Saturday, August 25, 2018

Masked/Nazca Booby in Monterey Bay!

Yesterday, August 24, was my first time leading on a Shearwater Journeys trip for the year, and it turned out to be a great day to be on the water. We had the calmest seas I've experienced in years and a very nice marine layer that lingered late into the morning. On the way back into the harbor at Monterey, about a mile or less off Pt. Pinos, I picked out a distant, but clearly very large Sulid flying over a feeding flock; the size and dark and light patterning quickly narrowed the options down to a couple species...Masked or Nazca Booby! Luckily Captain Tinker was willing to go check it out even though it was getting late, and we managed to stay on the bird and get to it quickly. The boob made several close passes, flying directly over the boat, and even did some plunge diving off the bow! On at least one occasion, it did successfully grab a fish.

This was one of those rare and special occasions where we had talked about our chances of finding a specific high quality rarity and had those hopes come to fruition. We were on the lookout for rare boobies all day, as it has been an excellent year for finding several species from San Diego north to Monterey, specifically Red-footed, Masked and Nazca. Incredibly, 6 species of Sulids have already been reported in California this year! It just seemed like there was bound to be one of these birds around.

However, the jury is still out on what species this is, or if it can safely be identified to species...immature Masked and Nazca (both Bird Police species in California) are notoriously hard to tell apart, and I have no experience with Masked in this plumage, or with Nazca whatsoever. If you have some familiarity separating these two species, I'm very interested to hear what you have to say. All photos in today's post can be viewed at full size, so please feel free to double click on images and comment away.

Below is a crop from the above shot, the best I was able to manage of the uppertail. Lots of molt going on.

And here is a garbage photo that at least does show the overall uppertail pattern again.

Whether Masked Booby, Nazca Booby, or the dreaded Slash Booby, I'm stoked.


  1. Sweet!! How many more trips are you doing?

    1. Scheduled for one more in about three weeks, but I think there is room for spontaneously getting on another as well. There will be more boobies in the area this year - a Red-footed was seen from land in the same area as this bird the next day!

  2. We had one of these Ma/Na boobs on this week’s pelagic out of Ventura (a California city in between LA and Santa Barbara). Sadly ours was an adult (or near adult bird). Many open looks and photographs still yielded heated disagreement as to it’s species. Some people were actually shouting at each other about orange vs yellow/green. It made the trip worth every penny. The jury is still out apparently. But I think most of the sentiment among the experts on the boat, some of whom belong to the ministry of bird truth, was Masked. I do admit in looking at my photos, the bill color varies dramatically depending on the light. We shall see.

    1. Unknown - that is fantastic. Hilarious. I know Ventura well (that's where I grew up), and wish I could be on more of those pelagics.

      On our boat, no one really had an opinion, haha. Since then I have heard both Nazca and Masked for this bird as well, but mostly Masked - the bill appears to lack any telling Nazca color tones in anyone's photos.


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