FINDING SEABIRDS with SHEARWATER JOURNEYS
Pelagic birding is often described as "the last frontier" of birding. I can clearly remember looking at the plates of jaegers, shearwaters, storm-petrels, and alcids in my Petersen Texas Field Guide in 1971! Well, we've come a long way since that time. Nearly four decades of seabirding trips with thousands of birders on board, we have perfected pelagic birding as best as anyone in the world.
In fact, many other operations have taken inspiration from us!
I always advise birders who are traveling a long distance to reach our seabird-rich area to try to do more than one trip, and from more than one port. So, let's take a look at how that would have played out, had you booked the Shearwater Journeys's August 1 Monterey Bay trip, August 2 Half Moon Bay trip and August 3 Farallon Islands trip departing from Sausalito.
Below the images, you will find the complete species list for each day. I did not include the rocky shorebirds.
As can be seen from the lists, the MONTEREY BAY trip on AUGUST 1 was the best trip for seeing BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATERS, above! Monterey is always a good place for getting one's feet wet with pelagic birds. It is a good option for the beginning sea birder who wants to learn the differences in flight patterns which are often the first critical clue about a bird. For instance, the Black-vented Shearwater has a faster wingbeat than the Sooty Shearwater. This is hard to "learn" when one sees only one or two Black-vents. But, the Monterey trip had over 100 Black-vents, giving the observer more opportunity to study the flight differences.
Of the three trips, only the Monterey trip found SABINE'S GULLS.
Every sea birder dreams of the mega-rare seabirds. Well, they are rare because we rarely see them!
Hands down, the star seabird of our AUGUST 2 HALF MOON BAY trip was the HAWAIIAN PETREL, above.
While Monterey is a great starting point for beginning sea birders, it also remains an excellent place for intermediate and advanced sea birders, as well. Witness the fact that I spotted a HAWAIIAN PETREL on the AUGUST 2, 2013 MONTEREY BAY trip!
Even before the petrel showed up, we had tallied some "good species."
CRAVERI'S MURRELETS, above, showing dark wing linings and SCRIPPS'S MURRELETS, below, showing white wing linings, are highly sought after small alcids in our area.
These little treasures were ONLY found on the AUGUST 2 HALF MOON BAY trip.
Note that Craveri's Murrelets have not shown up in central California for nearly a decade, and may not do so, again. So, if you are looking for this species, in particular, be advised: Get on a Half Moon Bay trip as soon as possible, or one of the Bodega Bay trips: September 1 & 19, this year! Don't wait until next year, as Craveri's Murrelet may not show up!
The Half Moon Bay trips are the ONLY trips were the endangered MARBLED MURRELET, below, is regularly encountered.
So, by adding the Half Moon Bay departure to the Monterey Bay departure, one can increase the total species list dramatically.
For our last trip in this sequence, we head to the Farallon Islands, departing from Sausalito.
Note that we started on the southern central coast in Monterey and are now working our way north.
In addition to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, we seek the cheeky TUFTED PUFFIN, in particular on our AUGUST 3 FARALLON ISLAND trip. We have a 100% success rate for Tufted Puffin on our August Farallon trip, and this one was no different.
However, we add a bonus bird: the NORTHERN GANNET (the white speck in the image below), which has been at the islands, off and on, for three years!
Not too far from the gannet, a BROWN BOOBY is perched on Sugerloaf, too!
This is another "bonus seabird."
Most of the trip to the Farallon Islands takes place on the Continental Shelf. After touring the islands, we head to the edge of the shelf, hoping to see shearwaters and Black-footed Albatross, which we do.
Suddenly, in flies a LAYSAN ALBATROSS, yet another "bonus seabird"!
No one trip tallies as many species of seabirds.
By doing all three trips, you would have tallied a MEGA-RARE SEABIRD, HAWAIIAN PETREL; other rarities: NORTHERN GANNET & BROWN BOOBY; harder-to-find-seabirds such as SCRIPPS'S, CRAVERI'S & MARBLED MURRELETS; and EIGHT SPECIES OF ALCIDS!
Think about it this way:
When you visit one of your favorite land birding migration spots, be it Cape May, NJ or High Island, TX, you plan to spend more than one day birding there.
It is, after all, migration — even though you walk the same trails, and look in the same tress, each day is different.
Well, finding ocean birds works the same way. Plan for more than one day and you will almost certainly add more species!
SEABIRDS SIGHTED ON SHEARWATER JOURNEYS'S
AUGUST 1, 2, 3, 2014 TRIPS
MONTEREY/HALF MOON BAY/FARALLON ISLANDS
1. RED-THROATED LOON- 0/2/0
2. PACIFIC LOON- 0/1/0
3. WESTERN GREBE- 0/0/100
4. LAYSAN ALBATROSS- 0/0/1
5. BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS- 27/53/12
6. NORTHERN (PACIFIC) FULMAR- 9/9/6
7. **HAWAIIAN PETREL- 0/1/0
8. PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER- 84/310/30
9. SOOTY SHEARWATER- 21783/1935/400
10. BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATER- 161/3/0
11. BROWN PELICAN- 71/335/10
12. ** NORTHERN GANNET- 0/0/1
13. **BROWN BOOBY- 0/0/1
14. BRANDT'S CORMORANT- 1321/50/2020
15. DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT- 2/60/9
16. PELAGIC CORMORANT- 5/2/10
17. RED-NECKED PHALAROPE- 158/17/15
18. RED PHALAROPE- 3/0/0
19. PARASITIC JAEGER- 1/2/5
20. HEERMANN'S GULL- 29/2/32
21. CALIFORNIA GULL- 30/2/32
22. WESTERN GULL- 273/100/550
23. SABINE'S GULL- 2/0/0
24. ELEGANT TERN- 114/290/75
25. CASPIAN TERN- 3/0/0
26. COMMON MURRE- 461/280/1520
27. PIGEON GUILLEMOT- 12/12/325
28. MARBLED MURRELET- 0/2/0
29. SCRIPPS'S MURRELET- 0/2/0
30. CRAVERI'S MURRELET- 0/6/0
31. CASSIN'S AUKLET- 3/5/20
32. RHINOCEROS AUKLET- 6/4/12
33. TUFTED PUFFIN- 0/0/23
1. SEA OTTER- 15/0/0
2. CALIFORNIA SEA LION- 250/30/ 400
3. STELLER'S SEA LION- 0/0/30
4. NORTHERN FUR SEAL- 0/0/400
5. HARBOR SEAL- 5/0/85
6. HUMPBACK WHALE- 1/6/2
7. RISSO'S DOLPHINS- 21/0/2
8. HARBOR PORPOISE- 0/12/8
9. DALL'S PORPOISE- 21/0/0
1. OCEAN SUNFISH- 12/10/18
2. BY-THE-WIND-SAILORS- +
Our trips are set up so that they can be combined, doing trips from different ports and working in the same direction from north to south (not back tracking). If you travel any distance to do find seabirds on the West Coast, your biggest expenses are getting here and staying here. Take in as many trips as you can while you are here.
Once, two Cornell Lab of Ornithology staff signed up for every single trip on Shearwater Journeys's schedule for the month of September. They LOVED seabirds and were rewarded with a STREAKED SHEARWATER on the last trip!
You might wonder if I take my own advise. YES, of course I do.
When I last visited Kaikoura, New Zealand, another seabird mecca, I signed up for SIX trips!
GET OUT THERE!
SEPTEMBER IS USUALLY THE VERY BEST MONTH FOR SEABIRDS!
All images, copyright, various.
Please do not use without permission.