California – Dry Land

The pelagics were done! I was so relieved I’d made it out alive. And with new birds? Best case scenario. Now I had a day to look for more. I spent a lot of time at Lands End looking for a reported Parakeet Auklet.

Seen any auklets lately?

But it was nowhere to be found. I checked on the rocks down by the water, and was greeted by a friendly Black Oystercatcher instead.

Behind me in the bushes was this fun quiz bird. Answer at bottom.

Level: difficult

I watched a Pigeon Guillemot try to down a fish bigger than its head.

Before giving up on auklet dreams and moving on with my life. I didn’t move too far, about an hour south to Santa Cruz to look for a reliable Red-footed Booby. It’s favorite place is at the end of a pier next to this neat sunken war ship, the SS Palo Alto.

Like a mini Farallon Islands

I looked for a long while and asked around.

Seen any boobies lately?

But as it turns out, the booby broke its pattern and while we were standing in the place it was supposed to be, it was 20 minutes away, chilling on the beach with some gulls. Seriously, look at this checklist with the best Red-footed Booby pics.

I saw that report too late. But I still tried. I returned to the beach, and ran into Alex Rinkert, the birder who’d reported it! We exchanged contact info and with his encouragement, Tomas and I returned to the original pier to try again at sunset. Right on time, after staring at gulls for a while, Tomas said, is that it in the middle?

It wasn’t but then I looked at the bird to the right. There it was! Red-footed Booby!

It was after sunset and the light faded as we left happy it had all worked out. I thought it was a life-bird, but I forgot I’ve seen them in Hawaii. Oops. Clearly it’s been too long, and it was still totally worth it. We got a bonus Great Horned Owl as we drove back to Pacifica in the dark. No pics of that one.

The last few hours of California were spent looking at mudflats.

So many shorbs

I had time to look for one more lifer, a Ridgway’s Rail. They’re as sneaky as any rail and I wasn’t sure I could find one in time. I picked the wrong park first, Preserve Park, which was amazing, but huge. There was so much habitat and too many places for rails to hide.

I gave up, but not before seeing dozens of American Avocets.

Long-billed Curlew and Marbled Godwit.

Black-crowned Night Heron.

Black-necked Stilts.

It was very birdy but I made the executive decision to leave and try smaller Bayfront Park. And I’m so glad I did! Minutes after arriving I saw a chunky rail running away.

Ridgway’s Rail! (lifer #542).

It made it to a clump of grass and never came out again. And Tomas and I had just enough time to get ice cream before catching our flight back to Portland.

Fun times in California! From sea to land.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Quiz Answer: Lazuli Bunting

California- Farallon Islands

After such a successful pelagic the day before I was calmer the following morning.

This trip departed from Sausalito so we got to ride underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

It started foggy, but things cleared up once a breeze kicked in. It was much easier to appreciate colorful Tufted Puffins.

And see the Shearwaters.

Shearwater journeys

As we made way to the Farallon Islands (Farall√≥n in Spanish means “pilar” or “sea cliff”).

The Farallon Islands are a National Wildlife Refuge, not open to the public, but only to a few lucky researchers. These ridiculous islands have logged 377 bird species on eBird. We boated up to “sugar loaf” the island named for the sweet piles of bird poo on top.

There are mostly Brandt’s Cormorants, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemots, Western Gulls, and the best bird could have been a long-staying Northern Gannet that lives at sugar loaf but the gannet wasn’t home this day. What the Farallons lacked in gannet they made up for with whale.

We saw probably 20 Humpback Whales at least.

Feeding with gulls and sea lions working together to trap anchovies.

It was one of the most incredible things I’ve seen. Video here. It was hard to pull away, but we had more birds to look at along the continental shelf and Pioneer Sea Canyon.

We saw Northern Fulmar.

Black-footed Albatross.

Cassin’s Auklets.

And the “rarest” bird of the trip, a Fork-tailed Storm Petrel.

Not a life bird, I’ve seen one on Oregon pelagics, but it’s been a while and it’s a good bird for California in the summer. It was the best looks I’ve gotten to date.

We turned around then, and when we got back to the bay it was a bright and sunny ride under the bridge.

A pretty nice way to end pelagic #2. That and no one on the ship got sick. I spent a total of 19 hours at sea in two days, saw two life birds, AND SURVIVED. Incredible.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

California- Half Moon Bay

Ahh, California. Home to sunshine, fog, the Golden-gate Bridge, and life-birds I can’t see anywhere else. I’ve wanted to try an out-of-state pelagic for a while, and when I heard Debi Shearwater (of Shearwater Journeys) was retiring at the end of this year, I had to sign up.

A destination-pelagic adds another element of risk, but I hoped I could push through the anxiety to see some birds. We landed early in San Francisco and wasted no time before going to Golden Gate Park. Part nature park and amusement-botanical garden-ice-cream-conservatory-museum, it’s crowded but the birds don’t seem to mind. Here I found a female Nuttall’s Woodpecker, my first lifer of the trip.

San Francisco parks are ruled by Pygmy Nuthatches, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Black Phoebes. It was nice to see these guys in their natural habitat.

I fought a mean water sprinkler for a potential lifer Allen’s Hummingbird, but they’re not a slam dunk I.D. since the habitat and timing overlaps with look-alike Rufous Hummingbirds. I got lucky with a tail shot, the best way to separate the two, but the hummingbird I saw has the diagnostic “notched” R2 feather diagnostic of Rufous (vs the narrow “lanceolate” shape of Allen’s). No lifer hummingbird this time.

We stayed in Pacifica since it was about equal distance from Half Moon Bay (pelagic #1) and Sausalito (pelagic #2). It also had a nice beach where we witnessed Heermann’s Gulls in their natural habitat.

After checking in to the Airbnb I went to bed early because I had to board a boat early the next morning.

Debi introduced herself, told us what to expect and we set off to sea shortly after.

I was nervous but the ocean and I kept our calm all day. It was a little too calm. The lack of wind made it foggier limiting viewing distance and many birds like Tufted Puffins just sat on the water.

Occasionally sea life just popped out of the water.

I was okay with that. Do you know who was not sitting on the water? Ashy Storm-Petrels! Foggy little life birds.

This was one of my main targets of the trip.

Ashy-fog Petrel

California seas did not disappoint.

The fog cleared up for a couple of jaeger fly-bys, we saw both Long-tailed and Pomarine Jaeger Parasitic Jaeger.

Black-footed Albatross sat nicely for us on the water.

Hello, friend

As did Red-necked Phalaropes, Sooty Shearwaters, Pink-footed Shearwaters, and Sabin’s Gulls.

Adult and juvenile

I got distant but diagnostic looks at Arctic Terns, my other lifer of the trip.

We saw Humpback Whales, Fur Seals, a Blue Shark, and occasionally a pod of Pacific White-sided Dolphins and Northern Right Whale Dolphins joined us at the bow of the boat.

I made it back to shore with two new birds, a whole lot of sea life, and no puking! And I was lucky enough to get to do it all over again the next day.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey