Sunday, May 24, 2015

Rare Bird: Laysan Albatross

On May 16, 2015 I was aboard Grande for a pelagic trip from San Diego. We were fortunate enough to encounter a Laysan Albatross--very rare in San Diego County waters.

Actually, Laysan Albatrosses aren't overly rare in deeper waters starting about 35 miles west of San Diego. Unfortunately, because of the nearest-point-to-land rule, 35 miles west of San Diego is either in Los Angeles County or the state of Baja California, Mexico. That's because of San Clemente Island, Los Angeles County (75 miles WNW of San Diego) and Los Coronados Islands (9 miles off Tijuana, Mexico and 15 miles south of San Diego). Once you leave San Diego harbor and then find yourself closer to either of those islands than you are to shore at Point Loma, the island's jurisdiction takes over, and your wonderful bird is now in a different county. This is a very serious topic for many birders--especially those known as "County Listers"--who are very interested in keeping exact track of personal bird sightings in each county. Yes, guilty as charged.

Laysan Albatross
Laysan Albatross. Nine Mile Bank, San Diego County, California. May 16, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Laysan Albatrosses nest in the outer Hawaiian Islands, including Midway and Laysan. They first breed when 5-8 years old. Most of the population chooses to spend the non-breeding time in the Aleutians and Gulf of Alaska. A few visit the West Coast in winter and spring.

Laysan Albatross

About 1983 Laysan Albatrosses began breeding on islands off Mexico. eBird shows a growing count of 288 birds on Isla Guadalupe, about 260 miles south of San Diego, on April 14, 2013. Certainly, these birds transit into the California Current off the West Coast. With these birds adding to the millions already in the North Pacific, one can't help but think that these Mexican breeders may be increasing the likelihood of spotting this species on future West Coast pelagic trips.

Laysan Albatross

The dusky marks on the under wing are variable and serves as a "fingerprint" for identifying individuals.

Gary Nunn blogs about this sighting (San Diego Birding -- Nemesis county seabird – Laysan Albatross in San Diego).

And so does Tommy DeBardeleben (Tommy D's Birding Expeditions -- Deep Sea Birding-The Grande Way)

San Diego County records of Laysan Albatross (based on my own very limited research)
1. One on Thirty Mile Bank 8 January 1998 (Brennan Mulrooney, eBird).
2. One found dead on Torrey Pines beach 8 Mar 2000 (Unitt, 2004).
3. One found dead at Camp Pendleton 13 Jun 2007 (NAB, McCaskie & Garrett).
4. One photographed at Nine Mile Bank 27 Aug 2008 (NAB, McCaskie & Garrett).
5. One found dead in the Split Mountain area of Anza-Borrego Desert 26 June 2013 (Steve Bier).
6. One at Nine Mile Bank 3 May 2015 (Dave Povey).
7. One photographed at Nine Mile Bank 16 May 2015 (this bird! Perhaps the same individual as previous sighting?).