The Trip Report for the BVAS/Grande Pelagic Oct. 5, 2013
Leaders: Paul Lehman, Guy McCaskie, Gary Nunn, Peter Ginsburg, Matt Sadowski, and Dave Povey.
The Grande left the dock about 6:30 a.m. with a full complement of eager birders. We did the usual drive by of the bait docks for the abundant pelicans, cormorants, herons, egrets, and sea lions, found there.
We also did a quick check of Ballast Point, then cut across the channel to Zuniga Jetty. Though the lighting was poor looking directly into a bright clear Santa Ana wind sunrise, we could make out the silhouettes of several Surfbirds. Four oystercatchers flew past us headed back up the channel, which caused us a quick turn about to follow. Three birds were Black Oystercatchers, but one was white-bellied.
Black Oystercatchers are always a good bird for San Diego as this is near the southern limit of their range. An American Oystercatcher is very rare here. Often these white-bellied oystercatchers are hybrids. After careful study our experts determined that this was the case with this bird. (see Paul Lehman's post to SDBirds "mixed oystercatchers" Oct. 6, 2013).
Offshore we had action right away, with a feeding flock just over the kelp bed. Common Dolphin had pushed up a good amount of bait fish and the pelicans, cormorants, gulls, and good numbers of Black-vented Shearwaters had joined the feast.
The first shout of the day came when a Brown Booby was spotted over the melee. The next was a Peregrine Falcon attacking Black-vented Shearwaters. The Black-vent's defense was to dive into the water, so on at least two attempt the Peregrine came away empty. To make the Peregrine's life more difficult the gulls started to mob it as their defense.
Next up was a second Brown Booby this one a bit closer to the boat and differentiated by the dark marking on the breast as a younger bird than the last. A short distance later we had a third Brown Booby this bird with a wholly dark breasted and the closest of the three to the boat.
Brown Booby once a unusual sighting here, has now become somewhat regular. The breeding colony on the nearby Islas Los Coronados continues to grow, and may now number 80-90 birds.
We proceed west to the Nine Mile Bank, with Black-vented Shearwaters and Red-necked Phalaropes the dominate species.
Near the Bank we did pick up a jaeger, or two. Jaegers were a prominent for the rest of the trip. There was rarely a time that there was not a jaeger in sight, and often multiple birds. Most of these jaegers were rather scraggly looking molting Pomarine Jaegers. Some exceptions were a few nice adults Poms with full tail spoons, and a small number of Parasitic Jaegers with nice tail points.
The outer edge of The Nine Mile Bank had a few Pink-footed Shearwaters, and Northern Fulmars. The latter somewhat early and in better numbers than would be expected for early October. Compared to the earlier birding this area was somewhat quiet.
We drove to the north end of the Coronado Escarpment that forms the outer edge of The Nine Mile bank and extends north for another 10-12 n.m. This area and to the west over The San Diego Trough is where the Craveri's Murrelets have been seen in the last few weeks. We hoped for the slick smooth sea state to make the search for small alcids easier. What we got was very manageable, but the low numbers of birds, the wide area to search, and their total skittishness at the sight of a boat, make these guys a challenge. We did get on a pair in flight at a distance. Best said we got very poor looks.
Craveri's Murrelets is one of the Mexican species that disperses northward some years and is absent in others. The trend in recent years has been negative. Interestingly we did get fair looks at Cassin’s Auklets, another species that can be difficult to see well.
The San Diego Trough turned up a number of feeding flocks of Common Terns, a rare Back Tern, more jaegers, a few Pink-footed Shearwaters, and a Swordfish.
The escarpment for the 30 Mile Bank had a few storm-petrels, mostly Black Storm-Petrels, with at least one Ashy Strom-Petrel. Further south and slightly west the storm-petrel numbers increased. a Least storm-Petrel or two was seen. Then a distance raft was picked out, then another, then a third. We'd found the "Mother Ship" About 7500 stormies. 4000 Blacks and 3500 Least. No white-rumped species (Wlison's, Wedge-rumped, or Leach's) was found but a dark-rumped Leach's Storm-Petrel (chapmani) was seen. Leach's are common to abundant further offshore and seem to rarely associate with these rafts. We did have a additional Ashy seen here and others may have been overlooked.
These masses of storm-petrels always amaze all hands. The boat was nearly silent with binoculars point in every direction, as storm-petrel swirled around us.
We moved down the bank into the glare for a not terribly satisfying look at a distant South Polar Skua. We made up for it with a great look at a long tailed adult Red- billed Tropicbird sitting on the water. This bird was kind enough to wait until everyone had their photo before taking off parallel to the boat for nice side on flight photos. Don't we all wished it work like that ever time!
Our return to the outside edge of the Nine Mile Bank was met with a very large Common Dolphin pod in full feeding mode.
We could see a swirl of Pink-foots, and one dark bellied bird. The skipper Charlie with direction from Paul, and a lot of maneuvering got another shout out , a Flesh-footed Shearwater . Unfortunately few got a look as it blew by the boat so it was off to the races to chase the bird down. One thing you have to understand about Grande. She is big, she is roomy, she is stable…..she is S-L-O-W! We did actully catch up…yes!!…and re-found the bird and with more zigs and zags. Actually got the bird on the water for more photos. Our trip score improved immensely, as we'd had a two-person sighting and photo of a Flesh-footed earlier in the trip that the rest of us whiffed on.
The last big feeding congregation was again over Common Dolphin, on the inner edge of the Nine. This time most Black-vented Shearwaters, with a lone Sooty Shearwater. The only one seen today!
Overall a nice mix of birds, though we missed some things, and didn't get the looks at others we'd have liked. We did great looks at Flesh-footed Shearwater, Least Storm-Petrels, Brown Boobies, the storm-petrel rafts and a very cooperative Red-billed Tropicbird. We had unexpectedly good number on N. FulmarS, Pomarine Jaegers, Black-vented Shearwaters, Red-necked Phalaropes, and others.
There were a few oddities as the American Coot, Great Egret, N. Pintail, Cinnamon Teal, and Peregrine Falcon, not normal expected at sea.
Marine mammals were slim with the exception of Common Dolphin. We had a small number of Bottle-nosed Dolphin at the jetty. California Sea Lion (bait docks, channel buoys, and offshore), Harbor Sea, and Elephant Seal (offshore).
Weather was near perfect, visibility good and sea state very manageable. Temps for us were warm, almost hot midday.