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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Icy cold, wet, salty and still a FANTASTIC Pelagic voyage day

Whimbrel on the rocks

I love pelagic birding. Nothing like that fresh air, salt scented breeze and a shite load of gulls squealing at the back of a boat. In August I had 3 pelagics Hatteras North Carolina canceled because of Hurricane Irene. So tagging along with my birder buddy Don for some pelagic birding off Half Moon Bay will be my soul pelagic adventure for 2011. Pathetic, neh?

That's trip organizer/leader/birdie_guru Alvero 2nd from left

Birder Bud Don who tossed out popcorn to gulls like a trooper

The short shut out of Half Moon Bay was heartening - loads of cormorants, shore bird types and pretty good photo opts. I got numerous shots of Black Oystercatchers.

Black Oystercatcher calling on the wing

Little Black Turnstones sat on the jetty and on top of the jetty were all three species of cormorants; Double-crested, Brants and Pelagic. My favorite jetty bird was a nice Surfbird and I was tickled to get a fairly nice photo of it.

Surfbird - yes, the bird is smiling!

Once the boat made it past the harbor opening, we spotted the 'little ones' that always amaze me. They're often barely up to a robin in size, yet there they are, out on the frigid ocean, their little bills not even chattering with the cold. How do they do it?

Common Murre, late afternoon, on cold, choppy waters

One of the crew said he's heard people who see Common Murres from the shore, think the little birds are penguins. Well, at least the little birds are in the right color palette; black & white.

North American Penguin or another Common Murre?

The nice sharpish photo above makes it seem the photos are as easy as point and shoot. Nope. Try standing on a teeter totter while trying to photograph a ping pong ball balanced on another teeter totter, that someone keeps throwing a blanket over; that's what ocean photography is like. I'm lucky all my photos aren't as shaky as this little Rhinoceros Auklet below.

Rhinoceros Auklet

I must have taken 30 shots of the preceding, adorable Auklet and that was the best shot I managed.

I took maybe 50 shots of this Tufted Puffin, and most of them were shots of empty waves, which kept churning up and blocking my view of the little bright billed mite.

Tufted Puffin

After a couple of hours, we made it out to where the deep sea bird life hang out. Suddenly there were Black-footed Albatross and several species of Shearwaters. Shearwaters are like fast cruising fighter jets, shooting just above the waves. Get it? They shear the waters. They beat Nascar any day of the week.

Flock of Buller's Shearwaters and a
Pink-footed Shearwater on the far right

Arguably the prettiest Shearwater is the Buller's. By the way, their mantles (back of the wings) are designed by the same people who design the Nascar race cars. Snazzy birds.

Buller's Shearwater

Marin County Weather Bouy was
accompanied by a herd of California Sea Lions

Some birds you see on almost all pelagic trips, but that doesn't mean you don't love seeing them again. The Northern Fulmars are one of my favorites. I think I enjoy them because they have really fancy noses that drip salt instead of snot, and I guess I appreciate that. Can you drink salt water instead of fresh, and dribble salt from your nostrils? Don't you admire a bird that can do that? Sure you do!

Northern Fulmar

Northern Fulmar

Pink-footed Shearwater

Pink-footed Shearwater on take off

There were nice views of 2 of the 3 local species of the Jaeger species; Pomerine and Parasitic Jaegers. The name Jaeger means 'hunter' and these birds are playground bullies, as they still rip off the lunch money (caught fish) from other pelagic birds. Yes, I know that's not cool, but at least they don't torment the other birdies to suicide so they're still better than real school yard bullies. Today we didn't see any Jaegers tormenting other birds. I think the weather was doing such a good job of that, the Jaegers didn't have to.

Parasitic Jaeger

Pomerine Jaeger

And while I'm on the topic of bullies, there is another bully that came to the boat and did its thing; the South Polar Skua. They're the gulls on steroids you see picking up and eating baby penguins on National Geographic specials. They're hard core but I really like them anyway, after all, I'm not a penguin.

South Polar Skua

I'd high hopes we'd see lots of whales on this trip, but I knew the chances were slim. Whales are usually plentiful when there is cold waters, which is like saying 'when the dinner plate is full'. Unfortunately, the dinner plate was kind of skimpy (waters were warm) so I was lucky to get a quick glimpse of 3 passing Pacific White-sided Dolphins and one long lovely look at the back of a Humpback. That was it! Early in the day a few Harbor Porpoise were seen but I didn't see them.

The ride back to Half Moon pier was so rough, it rained salt water. I was so cold my teeth chattered and my core temperature must have been 3 degrees. Happily, post trip, Don cooked up some nice New England Clam Chowder from scratch. Yum, nothing like hot food to warm the cockles or whatever else you have in your heart region.

Next morning Don gave me directions to Sunnyvale Baylands Park, where I checked out half the park for the mini warbler fall out that happened a day or two ago. No luck, the only warblers I found were an Orange-crowned and some Yellow-rumped (AKA butter-butts). I did manage to get a fairly nice pic of a Bewick's Wren. So it was a fun weeekend, even if wet and cold. Honestly, any cold, wet salty birdy weekend, beats a warm, sunny birdless weekend.

Bewick's Wren showing of its good side

Orange-crowned Warbler staring at me

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