Sunday, June 16, 2013

16 June 2013

Report for the 12-hour trip on Grande June 16, 2013

Trip Leaders: Paul Lehman, Guy McCaskie, Gary Nunn, Matt Sadowski, Peter Ginsburg, Tom Blackman, Bruce Rideout, BJ Stacey, and Dave Povey

Forty-seven passengers sailed on Grande from Point Loma Sportfishing Landing, in near-shirtsleeve weather. Hardcore sea birders might have wished for more wind and overcast conditions, but for fair-weather beginning sea birders and birders from the heartland, this was as close to perfect weather as we see in early summer.

A Bottle-nosed Dolphin greeted us as we exited the Commercial Basin into the main bay. We did a quick check of the bait receivers for usual close looks at pelicans, cormorants, gulls, long-legged waders, and sea lions. Heermann's Gulls have started filtering back into San Diego over the last week from their breeding grounds in Baja. We found a range of age classes on the bait docks, including a brown juvenile and a couple of white-headed adults. We did a drive-by of both Ballast Point and Zuniga Jetty and, as has been the case all winter and spring, found no oystercatchers. In addition, the rocky shorebirds such as Surfbirds and Black Turnstones that are often regularly seen at these spots had all departed. Outside the bay entrance we saw another small group of Bottle-nosed Dolphin (4-6).  We continued southwest to near the Mexican Border where we found a pod of Common Dolphin (25+), with a fair number of Sooty Shearwaters. We followed them for a short distance but they were leading us into Mexican waters so reluctantly we turned west, toward the Nine Mile Bank. The outer edge of the bank seemed to have a little more life, with an increase in Sooties and the first showing of Pink-footed Shearwaters.  The surprise for the day was 
Photo by Matt Sadowski

the unexpected showing of a Buller's Shearwater. This species is never regular near San Diego. Buller's Shearwater can be abundant north of Point Conception, where it is considered a regular fall visitor. The bird seen at 14 n. miles from the tip of Point Loma was clearly the best bird of the day, giving many passengers a tick off their Life, State, County, and/or Year lists.

We also flushed a pair of Scripps's Murrelets (formerly Xantus's Murrelet), confirmed after a study of photos. Scripps's Murrelets are a local breeder, on the nearby Coronado Islands, and are nearing the end of their breeding season. Most Scripps's have moved off to the north and west by mid-June. A single Scripps's Murrelet was also seen today, which might indicate a bird feeding at sea during the daytime and attending a nest mate on the islands at night. We have seen very few downy chicks, with adults, at sea into early July. Photo confirmation of the Scripps’s was necessary because we were closing in on the arrival off Southern California of the "southern Xantus's," now Guadalupe Murrelets, usually seen well offshore from mid-July into early October.

Further west we got our next "surprise," the now almost-expected Brown Booby, this bird being an immature nearing adult plumage. I guessed it was a female, as the males of the Brewster's race of Brown Booby start to show the classic frosted head even at this age. This Brown Booby was seen at 19 n. miles in the same general area where we had this species on scouting trips May 12th (1-2 adult females, 1 juv.), and June 1st. (1 juv.).

The San Diego Trough gave us our only look at a distant Pomarine Jaeger. Jaeger sightings have been sparse locally this spring, with about one every other trip.  The Nine Mile Bank, San Diego Trough, and 30 Mile Bank, all had a few Cassin's Auklets, mostly seen by the few birders who hung out on the bow. Small nondescript alcids, the Cassin’s were difficult to get on as they usually flushed well ahead of the boat, frustrating our attempts to get good views. Today’s count of 20 was low. The scouting trip on June 1st had 100; itself not particularly high number. 

Photo by Bruce Rideout
A distant flyby Common Murre was likely a remnant of a 2012-13 winter incursion off San Diego. The species is notable since it is not seen every year and even absent for multiple years at time. Common Murres do seem to straggle into spring and early summer after those incursions. We did see a few Black-Storm Petrels in the distance as we crossed the San Diego Trough, but most were found on the 30 Mile Bank. Ashy- Storm Petrels.  We got a flyby one-year-old Common Tern - definitely not a common species here. Eight Least Terns were seen today. They are seen regularly offshore and often seen on the Nine Mile Bank but two on the 30 Mile Bank today were likely at their western limit locally.
We got some nice comparison looks at the smaller brown/gray

The oooh-aahhh award went to a Blue Whale, which approached the boat on its own, surfaced on the port bow, then slowly cruised under the bow to spout again on the starboard. Satisfied with its look at us, it moved off at a relaxed pace and went back to its business. We got a wonderful full-length look in the clear (at least for S. Calif.) water. What an amazing animal! 

We traveled back down the 30 Mile Bank, and back across the deep water of the San Diego Trough, to do a box search pattern around the Nine Mile Bank. This turned into the kind of afternoon that can make trip leaders go a little crazy - warm air, bright sunshine, nice seas, and very few birds. Easy to yield to the body's call for a nap and many passengers did just that, but Paul Lehman stayed at the job. Near the border inside the Nine Mile Bank he found a number of spots of resting Sooty Shearwaters, making them the most abundant seabird for the day (550+).  Sharp eyes on the bow picked up a Black-vented Shearwater among the sooties, and with a little maneuvering by Capt. James and Paul’s direction, we got almost everyone who was interested on the bird. Of course there was a little mumbling among some of the local birders, "What's the big deal?" Locals know this species as the common and sometimes abundant shearwater seen inshore late summer, fall, and winter. They forget that this is a local specialty seen in few other places, and May and June are marginal months since most Black-vents are on, or near, their breeding islands down the west coast of Baja at this time of year. 

Unfortunately, a Pacific Loon on the water – one of two seen on the day - was given short shrift while the leaders attempted to get everyone on the Black-vented Shearwater. The other was seen well ahead of the boat in the morning. We checked Ballast Point on the way in and got late Surf Scoters (2) along North Island as well a flyby Peregrine Falcon

The next scheduled trips are:
July 13 (6 hours) Dana Point
August 12-14 (56 hours): Grande

Dave Povey

Photos from the trip can be seen by visiting our Flickr page

Trip Track

Full Species List

San Diego Bay list
Surf Scoter
Western Grebe
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Brandt's Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night Heron
Peregrine Falcon
Heermann's Gull
Western Gull
Caspian Tern
Rock Pigeon
Aratringa Parakeet
Amazona Parrot
Barn Swallow
European Starling

Pacific Loon
Sooty Shearwater
Pink-footed Shearwater
Buller's Shearwater
Black Storm-Petrel
Ashy Storm-Petrel
Brown Booby
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Heermann's Gull
Western Gull
Elegant Tern
Royal Tern
Caspian Tern
Least Tern
Common Tern
Pomarine Jaeger
Common Murre
Scripps's Murrelet
Cassin's Auklet

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin
Bottle-nosed Dolphin
Blue Whale
N. Elephant Seal
California Sea Lion

Shark sp.
Mola mola

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