Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Spring 2017 San Diego pelagic birding trips

I attended two San Diego pelagic trips this spring, one in May and one in early June.

The May trip had sunny skies, making for better (more colorful) photography. A number of Scripps's Murrelets were found, as expected in spring. We started out with an approachable pair early--not always easy, and they continued in small numbers throughout the day.

Sooty, Pink-footed and a few Black-vented Shearwaters were spotted. Other regular species included Western Gulls, Black Storm-Petrels, Elegant Terns, and Common Terns.

Just after noon, Jimmy McMorran photographed a distant Cook's Petrel. Somehow I didn't hear anything about it on the boat, and only learned of it after returning home. I guess I could have been in the galley having lunch. Unfortunately, sometimes that is the way it happens on a large and noisy boat. Of all the regular pelagic species on the West Coast, Cook's Petrel is one of the few I have yet to see. I've certainly seen more than a handful of much rarer species. Cook's is one of those true oceanic species that rarely approaches the coastline closely enough to be seen from one day pelagic birding trips from shore and back.

We ended the day with a pod of Common Dolphins just offshore from the San Diego Bay mouth. They had driven fish to the surface and we had 10 Brown Boobies fishing here among other birds, flying over the dolphins--very exciting!

Pink-footed Shearwater
Pink-footed Shearwater
Scripps's Murrelet
Scripps's Murrelet
Pink-footed Shearwater
Pink-footed Shearwater
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Common Tern
Common Tern
Black-vented Shearwater
Black-vented Shearwater
Brown Booby
Brown Booby
Brown Boobies and Western Gulls feeding over a pod of Common Dolphins
Brown Boobies and Western Gulls feeding over a pod of Common Dolphins
Common Dolphins
Common Dolphins
Common Dolphins and Brown Boobies
Common Dolphins and Brown Boobies.
Brown Booby
Brown Booby.
California Sea Lion
California Sea Lion.
Sailboats in San Diego Bay
Sailboats in San Diego Bay.

The second trip was on June 11. A couple of Black Skimmers flew around the bay. I believe I was the only one to identify a late Wandering Tattler flying about the rocky beach at Ballast Point as we motored past. This trip had quite a few Least Terns nearshore.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip was a single Black-footed Albatross in the early morning--spring is the best time for these in San Diego waters. Otherwise, they are regular much farther offshore in the main California Current that flows outside the islands of the Southern California Bight.

The trip featured quite a few storm-petrels. Storm-petrels are small and flighty, and rather skittish and seem to be afraid of the boat. I took dozens of photos in the hopes that a few would turn out. I think the overcast skies helped lower the contrast when photographing these against the bright water. Identifying storm-petrels requires much experience to get a feel for the ID--backed up with photos whenever possible. Shape and flight behavior is key for identifying most seabirds--especially the all brownish ones! We had Black, Ashy, and Leach's, including several white-rumped Leach's or Townsend's (either is unusual in spring), but none photographed well enough to be definitely identified as Townsend's.

In late afternoon we came across some rather early Craver's Murrelets. This is a species that was more common in the 1980's, fairly rare at the turn of the 21st century, and regular again in recent years.

Elegant Tern
Elegant Tern
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Elegant Tern
Elegant Terns
Sooty Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater in heavy wing molt.
Black-footed Albatross
Black-footed Albatross
Black-footed Albatross
Black-footed Albatross
Ashy Storm-Petrel
Ashy Storm-Petrel
Ashy Storm-Petrel (left), Black Storm-Petrel (right).
Ashy Storm-Petrel (left), Black Storm-Petrel (right).
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Leach's Storm-Petrel
Leach's Storm-Petrel
Ashy Storm-Petrel (left), Black Storm-Petrel (right).
Ashy Storm-Petrel (left), Black Storm-Petrel (right).
Ashy Storm-Petrel
Ashy Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Pink-footed Shearwater
Pink-footed Shearwater
Craveri's Murrelet
Craveri's Murrelet