Saturday, September 06, 2014

A Birdy Birthday

A one, an' a two... ♪ Happy Birthday to you!
Hey birdie! Turn around when you sing to me! Oh well. Today was a nice calm day on the ocean out of Half Moon Bay. Lots of good birds, and including the photo opt for Tufted Puffins I've ever had.

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My favorite sea birds though are Storm Petrels and today there three species seen. I only glimpsed an Ashy Storm Petrel but these were good looks of these other two species.

Black Storm Petrel

There were a few Black Storm Petrels that have deep wing beats - which I'm starting to recognize but I need to see another few hundred of them for say... a month or two before I get it down pat.

Wilson's Storm Petrel

This Wilson's Storm Petrel was far enough out I couldn't see it's white rump band through my binoculars, but it did show up in the photos I took. You can even see the pale secondaries.

The boat found a fishing boat that was surrounded by flocks of Sooty & Pink-footed Shearwaters, Black-footed Albatrosses and one lone Laysan Albatross.

The Laysan had true 'Betty Davis' eyes

Check out those beautiful long wings
 I took it as a happy birthday treat that I got a sweet little 'Dall' for my birthday.

A genuine Dall - a Dall's Porpoise: one of a small group that shot by
We passed a few Northern Fur Seals, out airing their flippers
So it was an uneventful-ish pelagic trip but it was fun. Don and I made friends with a fellow birder named Anne on board. She too was on yesterday's and today's trip and I'm hoping we run across her in future again as I need all the birding buds I can get. Oh! And I always show the birds and mammals of these trips, but not often the others. Here's a Mola Mola - an ocean sunfish which are cool because they like to wave to everyone on the boat.

Waving Mola Mola fin
Here is a video of  some Mola Mola fish that look as though they were designed by Terry Gilliam.

Today was a lovely Birthday. After the trip I drove back south to Barbara's house for another couple of days of totally unnecessary R&R. Why not? It's my birthday!

Friday, September 05, 2014

Tales of Whales in Monterey

Elegant Terns accompanied us on the way in and out of the harbor today
A few of the passengers on board in Monterey

 Today was day one of my birthday weekend full of salt water and hopefully, loads of birds. We set out from Monterey Harbor. My birding buddy Don was on board too.

On the way out of the harbor, passing the California Sea Lion & cormorant coated jetty
Passing by the Monterey Bay Aquarium on the way out to sea
This summer there was a lot of cold water along the coast. Cold water rises in up-wellings. I think it's because cold water floats - think ice cubes - which is weird because cold air does the opposite, it sinks. I mean, WTH? Cold water carries nutrients and mini-critters up to the surface so hoards of sea birds and whales show up for the feast.  So there were lots of Humpback Whales before we even navigated out of the harbor.
You can see how close to shore these Whales are.The birds are
gulls, some Brown Pelicans and hundreds of Sooty Shearwaters
Flukes as the Humpback dives
Humpback's back
 Barbara and her sister Suzi spent many days this summer, watching Humpback Whales diving and feeding just off shore. It was a wonderful phenomenon, enjoyed by hundreds if not thousands of landlubbers this year.
Sooty Shearwater taking to the sky
Red-necked Phalaropes
A pretty pair of cocoa-colored Common Murres, probably juvenile
Around noon an immense pod of Long-beaked Common Dolphins came up on the boat, riding the slipstream and headed at bat-out-of-hell speed to who knows where. I love dolphins and I particularly enjoy seeing them in massive pods because it so surreal. 
Hundreds of racing Long-beaked Common Dolphins
Steep Leap
Everyone loves a Dolphin's tail
Not to be greedy or ungrateful, but whenever I get such nice close ups of dolphins I end up wishing that the day had been a tad sunnier. I mean, imagine the photos above all in blue? Hey, can't have it all I suppose.

The neatest things I saw all day were Dall's Porpoises. They are amazing! Shaped like old throw pillows these water babies can still scoot through the water faster than any other cetacean. They are always an immense treat. They're so fast they're hard to get shots of, even with video.

The only still shot I managed to get of a Dall's Porpoise - it's headed left

We hit a spot where everyone and their finny friends were fishing - Sea Lions, Whales and lots of shearwaters. It gave a nice chance for photographing genuine Whale Tails, by which individual whales are ID'd by nosy scientists.
Wrong side of the tail for an ID, but still a nice barnacled, sea weed edged tail
Look at the white marking, Orca or shark bite fluke and again with the barnacles
Not too many bites out of this tail and it's all black
You can see the Fur Seal (?) fins on the left, and a rather obvious Whale on the right
Stellar's Sea Lions, larger than California Sea Lions
are appreciative of a good little bouy
A Sea Otter in the Harbor as we head back to the pier
Well, it was great day for birds and mammals today, even if I didn't show off much of the birds we saw. Shame was, I was unable to get a bird that would have been a lifer for me; there were a few Manx Shearwaters. There were so many hundreds of Sooty Shearwaters in front of me and I couldn't pick out the one Manx. Rats! Oh well, another day perhaps.

Here is a look at the three Cetacean species we saw today. Oh, and keep in mind, when a Dall's Porpoise hits the surface for that scant fraction of a second, they're using that time to breathe.

It was a long day, around ten hours. When we hauled into port, Don headed home and I headed north to a Half Moon Bay motel, get some sleep and await tomorrow's pelagic.

Full report of this trip with Alvaro's Adventures.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Start of my Birthday Week

Suzi & Bob's Pear arrangement
Back in August I decided to celebrate my birthday with my favorite birthday activities, not with a birthday party, but with quietly anticipated pelagic birding trips. I booked a Monterey Bay and Half Moon Bay pelagics. Therefore, a couple of days ago I headed to my buddy Barbara's house for a few days visit. She now lives in a pretty, one room studio, that stands on a hillside near Watsonville, California. Unbenownst to me, she told her sister Suzi and Suzi's SO Bob that my birthday is pending, and they decided I was in need of a birthday luncheon. Yippy!

Barbara and I met up with them at their current home in Carmel Valley. Its a beautiful valley surrounded by oak woodlands. I enjoyed a tour of Suzi & Bob's digs.

Barbara, Suzi and Bob on the back porch
the Carmel Hills in the distance
 Then we all headed off to a nearby Corkscrew Bistro.

Restaurant & International Hobbit Hovel: the Corkscrew Bistro

It was such a lovely day we took a nice shady table on the Corkscrew's back patio. I was something of a pain-in-the-butt, taking photos of anything and everything back there. I mean, how could I not take a quick shot of this horn-blowing cherub in that stunning stetson?

Tiny bit of Alamo-esq masonry at the back of the patio
Wine Fountain
Our lunches were delish; I had the pulled pork sliders and
 half those fries - hey, a girl could pop if she isn't careful!

As we ate and yakked, Suzi pulled out a birthday prezzie for me! It was a beautiful kaleidoscope that once belonged to her mother who was both wonderful & kind to me. The kaleidoscope was secreted in its own velvet pouch. Suzi knows how fond I am of such fanciful things. You know I had to spend some time photographing a pretty rainbow of crystals within.

Following our luncheon, we stopped  at a plant nursery up the road.  

The Plant Nursery
Oh temptation! The nursery had a great collection of Gesnariads, the African Violet family. I no longer have a north facing window as I did at my work office - the only thing I miss from my working days. No point in buying the plants which would only roast and die in my west facing picture window. I did get an old favorite, a 'string of hearts' which is a great little succulent that even a black-thumbed type like myself has no trouble growing.
Beautiful two-toned Streptocarpus
Suzi and Bob O suggested Barbara take me for a drive on the 17 mile scenic road that is located in Monterey, and is home of the famous Pebble Beach golf course. Seventeen mile drive is a pay-per-drive area littered with even fancier homes than those in Carmel Valley, but it's best attribute is its view of the Pacific. Plant shopping completed, we headed for the 17 mile drive. It was a typical over cast sky over the shoreline drive.

We stopped to view China Rock, and to listen to sea lions barking. I of course reported what birds I saw to eBird.
Sea Lion-coated island off shore
Close up of the hundreds of Sea Lions, cormorants wriggling about on the island
The Lone Cypress on the edge of the sea
Well it was a long, long day, and a nice one that kicked off my birthday week.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Yay! Got another ushering gig at the Music Circus. This time the musical, quite an old one, was Brigadoon. It's a story about a magical spot of land in Scotland that is under a witch's spell. A couple of New York City type Yankees traveled there by accident where the lads met a pretty lass and a randy lass and yes, fun ensued.I always enjoy watching either the movie version of the musical or the rare treat of seeing it person. I mean whats not to like about a stage full of men in kilts? Aye lassie, we all like the tilt of a kilt!

But before I urge you to peek at highlights of the musical below, here's a cool thing. There was lots of liquid nitrogen used to make the Scottish highlands of the play foggy. As tonight was the last night of the musical there was wee bit of left over hot ice. So, just about twilight, the stage crew dumped it into the fountain outside the theater. Joy ensued and here it is on video.

 OK, as you've not suffered enough. Here are some musical highlights from Brigadoon.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Three Mammal Day at Crescent City

We started the day in Crescent City, nixing restaurants, choosing instead to stay in our room, downing coffee and yogurt, and such. It was just as yummy and considerably cheaper. Score one for a smidgen of economy.

I decided to go for a ride, so we piled in the car and cruised down to the Crescent City boat harbor. There I looked for something more interesting than the piles of California Sea Lions and tubby Harbor Seals, all lolling about on piers and piles. I caught a glimpse of brown streaks skimming by - could it be... no way... River Otters?

Mother otter with her pair of pups
River Otters, three of them, busily paddling by in salt water... I stared at them as hard as I could but they didn't turn into Sea Otters. I dodged back to the car as fast as I could, trying to remain calm enough to grab my camera but not drop it on the asphalt of the dock.

Stalwart little swimmers
How wonderful were they? Torpedoing along the jetty, destination known only to them.

When I finally recovered from the excitement of the River Otters, I drove us over to the Marine Mammal Center, for a quick peek at their current orphan pinnipeds. Today there was a sweet little Northern Fur Seal and a small Harbor Seal pup. I hope when they're released they figure out how to fish and such.

Next I headed up the coast towards Saint George Point, but on the way we noticed parked cars on the cliffs, with everyone staring out to sea at... poofs of mist!There be whales out there! I too, parked along the cliff on the ocean frontage street, and Barbara and I stared out to sea. Again we spotted the poofs of mist, and then I saw the mottled grey, barnacled crusted backs of California Gray Whales.

This whale blowing pic was taken with a 400 mm lens; the whales were pretty far off
Blowing whale to the left, submerging whale to the right

No fancy tail lobbing or theatrics, only backs visible between dives

Once again we headed towards Saint George Point, and suddenly both Barbara and I were staring in amazement as we saw a wee land beastie pop like a jack-in-the-box, up from the steep slope, to lope across the street, in front of my speeding car. As I jammed on the brakes we watched a fat raccoon dart across the lawn of a ocean front house. Reaching a tall cedar by the house, the raccoon began to climb the steep tree. I kept yelling, "It's right THERE!", and Barbara kept looking, I don't know where, and shouting, "Where is it!?" I finally got her on it by which time the animal must have been ten feet up the tree. Where the heck was it going?

I managed some half-arse parking, jumped out the car with my camera but had to concede this round went to the raccoon which had disappeared into the thick overhead branches.

Wow. We had a three wild mammal morning: otters, whales and a raccoon. Later in the day we returned to the shore and again we spotted the pair of feeding Gray Whales. This time I got photos of the behemoths, which are the ones shown above. A three mammal day; one Raccoon, two Gray Whales and three River Otters, a trifecta of critters.