Friday, January 12, 2018

Nazca Booby Chase and 2017 Review

It has been a year since I added a new post to this blog.  It is not that I have not been birding, but as I get further away from my lower 48 states big year in 2010, I have been weaning myself off putting out new posts whenever I do a lengthy bird trip, or do a rarity chase.  This post is prompted by my having just returned from San Diego to see Nazca boobies, as well as wanting to summarize the efforts of the big year birders in 2017.

The Nazca booby is a South American seabird that breeds mainly on the Galapagos, Malpelo and La Plata Islands.  It was split off from the masked booby as a result of DNA analysis back in 2000.  It was added to the California checklist in 2014, and is now on the ABA checklist.

Four Nazca boobies were found before Christmas in the San Diego area.  Two have continued to be seen in San Diego Bay, so a group of us from around the U.S. decided to fly out to San Diego this past Tuesday in hopes of seeing one.  We were up before dawn on Wednesday, and headed to Attu Avenue, the closest land position from where the birds have been observed.

When we first began looking we found a brown booby flying from north to south.  We carefully scanned the buoys on which the Nazca boobies have regularly been found resting, but initially did not find any.  After about 30 minutes Bert Filemyr picked up in a scope a pair flying from south to north on the other side of the bay (photo taken by Laura Keene--click on any photo to enlarge).  We watched them as they continued north, and then lost sight of them.

When they did not return, we walked out to our cars, and headed down to a small wetland south of Attu Ave. to fill some time prior to taking a boat out in hopes of getting better views and photos.

We were on our boat and out into the bay by about 9:15.  We worked our way along the buoys, and then up along the floating security fence that separates the open bay area from the naval yard.  We made a circuit twice over 90 minutes, but unfortunately did not relocate the pair of boobies.

After returning to the dock, we split up to go birding in different areas.  Bert, Jay and I stopped to check out a red pipit site that was nearby, but found only American pipits feeding in the grass of a small park.

Next we drove 2 hours north up to Prado Regional Park to look for a white wagtail that had been found there recently.  Fortunately we located it along the spillway that it had been frequenting.  Jay and I had seen white wagtails in Alaska, but this was the first sighting for Bert in the ABA area.  Not wanting to get caught in San Diego rush hour traffic, we headed back south.  Enroute we talked with Neil to discover that he had returned to Attu Ave. mid afternoon, and had found 1 booby on a buoy.  He decided to rent a boat on his own, and was able to get several photos including the 2 below.

We all gathered together about 5:30 at Pizza Nova near the San Diego airport to have a celebratory meal (from the left, Neil Hayward, Paul Lehman, me, Jay Lehman, Leslie Sours, Laura Keene, John and Bill Vanderpoel).  Paul lives in San Diego, but did not bird with us today. Most of us saw Paul in April of last year when we did a repositioning cruise from San Diego to Vancouver where we were able to see Murphy's, Cook's and Hawaiian petrels along with other less rare pelagic species.

After dinner, Neil, Bert and I went to the airport to catch our red eye flights home.  Bill, John, Jay, Laura and Leslie stayed overnight before heading home on Thursday.

Turning to a recap of the efforts by big year birders in 2017, I need to preface the 2017 summary by first updating the final results of 2016. In October of 2016, the ABA announced that the membership had voted to add Hawaii to the ABA area, but since the official list of birds from Hawaii had not been completed, birds seen in Hawaii in 2016 would not be counted in the big year totals for the ABA area.  Three of the 2016 big year birders who passed 700 birds seen in what is now being called the continental ABA area (John Weigel, Olaf Danielson and Laura Keene) also birded in Hawaii.

John Weigel requested early in 2017 that the ABA reconsider the decision not to count Hawaii birds on 2016 big year lists.  Over several months of back and forth, and after the ABA released its official list for Hawaii birds, the ABA finally concluded that the 2016 big year birders could add to their continental totals any birds seen in Hawaii that were now on the new, expanded ABA area list.  As a result, the following are the new totals for 2016:  John (new ABA--835; continental ABA 783); Olaf (new ABA--829; continental 778); and Laura (new ABA--814; continental 762).

In 2017, 5 birders passed the 700 level for birds seen in the continental ABA area, and 3 of them also birded in Hawaii.  All of them still have provisional birds on their lists (a species not yet added to the official ABA checklist because the species was first recorded in the ABA area in 2017), so their big year totals will not be final until the provisional birds are voted on by the ABA review committee.  That said, the following are the numbers for 2017: Yve Morrell (ABA--813 + 4; continental--757 + 4); Ruben and Victor Stoll (ABA--813 + 3; continental--759 + 3); Gaylee Dean (continental--745 + 2) and Dick Dean (continental--743 + 2).

If all the provisional birds are accepted, the final results would have Yve Morrell coming in first in the ABA area by 1 bird, and the Stoll brothers would end up in first place in the continental area by 1 bird. Obviously the records set in 2016 by John Weigel are far above the totals in 2017.  It will likely be many years before either the ABA, or the continental ABA records will be eclipsed.