This is the trip report for the Buena Vista Audubon and Grande pelagic trip on Sunday, Sept. 24th, 2017. This trip will always be remembered as the trip that got the NAZCA BOOBY, but more on that later. Thirty-four passengers and six leaders met at Point Loma Sportfishing Landing on a beautiful sunrise morning on San Diego Bay. Leaders were Tom Blackman, Peter Ginsburg, Guy McCaskie, Gary Nunn, Justyn Stahl, and myself. We did a quick orientation and loaded up for a 7 a.m. cast off. We rode down the bay to check out the bait docks for all the usual suspects, pelicans, cormorants, long-legged waders, gulls, and California Sea Lions. An Osprey was seen at the submarine base, and a couple of Royal Terns were seen overhead. We then did a quick pass of Ballast Point for more Heermann's Gulls. It seems the breeding season was Ok this year, as about 10% of those birds appeared to be young of the year.
Once offshore we found reasonable seas, though a week of wind had left a short interval wind wave that lessened over the day. Inshore the cormorants and pelicans and gulls were the only birds, but as we passed the number three buoy we started to pick up a few Red-necked Phalaropes. These phalaropes were seen all day, scattered and at all distances. The first few Black-vented Shearwaters made quick flybys. We had some frustration early over the relatively quick and distant looks, but we made up for that with many hundred seen in the afternoon, often very close to the boat. The one surprise here was a MERLIN that passed down the right side of the boat. Peregrine Falcon is an uncommon but regular offshore visitor (I believe they hunt in that zone), but I don't recall ever seeing a Merlin offshore. This bird may have been flying down the Point and lost contact with the coast at the tip, as we were almost due south of Point Loma and about two miles down. We did also flush a pair of small alcids, that some thought might have been murrelets. The danger here with the bright low angle sun is that it can exaggerate the "white bellied" look, making Cassin’s Auklets look more like murrelets. We did kick up a number of distant Cassin's Auklets on the next leg of the trip. Some observers also had a poorly seen passerine, perhaps and warbler, in this area.
The Nine Mile Bank was rather quiet, as it has been all summer, but we found the south end of the San Diego Trough equally so today, with Pink-footed Shearwaters slow to appear, but a very dark Pomarine Jaeger livened things up with the "false Skua" attack. Even the Thirty Mile Bank was a bit slow slow – we were half way up the bank before we found the first few Black Storm-Petrels. Then the trickle started and the numbers increased, with a white-rumped Leach's Storm-Petrel in the mix. We turned west to get to a couple of high spots on the Thirty Mile Bank and that's when things started to get interesting. We hit an area with maybe 15-20 Storm-Petrels, then an area with fifty stormies, and then another fifty with a few Ashy Storm-Petrels mixed in. We also picked up a cooperative young Sabine's Gull, which was actually the second of the day, but the only one well seen by all hands. Things had certainly improved, but we had a large cargo/tanker ship bearing down on us, so we stopped maneuvering to allow it to pass at maybe 300 or 400 hundred yards. That's when Gary Nunn called out a white booby riding the bow. I saw no booby on the bow, and was about to say so. Then I saw it. This booby was riding the air pressure way just ahead of the bow. I called on the chummers to go back to work, and Oscar, who was driving the boat, to start chasing that tanker. I'm sure he thought I'd lost my mind, since the ship was doing nearly 18 kts across the radar. The Grande maybe makes 8.5 kts if going "down hill" (with the wind and swell behind us), and we were sitting dead still. He knew we were not going to catch her. Fortunately the reinvigorated gull flock brought in what we initially thought was a Masked Booby. It circled back and we caught up to it as it plunged into the water in front of us at a distance, then closer, and finally within 100 yards from the bow. The bird appeared to be approaching adult plumage, with some dark feathers scattered in areas of the wings and back. Overall it was a white bodied bird with blackish flight and tail feathers, a dark mask, and a bright orange bill – not the dull yellow green bill expected for a Masked Booby. Oh my gosh, it's a NAZCA BOOBY!!! I think I was speechless. What a find. Cameras were going crazy, high fives were going around, and there were lots of smiles. Since the trip, I have heard some discussion about whether or not this is a pure Nazca, or a hybrid Nazca/Masked Booby. As this is a new species (it was once considered a race or subspecies of Masked Booby), and certainly this bird is new to all of us, I will leave it to others to figure out the genetic origins of this particular bird. I have seen one other Nazca – it was an adult with many adult Masked Boobies on a tuna pen west of Bahia Magdalena off Baja Sur. I thought at the time it somewhat different in body shape. How one would tell that without the other species nearby to compare I have no idea. So I will leave the debate to those with far more knowledge on the subject than I.
After the glow of the Nazca, we headed back to the east. Over all it was pretty quiet until we got into the Black-vented Shearwater zone some 6-8 miles off the beach. Then it was a steady stream of mostly northbound Black-vents, while we proceeded in the opposite direction. Two more poorly seen small alcids were flushed off Point Loma and we picked up another Pomarine and a Parasitic Jaeger, our last of three Sooty Shearwaters on the day, a couple of Common Terns, and two Elegant Terns. We also had an odd adult Herring Gull with a red eye ring. Maybe there are some other genes mixed in there. Last was a passerine that may have been a Bobolink – poor photos seem to show orange color on the head pattern. Interesting day. A little slow with some disappointments, but the Nazca Booby made up for all the misses, and then some.
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