Wednesday, September 17, 2008

An Economy Of Style

The PANAMERICANPERPETUALWEEKEND continues to roll on over mountains, plains, and now oceans of the United States. It is an unstoppable force, and people are having to reckon with it. As it builds momentum, the pure potential energy will build until we here at Team Felonious Jive will blast into the stratosphere in a blaze of whiskey and glory.

A few Saturdays ago I found myself driving south to Monterey in a frenzy. As is often the case, this frenzy was a result of my liver. Hanging out the night before with an Esteemed Colleague from the burrowing owl crew in a Mission bar did me no good for preparing myself for onslaught of caffeine I was about to experience. Im talking about Philz on 24th St, known by many as possessing The Best Coffee In The World. I made the mistake of drinking the Turkish, which was extrememly powerful and had me locked in some kind of vision quest. Good god.

After a couple hours I was able to finish the coffee and get myself together. I had found that we were somehow standing on the Municpal Wharf, in Monterey. Obviously some sort of time travel had occurred. We lurked around the wharf for most of the afternoon, checking out the birdlife and laughing at the sea lion who tried to bite the head off of some curious passerby who got a little too close. Lots of bat stars, sea cucumbers, moon jellies in the water. The water was teeming. Birds were standard, but good......phalaropes, turnstones, cormorants. A couple Harlequin Ducks held it down.......they are very good looking (handsome?), even at this time of year. Some are petitioning it to make it Washington's state bird.......the lowly goldfinch does not hold a candle to the duck of all ducks.

Early the next morning I found myself, once again, hungover and driving down to the wharf from Pacific Grove. My colleague was in better shape than myself......he had been the designated (destined?) driver the night before. It was, as they say, the most he has ever lost in a coin toss.

Soon we were on the boat with Debbie Shearwater briefing us on the days events. We were out into the bay to blunder upon as many seabirds as possible, hopefully some rare ones.

Before I continue and delve into the filthy, nerdy heart of this thing, I need to clarify a couple of things. Debra Shearwater's offshore trips are legendary among birders, and it is probably not unreasonable to say that more than a few people have suffered mild heart attacks as a result of jaw-dropping megavagrants that seem to find their way to her boats with surprising frequency. I have been wanting to go on one of these trips for the better part of my life, and this was my first time. I was like like a kid in a candy store, or a crackhead at 24th and Mission.

Finally we were out in the bay, checking out jaegers, shearwaters, auklets and a variety of other seabirds. South Polar Skuas, who spend part of the year devouring penguins down Antarctica way, began to show up with some regularity. Humpback whales were numerous and easy to spot. Common, Pacific White-sided and Northern Right Whale Dolphins spent time bowriding. Sick.

It was late in the morning when I began realizing a couple of things. First, since I didnt know many people on the boat, everyone kind of assumed that I didnt know anything about birds. Little did they know. Second, the dramamine I had previously taken was having a very, very strong effect. I could barely stay awake, and my eyes were playing bad tricks on me. I would squint into the fog and see a forest full of big pine trees, knowing full well that a forest had no business being in the ocean. Looking down at the water was a confusing matrix of pink and purple lines and jellyfish. Shiteyes had set in and I was struggling with it for much of the day.

It was in this catatonic state that the boat came upon a massive flock of storm-petrels, some 12,000 birds at least, and probably many more. Storm-petrels are small, black seabirds that all look alike and dont fly close to boats, and this was by far more than I'd ever seen in California before. It was a Very Big Deal, and the nerd smell on the boat was beginning to get quite strong. Some claimed it was actually the storm-petrels we could smell, but I prefer to think it was concentrated nerd juices leaking out of everyones pores. They were mostly Ashy Storm-Petrels, with some Blacks and a few rarer ones mixed in......a single Leach's Storm-Petrel was apparently the rarest bird of the trip, but I was happier about the Wilson's and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels....the latter of which I had never seen before. Yes.

After spending considerable time with storm-petrel rafts, we headed back inshore. I was fiending to see a Flesh-footed Shearwater, another bird that I had never seen before that I was hoping to get a look at. At one point, as we approached a flock of shearwaters on the water, someone called one out as the flock took off. I got a brief look at its chocolately brown goodness and gorgeous pink feet and bill, and was happy with it. However, an altercation was developing next to me between and elderly birder and one of the leaders, who will remain Safely Anonymous. Elderly curmudgeon guy was bitching to one of the leaders that they werent doing their job (aka he didnt see the shearwater), and she was trying to explain to him that he needed to use his binoculars if he was going to see it. How embarassing.

Too soon we were back in the bay, with the boat disgorging nerds back onto Fisherman's Wharf. I highly recommend going aboard a Shearwater boat if you ever get the chance, despite the price, as it is not only a great experience but a great lesson in Economy Of Style.

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