Thursday, October 6, 2016

Alcids, Ashies, Albatross, and a Lifer Genital Slit

My second pelagic of the year out of Half Moon Bay was pleasantly birdy to begin with, but let's cut right to got a lot better when we happened into a pod of motherfucking Orcas.

Orcas. One of the coolest, most interesting animals in the world? Easily. People absolutely lit up when we came upon this group, which we were able to stay with for a while.

There was much frolicking, rolling around, tail slapping, general flopping and other things I could describe more scientifically if I was a whale nerd. Isn't that a crazy pectoral fin? The massive width is a good way to identify it as a male.

The wee individual in the front was the smallest member of the pod. It was interesting to see all the different shapes and sizes of dorsal fins.

Tail slappin'.

There was one big, full-grown male in the group - I think he was the one waving his tail around above. He hung out with one other larger individual the whole time, while the rest of the pod stayed together some distance away.

We got stunning looks at these animals, easily the best in my life. The big boy came up right next to the boat...too close to crush! I can't believe I'm lucky enough to get to see stuff like this...the Blue Whales are good enough, this is just excessive.

Orca belly, complete with genital slit. His ween lives in there.

Shortly after we left the Orcas, we got on our bird of the day, this Laysan Albatross. In northern California (off Monterey, Half Moon Bay and Bodega Bay), these birds are much easier to come by in August than later in the season, and this August 19 boat hit the albajackpot. This was the first, and presumably last, I got eyes on this year.

Despite seeing a satisfactory number of them in California over the years, I've never had really great looks at them here. What's up with that? Good thing I got to pet a bunch on Midway.

I've met birders who haven't seen Sabine's Gulls before. Generally, they are not happy people. They have this vacant look, almost like they are empty inside. Not surprisingly, those with regular exposure to Sabine's Gulls are generally bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, though they are not necessarily enjoyable to be around (they are birders, after all).

No deluge of Cassin's Auklets like the previous week, though they were out there. The trick to seeing one well is to find a bird that is too full of food to attempt flying away, and too lazy to dive underwater when the boat comes near. This bird fit the bill.

This was a weird year for Blacks at all, which are not only expected up here, but they can often outnumber the other expected species (Ashy, Fork-tailed and Wilson's). Ashy Storm-Petrels did show well in August though.

Ashy Storm-Petrel putting on the brakes, right before dropping to the water to grab a miniscule morsel of food. By the way, the longevity record for ASSP is 30 years...seabirds can live heck of long lives, no matter what the size.

This has been a good year for seeing lots of Red Phalaropes offshore. This is my most adequate crush I can offer you.

This Common Tern made a close pass by the boat. In the greater bay area, it is much easier to find them 20 miles offshore than it is along the coast, though there is seemingly no shortage of good habitat (we have the Forster's Terns to prove it). It would be interesting to know where these birds are coming from...Alberta? The Northwest Territories?

Like many Common Terns, Tufted Puffins can hold dual citizenship, but this bird is likely one of the local breeders on the Farallones.

Despite how easy (relatively speaking) Tufted Puffins are to see during and immediately following their breeding season throughout their range, this is one of those birds that people just don't see very much the rest of the year. The only "off season" TUPU I've ever seen was a deceased bird that washed up in Humboldt County. Where exactly the bulk of the population winters is unknown.

Just a gannet hanging out on Sail Rock. No big deal.

Sooty Shearwaters were doing their normal afternoon thing, streaming by Pillar Point Harbor as we came back in. Another good boat trip in the books!

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