Wednesday, September 25, 2013

MEGAGREAT SHEARWATER and Other Half Moon Highlights

Just brutal. BB&B is getting really bogged down and backed up...too many pelagic trips! So much chimping remains to be done. I like that I haven't posted a photo of a passerine in weeks, other than the controversial Nutmeg Mannikin (which has been added to the ABA Checklist, as I prophesied).

So after a fairly slow outing out of Monterey, I led 2 more Shearwater Journeys trips out of Half Moon Bay early in the month. On September 8, we pulled off the incredible feat of relocating the Great Shearwater that Alvaro Jamarillo's trip had found the day before. This is a MEGA in California, with currently only 8 accepted records by the Bird Police. Of course, since it is such a good bird, my photos of it were atrocious, but at least I got much better ones less than a month before in North Carolina.

The bird made a single pass up the port side of the boat and then was not part of any feeding flock or raft of birds, so I think it was plain old amazing luck that we were able to find it again, less than a mile from where the bird was seen the previous day.

One of my best California birds this year, without a doubt. We did another trip out there the day after seeing this bird, but could not relocate it. It's a big ocean out there. It still astounds me that the bird paid us a visit...chasing pelagic vagrants successfully is not something to be taken lightly.

It was a good weekend for Scripps's Murrelets. A big body of warm water was reachable on those days, which the murrelets love. Sadly, no Craveri's or Guadalupe Murrelets accompanied them.

Interestingly, at least half the time I've seen these birds on northern California trips, they are spotted off the bow flying directly away from the boats, unnervingly not revealing any field marks except their back color and flight style. They look a lot like Cassin's Auklets when they do this (which is surely their intended way to thwart birders), and I bet many SCMU get missed this way.

Buller's Shearwater are beloved. It is the bird on a pelagic trip that leaders will call out again and again and again, no matter how many have been seen already. I had no idea they had two-tone pink and gray feet until I looked closely at this's a nice touch.

Although the big dark "M" across the upperwing is the default ID mark for these birds, I find their gleaming white underwing and underparts to be even more useful to spot these birds at a glance.

Here is the iconic back pattern.

Cassin's and Rhinoceros Auklets are similar at first glance, particularly when you see a distant bird on the water and have no way to gauge its size. The comparatively small bill of a Cassin's isn't always obvious, but it's a great field mark besides the overall diminutive size. The differences in head shape (rounded on Cassin's, flat and blocky on Rhino) are also reliable.

Young Rhino Auklets (right) lack the white brows and whiskers of adults, giving them the chance to be confused with both Cassin's Auklets and juvenile Tufted Puffins.

Pacific White-sided Dolphins are frequently found on boats out of Half Moon Bay, Monterey and Bodega Bay. We had an enormous pod this day, with lots of shearwaters fishing with them. Even the most cold-hearted, diehard lister should be happy to run into dolphins on pelagic trips, because they usually have a lot of birds with them.

Of course, Pacific White-throated Dolphin or Pacific Gray-sided Dolphin would be a better names, but I don't think mammalogists are as prone to tinkering with names as bird folk are. Very cool and distinctive animals, regardless of humanity's poor descriptions. They are more than happy to come visit boats, and occasionally have Northern Right Whale Dolphins tagging along with them.

It's been a good fall for Humpback Whales. We've seen hella. Brilliant creatures. Much more pelagic coverage to come soon.

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