This is a trip report for Shearwater Journeys's July 20, 2014 pelagic trip departing from Half Moon Bay. Highlights and surprises included: BLACK-VENTED and FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATERS; LEACH'S STORM-PETREL; SABINE'S GULL and CRAVERI'S MURRELETS. Offshore conditions were excellent with flat-calm seas for nearly the entire 11+ hour ocean trip where we headed at least 22 miles offshore. Our trip was rounded out with some of the more expected early fall seabirds, and of course, HUMPBACK WHALES. We encountered a lot of OCEAN SUNFISH, and for the first time in almost a decade, we saw many of the delightful BY-THE-WIND-SAILORS. We covered both San Mateo and San Francisco Counties.
COMMON MURRE: DAD & CHICK, below.
Image by Beth Hamel, copyright.
This is the time of year when we see many pairs of "Dads & Chicks" — the father COMMON MURRE takes the newly fledged chick out to sea and cares for it for about 10 weeks. They stay together, the chick making a whistling call to the day who returns a guttural call back.
One of four pairs of "Dads & Chicks" enjoying marine life on Shearwater Journeys's trip.
This young man ticked off 14 Life Birds!
Birding begins right in the harbor! We could easily spend hours here!
WESTERN GULL chicks, above.
Image by Jim Holmes, copyright.
Just outside of the harbor, we search for the Federally Endangered MARBLED MURRELET, above and below. Images by Beth Hamel, copyright.
At this time of year, they are still in their cryptic alternate, or breeding plumage.
This tiny alcid, the size of one's hand, breeds deep in the redwood forests.
Turning offshore, I was surprised and thrilled to encounter the beautiful BY-THE-WIND-SAILOR, below. We have not found this delightful little hydrozoan for nearly a decade.
Image, below, copyright, Beth Hamel.
BY-THE-WIND-SAILORS are small relatives of the Portuguese Man-of-War. They can carpet the sea at times, almost seeming as if it were possible to "walk on water" on top of them.
It wasn't long before we encountered the first os seven pairs of CRAVERI'S MURRELETS, below.
This fly-away view is more typical. However, we can see their very dark backs. These southern breeders have not been reliably reported in central California for many years, possibly a decade.
Image, copyright, Beth Hamel.
Usually, we encounter the first BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS once we get over the Continental Shelf. However, the first of 235 albatrosses appeared in only 30-50 fathoms on this day.
We headed to a fishing vessel that was pulling its' net, below.
We counted more than 100 BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSES sitting on the water around this vessel. Look behind the vessel in this image, and you'll see two of these albatrosses. Raft of Black-footed Albatrosses above, copyright, Beth Hamel.
A BLAKC-FOOTED ALBATROSS feeding on a Rosy Rockfish.
Image, copyright, Beth Hamel.
One of two presumed FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATERS, below, image copyright, Beth Hamel.
Dark morph Pink-footed Shearwaters exist and can easily be confused with Flesh-footed Shearwaters.
Although Flesh-footed Shearwaters are more often seen from late September through October, they have been recorded every month of the year.
LEACH'S STORM-PETREL, below, image copyright Beth Hamel, was a real surprise.
LEACH'S STORM-PETRELS are abundant far offshore (50-100 miles), but not nearshore (within 25 miles), which is where most one day pelagic trips go. This species is one of the most difficult to find storm-petrels on the West Coast on one day trips.
Another one of the "Dad & Chick" pairs on this trip, this time with a "Mom," too!
The above family had studied well for this species!
Our Captain gunned the boat, chasing the Leach's Storm-Petrel so that everyone on board had great views, whether at the bow or stern of the vessel. This image by Jim Holmes was shot from the stern of the boat.
Owing to our southerly route, we did not pass the weather buoy until we were on our way home.
Two CALIFORNIA SEA LIONS are seeking to win the "Darwin Award," having entrapped themselves inside of the buoy bars, seemingly with no way out! We'll check on them on our next trip, July 26!
We encountered loads of OCEAN SUNFISH in all sizes from the dinner plate size to large 4-5 footers.
Many of the sunfish were "breaching," popping out of the water. However, we did see one albacore jump, too!
Image, below copyright Beth Hamel.
This "Dad & Chick," below, hailed form England.
Back in the day — 1976 when I first began pelagic trips, leaders often identified this pair, below, as a "Common Murre and a Murrelet"! In those days, we didn't know that it was the father who took the baby murre out to sea! The chicks are noticeably smaller with smaller bills. We've learned a lot since those first years of pelagic birding, but we're still learning today. This is truly, one of the "last frontiers" of birding!
Image below, copyright Beth Hamel.
Another "Dad with his chick" below. Teddy made his first pelagic trip with us three years ago when he was only six years old!
We saw a few RHINOCEROS AUKLETS, including this adult, below.
Image copyright, Beth Hamel.
SANDY KOMITO & DEBI SHEARWATER, best of buds, below!
SANDY KOMITO of The Big Year fame, did his first West Coast pelagic trips with Shearwater Journeys in 1985! Talk about repeat clients — many return year after year with us! Sandy rarely ticks a pelagic Life Bird, or any new bird for North America. However, he did see a Lifer Hawaiian Petrel which Debi spotted on the August 2, 2013 Monterey Bay pelagic trip!
Drawing on many sources, I made a Plan A for the day's route the night prior. One of the many resources that I use is TERRAFIN's SST (Sea Surface Temperature) charts. In the chart above, the purple route represents, roughly, where we went on this day. We traveled further south than we usually do. Calm seas made that possible. The areas of white on the chart were areas that were covered with fog, preventing a satellite temperature reading. Terrafin is available to anyone, for a subscriber fee. Charts used with express permission from Terrafin.
For most of the day, the SST was between 59.8-61F. We went southwest to about 18 miles off Pescadero, and then up to the Pioneer Canyon, and home.
BETH HAMEL, photographer, above.
Our day was completed with views of HUMPBACK WHALES.
Images above and below, copyright Jim Holmes.
So ended a FABULOUS FIRST TRIP OF THE SEASON!
Our next trips departing from HALF MOON BAY with spaces available are:
JULY 26; AUGUST 2, 16, 17, 23; SEPTEMBER 7, 8, 15, 21, 24; OCTOBER 5, 12.
We thank all the folks who came from near and far to join our trip on this day.
The leaders on this trip were: PETER PYLE, JIM HOLMES, AL DE MARTINI & DEBI SHEARWATER.
THE COMPLETE SPECIES LIST FOR 20 JULY SHEARWATER JOURNEYS, HALF MOON BAY FOLLOWS:
SAN MATEO/SAN FRANCISCO COUNTIES/HARBOR:
RED-THROATED LOON- 15/1/0
WESTERN GREBE- 20/0
BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS- 195/40
NORTHERN FULMAR- 2/0
PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER- 495/110
FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATER- 2/0
SOOTY SHEARWATER- 1380/20
BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATER- 3/0
LEACH'S STORM-PETREL- 0/1
ASHY STORM-PETREL- 2/2
BROWN PELICAN- 175/0/600
BRANDT'S CORMORANT- 10/0/6
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT- 1/0/75
PELAGIC CORMORANT- 4/0
SURF SCOTER- 1 in the harbor
BLACK OYSTERCATCHER- 4, in the harbor
BLACK TURNSTONE- 4, in the harbor
SURFBIRD- 8, in the harbor
RED-NECKED PHALAROPE- 390/60
POMARINE JAEGER- 1/0
JAEGER SP.- 5/0
HEERMANN'S GULL- 100/0/25
CALIFORNIA GULL- 120/5
WESTERN GULL- 430/20/145
SABINE'S GULL- 3/0
ELEGANT TERN- 8/0/1200
CASPIAN TERN- 1, in the harbor
COMMON MURRE- 500/1/2
PIGEON GUILLEMOT- 4/0/20
MARBLED MURRELET- 5/2
CASSIN'S AUKLET- 8/0
RHINOCEROS AUKLET- 11/1
CALIFORNIA SEA LION- 25
STELLER'S SEA LION- 1
NORTHERN FUR SEAL- 1
HARBOR SEAL- 1
HUMPBACK WHALE- 10
BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN- 6, just outside of the harbor
HARBOR PORPOISE- 8, just outside of the harbor
DALL'S PORPOISE- 5
OCEAN SUNFISH- 38
ALBACORE (tuna) -1, jumping
MOON JELLIES- 12
LION'S MANE JELLY- 2
HOPE TO SEE YOU OUT THERE!