Monterey Seabirds
Sept. 17, 2006 Albacore GroundsTrip Report


Sunday September 17, 2006

It always seems a bit strange showing up at the dock at 5 a.m. It is dark out but our hardy group of 24 is assembled and ready to leave by 5:30. Our guests today include a nice group of folks from the Colorado Field Ornithologists. After the safety talk and spotter introduction we leave the dock and begin our journey offshore. We power out until it gets light enough to see a few NORTHERN RIGHT WHALE DOLPHINS come in to the boat.

Sunrise on Monterey Bay, photo by Jeff PoklenIt is a lovely morning and the sunrise out in the bay is a memorable one. In this early light the white wing flash on the underwings on the SOOTY SHEARWATERS jumps out and you see they really are a sooty color. These are soon joined by the languid wing beats of PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS.

Before we know it we are in the area off Davenport the storm-petrels have favored the last few years. We find the occasional ASHY STORM-PETREL but find no signs of a flock. A single FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATER is seen in this area. Again today the wind is not in our favor. There was some doubt about getting very far offshore today but the word from the albacore fishing boats out ahead of us is that the wind is not picking up from the northwest as it was forecast to do. We continue to push offshore.

Parasitic Jaeger, photo by Jeff PoklenSOUTH POLAR SKUAS are numerous today -- we see at least 10 -- and so are POMARINE JAEGERS -- we must have seen almost 50. My favorite part of the trip is when we have 6 different jaegers flying around the stern harassing the gulls to give up the anchovies Tanner Easterla and Max Baer have thrown from the stern. There are different color morphs, ages and two species (PARASITIC and POMARINE). It's a great comparative study for all on board. We have a passable look at a LONG-TAILED JAEGER to complete the skua slam for the day.

Word from the fishermen is that there is a lot of bird activity and they are catching albacore but when we arrive where the fleet is we see very few birds and none of the boats are stopped to reel in a tuna. We scratch our heads wondering what is up with that? But you know what they say about fishermen and their stories.

We also cannot locate a clear break in the water temperature, which is what we are hoping for. At this point we are 40 nautical miles off Año Nuevo. From here we begin heading south and then back toward the coast along the rim of Año Nuevo Canyon.

We find several different color morphs of NORTHERN FULMAR, and a single SABINE'S GULL puts in a brief appearance at the stern along with a handful of BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS.

We start seeing more ASHIES and then a distant FORK-TAILED STORM-PETREL. Still no sign of a big flock but we do find some small groups of ASHIES sitting on the water, and while we're watching these a single BLACK STORM-PETREL flies in close to the boat and everyone gets on it.

There are lots of RED-NECKED PHALAROPES around and we also see several REDS.

We get passerine flybys of a juvenile BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD, a CHIPPING SPARROW and what we think was a VESPER SPARROW.

Passing through the Soquel Canyon we find alcids: COMMON MURRE and RHINOCEROS AUKLETS.

Female Orca, photo by Jeff PoklenIn the area known as The Corner we happen upon a pod of KILLER WHALES who come right up to the boat. It's the Friendly Pod and they're finishing up a pinniped meal and seem to want to show it to us. There are a lot of people on board who are seeing their first wild Killer Whales and couldn't be more thrilled. We've also seen other marine mammals including RISSO'S DOLPHINS, NORTHERN FUR SEAL and CALIFORNIA SEA LION.

Nearly 12 hours after leaving the harbor we are rounding Pt. Pinos and finding a great deal of shearwater activity. We comb through thousands of sitters on the water and do turn up a white-headed Sooty but not anything out of the ordinary.

On the way in we find some PIGEON GUILLEMOTS and PELAGIC CORMORANTS to complete the day.

For additional photos, see Jeff Poklen's photo gallery for this trip.

Roger Wolfe for Monterey Seabirds


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Last updated September 21, 2006