Tuesday, October 1, 2013

I Love Rafting (And Fleshy Feet)

Rafts. I love them. Not that cowardly river rapid stuf, I'm talking about rafts of tubenoses...storm-petrels, in this case. There are very few people in the world who are brave enough to pick through these things.

I've had the pleasure of running into several big carpets of storm-petrels recently. It's been a great year for storm-petrels off the coast of California, particularly Half Moon and Bodega Bays. This enormous flock of ~8,000 birds (mostly Ashy Storm-Petrels) was off Half Moon Bay back on September 8.

It's difficult/impossible to capture the size and width of these rafts in photos. This is just a tiny chunk. A tiny taste.

Ashy Storm-Petrel is a relatively rare bird....a previous estimate puts their total population at 10,000, but with the numbers we've seen this fall that figure is too low. This is yet another bird that is almost endemic to California.

This particular raft contained good numbers of Wilson's and Black Storm-Petrels as well. It was a glorious day. I haven't seen that many storm-petrels at once in many years.

Of course, nothing increases the Glory one experiences like running into a Flesh-footed Shearwater. They are semi-unusual this time of year, not completely expected but not at all unexpected. As is the case with many seabirds, California is the by far the best and easiest place in the country to bump into this wonderful brownness.

Flesh-foots can hide remarkably well with rafts of other shearwaters on the water, but they are very distinct in flight.

And despite their resemblance to young Heermann's Gulls, thankfully people do not get them confused.

One of the places Tufted Puffins go to repuffin the world is the Farallon Islands, not far from Half Moon Bay. This frazzled bird has fried tufts, and looks a bit shabby. The breeding season has been long and this bird is about ready to drop its garish makeup and get gross. It wants to look homely and spend months eating small fish.

Here is a basic Tufted Puffin. Debi (Shearwater) thought it could be a second-year bird, which is entirely possible but I can neither confirm or deny.

California Gulls are one of the few gull species that are following boats this time of year...Herring, Glaucous-winged, Thayer's and Olympic really haven't arrived yet. Young birds like this one are pretty sharp-looking.

Young California Gulls come in a rainbow of browns and grays, which bring great and disgusting pleasure to the Larophiles.

Just when you think you're out on the open ocean, as far from civilization as you can get, YANG MING comes along and keeps it real.


  1. Jeez, I was just going to write almost this exact post on MY blog about the Bodega pelagic I went on last week, but your photos are WAY better. Mine are all just dots of Storm-Petrels or blurs of Shearwaters. Ugh, Seagull Steve, ugh.

    Sweet close-up of an Ashy, by the way.

    1. You went last week? How many storm-petrels did you guys get?

    2. On the 22nd. We saw about as many S-Ps as the Sept 20 trip out of Bodega did, it was incredible. (estimates: Ashy - 9,000+, Fork-tailed 6,000+, Black 300+, Wilson's 20). That was only my 2nd pelagic so all but the Ashy's were lifers for me. And a Skua. Fucking rad.

  2. Are the larger birds in the last photo Black-footed Albatross?

  3. Are the larger birds in the last photo Black-footed Albatross?

  4. You have some of the most amazing birding adventures, color me envious.