, probably feeding at some extremely distant location not reached by daily pelagic trips. However, this BLACK STORM-PETREL, above offered some nice views. A handful of endangered ASHY STORM-PETRELS allowed for flight comparisons.

One indication of exactly how flat-calm the seas were is the number of NORTHERN FUR SEALS that were observed (8). This fur seal is resting in what is called, "the jug handle position," locking its hind flipper with its fore flipper. 
A handful of LONG-BEAKED COMMON DOLPHINS entertained us. This species is usually associated with offshore warm water. 
We were definitely very lucky to find two BLUE WHALES because all of the blue whales along the nearshore of the central coast of California departed about July 10th, when the krill disappeared! Blue whales are the largest animals to have ever lived on Earth, larger than any of the dinosaurs. It is difficult to grasp their size most of the time — three school buses long! Above, Beth Hamel beautifully captures the steely-blue colored flank and small dorsal fin.
The blow of a BLUE WHALE shoots some 30 feet high in the sky! 
I once saw a peregrine falcon flying through the blow of a blue whale!
Some 29 miles offshore, a BROWN BOOBY made a pass at our stern!
This fall brown boobies staged a major invasion along the coast with many reports continuing into winter/spring 2015. 
Remarkably, only one BULLER'S SHEARWATER was found. Typically, we find hundreds on the albacore trip. The masses of them must have been feeding at a temperature break that we could not reach on a one day trip. Still, one is better than none!
And the chase is on. And, on. And on!
The word "jaeger" is of German origin, meaning "hunter."
We certainly did see a lot of them hunting!
The larger jaegers, pomarines, especially, seem to chase SABINE'S GULLS. 
LONG-TAILED JAEGER, below. 
Long-tailed Jaegers often chase ARCTIC TERNS, below. 

LONG-TAILED JAEGER, subadult, above. 
Sub-adult PARASITIC JAEGER, above. 
POMARINE JAEGER, adult male, above. 
Males are smaller than females. 
A number of low, bushy blows are spied, and I'm sure we have BAIRD'S BEAKED WHALES! 
This is a major specialty of trips that venture far offshore! 
In the images, above and below, Beth Hamel captures the "beaks" of these whales. 
Like all odontocetes, these toothed whales have a single blowhole, visible in the image, below. 
Females can reach 40 feet in length. Army brown in coloration, they show many scars. 
BAIRD'S BEAKED WHALES, Berardius bairdii, travel in tight groups, blowing and diving synchronously, and often touching each other with their beaks. 
They could be capable of diving deeper than 9000 feet. 
They eat squid and deep dwelling fish. Indeed, we came across the remains of their food which was being consumed by BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSES, in the image, below!

Nearly a constant companion, PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS often follow in the wake of our vessel. 
A Grand Prize of any albacore trip is murrelets, especially sitting on the water for great views! 
This SCRIPPS'S MURRELET was one of two that were positively identified. 

It has been a big fall for the BY-THE-WIND-SAILORS, Velella velella, above.

Many thanks to the wonderful group of birders who joined us on this day who hailed from England, Texas, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Washington, Georgia, Minnesota, and California. It was a gorgeous day at sea. Leading this offshore trip were: Scott Terrill, Linda Terrill, Jennifer Green, and Debi Shearwater. 

The complete species list follows. All records are for Monterey County. SST's ranged from 63F to 60-59F. Beaufort .5 to 1.5, glassy seas, excellent conditions. We went south to the "weenie."

13 SEPTEMBER 2014 MONTEREY BAY OFFSHORE TRIP TO THE ALBACORE GROUNDS

BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS- 25
PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER- 430
FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATER- 1 (only seen by two birders)S
BULLER'S SHEARWATER- 1
SOOTY SHEARWATER- 970
*MANX SHEARWATER- 1 (photos)
BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATER- 218
ASHY STORM-PETREL- 5
BLACK STORM-PETREL- 13
*BROWN BOOBY- 1 29 miles offshore; SST 60.8F
BROWN PELICAN- 40
BRANDT'S CORMORANT- 40
PELAGIC CORMORANT- 8
RED-NECKED PHALAROPE- 180
RED PHALAROPE- 4
SOUTH POLAR SKUA- 2
POMARINE JAEGER- 12
POMARINE/PARASITIC JAEGER- 2
PARASITIC JAEGER- 12
PARASITIC/LONG-TAILED JAEGER- 2
LONG-TAILED JAEGER- 36
HEERMANN'S GULL- 40
CALIFORNIA GULL- 90
WESTERN GULL- 225
ELEGANT TERN- 17
COMMON TERN- 12
COMMON/ARCTIC TERN- 4
ARCTIC TERN- 11
FORSTER'S TERN- 1
COMMON MURRE- 66
*SCRIPPS'S MURRELET- 2; SST 63.8F
CASSIN'S AUKLET- 11
RHINOCEROS AUKLET- 15
MURRELET SP.- 4
CALIFORNIA SEA LION- +
NORTHERN FUR SEAL- 8
BLUE WHALE- 2
HUMPBACK WHALE- 1
BAIRD'S BEAKED WHALE- 12 (2 groups)
LONG-BEAKED COMMON DOLPHIN- 8
OCEAN SUNFISH- 20
VARIOUS JELLIES- +++


JOIN US ON OUR SEPTEMBER 12, 2015 ALBACORE TRIP! 
Another Great Birthday Trip for Me,
Debi Shearwater
debi@shearwaterjourneys.com

All images, except Baird's Beaked Whales, by Beth Hamel, copyright. 
Baird's Beakded Whales by Debi Shearwater, copyright.
Please ask permission to use. 
To see more of Beth Hamel's images, click here