Sunday, September 29, 2019

Whales, Condors and Warblers

Todd and I definitely made the most of our trip to California. On our quest to find a few lifers for me, we also came across other birds and sea life. Here are a few follow up photos including these California Sealions on the Monterey Jetty.

California Sealion
And plenty of Humpback Whales. Here is a photo of Pink-footed Shearwater and a whale together.

Pink-footed Shearwater and Humpback Whale
I've seen plenty of Humpback whales but this is the best "fluke" photo that I've ever had. This photo is not cropped. That is how close the whale was to the boat!

Humpback Whale Fluke
Remember, the boat is not allowed to chase the whale. We need to stop at some distance away. This one came really close. Very exciting. We also saw Risso's Dolphins on the trip. You can identify them at a distance because their heads look white. These guys came right at the boat and I was able to snap this shot. He looks like he's smiling for the camera! 

Risso's Dolphin
Back on land, we spent time just driving the roads along the coast, cattle fields and canyons looking for birds. Todd spotted a MacGillivray's warbler but I missed it. They are skulkers and hard to see. Todd is really good at understanding suitable habitat for birds and calling them out by "pishing". I used that information on another day and got to see this MacGillivray's warbler along another road. Ta-da!

MacGillivray's Warbler
Another sweet warbler that we found along the canyon roads was Wilson's warbler. You can easily identify these warblers by the black "yamaka" that they wear on their head. 

WIlson's Warbler
Anna's hummingbirds are common in California. We rarely stopped along the road and didn't see one. Here is a young male perched. You can see his throat patch coming in like a teenaged boy trying to grow a goatee.
Anna's Hummingbird
Back along the coast, we stopped at a beach for a walk. We were treated to this harbor seal basking on the rocks. Look at the waves splashing behind her.

Harbor Seal
We were also able to photograph some beach birds. Black Oystercatchers are the common species on the Pacific coast. Like our Oystercatcher, they have that bright orange bill and flesh toned legs.

Black Oystercatcher
Heerman'g gulls are some of my favorite. I love their muted gray tones. This one is ready to take flight.

Heerman's Gull
This crab was almost lunch for a Western Gull but the bird dropped the crab when he saw us walking up the beach. We snapped a photo before returning the crab to the water.

Purple Shore Crab
All-in-all, a great trip to northern California coast.

Friday, September 20, 2019

3 Days in California, 3 Life Birds for Linda

I'm getting to that point in my birding "career" where I've seen a lot of species. My total life list is almost 1300 birds. That's a lot of birds. Of that total, I've seen 669 species in the ABA area. The ABA (American Birding Association) area comprises the US and Canada. Traditionally, Hawaii is excluded but recently, the ABA allowed birders to include Hawaii in their totals but I elected to keep Hawaii separate. I have a goal of seeing 700 species in the ABA by age 60. That goal is not as easy as you would think.

When planning my trip to California, I looked up my "target list" on eBird to review any species that I could see in the San Francisco area and was surprised to find such a short list:
  1. Tri-colored Blackbird
  2. Lawrence's Goldfinch
  3. Cassin's Auklet
  4. Fork-tailed Storm-petrel
  5. Flesh-footed Shearwater

Other birds were on the list but had probability ratings of less than 1% which means that they are very rare.

We arrived in California around noon but had issues with the rental car and never got down to Monterey area until 4:00 or so. Despite the delay, we found our first target easily - Tri-colored Blackbird. They are easily found at the dairy farm.

Tri-colored Blackbirds
Day 1, Bird 1 - check! We had the whole day on Friday to go birding around the area. We decided to take a drive out to Pinnacles National Park where bird #2 had been reported. Pinnacles is also a known area to see the very endangered California Condor. We arrived at the park around 9 AM and stopped at the Visitor Center to pay the fee. We met another birder who had his scope trained on some roosting Condors. The birds were in a tree at the top of a ridge. We asked if he had seen any Lawrence's Goldfinches. He said, "sure, they're at the pool". Dang if they weren't. We wandered over to the pool in the campground and viola. Day 2, Bird 2!

Lawrence's Goldfinch
We found some other birds in the park but our big find was more California Condors. The park is surrounded by cattle ranches. We saw something in the field under the lone tree.

California Condors
22 Condors roosting the shade. The calf wanted shade too but didn't dare to go too close to the huge birds. This photo shows the size comparison so that you can get a sense of how huge these birds are. Condors are the largest birds in North America. A member of the vulture family, they only eat dead animals. Unfortunately for the farmer, the flock had gathered to make the most of a dead cow in the field. Zooming in to the photo, we could see that the birds are tagged. Each bird was hatched in captivity and released into the wild with the wing band. We saw #97, 92, 58, 59, 31, 16, 40 and 78.

California Condors
On Saturday, we booked a pelagic trip out of Monterey Bay. We boarded the boat at 7:00 and by 9:00, I had bird #3 - Cassin's Auklet! Now, I know it doesn't look like much but it is a really cute alcid. Day 3, Bird 3 - check. My Total Life List is now at 1299 and our ABA list is now 672.

Cassin's Auklet
I have more photos and stories from our boat trip that I'll share in another post.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Sooty Shearwater Facts and Fun

So, last month I went out on the Atlantic ocean for the day. This month, Todd and I went out on the Pacific ocean for more birding at sea. We booked 2 trips with Alvaro's Adventures. The first trip was out of Monterey Bay which was pretty good and I'll post about it later. The second trip was out of Half Moon Bay and unfortunately was cancelled due to rough seas. Alvaro and the boat captain felt bad for us and agreed to take us around the bay for an hour so that we could witness the spectacle of a huge Sooty Shearwater  flock that had taken up residence in the bay feeding on a school of anchovies. This phenomenon does not occur often so it was worth the boat ride. You can see the black dots surrounding this fishing boat.

Our Captain drove the boat right into the flock slowly so that we could get a closer look. As the boat approached, the birds would run across the water.

You can see all of the splashing water behind the birds as they tried to take flight.

I took several videos so that you could see the birds but also hear the pitter-patter of their feet as they ran across the water to lift off.

It was tough to get a photo of a single bird. They are powerful flyers. In fact, Sooty Shearwaters complete the second longest migration of any bird traveling from their breeding grounds in New Zealand across the Pacific ocean to California and back each year. A total trip of 40,000 miles!

Unfortunately, with so many birds, there are bound to be casualties. We found this dead bird floating face down in the water with a big gash in its side. They are pretty hefty birds. I took this selfie with the bird and Alvaro. I guess its kind of morbid but at least the bird's death will have some positive effects. Alvaro will take it to the natural history museum for study. 

OK, so now comes the interesting part. You need to listen to the video for the story that Alvaro told us. As you read earlier, the Sooty Shearwater phenomenon doesn't happen often. It happened in 1961 and due to weather and other circumstances, the birds lost their bearings and flew onto land. I'll let you listen to the rest of the story.

I really love that movie and now I love it even more.