Monterey Seabirds
September 18, 2010 Seabird Cruise Trip Report


Saturday September 18, 2010

Great-winged Petrel, photo by Martijn Verdoes   Great-winged Petrel, photo by Martijn Verdoes

Great-winged Petrel, photo by Martijn VerdoesOur only 12-hour trip of the year gets underway under the cover of darkness at 5:30 a.m. We used to run 2 or 3 of these longer trips per year but for some reason the last couple of years they've been a tough sell. As it is today we've just made the minimum with 15 participants signed on along with six of our leaders for a long day at sea.

Originally we hoped to venture offshore in search of a hard warm water break but the sea surface temperature maps showed this to be well beyond our reach in a 12-hour trip from Monterey. After some discussion our captain Richard Ternullo and I concur that our best bet will be to cross the bay and start the day working the series of sea canyons north of Santa Cruz that the local skippers refer to as "the Fingers".

With the light coming up we begin seabirding in earnest around 6:45 a.m.

It is great starting the day in this area of Santa Cruz County right off the bat. On the 8-hour trips it takes us an hour and a half to get here. The birding is good from the outset with SOOTY and PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS all around. Soon we're seeing lots of ASHY STORM-PETRELS too, when spotter Todd Easterla calls out our first LEAST STORM-PETREL.

At 8:45 we find ourselves directly over Cabrillo Canyon (36 49.342 N 122 19.90 W). I'm up in the top drive with our skipper when I hear Todd Easterla yell the three most exciting words you will hear on a pelagic trip, "STOP THE BOAT."

When I get to the back of the boat Todd is looking over at our 8 o'clock and yelling for his daughter, our chummer Tayla, to get some fish in the water.

Things are a bit chaotic as all of us try to get on the bird that Todd and others are looking at. I grab the bottle of cod liver oil we keep near the stern and pour some over the rail with one hand as I kneel on the deck under the photographers with my bins in the other hand, asking for directions of where we should be looking. I get on the bird as it banks and flies right at us. The sound of whirring digital cameras is music to my ears. With so few of us on board every single person sees the bird and every photographer with a decent camera gets a shot of it as it parallels our boat.

Our skipper and veteran seabirder Richard Ternullo steps out on deck and pronounces it a GREAT-WINGED PETREL! He's the only one on board who saw the second North American record that was seen in Monterey Bay back on October 18, 1998. (The first record was from the Cordell Bank in Marin County on Aug. 24, 1996.) This GWPE is the third North American record of this Southern Hemisphere species.

(The AOU currently recognizes Great-winged Petrel but not Grey-faced, which has long been considered a subspecies of Great-winged. The two prior records from CA are thought to be Grey-faced (P. gouldi). I'm not sure Great-winged has been formally split, though many authorities recognize two species are involved -- and there appears to be good reason to do so. But at this point, from an American perspective, our bird is simply a Great-winged Petrel and we believe all characters suggest the subspecies gouldi - Dan Singer pers. com.)

This was a true team effort to find this bird and credit goes to many of those on board. Kenneth Petersen pointed out a pair of jaegers harassing a bird in the distance but they were too far away to id. He and Todd were trying to ascertain what kind of jaegers they might be when their attention was drawn to the bird the jaegers were working over. This was our petrel!

Needless to say we are an excited bunch of birders and there is a lot of high fiving going around. Kenneth Petersen, the pelagic fanatic, looks like the Cheshire cat with a smile from ear to ear.

Martijn Verdoes has a laptop with him and loads the images so we can do some instant replay. Everyone agrees, "The bill looks huge!" We are all convinced that this is indeed a GWPE.

And the day is just getting started! We push up to Ano Nuevo Canyon but the fog turns us back so we follow our track back and are surprised to find the area that had been so birdy an hour and a half before is relatively bird free. Where did they all go?

We do some searching for the storm-petrel flocks and find them in the same area I have flagged on my GPS from last year. We make sure everyone gets good looks at the BLACK STORM-PETRELS mixed in with the flocks of ASHIES.

We head back into the bay to try to escape the marine layer and as we find the sun we pass through an area with a great deal of bird activity due to the balls of krill near the surface. I dip net some up for our passengers to sample. "Tastes like shrimp!"

This area has so much activity we decide to take a second pass through and we find a TUFTED PUFFIN (MTY) that circles the boat twice.

Up ahead we spot some surface activity and before we know it we are interacting with a pod of Transient type KILLER WHALES.

A second TUFTED PUFFIN is found as we are looking at BLUE WHALES before the clock runs out and we head back to the dock.

Thanks go out to our spotters Dan Singer, Bruce Elliot, Martijn Verdoes and Todd Easterla and to our little chummer girl Tayla Easterla.

Here is the eBird report for our trip compiled by Dan Singer:

Location: Offshore pelagic (SCZ Co.)
Observation date: 9/18/10
Notes: Monterey Seabirds trip on the Pt. Sur Clipper with Richard Ternullo, skipper; Roger Wolfe; Todd Easterla; Ken Petersen; Martijn Verdoes; Dan Brown; and Sacramento Audubon. We had hoped to travel offshore to the "albacore grounds" but the temperature break was 90+ nm offshore and unreachable. We opted instead to explore offshore canyons north of Santa Cruz to Ano Nuevo. Turned out to be a fortuitous change of plans! The seas were flat, often mirror-like, and there was virtually no wind all day. We spent hours motoring through areas with no birds and/or dense fog. Despite this we had a nice variety of species, good looks at many storm-petrels, and a mega-rarity.
Number of species:


  Black-footed Albatross   7    
  Great-winged Petrel (gouldi)   1   ID to subspecies presumptive, but based on photos and prior records, I believe it is a good fit. This was a heavy, long-winged, dark brown Pterodroma with a very stout bill, seen over Cabrillo Canyon SW of the city of Santa Cruz. Initially seen being harassed by two Pomarine Jaegers by Todd Easterla and Ken Petersen, the bird flew close enough to the boat for many good photos. If accepted by the CBRC this will be the third record for California and, I think, the North Pacific basin. Feedback received so far from other experienced seabirders has been positive.
  Pink-footed Shearwater   115    
  Buller's Shearwater   12    
  Sooty Shearwater   60    
  Ashy Storm-Petrel   237    
  Black Storm-Petrel   8    
  Least Storm-Petrel   3   Seen well in direct comparison with Ashy Storm-Petrels. Small, very short-tailed, deep wingbeats.
  Pectoral Sandpiper   1   Flew over the boat heading south.
  Western Gull   10    
  California Gull   8    
  Common Tern   3    
  Arctic Tern   1    
  Pomarine Jaeger   6    
  Parasitic Jaeger   11    
  Long-tailed Jaeger   3    
  jaeger sp.   12    
  Cassin's Auklet   35    
  Rhinoceros Auklet   50    

Marine Mammals:
California Sea Lion
Steller Sea Lion
Northern Right Whale Dolphin
Pacific White-sided Dolphin
Killer Whale/Orca
Blue Whale
Fin Whale
Humpback Whale

Blue Shark
Mola Mola/Ocean Sunfish

Roger Wolfe for Monterey Seabirds


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Last updated September 23, 2010