Monday, August 16, 2010

Hawaiian Petrel and Lawrence's Goldfinch

The 2nd pelagic trip out of Ft. Bragg on Sunday was right up there with the 1st one. Debi Shearwater who runs these pelagic outings says that statistically the rare birds usually appear after noon. Not on Sunday. About 8:30 one of the spotters cried out "hawaiian petrel". This is an extremely rare bird on the west coast, and all aboard were riveted to the back of the boat where the bird was first seen. It crossed the wake left to right, then looped back to the wake. By then the boat captain had put the boat into neutral, and the petrel proceeded to fly up the wake and passed close by the boat on the starboard side. The top 2 photos were taken by one of the trip leaders, Todd McGrath, who is the guy in the left-center of the bottom photo holding the big camera.

There were 20-25 people on the boat Sunday, and for the majority of them, including me, this was a life bird. So we started the morning with a big adrenalin rush. The rest of the day we worked our way out to Arena Canyon, and then turned around and headed back. We could do this because the seas were almost flat and there was not much wind. Sunday's birds generally were the same as Friday's except we had no laysan albatross come in. We did see lots of cassin's auklets on our way out of the harbor, and a pair of marbled murrelets flying away from us. A distant south polar skua was also seen in the morning. The afternoon's highlight was a 1st year franklin's gull which are quite rare on the west coast.

While on the boat I continued to compare notes with Bob Ake--the birder from Virginia who is doing a full ABA big year (everything north of the Mexican border)--and his birding buddy John who has been with him on most of his birding trips this year. Bob's year total as of Sunday is up to 689 birds, and he will be returning to Alaska for 2 more weeks at the end of August. He will definitely break 700 different species seen for the year. He and John are on their way as I type this posting to Elko, NV to make a 2nd attempt to see the himalayan snowcock.

I also got to see Jen Fowler and her brother who were on their 1st pelagic trip. For those following the blog, you may remember that I met Jen in South Dakota back in July when I went out there to see the orange-billed nightingale-thrush. She is the local birder who helped many visiting birders find the thrush. It was nice to be able to talk with her more while we cruised the sea.

The 3 pelagic trips this week have to rank with as good a series of days on the sea as I have ever had--reasonably good weather, lots of birds to look at including some very "good" birds like the hawaiian petrel and the laysan albatross. I will be going out on more pelagic trips on the west coast in September which I hope are as good.

Last nite I was in the small town of Bloomfield, which is near Santa Rosa, to spend time with one of my college roommates. He has a new woman in his life which I greatly enjoyed meeting for the 1st time. We had dinner at a local restaurant where we drank a bottle of the wine he has been making for the last 30+ years--Laurel Glen cabernet. I still have bottles back to 1986 of this wine in my cellar at home. I had a nice caesar salad with fried oysters added to it, and then a cup of seafood gumbo. We all shared a huge piece of chocolate cake for dessert.

After a homemade breakfast this AM, I drove 2 hours down to Mines Rd south of Livermore in hopes of finally seeing the elusive lawrence's goldfinch. I had been told by another birder that a 3rd birder in the Bay area had reported seeing them on Mines Rd last week. I called that birder up 2 nites ago and found out exactly where to look for them.

This time of year they want to be near a good water source because it is generally so dry. I arrived a little after 11 AM and as I walked up towards the small creek, I saw what looked like some goldfinches flying off into some distant trees. I figured that they would eventually return for water, so I checked out the other birds that were around such as oak titmouse, black phoebe, house wren, western scrub jay and nuttal's woodpecker.

About 2 hours later I heard the finches calling, and found them down by the creek getting a drink. It was a mixed group of 10-15 birds, and there were 2 lawrence's in with them. It really felt good to see them after looking so many places. It will also make my scheduling in September easier since I have now found them.

25 more new birds were seen for the week, and the petrel and goldfinch bring the YTD to 671. I am checked into my motel next to the San Francisco airport. I fly out early tomorrow morning to return to NC for a couple of weeks to see my wife and do some birding. Stay tuned!


  1. You return to NC for birding . . . and to see your wife! Oh, and was I not supposed to drink the '86 Laurel Glen? xo

  2. Glad you got your priorities straight! xo

  3. hola Chris - good to see that more than birds occupy your life :-)

    it was gt to see you. let us know when you get to number 800,and we'll crack open a bottle of 86 LG. Love to C Kay and family. Gina and Patrick

  4. Tod:

    Wondering if you might donate two pictures of the Hawaiian Petrel in flight on your website for the free online Birds of Vancouver Island

    It would be greatly appreciated.