Man, Were We Wrong About Pelagics!

At the start of our Big Year we had decided that doing pelagic trips was too expensive. It didn’t seem like there were enough new birds on a trip to justify the usually high cost. We sure were wrong about that!

Yesterday we went on a spur-of-the-moment pelagic trip from San Diego. We hadn’t planned on it but decided to go when we ran into Mike McClintock in AZ. Thank you, Mike, for alerting us to the trip and for all your help and information!

The trip was wonderful for our year list. We added 11 new birds in one day. At the numbers where we are, that is a very hard thing to do! We could have added even more, but we missed some of the birds that were called out or just did not see them well enough to say we could identify them on our own. (We didn’t add a “speck in the distance” even if the guides were sure it was a Pomarine Jaeger, for instance.)

The trip started out with good looks at immature Heerman’s Gulls in the harbor. (Only birds new to our list are mentioned here.) We never saw an adult. They are all off on their breeding islands. A short way out we saw some Elegant Terns above the boat and once we started to get into deeper water the pace of “true” pelagic birds picked up: Sooty Shearwaters by the bucketload, Pink-footed Shearwaters by the truckload a little later on, and Xantus’s Murrelet buzzing by or sitting on the water (with their chick!) very near the boat. We also had some good looks at Red-necked Phalaropes in flight and on the water and small flocks of Cassin’s Auklets flying by.

Farther out we saw a couple of Sabine’s Gulls and both Ashy and Black Storm-Petrels flitting over the water. We got good looks at all of these birds, but the highlight of the day was the first of two South Polar Skuas who came to the boat. It zoomed in and harassed some gulls that were following in the wake and then proceeded to circle the boat about a dozen times, often flying so close that we could not keep it all in the camera viewfinder. What a view!

The trip lagged a bit in the middle of the day and we used the time to catch a quick nap and to listen to birding advice from some of the local experts who were on the trip. Thank you all for the tips and information, and a special thanks to Dan King for taking the time to give us detailed locations for some of our target birds.

All-in-all, we had a great time on the boat. The birds were good and the birders even better!

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