Our June 11 Buena Vista Audubon pelagic birding trip started off with cloudy skies, a bit of drizzle, and a forecast for wind gusts up to 25 kts, but the weather turned out to be quite nice once we got offshore, with winds remaining closer to 10 kts for most of the day. We had an enthusiastic group of 23 birders and five leaders onboard the Grande, including Dave Povey, Gary Nunn, Matthew Binns, Guy McCaskie, and me, but several of our regular leaders, like Matt Sadowski and Greg Gillson , were also on board as passengers for the trip, which increased the number of experienced spotters on board.
We motored straight out of the bay without a detour to see what birds might be hanging around the bait dock in order to maximize our time off shore, but we still had a few treats in the bay, such as several adult Heermann’s Gulls and a couple of Black Skimmers. Once offshore, we fairly quickly began encountering scattered Black-vented Shearwaters, which are typically present in low numbers at this time of year because most of them are much farther south, staying close to their breeding grounds on islands off of Baja California. We also had a fair number of Least Terns in the nearshore waters, heading off for their foraging runs. Black Storm-Petrels were being seen regularly as well, but only far off the bow initially. We got much better views later in the day when we had them following our fish oil slick behind the boat.
The real excitement started in the 8 o'clock hour as we approached the Nine Mile Bank. Matt Sadowski spotted a distant BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS that slowly came in closer and eventually landed on the water, enabling everyone to get good views and plenty of photographs. As we continued across the Bank and into the San Diego Trough, Matt and Jim Pawlicki managed to pick out a dark-rumped LEACH'S STORM-PETREL among the Black Storm-Petrels, which was a nice find. Although Leach's Storm-Petrels are notorious for the variation in the amount of white in the upper tail coverts (rump), most of the dark-rumped birds in our waters are of the subspecies chapmani, which breeds on the Coronados and other islands off of Baja California. We also had our first of several COMMON TERNS for the day, which are definitely not common in our waters, particularly at this time of year.
The San Diego Trough is normally a relatively quiet area for pelagic birding because there are no underwater features to create the upwelling that brings up the nutrients that draws in the krill and fish the seabirds feed on. But things were relatively lively today, with our first Pink-footed and Sooty Shearwaters, Cassin's Auklet's, BROWN BOOBY, and our only SABINE’S GULL for the day. The Sabine’s Gull was a nice find, as they are a very uncommon Spring migrant in our waters and it’s getting late for them.
As we came up to the Thirty Mile Bank, we had a very interesting relatively dark-rumped storm-petrel with a mostly white belly, which created a bit of excitement. But after examining photos, it was identified as a leucistic Leach's, as none of the white-bellied species of storm-petrel (any of which would be a mega-rarity in our waters) would have the structure or overall plumage aspect of this bird. We also had our first pair of SCRIPPS’S MURRELETS as we came up the Thirty Mile Bank, and we began encountering Ashy Storm-Petrels shortly after. A few Black-vented Shearwaters were also seen, which is a bit unusual as they are a nearshore species that typically doesn’t venture very far beyond the Nine Mile Bank. It was not a spectacular day for other marine life, but we did manage to get a Blue Whale, several pods of Common Dolphins with leaping Yellow-fin Tuna, and plenty of Mola Mola, or ocean sunfish.
Continuing up the Thirty Mile Bank brought us to scattered rafts of Pink-footed and Sooty shearwaters and Black Storm-Petrels, but no new species, so we continued back across the trough to the upper end of the Nine Mile Bank and headed south. We came upon a pair of murrelets sitting on the water that gave us fairly good views and were cooperative enough to fly off at just the right moment for several photographers to get shots of the dark under wings, confirming them as CRAVERI’S MURRELETS. This was a great find as Craveri's are typically a rare post-breeding visitor in the fall here, so getting such good views in the spring was a real treat. We also had three Brown Boobies flying together in this area.
It was a great way to end the day, especially with the following swell making the return run much smoother. Our next trip will be Sunday August 20th, and we hope you'll join us!
This site is owned and operated by the Buena Vista Audubon Society 2202 South Coast Highway, Oceanside, CA 92054 (c) 2007-2015 Buena Vista Audubon Society, Oceanside, California. All rights reserved. All photos copyrighted.