Friday, June 28, 2013

Whales. Shearwaters. Ecstasy.

I don't often photograph Black-vented Shearwaters, but when I do, I prefer a whale in the background. All photos today were taken in the East Santa Barbara Channel, CA.'s almost over? Not sure how that happened. With my last day of field work (August 1) rapidly approaching, this summer is cruising by at astonishing speed.

However, the birding on Santa Cruz Island of late has not been astonishing. I mean, it probably is to visitors from out of the area, but as someone who more or less lives here...its pretty slow. The window for late spring vagrants officially slammed shut several weeks ago when I saw a mostly yellow female tanager/oriole thing as I was leaving the ranch one morning for flew directly away out into the scrub, and with it my hopes for picking up any more tasty eastern vagrants.

The boat trips to and from the island have been lackluster lately as well. The Scripps's Murrelets and Cassin's Auklets finished breeding and floated off to god-knows-where, and we haven't been seeing much I was pretty shocked the other day when we ran into giant hives of feeding shearwaters, common dolphins and Humpback wizard Corey Finger must have used some of his magic (he also documented the ride at 10,000 Birds).

One of the whales did a couple huge tail slaps, which were almost like upside-down breaches. It inspired some awe in me, I'm not going to lie.

Part of one of the feeding frenzies. Note the close proximity of the common dolphins to the whale; dolphins and whales feeding literally side-by-side is not something I remember seeing before.

The birds also wanted to be as close to the whales as possible. Shearwaters and Western Gulls followed the whales closely whenever they were on the surface.

Black-vented Shearwaters were a bit of a surprise. This species is typically only in the Santa Barbara Channel from late fall to spring; I wonder if there has been an influx of warmer water, which this species is fond of.

Sooty Shearwater was the most abundant species that day (3500+), as expected. Their numbers will continue to grow off the west coast as we get deeper into summer.

A lot of shearwaters are molting right now and look terrifyingly haggard. Check out those hilarious primaries!

And yes, I realize how monumentally nerdy "check out those hilarious primaries" sounds.

Nothing warms the seabirder's heart like an enormous flock of shearwaters to sort through.

Pink-footed, Black-vented and Sooty Shearwaters chase after a whale. These are the commonest California shearwaters; Buller's start being seen recorded in August, and most Flesh-footed records are from September and October. Some Short-tailed arrive by October, but they are hard to pick out from the masses of Sooties, and are difficult to find south of Monterey.

One of the few passable Pink-footed Shearwaters I shot that camera settings were slightly off, which resulted in an embarrassing number of blown opportunities. I gotta say, I'm really looking forward to being on some pelagic trips this fall! With multiple trips planned out of several California ports and a pair of North Carolina trips, I should end up with a pretty solid seabird list by the end of the year.

Elegant Terns are back! It's hard to go so long without them.

Too bad they will all be balding soon. Those black caps they wear look so slick.

These guys looked to be fishing as close as they possibly could to the edge of a marine reserve. To their credit, it didn't look like they crossed into forbidden waters.


  1. So much awesomeness. Even sporting hilarious primaries, those shearwaters tug at me heart strings.

    1. You will know them intimately in a couple months. Get stoked.

  2. The term 'epic' is so overly saturated into everyday descriptions now, but the photos and events in this post do fully merit the title.

    Friggin' great stuff.

    1. Thanks Laurence...this was a good ride home, no doubt. I don't think people want to read about my "commutes" where I am binging on saltines so I don't get seasick though.

  3. Thank you for correcting my misidentified cuckoo, Steve. An embarrassing error on my part.

    Your latest blog work is as humorous and educational as ever. I will be making a pelagic trip in the Atlantic in a few weeks. I'll be photographing anything that moves! There may be whales as have been reported on previous trips at this time of year. Looking forward to calmer waters and a lot of seabirds.

  4. I'm fairly certain it's an El Nino year, which would explain your BVSHs. Fuggin sweet man.

  5. just looked it up, not an el nino year but I think the sst is warmer. Those primaries are hilarious. What an idiot...AMIRITE?