This is the trip report for Saturday, October 4, 2014.
We met at Point Loma Sportfishing Landing under a bright moon and the wispy high clouds left behind by Hurricane Rachel. This has been an unusual hurricane season in the Eastern Pacific. Major tropical storms and hurricanes usually form well down in southern Mexico and track out to the west, or fall apart below the tip of Baja California. This year most of these storms have formed into hurricanes, and have tracked up the Baja Coast. Three have stuck Baja Sur. One, Hurricane Odile, made a direct hit on Cabo San Lucas, as a category 3, on Sept. 21, 2014. This did major damage to the Cape District, stranding many tourists, closing down the airport, cut roads, and left residents without shelter and services. We all wish our southern neighbors the best in these difficult times.
None of the hurricanes have reached San Diego with anything more than an elevated swell, some thunderheads in our mountains, and the occasional day or two of wind. Fisherman here believe these storms push warmer than normal water into the Southern California Bight . Climatologist may argue than the warmer than normal waters are why the hurricanes are more frequent, and track so far north. So the "Chicken and the egg" argument may apply. Regardless, the sea surface temperatures here are unusually warm and that has had an effect on the birds we see offshore. I would love to say that the warm water as brought us all kinds of southern rarities, but the result seems to be more along the lines of depressing the normal south bound migration, and push some of our regular fall birds further north. That said, the waters locally have cooled somewhat. though another Hurricane this one named Simon is currently pushing up the Baja Coast!
Black-vented Shearwater by Jimmy McMorran
Leucistic gull by Jimmy McMorran
Ok, on to the report. We departed the dock, after Paul Lehman gave his orientation. Leaders were Peter Ginsburg, Paul Leman, Guy McCaskie, Jimmy McMorran, Gary Nunn, Dave Povey, and Justyn Stahl. We had two captains onboard with Charlie and Jimmy sharing wheelhouse duties.
We did the quick version drive by of the bait docks. Now with a much increased number of BRANDT'S CORMORANTS. Then did a brief scan of Ballast Point, for the group of five BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS, and one AMERICAN X BLACK OYSTERCATCHER (see the Sept. 21st. trip report for details), we also had a couple of WHIMBRELS there.
We followed the same track south that worked so well on the Sept. trip for drawing in Brown Booby. We had three then, so why not a repeat now? Well, under the category of never count your chickens, or…boobies until… We saw none! We did get lots of looks at RED-NECKED PHALAROPES, many close in. They seem to gather in this area where the tide flow stirs the water. Notably the water temps were only about 68 degrees there, most 71-74 elsewhere. We saw had an EARED GREBE here, actually a regular winter bird near shore.
We follow the Mexican Border west, actually WNW at this point, for more phalaropes, and a sprinkling of BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATERS, we even had one BlACK STORM-PETREL before the Nine Mile Bank. The "Bank" was not especially productive and we continued west to the south end of the Thirty Mile Bank. We picked up a few CASSIN'S AUKLETS along the way.
The chummed gull flock that we took along with us, changed from mostly HEERMANN'S GULLS in shore, to mostly WESTERN GULLS offshore, with the occasional CALIFORNIA GULL. Next month California Gull's numbers will overtake Westerns and become the most abundant species out there.
Striped Marlin by Jimmy McMorran
In the way of non-bird sighting along the way. We found an area of whale activity, that included a couple of HUMPBACK WHALES, a distant very tall spout, perhaps a Blue or Fin Whale, and maybe 20-30 SHORT-FINNED PILOT WHALES. Pilot Whales here are somewhat rare here, though much more regularly seen just to our south. Pilot Whales like Orcas are large dolphin. Pilot Whale groups are matriarchal, but may have one or two large male traveling with them.
One large animal gave us nice looks as it swam parallel, and close in for some distance before giving us a tail lob, and a dive.
By the way the Short-finned moniker refers to the pictorial fins, not the rather large bulky dorsal fin seen well each time the animal surfaces. Nice show and hopefully some good photos
The numbers of storm-petrels has increased slightly over the Sept. trip. These birds were not particularly cooperative, but a slim few did manage to get close enough for a brief looks. I did see one LEAST STORM-PETREL without binoculars.
All four expected dark storm-petrels were seen today. A few Black Storm-Petrels gave us some satisfying looks.
BLACK STORM-PETREL are the largest, and most numerous here. They have deep wing stroked, fairly steady straight flight, short glides. They appear dark black, somewhat short tailed, and large winged. Note a pale carpel bar. They nest in numbers on the nearby Coronados Islands.
ASHY STORM-PETREL appear gray/brown, have a long tail look, a shallow wing beat. They appear somewhat shorter winged. Can show a lighter gray/brown rump. Fluttery flight with lots of glides. A small number nest on the Coronado Is.
LEACH'S STORM-PETREL (dark-rumped). Commonest storm-petrel well offshore (50 n.m. or more). Bounding flight, sudden and erratic changes to flight direction, and speed. Bold carpal bars. Deeply fork tailed. May have traces of white, or light gray on the edges of the rump. A fair number of the chapmani ssp. nest on the Coronado Is.
LEAST STORM-PETREL An irruptive species here. Can be in very large numbers in fall, or nearly absent. Very small size, easiest to separate when seen with a nearby Black Storm-Petrel. Almost a "no tail look" when first seen. Steady quick wing beats, somewhat bat like. Very brief or no glides. Uniformly dark in appearance. Nest on islands off central and southern Baja.
Short-finned Pilot Whale by Justyn Stahl
Pacific Flying Fish by Justyn Stahl
We did extend our trip up the bank into the areas where rafts have been regularly found in past seasons. Today if anything they seemed even quieter than areas we'd come through to the south and east.
I am often asked why we don't chum or spread an oil slick for our storm-petrels. Most folks have seen the masses of Wilson's and other storm-petrel species off the east coast. Oil slicks can work here with some limited success, particularly Black Storm-Petrels, but nothing like what is seen on the east coast. That may have something to do with the ever present hoards of offshore gulls . Storm-petrels are preyed upon by them on the local breeding islands. Then some species seem to be downright boat shy as with Ashy and Least Storm-Petrel. We always drag a bag of tuna or other fish parts in hopes that something will follow the scent trail. Interestingly Wilson's Storm-Petrel, seen here very rarely, do seem to be attracted to oil trails.
The return southeast gave us a quick look at two CRAVERI'S MURRELETS at medium range, but they were up and gone before we could get more than just a very few alert bow riding birders on them. I believe that is another species that may have pushed past us from the south to areas north of us. Always a tough bird to get onto in less the conditions are perfect. Most flush and fly long ahead of normal spotting range.
Back over the San Diego Trough we got great looks at another non-bird species, the seldom seen STRIPED MARLIN. This 6 ft. long billfish preformed a dozen or so leaps just a few hundred feet from the boat. A number of good photos were taken there.
We did get looks at a number of POMARINE JAEGERS today. I recall only one with the classic large tail spoons. Likely most are young or in molt.
A single juvenile SABINE'S GULL came into the stern, and stayed just long enough for most of the boat to have a look.
An ARCTIC TERN was seen well ahead of the boat. All three species Pomarine Jaeger , Sabine's Gull, and Arctic Tern are Arctic breeders, and migrate passed us to points south. The Arctic tern famously so waters around Antarctica. Sabine's Gulls to the waters off South America, a few Pomarine Jaegers will stay locally, but many will continue on down the West Coast of Mexico.
Getting a PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER took us until early afternoon to tick off our list. Once that was done several made runs at the gull flock from the front and rear of the boat. Getting a Pink-footed Shearwater is not usually an issue here. Though a breeder from islands off of Chile. They are headquarter off the west coast of Baja, and Southern California, in the Southern Hemisphere's winter, our summer. This maybe another species that pushed well passed us, in this warm water year.
I took a look at notes from comparable dates last year, Oct. 5, 2013 when 120 were counted, then on Oct. 13, 2013 for 500. Today's total was 10, and that is actually an improvement over the Sept. 21, 2014 trip where we had 1 !
Sooty Shearwater was missed altogether today. That species is not expected in any numbers this time of year, but we usually pick up a few.
We did some zigzags down the Nine Mile Bank for better looks at some of the common species, and a nice pod of COMMON DOLPHIN that came to the bow.
The last interesting bird of the day was an odd nearly all white gull . Likely a luecistic (lacking normal pigment) juvenile Western Gull. This bird seen just outside the bay mid channel.
List of Bird Species
dabbling duck sp. Eared Grebe Pink-footed Shearwater Black-vented Shearwater Leach's Storm-Petrel Ashy Storm-Petrel Black Strom-Petrel Least Storm-Petrel 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 Whimbrel Red-necked Phalarope Red Phalarope Pomarine Jaeger Craveri's Murrelet Cassin's Auklet Sabine's Gull Heermann's Gull Western Gull California Gull Common Tern ( reported later by a few observers ) Arctic Tern Royal Tern Elegant Tern Rock Pigeon
List of Marine mammals
Humpback Whale Common Dolphin Short-finned Pilot Whale Northern Elephant Seal California Sea Lion
List of Fish
Blue Shark Mola mola (Ocean Sunfish) California Flying Fish Striped Marlin
Velella velella (By the Wind Sailors)
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