Many of you know that driving the Santa Ana Valley Road, San Benito County is my "relaxation" drive from the post office to my home in Hollister. For the past two days, I've made that loop, sometimes including John Smith Road or Quien Sabe Road. Being mid-August, I was a bit surprised to see raptors already staking their positions for the coming fall. Plenty of GOLDEN EAGLES around!
The immature GOLDEN EAGLE, below has a full crop. Hunting is already starting to look good.
Next, I spot an immature BALD EAGLE, below.
These birds, along with a lot of TURKEY VULTURES were hanging around the "Eastern Phoebe Spot," if you know where that is. It is a labeled eBird location.
Next, an adult BALD EAGLE appears. Timing is everything. If you arrive just as the air is warming and the last bits of fog rise, it is possible to witness "lift off" of the raptors.
This PRAIRIE FALCON, below, has already staked its spot. Please do NOT harass this bird by making it fly repeatedly for "your" flight shots! The bird has to eat and rest. And, I know who you are. I'm watching you!
BURROWING OWLS nested this year in these rapidly disappearing grasslands.
Finally, toady, after seeing so many eagles and turkey vultures, I spotted this distant image of a raptor flying with flat wings, high in the sky, Humm, another eagle. Then, I look through my bins, and think, "Dang, what eagle IS this?" Then, "Oops, it is an adult CALIFORNIA CONDOR, all but in my backyard!"
I shot off a few frames, then looked at the images on my camera. But, when I looked up, again, the bird was nowhere in sight. That was that. Below, the "fingers" show. This condor was near the intersection of Santa Ana Valley and Quien Sabe Roads at 12:47 pm, today.
Scooting on down the road in disbelief, I found this adult GOLDEN EAGLE, drinking from a cattle water trough. It even tried to get in to take a bath. I was hoping that I wouldn't have to save it from drowning. Apparently, there is some sort of blocking boards, or something, to prevent that.
The RAPTORS OF SANTA ANA VALLEY ARE RETURNING.
Certainly, I did not see as many individuals at this time, as I hope to see as the fall and winter seasons progress. In fact, very few kestrels and red-tailed hawks and loggerhead shrikes are around. A few CASSIN'S and WESTERN KINGBIRDS are still hawking insects, though. Amazingly, I saw adult Cassin's Kingbirds feeding young in Tres Pinos town. Seems late for that.
I'll keep you posted regarding the raptor happenings.
Sorry for my poor quality images. All of them were made during the hottest part of the day and most of the raptors, including the condor, were at least a mile away.
Bodega Bay is one of the most incredible seabirding locales along the Central California Coast. Below, I present awesome images by my good friend and most avid sea birder, Todd McGrath. All of these images are from a recent trip he made to the Cordell Bank & Bodega Canyon. Shearwater Journeys has been offering trips to this unique region since 1980, operating with a very reliable captain and one of the most comfortable vessels for birding. We have an excellent line up of some of the nation's top seabird leaders on all of these trips. See more below. All images, copyright, Todd McGrath, all rights reserved. Please do not use without permission. For more trip details, click here.
FORK-TAILED STORM-PETREL, above. Thousands are at Bodega Canyon now.
ASHY STORM-PETREL, above. Notice how gray the back appears.
There is no reliable place, nor time, to search for FORK-TAILED STORM-PETREL, above, in California.
The nearest breeding colonies of ASHY STORM-PETRELS, above, is the Farallon Islands, although most trips to the islands do not see them.
FORK-TAILED STORM-PETREL, above is the only pearly-gray storm-petrel in our region.
BLACK STORM-PETREL, above.
BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS, above.
CASSIN'S AUKLET, above, also breeds on the Farallon Islands. Notice the blue legs!
SHEARWATER JOURNEYS CORDELL BANK & BODEGA CANYON TRIPS:
WED, AUG 22 - Leaders: Jon Dunn, Peter Pyle, Steve Howell, Lisa Hug, Debi Shearwater FRI, SEP 21 - Leaders: Peter Pyle, Todd McGrath, Lisa Hug, Debi Shearwater THU, SEP 27 - Leaders: Peter Pyle, Lisa Hug, Jim Danzenbaker, Linda Terrill, Scott Terrill, Debi Shearwater - SOLD OUT FRI, OCT 26 - Leaders: Lisa Hug, Debi Shearwater (Leaders may be added)
This is a trip report for Shearwater Journeys' pelagic trip departing from Monterey Bay, August 10, 2012. Seas and high winds limited our route, but certainly not our determination, nor expectations of Monterey seabirds. We made it about 14 miles west of Point Pinos. Our awesome, voodoo chum slick brought many seabirds close to the boat's stern. Highlights of the day included this SOUTH POLAR SKUA, below; a Grand Slam on the jaegers: POMARINE, PARASITIC and LONG-TAILED; loads of BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSES; the first of the fall season NORTHERN FULMAR and juvenile SABINE'S GULL; two FORK-TAILED STORM-PETRELS along with 72 ASHY STORM-PETRELS and many of the usual fall seabirds. One lady achieved her 700th Life Bird on her 70th birthday! More "Images of the Day" by Beth Hamel can be enjoyed, here.
The Big, The Bad, THE SOUTH POLAR SKUA! We lov'em! Mostly, we love saying, "Skuaaaaa!"
Image by Beth Hamel, copyright. All rights reserved. Please ask permission to use.
Many thanks to the birders who joined us from near and far, including eight different states and Sweden and the UK. The leaders for this trip were: Clay Kempf, Jennifer Green, Rick Fournier, Ben Thompson on chum and Debi Shearwater.
The complete species list follows. All birds were in MONTEREY COUNTY.
AUGUST 10, 2012
BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS- 42
NORTHERN FULMAR- 1
PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER- 31
SOOTY SHEARWATER- 259
FORK-TAILED STORM-PETREL- 2
ASHY STORM-PETREL- 72
BROWN PELICAN- 4, offshore
BRANDT'S CORMORANT- 200, in harbor
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT- 1, outside of the harbor
PELAGIC CORMORANT- 2
DUCK SP.- 6
BLACK OYSTERCATCHER- 1
BLACK TURNSTONE- 7
RED-NECKED PHALAROPE- 142
RED-NECKED/RED PHALAROPE- 64
RED PHALAROPE- 28
SOUTH POLAR SKUA- 2
POMARINE JAEGER- 3
PARASITIC JAEGER- 1
PARASITIC/POMARINE JAEGER- 2
LONG-TAILED JAEGER- 2
CALIFORNIA GULL- 18
WESTERN GULL- +
SABINE'S GULL- 52
ELEGANT TERN- 50
COMMON TERN- 1
COMMON/ARCTIC TERN- 3
ARCTIC TERN- 6
COMMON MURRE- 160
PIGEON GUILLEMOT- 19
CASSIN'S AUKLET- 2
RHINOCEROS AUKLET- 17
GREAT EGRET- 2
GREAT BLUE HERON- 1
SEA OTTER- +
CALIFORNIA SEA LION- 150
PACIFIC WHITE-SIDED DOLPHIN- 22
DALL'S PORPOISE- 5
Spaces are still available on many of our Monterey trips, as well as many other trips departing from such places as Bodega Bay, Half Moon Bay and Fort Bragg. There could not be a better time to get out to see seabirds! Please check the Shearwater Journeys' schedule for the most up to date availability.
Jump on board our next trips: August 17th from Monterey August 22 from Bodega Bay August 24 & 25 from Fort Bragg Real birds eat squid, Debi Shearwater
Please enjoy the images below by Beth Hamel which she shot on the August 10, 2012 Monterey Bay pelagic trip with Shearwater Journeys. All images, copyright, Beth Hamel, all rights reserved. Please do not use without permission. To view more stunning images by Beth, please check, here.
One of more than 20 BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSES at the stern at one time.
ASHY STORM-PETRELS, above and below, flew only a few feet off the stern.
PARASITIC JAEGER, below. We had a "GRAND SLAM," seeing all three jaeger species.
Father COMMON MURRE (left) with his chick (right). The dads care for the chicks at sea for several weeks, forming "nursery schools," and vocalizing back and forth to each other.
The very first of the fall season, NORTHERN FULMAR, below.
The beautiful PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER, below.
RHINOCEROS AUKLET, below.
The RHINOCEROS AUKLET is really a "puffin."
A juvenile SABINE'S GULL, first of the fall season.
One of several SURFBIRDS along the Coast Guard Jetty.
Even when the sea is rough and the wind is high, seabirds still want to come by to check out Debi's boat, and we all had a fantastic adventure!"
Migration is clearly moving forward. Don't be left out!
Lone Tree Road is one of the best birding roads in San Benito County. On Thursday, August 9, I stepped out for a couple hours of birding from 8 am to 10:30 am. Highlights were many, but a single adult female ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK was the best bird of the morning. This bird represents the fourth record for San Benito County, to my knowledge. Other species included: YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIE, NASHVILLE WARBLER, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, WESTERN TANAGER, WESTERN KINGBIRD, HUTTON'S VIREO, BROWN CREEPER (very local in San Benito County), NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER, CALIFORNIA THRASHER (strutting down the road, much like a roadrunner), GRASSHOPPER and RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROWS. Oddly enough, I missed finding any rock wrens, crows or ravens. The recent hot weather— about 95 F every day for the past week, prompted me to get out in the morning. By 10:30 am, it was all over— bird activity was nil. All images, copyright, Debi Shearwater. Please ask permission to use.
Lone Tree Road is a dead end road just a little over 10 miles which heads up in the Diablo Mountain Range. Being a dead end road, it has very little traffic. Even so, the birder should take care about parking and stopping on the road. On the way up in the morning, I spotted a TURKEY VULTURE on a fence post.
About 5 miles up the road, a family of WESTERN KINGBIRDS was in the grasslands.
About 10 miles up, one encounters the first, large California Bay Laurel trees. Some trees are immense.
Elderberry shrubs up to 10 feet tall, are laden with berries, above. The grosbeaks are feeding on these berries. In fact, I kept a tally of the species of birds I saw consuming berries: BLACK-HEADED and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, WESTERN TANAGER, PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER, STELLER'S JAYS, NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER, AMERICAN ROBIN, HOUSE FINCH, HOUSE WREN, and even one GRASSHOPPER SPARROW!
BIRDING STRATEGY: First, locate the elderberry shrubs. Most of the shrubs are right along the sides of the road. (Off the road is completely private property!) It is best to use your car as a blind, as much as possible. You will notice, right away, that the birds fly out of the bushes, immediately, if you are on foot. Elderberry shrubs grow in the sunlight. So, you won't find them inside the bay laurel forest. After entering the forest about 10 miles, up, continue until you exit the forest and see shrubs on your left. The photo, above the berry photo, is taken as one of the best spots. Park your car in the shade, down the road, and get out. If you see bird-berry droppings in the road under the oaks, as above, you have found the right stop. Sit in the shade and watch the shrubs. It is best to NOT pish, make any sounds and move as little as possible. Early morning is best, of course. You might be surprised at what shows up. If you find other interesting birds, please let me know! All of the elderberry shrubs on this road are worth a look. I suspect that the bulk of the berries might be completely consumed in less than two week's time. So, get out there!
ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK is a rare bird in SAN BENITO COUNTY. However, the above male Rose-breasted Grosbeak was photographed by Wilma Vermilyer at a feeder in her yard on June 11, 2012. If you see one, please let me know!
The entire eBird list for my two and a half hours on Lone Tree Road, San Benito County, is below:
Lone Tree Rd. (SBT Co.), San Benito, US-CA Aug 9, 2012 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Protocol: Traveling 7.5 mile(s) Debi Shearwater Comments: In the middle of a heat wave. At 8 am= 65F, clear and sunny. No wind. Many birds feeding on elderberries. 42 species
Mallard 4 California Quail 2 Wild Turkey 18 Turkey Vulture 8 Northern Harrier 1 Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 Red-tailed Hawk (Western) 3 American Kestrel 3 Eurasian Collared-Dove 12 Mourning Dove 10 Anna's Hummingbird 3 Nuttall's Woodpecker 3 Northern Flicker 1 Pacific-slope Flycatcher 1 Western Kingbird 4 Hutton's Vireo (Pacific) 2 Steller's Jay 24 Western Scrub-Jay (Coastal) 40 Yellow-billed Magpie 2 About 30% of the sycamore trees on the lower, flat part of the road have died. These were important nesting trees for the magpies. It will be interesting to note if magpie numbers decline. on this road. Also, the lower part of the road was formerly a good hunting area for prairie falcons. Much of it is now in ag row crops, or steadily being converted to agriculture. Chestnut-backed Chickadee 30 Oak Titmouse 8 Bushtit (Pacific) 13 White-breasted Nuthatch (Pacific) 2 Brown Creeper 1 Bewick's Wren (Pacific) 1 House Wren (Northern) 1 Wrentit 1 Western Bluebird 28 American Robin 16 California Thrasher 9 European Starling 30 Nashville Warbler (Western) 1 Spotted Towhee (Pacific) 8 Rufous-crowned Sparrow 12 California Towhee 12 Grasshopper Sparrow 1 Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon) 30 Western Tanager 1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1 Black-headed Grosbeak 11 Brewer's Blackbird 12 House Finch 17
I hope you will enjoy the images below by fellow traveler, birder and photographer, Jean Myers. All images shot while on board the fabulous Shearwater Journeys' pelagic trip to the Farallon Islands, August 5, 2012. All images, Copyright, Jean Myers, all rights reserved. Please do not use without permission. View more of Jean's images and her restoration work at Casa Dos Rios.
Adult TUFTED PUFFIN, above is always the highlight of our Farallon Islands trip. This year, it was eclipsed at the end of the day by a very special seabird, the Northern Gannet.
CASSIN'S AUKLET, above, the smallest alcid that occurs in our area and is all dark to the water line.
Two BLUE WHALES, above, the largest animal to ever live on Earth. Their steely, blue color and small dorsal fin are good field marks. Amazingly, the mighty blue whale feeds on the same small, shrimp-like krill, as the Cassin's Auklet, above. It was no surprise to see them in the same area.
BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS taking off, above. If we had spent more time off the edge of the Continental Shelf, we might have seen more of the "real seabirds", but---
HUMPBACK WHALE double tail flukes— the underside of the flukes are used to identify individual humpbacks. A whale watching boat in the background.
A "SKUNK HEAD" SOOTY SHEARWATER, above and normal colored SOOTY SHEARWATER, below.
A call from the island sent us scurrying back to see the NORTHERN GANNET at Saddle Rock. We had failed to find it during a two hour search earlier in the day.
Remarkably, this NORTHERN GANNET was seen carrying nesting material in June by a seabird biologist! One wonders what might happen should another gannet show up!
It was one of those days that we ocean folk live for!
This is a trip report for Shearwater Journeys' pelagic trip departing from Sausalito for the Farallon Islands, August 5, 2012. It was a trip about having faith and remaining focused. On this annual trip our main focus is usually the charismatic TUFTED PUFFIN. The Farallon Islands represent the largest breeding seabird colony on the West Coast, south of Alaska. They are protected and are part of the National Marine Sanctuary system. Remarkably, a Northern Gannet was discovered at the islands several weeks ago. Although it was seen carrying nesting material in late June, it was not seen after July 8th. We had so hoped to find this bird on our August 5th trip to the islands. This might represent the first record of a Northern Gannet in the Pacific Ocean, and certainly the first record for the State of California. There was no question about the identification, as others had seen it and photographed it. Oddly enough, earlier this year, I visited the largest gannetry in the world, St. Kilda Island, Scotland. To learn more about the gannet and its range, click here. This is a completely remarkable seabird record. And, being a seabird person, I just had to see it— along with puffins, of course.
The stars were shining on us, as Gerry McChesney spotted the gannet on August 3rd at Arch Rock and flying around the island. Again, the stars dimmed, as Gerry reported to me that he did not see the gannet at all on August 4th due to heavy fog. Yikes! So it was with great anticipation we headed out to the islands with Captain Jimmy on the "Outer Limits.' The ride out to the islands is on the Continental Shelf. So, it is a straight shot out. We saw many HARBOR PORPOISES and COMMON MURRES. With the islands in sight, the first of many TUFTED PUFFINS appeared, below. This puffin was carrying food in its beak! So, it must be feeding young at the island. The seas were glassy, smooth.
Things lightened up a bit, but for most of the day, we experienced uniformly high overcast skies. These are perfect conditions for viewing wildlife because if the sun is out, one cannot look in that direction.
Approaching South Farallon Island, we saw more TUFTED PUFFINS swimming on the water.
Hundreds and hundreds of RED PHALAROPES were feeding in swirling movements on the water. They are in a plumage that is neither "red" nor "gray," as in winter. This individual still shows some red.
Large flocks of PIGEON GUILLEMOTS with white wing patches showing, formed rafts.
And, newly hatched PIGEON GUILLEMOTS were nearby. This plumage can be confused with a murre.
Finally, we made it to Arch Rock, where we looked and looked and looked— for that Northern Gannet without success!
Because it was so calm and so clear, we were able to go around South Farallon Island. I saw places I had never seen on previous trips. We looked and looked.
A very few RHINOCEROS AUKLETS popped up. We continued looking. A whale watching boat was also searching. NO gannet. A BLUE WHALE surfaced, pictured below.
After nearly two hours of searching, I was NOT giving up. Large concentrations of seabirds and whales were reported off the edge of the Continental Shelf, about 5 miles southwest of the islands. I decided the gannet surely had to be feeding and that we had as good a chance of finding it amongst the feeding seabirds as on the island.
So, Jim headed to the shelf edge. Sure enough, we were absolutely surrounded by whales— more than 45 HUMPBACK WHALES and at least 5 BLUE WHALES. Of course, as fun as that was, I remained focused on looking at seabirds and finding that gannet. Flocks of SOOTY SHEARWATERS were sitting on the water. Amongst them, I spotted a "skunk head," pictured above.
This leucistic Sooty Shearwater is not all that uncommon.
However, these individual shearwaters can cause a lot of head scratching when one only has a quick, flying away view!
The HUMPBACK WHALES put on quite a show, surfacing right next to our vessel.
This is the head, or rostrum of a Humpback Whale, side view.
Humpback tail flukes right next to us! Then, a call on the radio came from Gerry who was on the island— he had spotted the gannet, flying around Saddle Rock, below. "Quick, everyone sit down on the bow, we are taking off!" Twenty minutes later we arrived at the rock and Gerry was giving instructions on precisely where we should look for the gannet, as it had sat down.
There! was the NORTHERN GANNET, on the rock, just below the three Common Murres!
For at least half an hour, we did nothing but watch the gannet. It was an incredible day— perfect weather, extremely calm seas, loads of TUFTED PUFFINS and other seabirds, and loads of feeding whales, too— and, with the help of my friend, Gerry McChesney— the first sighting of the NORTHERN GANNET by a boat load of birders in weeks. What more could we ask for?
We enjoyed a lovely ride home, under the GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE.
So, of course, we could not resist taking photographs of it while floating along on a delightful "high."
Our helpful and very friendly first mate, Bob.
Our capable and experienced captain, Jimmy, below, who has seen the gannet more than just about anyone.
Many thanks to Gerry McChesney who kept a keenly watchful eye for the gannet, ultimately spotting it and giving us the radio call. Many thanks to my steady co-leader, Jennifer Green. And, thanks to all of the birders who joined us on this awesome day. Never, ever let your focus dim and always hold out hope for the bird you want to see! Keep the faith.
The complete species list for AUGUST 5, 2012 follows: WESTERN/CLARK'S GREBE- 1 BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS- 1 PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER- 8 SOOTY SHEARWATER- 1025, including "skunk head" *NORTHERN GANNET- 1, adult BROWN PELICAN- + BRANDT'S CORMORANT- + DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT- + PELAGIC CORMORANT- 7 BLACK OYSTERCATCHER- 1 RED-NECKED PHALAROPE- 11 RED PHALAROPE- 1515 POMARINE JAEGER- 1 HEERMANN'S GULL- + WESTERN GULL- + ELEGANT TERN- 40 CASPIAN TERN- 5 COMMON MURRE- 1175, many father/chick pairs PIGEON GUILLEMOT- 625 CASSIN'S AUKLET- 601 RHINOCEROS AUKLET- 12 TUFTED PUFFIN- 34, one individual carrying food CALIFORNIA SEA LION- + STELLER'S SEA LION- + HARBOR SEAL- + GRAY WHALE- 1 BLUE WHALE- 5 HUMPBACK WHALE- 45+ HARBOR PORPOISE- 27
Our next trip to the Farallon Islands is September 30th. It is SOLD OUT, but you can ask to be on the Wait List by emailing me. Folks, this is shaping up to be an outstanding fall season with loads of nearshore food. There could not be a better time to "get out there." Shearwater Journeys' schedule is current and up to date. Please book as soon as possible. You won't want to miss this fall!
All images by Debi Shearwater, copyright. Please ask permission to use.