The beauty of live-aboard boats is that we can spend full days--from sunrise to sunset--birding. Cold? Warm up with a cup of hot chocolate in the galley. Hot? Grab a Coke in the shaded eating area. Tired? Hit your bunk for a 20-minute nap. Hungry? You never go hungry on a pelagic trip! Wondering what makes that a Manx Shearwater instead of a Black-vented? Consult one of the friendly, expert leaders or the extensive bird and sea-mammal library.
The focus of Grande two-and three-day deep-water trips and Searcher multi-day expeditions are two-fold: (1) to travel through a variety of life zones to find California "specialties," and (2) to explore life zones in deep waters 100 miles or more offshore where a number of rarities are usually found. No day-trips from San Diego venture this far. After exploring waters 5 - 50 miles from shore, we venture out farther. What will we see?
Rarities and mega-rarities seen on research and chartered pelagic seabirding trips off southern California since 2003 include Hawaiian Petrel, Cook's Petrel, Murphy's Petrel, Streaked Shearwater, Tristram's Storm-Petrel, Ringed Storm-Petrel, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel, Red-footed and Blue-footed Boobies, and Red-TAILED Tropicbird. More regular occurring rarities include Laysan Albatross, Flesh-footed and Buller’s Shearwaters, Red-billed Tropicbird, Brown Booby, South Polar Skua, and Guadalupe and Craveri’s Murrelets. If we see even one of the mega-rarities, and several of the “regular rarities,” it's a good day!
The ZEN of Deep Water Pelagics
The Pacific Ocean is a vast, poorly explored frontier, enormous beyond comprehension, replete with seldom seen and little understood birds.
The secret to finding rare and localized birds (such as Laysan Albatross, Murphy's Petrel, Cook’s Petrel, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Guadalupe Murrelet) and mega-rarities (e.g., Short-tailed Albatross, Hawaiian Petrel, Stejneger's Petrel, Mottled Petrel) is to be out there, in deep-water life-zones, with knowledgeable leaders who know where and when to look, following temperature and current breaks, . . . chumming. . . . watching. . . . waiting. . . .
Waiting. . . . deep-water pelagic birding is always an exercise in patience.
The high numbers and rich diversity of seabirds found near-shore, at the 9-Mile Bank or around the Channel Islands, are not found at the Cortez or Tanner Banks, the San Juan Seamount, or at the continental shelf edge far to the west-southwest of San Diego. In the land of pterodroma petrels, tubenoses may be spaced 30-45 minutes apart; typically, the further out, the fewer birds. This is where mega-rarities roam; the very term “mega-rarity” implying what is in store: they are seldom seen.
At sea, the sun, the breeze, the swells, the gentle rocking of the boat can put one in a trance; a feeling of being at one with the ocean and life itself -- or, it can bore the hell out of you. Birders who enjoy deep-water pelagics savor the meditative aspect of nothing while anticipating the possibility of discovery -- always being okay with the discovery of little or nothing -- zen.
Those of us who have it in our blood and go out again and again know with absolute certainty that it's just a matter of time until that Stejneger's flies by. Just being out there -- knowing that something spectacular can occur, while expecting nothing -- can be addicting. That's the essence of deep-water pelagics. It's definitely not for everybody; but if you want to experience a relaxed and dream-like state of mind, this is one place to find it -- and when you see your life Murphy's Petrel, Short-tailed Albatross, or Red-tailed Tropicbird, you'll understand. . . .
-- --Terry Hunefeld
Cook's Petrel (c) Todd McGrath
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