Sunday August 27, 2006 - 12-hour Offshore Trip
We often refer to Monterey Seabirds' 12-hour outings as a trip to
the albacore grounds. What we try to do on these trips is to find
the areas where there is a temperature or convergent break in the
water temperature. The albacore tuna like to hunt along these breaks.
Their prey forage for plankton along the break because it forms a
barrier due to the difference in both water density and temperature.
Synthliboramphus murrelets like to gather along these breaks for the
same reason, and they are our target on these trips.
Last weekend albacore fisherman had to go more than 75 miles offshore
to find the temperature break. Unfortunately that is outside of our
range on a 12-hour trip. So we opt for plan B.
It is still quite dark as we get underway with a full trip of 25 participants
on board at 5:30 am. Our plan is to head for Sur Ridge, as it proved
very birdy on our Aug. 13 trip, then keep heading southwest from there.
The weather can often pose a problem heading in this direction but
today the conditions are quite favorable. We encounter very little
swell and the wind is light. The marine layer is quite high for good
viewing conditions. Not perfect but close enough.
By the time it gets light enough to begin birding we are well off
Cypress Point. Actually we start the day with mammals: a pod of RISSO'S
Our first birds aside from gulls are COMMON MURRE and then
SOOTY and PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS. We start picking
up POMARINE JAEGERS, lots of them; they are the bird of the
day. In fact the whole trip turns into a jaeger study tour of both
behavior and morphology.
LONG-TAILED JAEGERS are scarce, however the sightings are highlighted
by an example of them feeding as we observe one kleptoparasitize a
"commic tern". The jaeger harasses the tern until it gives up the
fish. The jaeger snags this in mid air, drops it, and snags it again.
The tern then proceeds to attack his attacker but thinks better of
it and flies off.
a distance we can see an apparition sticking out of the sea like a
huge shark fin. It looks like something out of Star Wars or a James
Bond film. Eventually we draw close to this strange research vessel
known as a Floating Instrument Platform (FLIP) standing vertically
in the ocean. See: http://sio.ucsd.edu/voyager/flip/.
We are visited by our first of many land birds: a BROWN-HEADED
COWBIRD. Don Roberson has brought a sad looking withered willow
branch to put atop the cabin. He claims he's brought it from the Big
Sur river mouth and it's a certified vagrant trap. Next up is a WILSON'S
WARBLER that shows a brief interest in the branch but keeps going.
A little while later we have 3 MARBLED GODWITS circling the
boat for some time.
These lost land birds get disoriented in the fog, get out over the
ocean and lose their bearings. We see both gulls and jaegers pursue
the cowbirds that circle the boat and watch a jaeger separate a peep
sandpiper from a flock and try to snatch it. It's a bird eat bird
world out there.
SABINE'S GULLS are plentiful and we have a good showing of
ARCTIC and COMMON TERNS and both RED and RED-NECKED
Our second warbler species approaches the boat but fails to land:
a BLACK-THROATED GRAY.
I wonder aloud over the FRS radio, "Where are the BULLER'S SHEARWATERS?"
Richard Ternullo radios back that we will see them in 3 miles when
we get to Sur Ridge. He's close; we find one in a mile and a half
and end up seeing many.
We cruise along the west side of Sur Ridge then head in the direction
of the Davidson Seamount. Along here we have one of two RHINOCEROS
AUKLETS and a single ASHY STORM PETREL which everyone manages
to get on.
A couple of SOUTH POLAR SKUAS complete the skua slam.
this time our third warbler comes to the boat and lands in the vagrant
trap willow branch and then on the bell and finally on one of the
benches. We grab the poor YELLOW WARBLER and tuck him in a
sack to return to land with us. He does a lot of chipping in protest
but settles down when I put some suet in the bag with him.
20.5 nautical miles from Pt. Sur we are visited by a PURPLE MARTIN
but the oddest of all is the ghostly BARN OWL that we find
23.7 miles out flying high over the water. He checks out our boat
but doesn't show any inclination to land until he gets buzzed by a
jaeger. He returns to the boat briefly before proceeding onward to
his probable demise.
Two more warblers come to the boat but do not land. One is a TOWNSEND'S
and the other ends up a sp. Four and possibly five warblers are seen
on the day, not bad. Our last land bird is 35 miles out and headed
west toward Hawaii -- a GREAT EGRET.
We make the requisite stop to see a Mola Mola (or Ocean Sunfish);
there have not been many around this year.
As we head towards Davidson our spotters Dan Singer and Don Roberson
spot a flyby CRAVERI'S / XANTUS' MURRELET that unfortunately
keeps going before they can nail it down to species.
Out here we find a NORTHERN FUR SEAL, PACIFIC WHITE-SIDED DOLPHINS
and a few DALL'S PORPOISES.
We manage to get about 23 miles from the Davidson Seamount or 42 miles
offshore and then it's time to turn around. On the way back we comb
through a great many shearwaters but despite our best efforts we cannot
find anything to brag about.
Members of the The Tulare Audubon Society are with us today, and what
a great group they prove to be. They never let up and actively look
for birds the entire twelve-hour trip.
Back in Monterey we stop at the cemetery near El Estero. I pull the
Yellow Warbler out of his sack. He blinks a few times trying to get
his bearings and then he's away in flash to the nearby eucalyptus.
For additional photos from this trip, see Jeff
Poklen's photo gallery.
Roger Wolfe for Monterey