Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Pelagic Season Begins: July 26, Half Moon Bay

July 26 was my first pelagic trip of the year, leading for Shearwater Journeys again out of Half Moon Bay. Little did I know, it would be a date that would live on in infamy...the birding would reach a crescendo, although I did not expect it.

I was stoked to start doing some boat trips this year, as since I've returned from Texas I've hardly gone birding. I was also interested in what we might find offshore so early in the "fall", since I've never done a July pelagic before. It was (and is) Hawaiian Petrel season, and a boat the previous week had several Craveri's Murrelet, a bird I yearned for and usually does not get much north of San Diego. After seeing some guillemots in the harbor we plunged into the inshore fog bank, and headed out to sea. Eventually the fog broke and we started getting into some birds...a couple Scripps's Murrelets, a flyby Craveri's (which I missed...ouch), and then a Laysan Albatross appeared ahead of the boat.

I wouldn't call Laysan Albatross "rare" offshore here, but they are certainly rareish...they are not recorded as frequently as, say, Flesh-footed Shearwater, but they are never totally unexpected. Since I spent three and a half months with them on Midway Atoll, they hold a special place in my heart, so it's always good to check in with them.

Soon we were in deeper water, where Black-footed Albatross are plentiful. I never get tired of these birds (they get posted to BB&B almost more than anything else) and although they have only about 3 colors, they can make for some creative photography. They are well known for their big bodies, bill bills and big wingspan, but how about those big fuckoff feet?

Like many waterfowl, albatross will use their humungo feet for brakes and steering when making a quick landing.

I dig the long wake this gooney is leaving behind.

Of course, later in the day we got to see this bird, this rarity of rarities, which you probably know about already. If not, get the full story right here. I'm recovering, slowly. I'm still fighting myopathy and I've just been able to start eating solid food again.

The AOU did just recognize Salvin's Albatross as a full species, less than two weeks after our sighting. Thanks guys. Still marveling that we got to see this bird, and so well at that.

In less majestic and more disgusting news, we had a fair number of Northern Fulmars offshore that day, almost all of which looked like shit. Look at this bird. It's awful.

Several of these dark-morph birds were so worn and bleached that they had white mantles. Look at those horrible primaries! The decrepit tail! It's amazing these birds can even get airborne.

As expected for late July, most of the shearwaters we ran into were Pink-footed (above) and Sooty. We did get one Buller's (the best of all shearwaters), which was on the early side. Most shearwaters now are in heavy wing molt and have big chunks missing from their primaries and secondaries. At least they don't look like hideous fulmars.

This is the same bird. They'll be looking better in a month or so.

There were dozens of Common Murre dads leading their fuzzy, flightless chicks around. Maybe the murres had a good breeding season on the Farallones?

Another murre family scoots out of the way of the boat. I will admit that on this day, I committed a misidentification at sea. I mistook a Orca dorsal fin for a Humpback Whale pectoral fin. Embarrassing, I know. This may sound like an odd thing to do for some of you, but a humpback pec fin is similar in size and shape (but not color...) to a male Orca dorsal fin, and humpbacks frequently lie on their sides or on their backs and will wave a fin in the air, for reasons that only other humpback whales could possibly understand. I feel no shame...mostly because it wasn't a bird. Steller's Sea Lion was also a nice bonus mammal.

Oh, I did see a pair of Craveri's that day, so everything is fine. I'll be on Sunday's pelagic out of Half Moon Bay, so maybe I'll see some of you then. The marine forecast looks very good for alcids and finding rafts of storm-petrels this's also worth mentioning that there recently have been 4 species of Sulids in San Mateo and San Francisco waters!!! Not baffling, but welcomed.

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