Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Great Winged Petrel Miss

The past 2 days I have been on pelagic trips out of Half Moon Bay. On Friday John Vanderpoel and Doug Koch were also on the boat. We left the dock about 7:30 AM, and headed into some rough seas that were almost as bad as the ones we had most of the day at Bodega Bay on Wednesday. On the way out of the harbor we saw surfbirds; black turnstones; brandt's, double crested and pelagic cormorants plus a single surf scoter, and a lone wandering tattler on the breakwaters. We then powered thru a large group of mostly sooty shearwaters on our way out to deeper water. The day overall was pretty birdy, but not as good as on Wednesday at Bodega Bay. We did have south polar skuas which had not made a showing at Bodega. We ended the day with good views of winter plumage marbled murrelets, but arrived back at the dock almost 2 hours past the normal 5 PM return time.

This morning I was out on the boat again, but John V. was down in Monterey doing a pelagic trip there instead. Doug was on the boat, and my friend Rob Lowry also was on board (photo just above). We cruised out initially thinking that we would need to stay close to shore because the forecast was for winds up to 30 knots, but after about 90 minutes we got an updated forecast that said the winds were much lower than predicted. So we again headed out to deeper water, and the sun came out. The photo just below is of Debi Shearwater pointing out a pomarine jaeger flying by the boat.

Soon after making the decision to head out to deeper water, a birder from Australia called out "great winged petrel". At first Debi did not hear him, and then said, "wait did you say great winged petrel?" He said yes, it just flew by the front of the boat. Debi had the captain stop the boat, and then immediately told him to try to chase in the direction that the bird flew, but within a minute she realized that it was not possible to catch the bird. So instead we put out a small oil slick and waited for about 20 minutes hoping the smell of the oil might bring it back. The oil slick did not do the trick which meant there were many very depressed birders on the boat today since only 4 people actually saw the great winged petrel in the 10-15 seconds it took for it to pass by our boat. Having not seen the petrel go by, I was among the bummed since this was only the 5th record of this bird being seen off the coast of CA.

The rest of day was sunny with fairly calm seas, but birdwise it was even slower than yesterday with almost no storm petrels, and no laysan albatross to cheer people up. We did have very good views of a single cassin's auklet on the way out of the harbor, and then a very cooperative tufted puffin later in the morning. One of the birds we saw closer into shore, but also throughout the day, is the common murre shown in the photo above--click on any photo to enlarge. We also found a large group of sea lions feeding.

We returned to the dock about 4 PM, still under sunny skies. As we came into the dock area we had very good looks at a clark's grebe. It had been a nice day to be out at sea, but the missed petrel is still weighing on me some since I may not get another chance to see this bird given how rarely it has been found. Ever optimistic that something else good will show up, I will be on the boat again tomorrow. Stay tuned!

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