Posts Tagged ‘pelagic birding’

October 6 PelagicI went on what will probably end up being my…

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

October 6 Pelagic

I went on what will probably end up being my last-of-the-year pelagic birding trip out of Ventura Harbor last weekend. The sunrise was pretty. And the birds! The official lists are still being tabulated, but it looks good for 6 new county-year birds for me. It gets tricky because we were passing back and forth through Ventura and Santa Barbara County waters – and actually a tiny bit of LA County waters as well. Because of my county year list obsession I was more excited about the Santa Barbara birds than the Ventura birds. But they were all great.

My sister and brother-in-law came along and it was fun to share the obsession with them. M’Liz volunteers with the American Cetacean Society’s gray whale census, so she’s all about the marine mammals; her favorite part of the trip was when we cruised alongside a humpacked whale that rewarded us with a full-on out-of-the-water breach. Hugh Ranson was one of the people who got a photo of the breach in-progress.

I’ll talk about the new county year birds I saw after a cut to preserve your dash.

Note: Except as indicated, the photos below aren’t by me and don’t show the actual birds I saw. They’re photos I googled up that generous people have shared under a Creative Commons license.

#309: Pomarine Jaeger (Stercorarius pomarinus)


Photo by Martyne Reesman, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

We saw several “poms” as we were heading out past Anacapa Island, and kept seeing them as we headed south into the “donut hole” (the circle of ocean around Santa Barbara Island that has been deemed part of Santa Barbara County for bird-listing purposes). One of the birds even had the breeding-plumage “spoons” (long central tail feathers with a twist at the end) that you can see in this photo. I’ve always wanted to see those!

#310: Craveri’s Murrelet (Synthliboramphus craveri)


Photo by Tom Benson

We saw (and heard, one time) a few pairs of these as we approached Santa Barbara Island. Later, on the trip home, we saw a few more pairs, then one trio that I assume was mom, dad, and a chick. They were all adorable.

#311: Least Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma microsoma)


Photo by Alan Schmierer

This is a species that I saw, technically, but would not have been able to identify from the brief look I got if it weren’t for a boatload of experts shouting, “Least Storm-Petrel!” But with the benefit of their input I did notice that this storm-petrel was super tiny compared to the Black and Ashy Storm-Petrels we’d been seeing.

#312: Blue-footed Booby (Sula nebouxii)


Photo by Vince Smith

This was a biggee for me. I’ve always wanted to see one, and I knew one had been seen on the previous Island Packers pelagic trip (which I didn’t go on). Then one had been seen just a few days before our trip, hanging out at Santa Barbara Island with the big group of Brown Boobies that nested there this year, so we were hoping it would still be there. And… it was!

Hugh’s photo of the bird we saw is here. Here’s a shot from my phone of the upper deck after the excitement had started to wear off:


The Blue-footed Booby is actually in the shot; here it is cropped and arrowed:


Those other specks on the cliff are mostly Brown Boobies. It was a very booby day. 🙂

#313: Buller’s Shearwater (Puffinus bulleri)


Photo by Jamie Chavez

We saw one of these mixed in with the thousands of Black-vented Shearwaters and the few dozen Pink-footed Shearwaters we steamed through in Ventura County waters, so I was primed and on the lookout for another near Santa Barbara Island. No more showed up, though, and I was thinking I wouldn’t get to add one to the county list, when bam! One showed up right next to the boat, zipping by under the bow and giving a beautiful view of that “M” pattern on its upper wings and back. Yay!

These birds are amazing. They breed in New Zealand, then spend the year doing a huge clockwise circle around the Pacific Ocean. Dave Pereksta, the birder who organized this trip, said he thinks they’re the prettiest of the shearwaters. I think he’s right.

#314: Sabine’s Gull (Xema sabini)


Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

As we headed back toward the harbor I was happy with the birds I’d seen, and starting to settle into that tired-and-sitting-and-comparing-notes phase that all pelagic trips seem to end on, when the boat slowed unexpectedly. A kelp paddy to starboard had some terns on it… Common Terns, it turns out, which are great birds, though a species I already had for the county year list. But mixed in with them were two Sabine’s Gulls! 😀

Booby addendum:

I’m burying the lead, but the big news from the trip was the boobies: We saw all five booby species in a single day, which Dave Pereksta believes had not been done before in the ABA area:

  • A Masked Booby (my first ever) on Anacapa Island (Ventura County, alas)
  • A Red-footed Booby (also my first ever) that flew alongside the boat as we steamed south (also in Ventura County)
  • The aforementioned Brown Boobies on Santa Barbara Island
  • The Blue-footed Booby on Santa Barbara Island
  • A Nazca Booby that we chased down in a big group of shearwaters southeast of Santa Barbara Island (a great bird, and in the right county, but a species I already saw on a previous trip)

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I went on a spectacularly successful pelagic birding trip last Sunday. To spare your dashboard from…

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018

I went on a spectacularly successful pelagic birding trip last Sunday. To spare your dashboard from individual posts about each of the county year birds I added I’m going to put them all in one post, and I’ll throw in a cut to spare non-mobile dashboards from so much wonderful pelagic-birding content. 🙂

This was the long-range summer pelagic trip conducted by Island Packers, as organized by Ventura-county birder Dave Pereksta. We started from Ventura Harbor at 7 a.m., visited Anacapa Island, then motored west along the south sides of Anacapa and Santa Cruz. Once we reached the northwest corner of the Santa Cruz Basin (an area of very deep water south of the island) we headed south along the underwater escarpment that marks the basin’s western edge. Areas like that tend to be characterized by upwellings that bring nutrient-rich water to the surface, leading to more fish, marine mammals, and birds.

(Side note: I was too focused on the birds to pay much attention to the cetaceans, but we had great views of Minke, Fin, and Blue Whales, as well as several types of dolphins, during this part of the trip.)

We went south as far as a point about 7 or 8 miles north of San Nicolas Island, then turned east and headed to Santa Barbara Island. From there we made the final trip back north to Ventura, passing east of Anacapa. The whole trip took about 12 hours. About half of it was in Ventura County waters, so those birds didn’t count toward my Santa Barbara list; the other half was in Santa Barbara County.

Is it interesting to a non-county-list-obsessed person how the offshore county boundaries are drawn for bird-watching purposes? Probably not; apologies… But basically, county boundaries don’t actually exist far out in the ocean, so birdwatchers have come up with a system of assigning pelagic birding “counties” based on whatever the closest point of land is. This makes for an interesting patchwork off southern California, since some islands (Anacapa and San Nicolas) are in Ventura County, while others (Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and Santa Barbara) are in Santa Barbara County. Fortunately, keeping track of all that was up to the trip leaders: Super-experienced birders who got a free ride (I assume) in return for acting as guides for the paying customers, keeping the county-specific eBird lists and helping find and identify birds.

Enough meta; on with the birds!


Pink-footed Shearwater (Ardenna creatopus)

Photo by Flicker user Greg Schechter


We saw thousands of Sooty Shearwaters during the trip, but I’d already managed to add those to the list by scoping from shore at Ocean Beach Park west of Lompoc. The Pink-footed Shearwaters were another story, though. We saw lots of them mixed in with the Sooties, and I soon got familiar with their slightly slower flight style.


Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus)

Photo by Flickr user Andrew Cannizzaro


We saw a few of these at various points during the trip, skittering away from the boat across the water. I’m pretty sure at least one group was in Santa Barbara County waters, though I won’t know for sure until the official trip lists are shared with participants.


Cook’s Petrel (Pterodroma cookii)

Photo by Flickr user Duncan


Such a cool bird! They breed in New Zealand, but during the Northern Hemisphere summer they range up into the eastern part of the North Pacific. Our trip leaders weren’t expecting to see them since we weren’t going to be far enough offshore, but surprise! We saw a lot of them in both counties; close to 100 in the final count. I loved getting to know their graceful, arcing flight pattern, the way they swoop down toward the water and up again, similar to but distinctly different from the shearwaters they were hanging out with.


Black Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma melania)

Image by Wikipedia user Cato Neimoidia


I’d never identified a storm-petrel before. I’m sure I must have seen them, having spent so much time sailing off southern California growing up, but almost all of that time I was racing, not birdwatching, and I guess I just kept the two activities compartmentalized. Anyway, I’ve now enjoyed quality views of a whole bunch of Black Storm-Petrels; we saw lots of them throughout much the trip.


Ashy Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma homochroa

Photo by Jeff Poklen


I was grateful to have expert birders around to help me learn these. Peter Gaede (who led our Big Pine Mountain survey trip) patiently showed me how the Black Storm-Petrels had deeper wingbeats, while the slightly smaller Ashies had quicker, shallower wingbeats. The difference was subtle, but with someone standing next to me to confirm the IDs it didn’t take long to be able to pick them out.


Leach’s Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa)

Photo by Flickr user Marcel Holyoak


Again, I was lucky to have experts around to find and point out the different storm-petrels in the big groups we motored through; I saw a few of these at various points. Some of the more-expert birders on the boat saw a few additional storm-petrel species, but I wasn’t able to get on any of those.


Nazca Booby (Sula granti)

Photo by Flickr user putneymark


This is the bird (actually birds) that the trip leaders were most excited about. It’s a super-rarity that normally lives in the Galapagos Islands, but a few have showed up in Southern California in recent years. We saw one perched on Arch Rock on the east end of Anacapa; that one was something like the 3rd or 4th county record for Ventura County. Which was cool and all, but I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of regret that the bird hadn’t been a few miles away in Santa Barbara County. Fast-forward to late afternoon, though, as we were approaching Santa Barbara Island, when a second Nazca Booby appeared out of nowhere and flew right over the boat as dozens of giant lenses tracked it and snapped photos. Apparently that one was only the second Santa Barbara County record; it was a real privilege to be there for it. Officially the sighting will have to be approved by the California Bird Records Committee, but for my low-grade just-for-funsies county year list it definitely qualifies for now.


Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster)

Photo by Flickr user Alan Schmierer


Another tropical species that has been expanding its range. I didn’t realize it before the trip, but last November Brown Boobies were discovered nesting on Sutil Island, a small islet a few hundred yards from Santa Barbara Island. We counted more than 40 of them perched on the rocky cliff as we bobbed a few boat lengths from shore.


Long-tailed Jaeger (Stercorarius longicaudus)

Photo by Flickr user jacksnipe1990


We saw a few of these near Santa Barbara Island; not the adult form with the long central tail plume that gives it its name, but younger birds like this one. I’ve got a soft spot for jaegers, and seeing these (we saw several) was really special.

That was it for new county year birds, but I also got some great new-to-me birds in Ventura County:


South Polar Skua (Stercorarius maccormicki)

Photo by Flicker user Greg Schechter

This one showed up to check out the chum line that professional bird guide Wes Fritz was ladling out from the stern as we cruised north of San Nicolas Island.


American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus)

Photo by Wikipedia user Peter Wallack

One of the goals of the trip was to look for American Oystercatchers on the south shore of Anacapa, where they sometimes show up mingled with the local Black Oystercatchers. And… one was there! It’s not for-sure; hybrid American/Black Oystercatchers also tend to show up in Southern California, and there’s a complex formula called the “Jehl scale” that birders sometimes use to try to figure out how “pure” a particular American-ish SoCal oystercatcher is. I dunno; we got good looks and lots of photos of this one, and the assembled experts seemed to think the bird looked pretty good for American.

It wasn’t in Santa Barbara County, so I’m like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Sabine’s Gull (Xema sabini)

Photo by Flickr users Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

This one was a legitimate thrill for me; a bird I’d very much hoped we’d see, that I knew was a possibility but that was also far from a sure thing. It’s a pelagic gull that’s rarely seen from shore, and I was so happy to see it I didn’t even mind that it was in Ventura County.

And that’s it! On the way back the experts on the boat were fairly giddy; “one of the top 5 Southern California pelagic trips ever!” one said. I’ll take his word for it; it was only my second pelagic birding trip, so I don’t have much to compare it to.

But I sure had a good time.

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Being a Brief Account of My Participation in Island Packers’ Pelagic Birding Trip to Santa Cruz…

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

Being a Brief Account of My Participation in Island Packers’ Pelagic Birding Trip to Santa Cruz Island, 2018-03-10

With specific reference to birds I saw that were new additions to my Santa Barbara County year list

After a cut because no one has room for that in their dash

It was so much fun! It only rained on us a little on our way over, and then when it rained a fair amount on our way back it didn’t matter because I was warmed by the inner glow of all the cool new birds I’d seen. 😀

It was all quite awesome, but I’m just going to list the birds that were new for my county year list. Here they are in the order in which I saw them. The eBird lists, which were kept by the trip guides, haven’t been finalized yet, so this is from memory.

Cassin’s Auklet (#205)


Photo by Flickr user Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith

These little alcids are so adorable it’s ridiculous. And the Santa Barbara Channel was full of them today. We started seeing them on the way to Anacapa, and after we crossed the imaginary line between Anacapa and Santa Cruz we saw more almost immediately. By the end of the day I felt pretty solid about picking them out, even through rain-spattered binoculars as they skittered away across the water.

Black-vented Shearwater (#206)


Photo by Flickr user (and regional eBird editor and all-around swell person) Jamie Chavez

These are on the small side (for a shearwater). They’ll be moving on from our area fairly soon, so I was glad to have the chance to see them. We picked them up early in the trip, and kept seeing them as we crossed from Anacapa to Santa Cruz.

Pigeon Guillemot (#207)


Photo by Wikipedia user DickDaniels

How could you not love a bird like that? We were surrounded by them once we started motoring along the north side of Santa Cruz. They’re nesting in the sea caves there, and there were some in view pretty much the whole time we were close to shore.

Black Oystercatcher (#208)


Photo by Flickr user Len Blumin

There should be a law against a bird having this much personality. We saw a couple on the detached breakwater as we were leaving Channel Islands Harbor, then saw several countable ones along the north shore of Santa Cruz.

Island Scrub Jay (#209)


Photo by Flickr user Bill Bouton

North America’s only island endemic. On some level it seems surprising that such a boisterous, apparently fearless bird is such a weak flyer that the few miles of ocean between the mainland and Santa Cruz are enough to isolate the population, but here we are. Something I noticed this time that I’d never appreciated before is how much bluer they are than their mainland cousins.

They showed up as soon as we walked off the pier at Prisoner’s Harbor.

Scripps’s Murrelet (#210)


Photo by Flickr user Greg Schechter

I was a little nervous about these. Another adorable little alcid, we started seeing them on the way to Anacapa, but they don’t hang out close to shore, and as of lunchtime we hadn’t seen any in Santa Barbara waters. As the trip back started I wondered: Would we we be able to get any while still on the Santa Barbara side of the line?

I needn’t have worried. The people running our trip knew what they were doing. On the way back we headed north into deeper water, and shortly thereafter I got to add these sharp little alcids to the list.

Rhinoceros Auklet (#211)


Photo by Flickr user Mike Baird

We actually saw one of these early on the trip back before the countable Scripps’s Murrelets, I’m pretty sure. I raised my binoculars to check out a bird flying a short distance from the boat; through the raindrops on my lenses I saw dingy gray plumage and thought it was yet another Cassin’s Auklet. But as I was following the bird a couple of the better birders on the upper deck where I was hanging out (including trip guide Peter Gaede, one of the best birders I’ve ever been lucky enough to bird with) said, “Rhino!” The bird disappeared into the rain, and they explained that it had looked considerably bigger than a Cassin’s Auklet. I was spared having to wrestle with whether or not to list it (over-analyzing listability is something that comes with a list obsession) when a second, much closer Rhino showed up and put my mind at ease.

It wasn’t in breeding plumage, so it didn’t have the cool rhino horn and head tufts, but I got good views of its big beak and “anvil-shaped” head.

Northern Fulmar (#212)


Photo by Flickr user Tim Sackton

I knew these were out there for the finding since we’d seen several in Ventura County on the way out, but we hadn’t seen any on the Santa Barbara side, and I was starting to worry we wouldn’t when a couple more flew past. Yay! County year bird #8 for the day!

Fulmars are so cool.

There actually was one more bird that would have been #9, Bonaparte’s Gull; we saw several just a few minutes after the announcement that we were back in Ventura County. But it’s possible the announcement was just a tad premature, and I believe the trip guides are taking a closer look to see if one or more of those Bonaparte’s might actually have been on the Santa Barbara side. So we’ll see about that.

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