Sunday February 11, 2007
"Such a beautiful bird," are her words in heavily accented English
as we slip past the male HARLEQUIN DUCK perched atop the mooring
buoy in the outer harbor. The expression on her face is one of awe.
She is seabird researcher Lei Cao from Taiwan who along with other
attendees from the Pacific Seabird Group's annual meeting at Asilomar
we have the distinct pleasure of showing around the Monterey Bay for
a group charter.
This group's enthusiasm for seabirds goes beyond what we typically
experience with birders on the boat. They're not here to add to their
life list per se, they are here because of an affinity for birds of
the sea. It was supposed to be a three-hour tour but Richard Ternullo
and I enjoyed this group so much we stretched it into four. Germans,
Norwegians, Taiwanese, Russians and Canadians are on board today.
Atop the rocks of the breakwater are displaying BRANDT'S CORMORANTS
and a few BLACK TURNSTONES. Outside the breakwater we are surprised
to run into a small pod of COMMON DOLPHINS. We don't get really great
looks to identify them to species but these are the first seen in
the bay in a month.
Soon we are pointing out brilliant, alternate plumaged PELAGIC
CORMORANTS along Cannery Row and find our first COMMON MURRES
also. There is a single COMMON LOON which along with a single
flyby PACIFIC LOON are the only loons we see all morning, which
is odd. Both HORNED and EARED GREBES are in this area
Then we find our first of many RED PHALAROPES. Richard had
not been seeing any on the whale watches up to today and they are
abundant with one flock of 60 birds spinning along a line of convergence.
I get the popcorn chum going and soon we have a nice gull flock in
tow. We asked the group what their hopes were and seeing an albatross
was number one. This is a tough request this time of year but we are
going give it our best shot. Chumming will be the key.
We have a good day with gulls, 8 species in total. In no time at all
we have WESTERN, HEERMANN'S, GLAUCOUS-WINGED,
CALIFORNIA and HERRING. THAYER'S takes a bit
longer. On the day we have around 50 BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES.
Our best gull is a second cycle GLAUCOUS GULL that flew by
the boat then landed at the stern to try for some popcorn. This bird
is only the third record for a second cycle GLAUCOUS GULL for
Monterey County (Roberson 2002).
Finally the diligent chumming pays off and there is a collective gasp
when a BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS flies into view just minutes
after Richard says over the PA, "Let's just sit here and chum for
a while and see what shows up" How did he know? There are high fives
ANCIENT MURRELETS have been uncooperative all morning but finally
we manage to sneak up on a pair so everyone can see them well. RHINOCEROS
AUKLETS are spread out all over the bay. The alcid highlight for
the morning is a TUFTED PUFFIN that flies along the side of
the boat then keeps going.
Shearwaters have been sparse since the Black-venteds departed a few
weeks ago but we do find some dark ones. 5 SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATERS
come in close to the boat and we also manage to find a single SOOTY
Other Marine mammals seen are a few PACIFIC WHITE SIDED and RISSO'S
DOLPHINS, a NORTHERN FUR SEAL and CALIFORNIA SEA LIONS. The highlight
being the RISSO'S that comes in to ride the bow just seconds after
Richard announces that they, "very rarely ride the bow." First time
I've ever seen that.
On the way back in to the harbor we find our only BROWN PELICAN
and the first BLACK OYSTERCATCHER I've ever seen on the breakwater
prying off limpets. A pretty good day for a four-hour tour!
Roger Wolfe for Monterey