This is the Buena Vista Audubon pelagic trip report for Saturday October 29, 2016, one of our few trips out of Mission Bay, aboard the very nice 80ft. boat Eclipse. The Eclipse is part of Pacific Nature Tours/ San Diego Whale Watching operation. We meet 26 passengers just before dawn to board after a brief onshore orientation given by Paul Lehman. Other leaders today were Peter Ginsburg, Gary Nunn, Bruce Rideout and myself.
We shoved off at the more relaxed time of 7:30 for the short run to the ocean. The very close-by bait docks yielded the usual pelicans, cormorants, herons, egrets, gulls, and loafing California Sea Lions. Unfortunately, the rock jetties turned out to be largely empty of shorebirds. We cruised to the southwest to intersect with the north end of the Coronado Escarpment (Nine Mile Bank). The crossing was a bit quiet, with a few Black-vented Shearwaters, Red Phalaropes, and Cassin's Auklets – three species that would dominate the day, along with the ever-present Western Gulls chummed to the stern with popcorn.
The area of the Nine Mile Bank we targeted has been fairly reliable for Craveri's Murrelets this summer and fall. This trip seemed to confirm that they might now have moved out. The sea surface conditions were far from perfect for a small alcid search, but we gave it a pretty good look both going south and returning back to the north. The drive down the outer edge of the Nine Mile Bank gave us most of the life today, with a couple of Pink-footed Shearwaters, loads of Black-vented Shearwaters, and a young Brown Booby that came in to look over the gull flock twice this morning in two different hour segments of the cruise. We also had distant and close-in looks at Pomarine Jaegers, and a quick flyby Parasitic Jaeger that many got photos of. Overall the bank was a bit sparse species-wise, although the Black-vents put on a good show. We did have brief glimpses of Common and Pacific White-side Dolphins and a onetime peak at a Minke Whale. One would conclude that this area still supports some activity, just not the level we'd hoped.
After a couple of crossing of the Nine and the deep water to the west we moved back to the north and up toward La Jolla. This is normally a good area, but has been unusually quiet this fall; it remained so today until we got well back in toward the beach. There we found better looks at Red and Red-necked Phalaropes and a few surprisingly inshore Cassin's Auklets. We also had more of the inshore species such as Brandt's Cormorants, Brown Pelicans, and a variety of gulls, including Heermann's, Western, Herring, and California Gulls. A small flight of Surf Scoters was seen as we returned to Mission Bay. A Black Turnstone was reported as we entered the jetties, as were Royal Terns and a couple of Western Grebes. Our weather held up well, though a litter bigger 3-4ft swell from the south crossing a smaller more frequent 1-2ft swell from the west gave us an odd jolt from time to time. Wind was a comfortable 10kts with a two-foot wind wave from the west. Visibility was good at about 8-10 nautical miles and we had bright sun most of the trip. Air temps were in the upper 60s to mid 70s. Sea surface temps were mostly 67-68 F. As with any trip offshore here, we get looks at a seldom seen environment. We are often surprised by what we find, and sometimes, as today, by what we don't see. This has certainly been an odd fall migration in what seems to be a transition year form the hot surface temps of last year's ocean to a more normal or even perhaps a cooler than normal water year for 2017. Only time will tell how this year fits in the long-term scheme.
Species list: * denotes Mission Bay only sightings.
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