Pelagic Birding with Alvaro's Adventures out of Half Moon Bay August 14, 2011
We arrived early after I got a Reduced Fat Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich at Starbucks. I took Bonine, because I’m a “better safe than sorry” pelagic birder. The ocean was calm with high overcast an good visibility in the harbor. We watched Elegant Terns, Western, Heerman’s, and California gulls, and Double-crested cormorants until we boarded the boat and signed a million waivers. Once everyone had signed, we were on our way.
We cruised several interior harbor jetties and saw several BLACK TURNSTONE and somebody saw Surfbird (or said it) but it wasn’t us as I intently searched the rocks to find one! We saw all three species of Cormorant and a few Red-necked Phalarope. Once we were away from the harbor mouth, we turned toward the beach and looked for, but couldn’t find Marbled Murrelet. As we cleared the wash rocks and headed for Maverick’s at Pillar Point, we saw very little and the boat came onto a northwesterly heading and was exposed to a 4 ft. swell with one foot wind waves. At this point, I was not feeling well, along with about half the people on the boat. Some had already “tossed their cookies” but I was just queasy. Jim Lomax was in the cabin looking green and remained there for virtually the whole trip. These wind waves increased to two feet as we made a two hour passage to a point 25 miles offshore and 9 miles due south of the Farallon Islands. The first hour and a half was really slow regarding birds. We were seeing lots of gulls, COMMON MURRES and a few PIGEON GUILLEMOT, NORTHERN FULMAR, RHINOCEROS AUKLET and a PARASITIC JAEGER while we were still inshore.
During this passage the overcast cleared and the wind picked up to 10 knots as we entered San Francisco County waters. However, at the northwest apex of our circuit as we passed over the continental shelf and the bottom fell away to over 2000 feet, we saw our first BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS of the day and our first of many humpback whales along with other birds. At this point, Alvaro and the captain decided to lay out a chum line consisting of Cod Liver oil, and fish carcasses, augmented with artificially buttered popcorn. We drove up and down this chum line. My stomach couldn’t take any more and I helped the chumming efforts. Gulls and albatross started to increase in numbers and we began seeing more FORK-TAILED and ASHY STORM-PETRELS. PINK-FOOTED and SOOTY SHEARWATERS were common in this area and were sprinkled with quite a few POMARINE JAEGERS and a couple of LONG-TAILED JAEGERS (which was a lifer for both of us!) More whales were feeding along this line as we headed south through the shipping lanes. That’s where the krill was and along with drawing whales, it attracts birds according to Alvaro and the captain.
The next hour and a half was spent repeating the chumming process and we added a few SABINE’S GULLS in brilliant plumage and a few distinctly patterned BULLER’S SHEARWATERS. We also got our best looks at COMMON and ARCTIC TERNS for the day along with more of the same birds close enough to see well without binoculars which was critical for me since every time I put the binos to my eyes the queasiness increased exponentially.
We made a big arc toward the southeast, recrossing into San Mateo County with the swell and chop at our back, so the only unpleasant part was when we slowed to drift through the chum lines. We didn’t really see any new birds but continued to get good close up views that the photographers were drooling over, as we recrossed the shipping lanes and headed for the coast about 10 miles south of Half Moon Bay. The wind began to drop off to a breeze and we spotted a couple more pods of humpback whales included two that were rumoured to be making an attempt at mating. They were pretty close to each other and breathing heavily. We were drifting close enough to notice.
As we approached the harbor we made one more pass close to the beach adding one COMMON LOON. Once inside the harbor five BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS flew over the boat. We tied up close to 5PM, and joined Alvaro, Jim Lomax, John Sterling, Dominik, the kid, Mosur, and a few others for a sunny afternoon beer. I was finally able to eat something so Bob and I shared Chowder with Fish & Chips. We were now at 51 for San Francisco County and 54 for San Mateo County.
We were so tired we went north on 101 instead of south for our hotel and wasted about 33 minutes of valuable sleep time! We still had some paperwork and planning before hitting the sack.