Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The ABA's First Nazca Booby (That You Never Heard Of)

A long time ago, in a county far, far away, a girl sent a boy some pictures. She sent pictures of a booby.  

This booby was not in good shape, not the kind of booby that a girl or a boy would want to see, for it was a dead booby. It had been dead for some time, and not immediately identifiable. This boy told the girl to take the booby to an eggman, a man who surrounds himself with death. The eggman was eager to take the booby. Some weeks later, this boy and the eggman took a look at the dessicated booby and measured its wing chord. The wing chord told the boy and the eggman what they needed to know. The booby was not a Brown Booby, nor was it a Blue-footed Booby. It was something else.

Today, I hand the blog reins over to Officer Adam Searcy, a Bird Policeman. Respect this officer's authority. His word is bond. - #7

A Nazca Booby was present, very briefly, last month on Anacapa Island in Ventura County, CA. A lucky few (very few) were able to see it, while many others dipped in disgrace. Photo courtesy of Joel Barrett.

As most of you know, the collective blood pressure of many Common Birders was recently elevated due to the occurrence of an adult Nazca Booby—a substantial vagrant—on the east end of Anacapa Island in Ventura County, CA.  Cars were driven, wives were abandoned, and sixth-graders were very likely punched in their faces, all so that crazed humans could get on a boat and go look for This Thing.  Even I (yes, I occasionally watch birds) co-led a failed expedition aboard the able S/V Moomba, accompanied by The Stahlest Man on Earth, Sultry Salmon, and “The Scot”, et al., only to be stymied by wind-blown peanut shells, forgotten champagne, and goddamned blue whales.  So, much to the disappointment of The Entire Birding Community, the Nazca Booby appears to have decided to do what boobies do best—be rude and leave (ignore all of those reports from The Farallones, the isle of misfit Sulids—those boobies [s.l.] done went and broke down [and somehow attracted a Kelp Gull/Linnet/Galflathosaur]). For now, all of Our Lists (nearly: shove-off, J. Barrett) remain free of this spectral Suliform.

So what do you know about Nazca Boobies?  Like most humans, probably quite a little. What you think you know about them might include details about their status in California. Ok then, how many records does California have?  Well, as usual, you’re probably wrong. Sit down, Locustella naevia, and let me tell you a tale…

Last month’s Nazca was neither the first, nor the second, but The Third to be recorded in the state. Even more amazingly, it was the second to be recorded in Ventura County. That’s right—not a first state record and not even a first county record. The first county record and the first state record occurred way back in the dark days of 2013’s summer when Alexis “I Buy Expensive Star Wars Paraphernalia” Frangis happened upon it at McGrath State Beach, storied vagrant trap, treated sewage pond, and well-known Abandoned Porn Repository. A booby carcass (dead) was encountered and brought to the attention of #7 and Cadet Searcy. The carcass was rapidly transferred to the custody of The Authorities and deposited at a secure undisclosed location. Plumage showed that this bird was a Masked/Nazca type—but it was a young one, so bill color was of no help and measurements were equivocal. So some Really Smart People got together and they did some science.  After the science was done, the verdict came in: NAZCA BOOBY.  Much α-enolasing, CytB-ing, and lots of GATCCCATTGGAAATT-ing later, we had a bona-fide (dead, unchaseable, irrelevant to Many Birders, but damned interesting nonetheless) Nazca Booby, right here, jerked, infested with dermestids, but beautiful in its own dead and significant way.  

The most unchaseable Nazca Booby, collected in July 2013 at McGrath State Beach.  Photo courtesy of Alexis Frangis.

There you have it, folks. The FIRST ABA RECORD of Nazca Booby came ashore, dead or alive, (or was planted by our ever-assisting-enemies, The Ships) at McGrath State Beach, here in humble Ventura County, California. Here’s hoping that another one shows up alive and finally lets us all stare at it. Until then, we shall all remain miserable as we are taunted by the gaping Nazca Booby-shaped holes in our state lists.

Some history: A Nazca Booby was recorded in San Diego County some years ago, but was not added to the state's list due to a brief but well-documented bout of ship assistance.  In 2013 Alexis Frangis recovered this bird on the beach, which has been accepted by the California Bird Police. In 2014 a single observer saw and photographed a Nazca Booby offshore in Los Angeles County (accepted by the California Bird Police), and the Anacapa Island bird showed up last month. All records are from May-July. Thanks to Alexis Frangis for finding the bird and delivering it to the right people.  Thanks to Officer Searcy (who has given BB&B some insightful interviews in the past, see here and here) and the California Bird Police for their words, and for their science.


  1. Here's a write-up about a Nazca Booby we saw just south of the border during a pelagic trip. Flying south -- probably just having come from the ABA area. Argh!

    1. No doubt that bird has spent many days in U.S. waters! Agreed on your impressions of culmen variability.