I've gone 16 years without going on a pelagic trip and this past weekend I finally got the chance. I flew out to San Francisco on September 29th and my cousin Whitney picked my up at the airport. This wasn't my first California birding trip (I also birded with my cousin last March-I posted about that trip) but it certainly took the cake for the best birding experience I've had in quite a while.
The first night we stayed at a B&B in Point Reyes which was very nice and had a hot tub. The following morning we got up at 6:00am and birded the Pt. Reyes peninsula for the majority of the day. It was pretty foggy for the first part of the day but we saw a good chunk of birds. The best bird of the day were a couple Tricolored Blackbirds (also known as "Trikes") which were a life bird for me. We spent the whole day trying to pick out Trikes from flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds. It finally paid off though! We also saw 2 immature Great Horned Owls in a dead tree by the side of the road. One of them was making begging calls and Whitney and I ignored them at first because we thought they were blackbirds. Then I happened to glance over at the tree and noticed two rather large blobs. "Hey, they look like owls!" was my first remark. We walked across the road and sure enough, there were 2 very cute, young owls. They were past fledgling age but apparently still wanted to be fed by their parents.
One of the best parts of the day was meeting Peter Pyle at the Limontoyr (hope I spelled it right) Lighthouse. It was actually our first stop of the day and as we were walking back from the lighthouse we saw someone walking towards us in the fog. I knew it was probably a birder because who else would be tromping up to a lighthouse at 7:00 in the morning in pea-soup fog. I did not, however, expect to meet Peter Pyle. When he walked up, the first thing Whitney asked was if he was Peter Pyle. I probably resembled a stunned frog when she said those words and didn't quite believe her at first. But yes, I finally got to meet Peter Pyle at 7:00am on September 30th, at a lighthouse, in very dense fog. Peter Pyle was our best "bird" of the day until we saw the Trikes but I will certainly remember that meeting as one of the highlights of the trip. At the end of the first day, we had seen 65 species. It was a pretty good day considering that there was not very many birds out and the weather was less than ideal. We spent the night at Whitney's house in Redwood City and tried to go to bed early but failed miserably. We ended up hitting the sack at 11:00pm. Oops!
The second day we got up at 7:00am (which felt like sleeping in to me) and started the day by driving to the Skylawn Cemetery (on the way to Half Moon Bay). We saw 2 Red Crossbills fly over but other than that it was pretty quiet. After Skylawn, we birded around Half Moon Bay (including Pillar Point and Moss Beach). At Pillar Point we ran into an ABA tour group led by Alvaro Jaramillo just as they spotted a Wandering Tattler (which was a life bird for Whitney). We had pretty great looks at it and we also saw Surfbird, Black Turnstone, Black Oystercatcher, and Willet. Living in New Mexico, shorebirds are always very exciting. Whitney and I met the ABA group again at Moss Beach and were lucky enough to see a Baltimore Oriole along the trail. Someone in the group yelled out "ORIOLE!" and we all thought that he was pulling our legs until we saw the bird. It was a female and lacked the streaking on the face characteristic of Bulluck's Oriole. When Alvaro said it was a Baltimore, I didn't think much of it, because growing up in Massachusetts, these birds were regular. However, Baltimore Oriole is a pretty rare bird in California (especially in October).
By far, Sunday was the funnest. And that wasn't just because I saw 12 (yes 12!) life birds and went on my first ever pelagic trip (with Debi Shearwater and Peter Pyle mind you). As I mentioned before, I have never gotten the chance to go on a pelagic trip, although I've tried various times. This time was not in vain though! Naturally, the first time you're on a boat in the Pacific Ocean, you'll see a number of new birds. I was expecting to see maybe 4 to 5 lifers if I was lucky and what I ended up with was above and beyond anything I could have imagined. We started out the trip by getting to Pillar Point harbor at 7:00am sharp and got a briefing from Debi on the basic aspects of a pelagic trip and the general rule of not upchucking in the bow of the boat (the consequences from that can be rather gross). After everyone showed up, we pushed back from the dock and spent awhile looking for shorebirds along the jetty and saw a couple Surfbirds, oystercatchers, and a Clark's Grebe courting a Western Grebe (a hybrid in the making). We then worked our way out into Half Moon Bay and saw 2 Marbled Murrelets and a couple Common Loons. I kept my eyes open for big flocks of shearwaters but these were at a minimum. Going out of the harbor we did see some mixed flocks of murres and Sooty Shearwaters but the numbers were pretty low. I certainly wasn't complaining however. It took a total of about 10 minutes before I saw my first life bird-a Pink-footed Shearwater. I didn't get a great look at it but we ended up seeing much more of these during the course of the day. After the first Pink-footed Shearwater, I started seeing lifers left and right. Elegant Tern, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Cassin's Auklet, Pomarine Jaegar, Xantu's Murrelet, and Black-footed Albatross were just six of them. The density of birds for the day was low but the diversity was very impressive. My favorite bird were the Black-footed Albatrosses, which we got a few of. I've always been rather enamored with these majestic birds but this was the first time I had seen them with my own eyes.
|Black-footed Albatross (sorry for the bad quality)|
|Pelagic trip group (Peter Pyle is center)|
|Ocean Sunfish (Mola Mola)|
|California Sea Lions|