DON'T KISS THE WHALES!
Shearwater Journeys kicked off the 2013 pelagic season with a trip departing from Half Moon Bay on July 27th. And, it was an incredibly sublime start to fall sea birding. This nearly 12 hour trip began with birding in the harbor. Highlights were many, including: BULLER'S SHEARWATER (early); WILSON'S, ASHY and BLACK STORM-PETRELS; SOUTH POLAR SKUA; POMARINE, PARASITIC and LONG-TAILED JAEGERS; flocks of SABINE'S GULLS; ARCTIC TERN; MARBLED & SCRIPP'S MURRELETS and TUFTED PUFFINS. The marine mammal show was beyond comparison! BLUE WHALES (6) HUMPBACK WHALES (43!) a single, young FIN WHALE; PACIFIC WHITE-SIDED DOLPHINS; DALL'S and HARBOR PORPOISE. From start to finish, the day was jam packed with marine life and action at all levels, including very close up and personal! If "some days are diamonds and some days are rust," this was a sparkling 10 carat day! On top of everything else, the seas were just as flat as a pancake with the sea surface nearly greasy. It just plain does not get any better than this, folks.
Late July is a terrific time for the rocky shorebirds. In addition to BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS, above, with fluffy chicks, we aslso saw WANDERING TATTLER, SURFBIRD, BLACK TURNSTONE and MARBLED GODWIT.
The delightful PIGEON GUILLEMOTS, above, in the harbor were constantly calling. The harbor area is so filled with birds that we could do half a day of pelagic birding right there!
As soon as we reached the 50 fathom line, the first of many BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSES, above, began following the boat.
One of five SCRIPP'S MURRELETS, above. Highly prized sightings by birders anywhere. This tiny murrelet breeds on islands of southern California. Chicks jump out of the the nest site within 24 hours of hatching, swimming off with their father who cares for them at sea. They are strong swimmer. Flat, calm days make for one of the conditions of hoping to see this sweet alcid.
Having already seen many Humpback whales, we did a double take when this little baleen whale appeared near our vessel. The captain took the boat out of gear, and idled while this very small FIN WHALE, Balaenoptera physalus, swam circles around us! In the image above, its head, or rostrum, is out of the water as it looks at us. On Fin Whales, the right lower jaw and baleen are white, while the left lower jaw and baleen are dark gray. This clearly shows in the image, above. In fact, I've never seen it better! This striking, asymmetrical color pattern is the single best field mark for Fin Whale, although it is often difficult to see. Not on this day! Fin Whales also have a V-shaped rostrum, while Blue Whales have a U-shaped rostrum.
Fin Whales are not often encountered on pelagic trips as they are usually found further offshore. I've seen Fin Whales up close, even right next to the boat. However, in the case of that case, the Fin Whale was feeding on krill under our vessel. On this day, no apparent food item was under the vessel. This leads me to speculate that this was a "friendly" Fin Whale. Although, we have experienced so-called "friendlies" amongst Humpback Whales since the mid-1980's, this is my first experience of this nature with a Fin Whale. As I mentioned, many Humpbacks were in the immediate area, including some that became quite "friendly." So, perhaps this small Fin Whale "learned" this behavior from those Humpbacks.
We judged this Fin Whale to be about 35 feet in length. Our vessel is 55 feet long. This would then, possibly, be a newly weaned calf, as adult male Finners average 57 feet, while females average 61 feet.
This is the second largest whale, after the Blue Whale. The slightly curved dorsal fin is set two thirds of the way back on the body.
One of two "FRIENDLY" HUMPBACK WHALES, above. This image shows the top of the head and lower jaw. See here for more about this whale show. These Humpback Whales and the Fin Whale were so close to us that one birder remarked, "You'll have to add: 'Don't Kiss the Whales" to the morning orientation talk!
While encountering flocks of SABINE'S GULLS offshore is expected in fall, the flocks we encountered on this date were not.
A few BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSES followed us home, nearly to the harbor.
2013 BIG YEAR birder Jay Lehman was on board, as was the Big Year record holder, Sandy Komito. Jay added 15 species to his year, and some new seabirders added that many birds for Life Birds.
Many thanks to all who joined our awesome first pelagic trip of the season!
The leaders on this day were: Scott Terrill, Linda Terrill, Al DeMartini, Debi Shearwater, with Ross Schaefer chumming.
The complete species list follows, with SAN MATEO/SAN FRANCISCO COUNTIES/TOTAL:
JULY 27, 2013 SHEARWATER JOURNEYS HALF MOON BAY
BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS- 16/12/28
NORTHERN FULMAR- 0/1/1
PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER- 70/70/140
BULLER'S SHEARWATER- 1/1/2, early
SOOTY SHEARWATER- 620/18-/800
WILSON'S STORM-PETREL- 0/9/9
ASHY STORM-PETREL- 30/1070/1100
BLACK STORM-PETREL- 0/1/1
BROWN PELICAN- 1800/0/1800, high count for harbor
BRANDT'S CORMORANT- 2/0/2, low count for harbor
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT- 22/0/22
PELAGIC CORMORANT- 1/0/1
BLACK OYSTERCATCHER- 3/0/3
WANDERING TATTLER- 2/0/2
MARBLED GODWIT- 2/0/2
RED-NECKED PHALAROPE- 180/35/225
RED PHALAROPE- 295/705/1000
SOUTH POLAR SKUA- 0/1/1
POMARINE JAEGER- 0/2/2
POMARINE/PARASITIC JAEGER- 2/0/2
PARASITIC JAEGER- 0/2/2
LONG-TAILED JAEGER- 0/3/3
JAEGER SP.- 0/5/5
HEERMANN'S GULL- 90/3/93
CALIFORNIA GULL- 1/0/1
WESTERN GULL- 77/11/88
SABINE'S GULL- 28/207/235, good count for this early date
ELEGANT TERN- 23/0/23
ARCTIC TERN- 0/1/1
CASPIAN TERN- 3/0/3
COMMON MURRE- 127/12/140
PIGEON GUILLEMOT- 25/2/27
MARBLED MURRELET- 7/0/7
SCRIPP'S MURRELET- 4/1/5
CASSIN'S AUKLET- 6/15/21
RHINOCEROS AUKLET- 8/0/8
TUFTED PUFFIN- 1/1/2
CALIFORNIA SEA LION- 20
STELLER'S SEA LION- 1
NORTHERN FUR SEAL- 4
HARBOR SEAL- 6
BLUE WHALE- 6
FIN WHALE- 1, calf
PACIFIC WHITE-SIDED DOLPHIN- 100
HARBOR PORPOISE- 4
DALL'S PORPOISE- 8
Spaces are still available on these upcoming trips:
HALF MOON BAY: AUG 17, 18, 25; SEP 8, 9, 16, 22, 28, 29; OCT 6, 27; NOV 16
BODEGA BAY: AUG 30; SEP 20; OCT 18
MONTEREY BAY: AUG 23; SEP 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 27; OCT 5, 13, 25
Sparking Diamond Days at Sea Forever,
All images, copyright, Debi Shearwater
Please do not use without permission