Thursday, December 5, 2013

Brown Wonders...Blue Intimacy...Red Feces

No longer do birders scream "SKUUUAAAAA!!! SKUUUAAAAAAAAA!!!" off the California coast like madmen. With increasingly gnarly seas and so many of our seabirds leaving our waters for their breeding grounds in far off lands, pelagic trips have ceased running for the year. But the birds are still nice to think about, even if they conduct their business in lands and waters beyond our reach.

Few brown birds receive as much love and respect from birders as the skua. Ah, the South Polar Skua, aka "The Brown Wonder". Seeing that they spend half the year in the Northern Hemisphere, I have a feeling that the more politically correct name would be "Bipolar Skua." Right?

There are exceptions, of course. There are many birders who have never seen Flesh-footed Shearwater. We leaders of west coast pelagics get a lot of requests for these birds. Behold its fantastic brownness!

Of course, the bright pink bill lends some character, and adds to the creepy first-cycle Heermann's Gull effect.

On the last Half Moon Bay boat I was on, we ran into a massive mixed pod of Humpback and Blue Whales. They were very close to the boat and made no attempt to keep any kind of distance from us. For a long time we idled in the water while whales slowly frolicked around us.

This pair of blues spent a lot of time very close to us. It was not quite exhilarating but something very, very close to that.

Blue Whale nostrils are large. Especially up close. The explosive exhalation of a Blue Whale is really something to hear, especially when the seas are so calm the only things you can hear are squabbling gulls and other distant whale blows. What a fucking awesome experience.

Blue Whale flukes! There's a couple other surfacing whales in the background.

Humpbacks were plentiful as well. They have (proportionally) larger flukes than Blues and often have big white patches on the ventral side. The undertail pattern is how Humpback researchers can often tell individuals apart.

For your viewing pleasure...whale shit! Wish I could ID it to species. No, that's not bloody stool, that's digested krill remains.

Of course, seeing whale shit is one thing, but any real biologist will want to take it to the next level. We took some poop aboard and Liz #1 did some science on it with her tongue. Marmot assists.

Despite the abundance of Pink-footed Shearwaters offshore, they only breed on three islands off the Chilean coast. Hella vulnerable. A strange thing to consider when they are often the most abundant tubenose to be found offshore.

One of the thousands of things I like about tubenoses is how sleek their lines are when they tuck their feet in and are in cruising mode. They look completely built for flight, much like how I am completely built for birding.

A California Gull is no match for a Pomarine Jaeger on the hunt, even if the gull is the same size as the jaeger. You can actually make out the fish being disgorged in the photo. If only I could have all my food first swallowed by someone else...a boy can dream, right?

Mola Molas can often be spotted near the surface with a handful of attending gulls, hopeful to pick some parasites off the large fish. This is a first year Western Gull.


This is a zombie mola. Note the unseeing eye and facial scars of the undead.

Buller's Shearwaters were particularly common this year, with large numbers foraging relatively close to shore. For a few weeks it was even a bird you could see from land, which is not at all typical. The ocean is a fickle thing, and so too are it's birds.

Most Buller's crushes feature the m-pattern on the top side of the bird, but I reckon the stark white underwing is ajust as engaging.

As fall slips into winter, the hordes of Elegant Terns that pillage nearshore baitfish populations retreat south to Mexico. There they will stay until it is time to make sweet sweet tern love again.

All photos taken today are from September and October Half Moon Bay trips with Shearwater Journeys.


  1. You've got some crazy good photo mojo. I shot a lot of the same things you did that day, and none of them are in the same realm of crush. Strong work.

    1. Some of these are from a different trip, but thanks. I aim to crush.