Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Offshore Monterey: Mixed Water, A Mixed Bag

Back on September 7, I kicked off three days in a row leading pelagic trips for Shearwater Journeys. This was a boat out of Monterey (probably the only one I'll be on this year). There was some swell to contend with, and we had some difficulty figuring out where the birds were. A lot of the water we found out on the Albacore Grounds looked a bit cold and disgusting (i.e. no "hard edge"), and as expected the birds were not out in force.

We did have acceptable numbers of jaegers (including close to 27 Pomarine) and Sabine's Gulls. This crisp Parasitic Jaeger was going all in on getting this Sabine's Gull to regurge something tasty.

It was one of the few more dramatic moments of the trip. Sabine's Gulls must despise the fact that multiple species of jaegers are following them around all year, all the way from the Arctic to the waters off South America. Talk about a real nemesis bid.

The rest of the flock retreats unscathed.

The highlight of the day for me were a couple of Blue Whales. This is the closest I've seen them. Pictures, of course, do not do them justice.

I previously referred to Blue Whales as behemoths, so today I will call them leviathans. Late summer and fall is a good time to see them off California, as the migrate south for the winter.

I get a lot of questions about how to tell phalaropes apart. This plump, short-billed creature is none other than a Red Phalarope. Red-necked is smaller, slimmer, with a longer, thinner bill...they're not too difficult to tell apart in flight if you get a good enough look. A lot of Red-neckeds moving through are juveniles, which are distinctly darker-backed than Red.

Sooty Shearwater was the most abundant bird of the day, which is to be expected this time of year. Short-taileds will be arriving in a few weeks, which we should all be ready for. You may have noticed that I set myself up for a good little Short-tailed discussion, but what could I mention that isn't already in your field guide? Down with redundancy.

Oh, some Sooty Shearwaters have white chins...you won't find that in the field guides. Now you know.

Pink-footed Shearwaters are very common as well. I like the lighting on this bird.

Here is a bird in harsh afternoon light...I prefer overcast. Aside from Red vs. Red-necked Phalaropes, I notice a lot of Pink-footed Shearwaters mistakenly get called Buller's Shearwaters...other than the standard differences in size, flight style and underpart color, it's worth mentioning that Pink-foots are freshly molted right now, and can look hella contrasty on the upperwing, reminiscent of Buller's at first glance.

It's impossible to resist the urge to photograph Black-footed Albatross, no matter how many I've utterly destroyed with my camera over the years. That's a juvenile Western Gull next to it, for size comparison.

Dark-rumped birds like this one are younger and not as world-weary. It's nice to see these optimistic, exuberant individuals before they are mentally crushed by too many seasons of failed breeding and watching their friends choke on plastic action figures plucked from the North Pacific Gyre.

Right. Who said that?

Here is a homely-looking Pomarine Jaeger. Gross.

Overall, not a bad day on the water; a pair of Baird's Beaked Whales, a big pod of Common Dolphins, Arctic Tern and a handful of Buller's Shearwaters were nice. We only found a paltry 7 Ashy Storm-Petrels, but we found the motherload the next day off of Half Moon Bay. Noteable misses were Long-tailed Jaeger and South Polar Skua...can't win 'em all!


  1. Wow, and uh-oh. I think you have just photographed my next birding dream. A Blue Whale birding dream may not be survivable. Nevertheless, onward.

    1. Lots of Blue Whales off the coast this year! Many a dream is coming true.

  2. Those jaeger vs. Sabine's shots are awesome.

    1. I'm not sure who won, although the gull looked like it was losing...it may not have had anything to barf up in defeat though.