When Does Forty-Nine Become Forty-Four?

It happened when I visited Dave Lambeth in Grand Forks County, North Dakota.  This was my first ever visit to North Dakota, leaving Kansas as the last of the 50 states to visit.  So that explains the “forty-nine”.  The “forty-four” is explained by our finding 83 species on a wonderful day of birding in the state making North Dakota my 44th state with 50 species or more in a day as I have traversed the United States on my 50/50/50 Adventure.

Birding with Dave was another of those totally enjoyable and very rewarding personal experiences that have made this quest so incredible.  It is a great oversimplification, but Dave is what I expect many of us think of as characteristic of the solid quality of Midwesterners.  A fine person who was more than generous with his time, thoughtful and kind, hard working and appreciative of what the world has given us rather than regretting what it has not.  It was a very fun day.

Dave is the kind of person that is impossible not to respect and trust and one aspect of this was a giant boost to our birding experience as he has permission (and a key) to enter the gated Grand Forks Lagoons.  In Washington we would call these STP’s as in “Sewage Treatment Ponds” but “lagoons” sounds much better – maybe more “Midwestern”.  Call them what you will, they certainly delivered.  As previously written, my 50/50/50 day in Minnesota had no shorebirds, no gulls and very few waterfowl species.  Our visit to the Lagoons was almost a mirror image as there were many species of all of these types.  We had Eared, Horned and Western Grebes, Ring Billed and Franklin’s Gulls, Canada Goose, 10 duck species and a half dozen shorebird species.  We also had some other species and when we departed, we were more than half way to our 50 species target.  It was a great start to a great day.

Franklin’s Gull

Franklin's Gull Flight

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper2

Sanderlings

Sanderlings

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Pied Billed Grebe (Juvenile)

Pied Billed Grebe Juvenile

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

After leaving the Lagoons, species were added one or two or three at a time at our various stops.  I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that Dave knew every road in the area – many of them unpaved.  I never had any idea where we were.  I didn’t need to as Dave guided us to new place after new place and new bird after new bird.

In Minnesota, there was only a single sparrow species.  In North Dakota, we had six: Vesper, Song, Savannah, Clay Colored, Chipping and Lincoln’s.  I was especially pleased to see and photograph the Clay Colored Sparrow since I did not look for one in Washington this year.

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Clay Colored Sparrow

Clay Colored Sparrow3

There are two sides to a coin though.  In Minnesota we had 11 warbler species and on this trip in North Dakota, we had only 4 with the Palm Warbler being the only one with a decent photo and interestingly all 4 are ones that are regularly seen in Washington, not so-called Eastern Warblers.  In generally our forest birding was very slow — almost dead.  We did not even have a White Headed Nuthatch.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Dave aptly described much of our day as “roadside birding”.  I am embarrassed to admit that I have never used that perfect term (but I will in the future) and we indeed had great roadside birding.    We did not have tons of raptors numbers wise, but we had an astonishing 9 different species, and our variety of one of which is now among my all time favorite birds.  It was a most cooperative and to me incredibly beautiful Krider’s Red Tailed Hawk.  We saw it perched on a power pole and approached for photos.  It tolerated our getting fairly close and then would fly to the next power pole and we would repeat our routine after more photos.  I have never seen one this white.  I am in love.

Krider’s Red Tailed Hawk

Krider's Red Tailed Hawk1

Krider's Takeoff

We had another raptor that initially was a bit of an ID challenge.  Seeing it fly by before it perched, I thought it was a Merlin.  Dave was pretty sure it was a juvenile Broad Winged Hawk, a species with which I have little experience and which I thought was larger than it is.

Broad Winged Hawk

Broad Winged Hawk Juvenile1

We also had two iconic (and half way eponymous) Eastern birds: Eastern Blue Jay and Eastern Bluebird.  To continue the theme, we later also had a relatively late Eastern Kingbird.

Eastern Blue Jay

Blue Jay1

Eastern Bluebird

eastern-bluebird.jpg

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

The latter was a “bonus” bird at the end of the day.  Despite what I considered fantastic guiding, I think Dave was disappointed about some of the misses for the day and to close it, we went to a favorite spot near his home to look for Wood Ducks.  We found them and then had the surprise Eastern Kingbird and also had a Common Nighthawk fly overhead.

It was not real birdy this time but a fun stop was at Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge.   Later in the year this famous Hotspot might have thousands of waterfowl.  Here is a photo of Dave at the NWR sign.  The other proves I was there also.  I hope to return when migration brings in those thousands of waterfowl – but definitely not after temperatures fall below zero!!

Dave Lambeth at Kellys Slough blair-at-kellys.jpg

I have included photos and stories of this species in other reports as well, but this time it was a bit different.  For whatever reason, Red Headed Woodpecker was simply not on my list of expected species for North Dakota.  But indeed they are there and two put on a nice fly catching show for us and one was an immature – a new bird for me.  As I would also say for Owls, all Woodpeckers are cool and it is definitely hard to leave any off the “most special” or “most striking” list, but for sure I would have the gorgeous Red Headed Woodpecker high up on my list.

Red Headed Woodpecker

Red Headed Woodpecker Adult

Red Headed Woodpecker Immature

Red Headed Woodpecker Juvenile1

Dave’s comments in his Ebird post sums up the day very well in his own understated way:  “The day was almost entirely sunny with temperature reaching at least 81 degrees by mid afternoon. Wind speed was less than 10 mph throughout the day. This is a species checklist for which we did not try to estimate numbers of the more numerous species. Sites visited included the Grand Forks lagoons, Kellys Slough, AFB lagoons, and Turtle River State Park, with considerable time and effort to find roadside birds.”  Very matter of fact, but hopefully from reading this blog, you can get our sense of the pleasure, excitement and accomplishment from this day with super birds and with super company.  Thank you Dave!!

On to South Dakota…

 

 

Each State is Different…Right Minnesota?

I would have bet against it.  No gulls.  No shorebirds.  One sparrow species and only one icterid species.  No way to get to 50 species in a day.  Wait, there must have been lots of ducks and geese, right?  Nope.  Only a single goose species and only 4 ducks.  How did I end up with 66 species for the day then?  A simple answer – great help from a wonderful Minnesota birder, Craig Mandel.

There have been so many lessons along the way on my 50/50/50 Adventure.  One has been the importance of persistence.  Another has been to have faith in our wonderful birding community.  As I planned this trip to add 5 prairie states to my “done” list and get to 47, I got great assistance from Paul Roisen in Iowa who hooked me up with great help in North and South Dakota, with David Lambeth and David Swanson.  I also got the wonderful news that Michael Willison would be able to help in Nebraska.  There will be stories ahead for all of these.  But Minnesota, the first state I would visit was proving a challenge.  My first two connections/leads turned out to be dead ends after each seemed to be a sure thing.  So I had wasted a lot of time and less than a week before my departure, I had no companion in Minnesota.  Time to reach out to everyone I knew and to take some wild shots in the dark with folks I did not.

And it worked.  I got in contact with Kim Eckert.  His impact on Minnesota birding is summed up well in an article in the Star Tribune: “Birding in Minnesota changed forever when Kim Eckert quit teaching, put his dog in his car and moved to Duluth.  There he created two tools that have defined the sport of birding for almost 40 years: statewide tours and an extremely detailed book.”  The statewide tours are through his Minnesota Birding Weekends company.

That extremely detailed book is “A Birder’s Guide to Minnesota”.  He is working on a revised addition and the deadline prevented him from him being able to join me himself, but he got me in touch with Craig Mandel who is one of his trip leaders and also leads trips for Minnesota River Valley Audubon.  It turned out Craig was leading a trip the weekend I was planning to visit and he welcomed me to join them in Rochester.  The rest is history.  I will not detail the trip in large part because of all my visits, this is the one where I did the least preparation and had no idea where we would be going.  But Craig was confident we would find 50 species – if the weather cooperated – so I just followed his lead and had a blast with him and his very nice group of birders.

We started off at the Willow Creek Reservoir and were disappointed to see that the heavy rain from the previous day had raised water levels dashing any hopes for shorebirds.  This pattern played out all day and not a single shorebird was seen.  We had a good sampling of birds though with the highlight for me at least being a really good view and a photo of a Philadelphia Vireo.

Philadelphia Vireo

Philadelphia Vireo

We added a few species along the way to Oxbow Park where we had 8 warbler species.  At both places Craig used a very productive technique of hanging a speaker on a tree and then playing his own playback creation combining the trill of an Eastern Screech Owl and the mobbing calls of Black Backed Chickadees.  This brought in small flocks consistently.  I would not have been able to identify most of the fall plumage warblers.  Again, I was in good hands as both Craig and his group were excellent.  Black Backed Chickadees and White Breasted Nuthatches were the first to respond and usually the most numerous but over the course of the day more than 20 species responded to this playback.

Black Backed Chickadee

Black Capped Chickadee.jpg

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler1

We visited several landfills and reservoirs trying for waterfowl and shorebirds.  Along the way we found some Sandhill Cranes, always special.  And we did have some ducks – both Blue and Green Winged Teal, Mallards and a few Northern Shovelers.

Sandhill Cranes

sandhill-cranes.jpg

Blue Winged Teal

Blue Winged Teal

We had seen some earlier but the best photo of a Magnolia Warbler came at a later stop.  Also had a decent shot of an Ovenbird.  Altogether the group had 11 warbler species and 4 vireos.  Add another 5 flycatcher species and that starts to explain how we got over 50 species for the day!

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler2

Ovenbird

Ovenbird2

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe2

I don’t know exactly when we hit 50 species for the day, but it was early enough that there was never a feeling of doubt.  We added species here and there and ended the day with 66 species – with the last being the only icterid of the day – a Red Winged Blackbird.

These trips are not just about birds.  More about people and places but there are also unexpected delights like the snake that crossed our path and was picked up by one of the group.  Also a sign next to a lake that reminded me why I would not like to live in Minnesota.  It gets COLD there!!  When birding friends knew I was going to Minnesota they warned about the flies and mosquitoes.  Just as was my experience in the similarly bug infested Maine, I had no issues on this trip – guess it is the timing.

Snake

Sign

Neither of these birds played a particularly important part of the day – although they all count to add up to 50, but I really enjoyed seeing and photographing each of them.  I have seen Eastern Bluebirds on many of my 50/50/50 days and they seem an important part of birding in the East and Midwest.  And there is just something irresistible about a Turkey Vulture – either soaring with its outstretched wings or perched with that “turkey-like” red head that only a mother could love.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird1

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

It had been more than 2 months since my last 50/50/50 trip and the intervening time had been consumed with developing the relationship with Cindy who had accompanied me on that preceding trip.  I wondered how a return would feel.  I think the wonderful folks on this trip were a key reason that it was so comfortable to return.  This 50/50/50 Adventure is about passion.  Now I have two passions in my life and it looks like the combination will make both better.

My next stop was to be North Dakota starting in Grand Forks which is just over 400 miles from Rochester.  Thinking it best to cut that driving time down for the next day, after we finished our birding I moved on to St. Cloud, MN itself 150 miles north and west of Rochester.  No real birding along the way as it was getting late, but it positioned me for a more leisurely trip the following day and I was able to do some birding.  As I was driving on I-94 near Freeport, I saw a lake off the service road that seemed to have a lot of white dots.  I could not stop on the highway for a look so I exited and doubled back.  They they were, my first gulls of the trip – lots of gulls.  There were at least 300 Franklin’s Gulls and a few Ringed Billed Gulls.  I did not have a scope and they were not real close so maybe there were others mixed in.  And filling another void from yesterday I also had my first shorebird – a Killdeer.

Franklin’s Gull and Ringed Billed Gull

Ring Billed and Franklin's Gulls

Killdeer

Killdeer1

In a small marshy area nearby I added two more new trip birds, a Common Yellowthroat and a Sedge Wren, the latter a real surprise.  Instead of returning to the Freeway I drove some rural roads and found a mother lode of Eastern Bluebirds  – at least 10 and maybe as many as 15 as I was unsure which ones that flew off had returned.  And this is how it went for the rest of the day.  No real destinations, hotspots or target areas, just exploring new ponds and lakes and rural roads.

I ended the day with 43 species including about a dozen that I had not seen the previous day.  Given that I did no forest birding, this was a really nice total.  The only planned stop was at Rothsay, MN where I had my favorite sighting of the trip – a Greater (some would say “Greatest”) Prairie Chicken.

Greater Prairie Chicken

Chicken

Let’s just say that Rothsay is not on the beaten path or a major tourist stop, but in the 10 minutes I was at this very cool “birding” spot, 8 others took the exit just to visit this well done creation.  This seems like a good place to end the saga in Minnesota.  This quest of mine has definitely taken me to new and fun places and I have learned to expect the unexpected.  And I also have learned that I can count on wonderful folks in the birding community and that persistence does pay off.  Just making the effort brings the rewards.

It was still surprising to me that there was only the single sparrow species – Chipping Sparrow and the Killdeer as the only shorebird.  At least on my solo day I did get those gulls and there were two more icterids:  5 Western Meadowlarks and a flock of Brewer’s Blackbirds.  I am sure that if I had been here in the spring there would have been many more species.  Craig had great stories of days with many warblers for example.  I hope to get back – maybe even see a real Prairie Chicken!

 

 

 

Pre-Pelagic Prospecting

Since pelagic trips start early in the morning, I generally try to spend the previous night in Westport and get in some coastal birding that day.  In September the shorebird migration is generally in full swing and there is a good chance to add to state yer lists and maybe to find something truly rare.  Paul Baerny is doing a Big Year in Washington and he was going to be on the Saturday pelagic tip, so it was a good chance to join forces and bird together.  Young birder Garrett Haynes came with Paul and we all met Michael Charest who was in the area for a bit – before returning to his temporary home and birding paradise in Florida.

We met at the Hoquiam STP – not real birdy but we did have a Red Necked Phalarope and a Pectoral Sandpiper.  A Cooper’s Hawk was on a telephone wire but the Ospreys that had been there for the summer seemed to have departed.

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

Then we were off to Griffiths Priday SP just north of Ocean Shores.  Paul and I had been there a week ago trying unsuccessfully for the Buff Breasted Sandpiper and Red Necked Stint that had been seen there.  Our timing was bad that day as we missed  those rarities – the same fate as others that day as well.  The “Buffy” was seen on later days but had not been reported for many days now.  Nothing real special this day either but we had 32 species including another Pectoral Sandpiper and a photo friendly Red Knot.  I did not notice it at the time, but a later examination of my photos found one of a Baird’s Sandpiper.  I had seen both the Knot and a Baird’s Sandpiper before, but these were my first photos for the year.

Red Knot

Red Knot1

Baird’s Sandpiper

Baird's Sandpiper

We found a few Whimbrels and there were many Sanderlings, Western and Least Sandpipers.  I got a fun photo of a Western Sandpiper with a worm – fun but out of focus unfortunately.  There was a momentary excitement as we thought we might have had a Black Legged Kittiwake among the many gulls at the creek mouth.  Unfortunately just a juvenile Bonaparte’s Gull.

Western Sandpiper with Worm

Western Sandpiper with Worm1

Bonaparte’s Gull

Bonaparte's Gull

We next drove the open beach near the Casino at Ocean Shores and found very few birds as the tide was way out.  I got a photo of a Whimbrel but nothing else even appealed for a photo.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel

Next up was a visit to the Point Brown Jetty.  Again the tide was way out and this could have helped or hindered our prospecting for “Rock Pipers”.  We saw some Black Turnstone at the end of the jetty and then Paul spied what at first we thought might be a Rock Sandpiper (early but welcomed by me as I had not seen one this year) but it proved to be a Surfbird – good views as we got closer and it moved into the open.  Then Mike spied a Wandering Tattler.  I had seen one here earlier in the year but it had been distant and impossible to photograph so this was a nice find.

Surfbird

Surfbird2

Wandering Tattler

Wandering Tattler1

Then on to the Oyhut Game Range.  I have had great birds here over the years but had not visited it in 2019.  I was pleased to see that a new trail access had been created from the Radar station entrance.  Unfortunately birds were few and far between.  There were many American Pipits on the sand and in the salicornia and on the way back to the parking area we had a very surprising Yellow Headed Blackbird there.  It was a new Grays Harbor County bird for all of us.

American Pipit

American Pipit1

Yellow Headed Blackbird

Yellow Headed Blackbird

Unfortunately no Ruff or Golden Plover both of which have been seen there frequently in years past.  Also no Upland Sandpiper which Paul was praying for and which I had been fortunate to see there 6 years ago.  And as long as we are talking about what was NOT seen, we also did not see any Lapland Longspurs which were a possibility or any Smith’s Longspurs – a super rarity which Paul and I had seen there in 2013.

Smith’s Longspur – Oyhut Game Range August 26, 2013 – Would Have Been Nice…

Smith's Longspur

Michael had to get back to Tacoma as he was flying out on Saturday – why he would not be joining us on the pelagic trip, so we headed east with him continuing to home and the rest of us revisiting the Hoquiam STP before continuing on to the Westport side of the coast.  Nothing new at Hoquiam.  There would be time to visit Tokeland beforMarbled Godwit

e heading back north to Bottle Beach to be there three hours before the incoming high tide.  Tokeland continues to be the go to place for Willets in Washington and we had 8 there in addition to a small flock of Marbled Godwits and a single Short Billed Dowitcher.  Most impressive were the 250+ beautiful Heerman’s Gulls.

Willet

Willet

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

Short Billed Dowitcher

Short Billed Dowitcher1

Heerman’s Gull

Heerman's Gull1

I expect I have written this before.  Bottle Beach is a premier spot for shorebirding on the Washington Coast.  In the Spring it is a great spot for Red Knots often with hundreds there in full breeding plumage and very close.  Almost all of the Washington shorebirds have been seen there at one time or another including rarities like Laughing Gull, Ruff, Red Necked  Stint, Lesser Sand Plover, Sharp Tailed Sandpiper and Hudsonian and Bar Tailed Godwits.  The key to success there is being “on the mud” 3 hours before high tide.  We often see people just coming out to the mud as we are returning to our cars 1.5 hours before high tide.  By then the show is generally over.

We arrived at Bottle Beach at about 3:40 pm with the high tide scheduled to be around 7:00 pm.  The tide was way out.  There was lots of mud and two birders were out at its edge.  We did not see any birds except for gulls and 4 Black Bellied Plovers.  One of the birders was Anna Kopitov from Seattle who would also be on the pelagic trip the next day.  As she walked over to join us, she said there had been lots of birds just before we arrived including a Red Knot, and lots of Black Bellied Plovers and Marbled Godwits but they had flown off in a group perhaps scared off by a Peregrine Falcon.  We watched for awhile and no shorebirds flew in.  I could not recall a single time at this location when there at the right time when there were not many shorebirds.

We saw a single Least Sandpiper, maybe a hundred Brown Pelicans and easily 2000+ Double Crested Cormorants.  The gulls were primarily Ring Billed with a few California Gulls.  Anna yelled out “That’s a really mean looking gull.”  It was chasing a Ring Billed Gull and it soon became apparent that it was not a gull at all.  It was a juvenile Parasitic Jaeger.  The chase lasted only a few seconds and then the Jaeger did something I have never seen before.  It landed on the sand/mud and just sat – for at least 5 minutes.  It then flew off – definitely in good health but possibly not yet a skilled hunter/harasser.  Certainly a great photo opportunity.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Parasitic Jaeger

Parasitic Jaeger Flight

Parasitic Jaeger1

Parasitic Jaeger

Shortly afterwards we were joined by Scott Mills who would be one of the spotters on the pelagic trip.  No new shorebirds arrived and we decided to leave and get to our hotels for the night.  Not more than a minute after we started to head back, Scott yelled out that a Long Billed Curlew had flown in.  Rare for the area, it had been seen there the previous day.  It was in with the gulls but finally came into the open for some photos.

Long Billed Curlew

Long Billed Curlew

The Curlew and the Jaeger were terrific observations for this spot and just in general, proving once again that there are usually consolation prizes even when targets are missed.  The most important thing is to just get out there and look…

I tallied up the species seen for the day and was over 70, pretty good since it had never seemed very birdy and there was no effort to look for passerines or to develop a long list.  Just another very fun day at the Washington coast.

 

 

 

The Calm Before the Storm

The Seattle area is famous for rain…supposedly lots of rain and rain all the time.  On average the area gets just under 38 inches of rain a year.  By contrast Washington D.C. gets just under 41 inches.  Atlanta gets 52 inches; Boston 44 inches; New York 45 inches; Miami 62 inches and St. Louis gets 42 inches.  The national average is 38 inches.  So in many ways Seattle is not a rainy city.  On the other hand…  If you compared the number of days in the year that the city has rain, the story would be different, because many of those other cities get large thunderstorms with several inches of rain at a time.  In Seattle, rain usually comes in little drizzles and not in storms.  On average there is some rain in Seattle on about 150 days a year compared to 129 in Miami and 119 in New York City.  Rainy city?  Depends on how you define it.

On Saturday September 7th, Seattle did get a thunderstorm.  There were more than 1,000 lightning strikes.  The threat of lightning delayed the start of the University of Washington football game that evening by almost 3 hours.  It rained – HARD!!  Earlier that day I had been on a boat 30+ miles out into the Pacific Ocean on a pelagic trip with Westport Seabirds.  We had the calmest seas I had ever seen.  No wind.  No rain. No waves.  The trip would have been canceled if there was any threat of lightning.  It was definitely the calm before the storm before returning to Seattle that night.

Better yet, it was a great trip, especially since the absence of wind often means a tough day seeing birds on the ocean as pelagic birds count on wind for flight and for carrying smells to them when the boats put out a fish oil slick or are chumming to bring in the birds.  No problems this day.  And the previous day was a fun and productive day of birding on the coast before the pelagic trips, especially looking for shorebirds in migration.  No real rarities either day, but lots of good birds and some nice photos.

By September the sunrise is later and so is the departure time for our boat.  We left dock at 6:30 a.m. in truly the calmest seas I had ever seen.  Some Cormorants and some Brown Pelicans and lots of gulls but on these trips it is always much further out when things get exciting.  The first truly pelagic birds are generally the Sooty Shearwaters, at first just single birds and later maybe seemingly hundreds or even thousands of them.

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican Flight1

A bit further out it is time to pay attention and look for the specialty species, other Shearwater species, Albatrosses, Jaegers, Alcids, Storm Petrels, Phalaropes, Terns and Gulls.  My “target” species for the trip with at least a reasonable chance of success were Arctic and Common Terns, Short Tailed, Flesh Footed and Buller’s Shearwaters, Long Tailed Jaeger and South Polar Skua.  Much rarer would be Short Tailed Albatross and Scripp’s Murrelet.  And there was always the chance of something truly rare like a Mottled Petrel (in my dreams).

First seen after the Sooty Shearwater were a number of Pink Footed Shearwaters, some Cassin’s Auklets, Red Necked Phalaropes, Fork Tailed Storm Petrels and Rhinoceros Auklets .  A beautiful adult Pomarine Jaeger was our first less than common species.

Pink Footed Shearwater

Pink Footed Shearwater

Fork Tailed Storm Petrel

Fork Tailed Storm Petrel2

Pomarine Jaeger

Pomarine Jaeger

Jaegers are very cool birds.  They are gull like and are often found with gulls.  They chase and harass gulls trying to get them to regurgitate food from their gullet which is then eaten by the Jaegers.  There are three species of JaegerPomarine Jaeger (blunt tail feathers), Parasitic Jaeger (two pointed tail feathers) and Long Tailed Jaeger (long tail feathers).  In Europe the Jaegers are called Skuas.  In our area, there is another Jaeger-like bird – the South Polar Skua.  A highlight of any pelagic trip is the so-called “Skua Slam” when all three Jaegers and the South Polar Skua are all observed.  On this trip, we did find all four.

South Polar Skua

South Polar Skua Flight1

Parasitic Jaeger Harassing California Gull

Parasitic Jaeger Attack

Long Tailed Jaeger

Long Tailed Jaeger.jpg

They may be old hat for pelagic trip veterans, but the first sighting of an Albatross is always exciting for “newbies” and there were several on the boat.  We had fewer Black Footed Albatross than usual but they are indeed spectacular.

Black Footed Albatross

Black Footed Albatross Head

On these trips, birds are not the only specialties.  Often there are whales, dolphins, porpoises, various marine mammals, and fish.  We had a couple of Humpback Whale sightings and a few porpoises and dolphins.  There was one very large (and several much smaller) Mola Mola (Ocean Sunfish).  The prize fish though were the many Blue Sharks seen – more than a dozen.  One was at least 5 feet long.

Blue Shark

Blue Shark3

Most of the gulls seen on the trip were California Gulls, both adult and juvenile, but the most appreciated were the fairly numerous and very beautiful Sabine’s Gulls – again both adults and juveniles.

Sabine’s Gull (Adult)

Sabine's Gull Adult1

Sabine’s Gull (Juvenile)

Sabine's Gull Juvenile2

Usually we have lots of Northern Fulmars on these trips, but this year they have not been nearly as numerous.  We only had a few, but with terrific looks and photo opportunities.

Northern Fulmar

Northern Fulmar

We did not do real well with Terns.  There were no Common Terns and only two distant Arctic Terns.  We had much better luck with Shearwaters though.  We had already had the Sooty and Pink Footed and then added both Buller’s and Short Tailed Shearwaters, each new for the year for me.

Buller’s Shearwater

Buller's Shearwater on Water

Short Tailed Shearwater

Short Tailed Shearwater Wings

Both of these Shearwaters are generally seen predominantly or even only in the Fall.  The Buller’s nests on islands near New Zealand and was once known as the New Zealand Shearwater.  It is known for its elegant buoyant flight .  The Short Tailed Shearwater is often hard to identify being very similar to the Sooty Shearwater.  It has a shorter bill and a rounder head and less white under wing.

While I was happy to add both of these Shearwaters to my Year List, the one I was really hoping for was the much rarer Flesh Footed Shearwater.  We finally found two in a mixed flock.  It is easy to identify with its all dark body and a light colored bill.

Flesh Footed Shearwater

Flesh Footed Shearwater Gaping

We saw three Alcid species on the trip but unfortunately missed Scripp’s Murrelet.  This generally rare species had been seen on several recent trips.  Not ours (but it was seen on the trip the next day – aaargh!!)  We had Cassin’s and Rhinoceros Auklets in good numbers and only a single Tufted Puffin – odd looking in its non-breeding plumage.

Tufted Puffin

Tufted Puffin1a

Returning to the marina, we scanned the outer jetty for “Rockpipers“.  We found a couple of Wandering Tattlers and that was it.  In the past few years there has been a single Bar Tailed Godwit among the hundreds of Marbled Godwits in the harbor.  Not this year though.  Too bad as it would have been a new year bird.

Marbled Godwits

Marbled Godwits1

One last detail.  On the way out and again on the way back we spotted Fur Seals on the water.  They have a strange look as they float with one fin waving in the air.  I have seen them on other trips and understood that they were “Northern Fur Seals“.  On this trip one of the ones observed may have been a much rarer Guadalupe Fur Seal, until recently thought to be extinct.  One distinguishing field mark is the length of the fin with the Guadalupe’s being shorter.  I don’t think there was a definitive ID on this one.

Fur Seal – Northern or Guadalupe

Possible Guadulupe Fur Seal

Despite missing the Scripp’s Murrelet and the Common Tern, it had been a great trip.  Calm seas certainly helped.  We had good looks at all of the birds seen and I added 6 new species for the year – as well as I had any right to expect.  This will be my last pelagic of the year but I look forward to joining Captain Phil Anderson and First Mate Chris Anderson again next year aboard the Monaco.  They are terrific and it is a truly first class operation.