Monday, December 3, 2012

Another Half Moon Bay Pelagic

Nothing cuts a profile like a Black-footed Albatross. Albatross are good luck to the ancient mariner and dedicated seabirder alike.

In early October I got a surprise invitation to go on a Shearwater Journeys boat out of Half Moon Bay, CA, which I gladly accepted. This was my third and final boat trip of the year (a November trip got cancelled due to weather) that started out slow, but got a lot more interesting as we approached the Farrallon Islands. No gannet detour was made (bummer), but it was a good day even without the celebrity sulid. No real rarities, but lifer Leatherback Sea Turtle, hundreds of Buller's Shearwaters and hearing a Marbled Murrelet call for the first time in years were definite highlights. If I am free next fall (which is usually the case), I hope to make it on a lot more bird boats.

Here's the first batch of photos, more to come.

Double-crested Cormorants, Brown Pelican, Brandt's Cormorant. These are some of the most noticeable harbor-loving birds on the California coast. Note the lefthand cormorant, which is sporting a white gular fringe in the style of a Neotropic Cormorant.

Brandt's Cormorant. Their eyes stand out like sore thumbs...beautiful, emerald blue sore thumbs.

Marbled Murrelets are dependable on boat trips out of Half Moon Bay. There are usually a couple pairs on the water just south of the harbor, and on this day I watched a (calling!) bird fly into Pillar Point Harbor as well.

Like storm-petrels, Marbled Murrelets aren't big fans of big boats, and being Endangered, we don't get too close to them on the water.

A Black-footed albatross buzzes a little shearwater flock. Rafting behind it are Pink-footed and Buller's Shearwaters, and a Heerman's Gull doing its best Flesh-footed Shearwater impression. Considering their penchant for impersonating jaegers, Heerman's Gulls are really versatile birds.

After the albatross cruised by, a small parade of Pacific White-sided Dolphins made a pass by the shearwaters.

Pacific White-sided Dolphins are easy to identify, with their strongly curved dorsal fins and lack of the typical dolphin snout. They look more like porpoises.

Pacific white-sided Dolphins are one of the more animated cetaceans found in California waters. Like most dolphins, they really like being dolphins.

Buller's Shearwater (year bird). I finally managed to get some shots with their signature back pattern. On my previous pelagic trip out of Monterey Bay, we saw about 4. On this day, we saw hundreds! Whole flocks of them! That will dilate the pupils any day.

It's been a warm water year off of California, with big numbers of Black-vented Shearwaters making it all the way up to northern California for much of the fall. This isn't a bird to expect this far north most years. 

Pacific Loons are not hard to see from shore, but its pretty rare to get very close to them. Boats off California encounter many in late fall and winter. Note the good posture on this bird, Red-throated Loons slouch their necks. Lazy bastards.

A Tufted Puffin (year bird) in its infrequently-seen basic plumage. This one still sports a big orange bill, but has dropped its tufts and white facial patch. From a distance, it reminded me of a male Surf Scoter.


  1. Ah, so many birds I've never heard of or seen...someday.

    Sweet shots. Pelagic photography must be tricky with a rocking boat and lots of fliers, but the result is pretty rad.

  2. Shooting birds from a boat is awful...the boat rocks, the birds get blocked by birders, waves, or the boat itself. It makes getting decent photos all the more rewarding.

  3. I've only done it once--focusing on a bird and not the water behind it while the boat is rocking is a real challenge.

  4. The pelican in the second photo looks like some sort of god that the Cormorants are worshiping.