Hello Seabirders, this is the report for the Grande Buena Vista Audubon Society Pelagic trip out of San Diego, Sept. 21, 2014.
We gathered in the dark hours of the morning, in shirtsleeve weather and under partly cloudy skies. We loaded promptly, as boats and fisherman were coming and going at a hectic pace. Another boat was waiting for us to clear the dock for their arrival. Fishing has been nothing short of amazing this year - maybe the best in twenty or more years. The craziness around the docks is a result. Dave Povey gave a quick orientation, Capt. Jimmy a safety talk, and we were away from the docks and all the hustle and bustle, to the world of magic, mystery, and a timeless pace.
Leaders for this trip were Tom Blackman, Jon Feenstra, Greg Gillson, Brennan Mulrooney, Dave Povey, Bruce Rideout, and BJ Stacey. Our first stop the bait docks for photo ops of pelicans, cormorants, herons, egrets, gulls, and a large group of loafing California Sea Lions. We then moved down the channel to Ballast Point. The outer edge of the Point was loaded with hundreds of Heermann's Gulls. We were about to pull away when a sharp-eyed spotter picked up on the bright scarlet bills of oystercatchers. We turned back to view eight BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS, and a white-bellied AMERICAN "type" OYSTERCATCHER (a hybrid between an American and a Black). BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS are near the southern end of their range here in San Diego, while AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS are at the northern end of theirs. So any oystercatcher is a good bird here, but a "pure" American would have been a real prize.
After leaving Ballast Point we moved down the channel, and immediately had a PARASITIC JAEGER in a high twisting chase of an ELEGANT TERN right off the bow. These aerial displays always amaze all hands. We varied our usual course to proceed southeast towards Imperial Beach and the border with hopes of a booby sighting. Sometimes things work as planned. We got looks at three different BROWN BOOBIES in a variety of plumages. We saw a dark juvenile, a female, and a very cooperative adult male BROWN BOOBY that flew right over the stern of the boat. The males of this Western Mexico subspecies of BROWN BOOBY (brewsteri) have a frosted white head. I saw a number of nice photos taken of this bird.
The sea conditions were very nice, and birds were cooperating early, so we turned north. Next on the cruise plan was a look for CRAVERI'S MURRELETS. They have been fairly reliable around the 100-200 fathom area inside the top of the Nine Mile Bank. We managed to spring a pair of murrelets heading up there, then found a number of CASSIN’S AUKLETS as well.
We then moved off to the west and on to the Nine Mile Bank. Our hope was that we'd pick up more murrelets here, but it turned out we had better success on the way home. Our consolation prize on the Bank was a nice look at a BLUE WHALE. We usually don't chase whales, but never ignore them when they are close in. This whale gave us several blows off the bow then waved goodbye with nicely raised flukes.
We had now left most of the inshore birds behind. RED-NECKED PHALAROPES had been the most abundant on the way out, with groups from a few birds up to 50 or more scattered all around the outflow plume from San Diego Bay's tide changes. Whatever planktonic food items they pick from the surface must be abundant here. We also left behind most of the BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATERS. Normally this is an inshore species often seen from the beach, sometimes as close as the surf line. They are rarely seen beyond the Nine Mile Bank, but this summer they have been seen in the thousands well west of their normal haunts, some all the way out to the Cortez and Tanner Banks, 125 n.m. offshore. Today our numbers of BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATER were lower, but some were seen all the way out on the Thirty Mile Bank, and all participants got great views of this regional specialty.
We did drag along a good size group of gulls that we had been chumming for in order to create excitement and draw in other seabirds. We also had a sack of tuna parts hanging on the stern for the odors and oil that attract seabirds. This turned up the first of several PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS. This southern hemisphere breeder is normally our most abundant shearwater offshore, and a good indicator of active seabird feeding. So having only three PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS for the day was surprising, but they were very cooperative and everyone got great views. We did chase a very distant pod of COMMON DOLPHIN that had a flock of birds with it, but after 15 minutes it was clear we were not making headway on the fast moving dolphin, so we returned to course. The San Diego Trough is a featureless deep area between the Nine Mile and Thirty Mile Banks that is notorious for causing a long dry stretch in the day's ride. Today was no different, but we did have a few BLACK STORM-PETRELS, a POMARINE JAEGER, and a few COMMON and ELEGANT TERNS along the way. The apparent breeze was nice, as the day was actually starting to get a little warmer than we West Coasters are use to.
The cruise up the inner portion of the Thirty Mile Bank did not yield the large storm-petrel rafts we get most years, possibly because they were staying further north due to our exceptionally warm water this year. Today's sea surface temps ran from 71 to near 76 degrees F. The normal range here would be around 68-70 F for this time of year.
We then turned the boat southeast to head towards home, and immediately heard a cry go up from the bow - we had stumbled on a pair of CRAVERI'S MURRELETS, and a few sharp-eyed observers got excellent photos as they flew off. As we lost our cooling breeze heading through the Trough, most birders found the shade of the Grande superstructure to offer the best relief from the sun. It also turned out to be the best side of the boat for our last few highlights. Two SABINE'S GULLS caught up to our gull flock - one a very nice alternate plumage adult, and the other a juvenile, and the outer edge of the Nine Mile Bank turned up the only SOOTY SHEARWATER of the trip. Sooties can be abundant in the spring and remain in some numbers all summer, but not this year. A recent 5 day pelagic through the whole southern California Bight recorded only five!
The Bank also produced a couple more BLUE WHALES, though more distant than the one seen this morning. One result of the very warm waters was multiple sightings of large HAMMERHEAD SHARKS over the course of the day, some very close to the boat, along with dozens of FLYING FISH. The Vella vella, the small jellyfish known as "BY THE WIND SAILORS" that have been so abundant this summer were nearly absent today.
Just as we were approaching Point Loma we had a couple more brushes with CRAVERI'S MURRELETS, including a bird that was on the water close in to the shady side of the boat where a good number of observers finally got a decent look at that species.
Black-vented Shearwater by Tom Blackman
Common Tern by Tom Blackman
Brown Booby by BJ Stacey
List of bird species seen (* seen in San Diego Bay only);
Cinnamon Teal Eared Grebe Pink-footed Shearwater Sooty Shearwater Black-vented Shearwater Black Storm-Petrel Brown Booby Brandt's Cormorant Double-crested Cormorant Brown Pelican Great Blue Heron* Great Egret* Snowy Egret* Black-crowned Night-Heron* American X Black Oystercatcher* Black Oystercatcher* Marbled Godwit Red-necked Phalarope Pomarine Jaeger Parasitic Jaeger Common Murre (4 seen by a couple of observers) Craveri's Murrelet Cassin's Auklet Sabine's Gull Heermann's Gull Western Gull California Gull Common Tern Elegant Tern
List of Marine mammals;
Blue Whale Common Dolphin Harbor Seal California Sea Lion
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark Mola mola (Ocean Sunfish) California Flying Fish
Pomarine Jaeger by BJ Stacey
Blue Whale by Tom Blackman
The next trip is Oct. 4th. and currently booked full. The Nov. 1st trip is 8hrs and has space available. The warm water and delayed migration may make this a great opportunity. Call 619 223-1627 for a reservation ask for the Grande Bird Boat.
California Flying Fish by Tom Blackman
Sabine's Gull by Tom Blackman
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