The swells were coming in fast and furious. Six foot waves every four to five seconds. And we were headed right into it. It was rough to say the least. We were only an hour into the trip and Curtis Marantz was already seasick and laying helplessly in a fetal position on the deck. They say he’s a hell of a birder, but who could tell today. There were other big guns on board as well. Todd McGrath, with over three hundred days at sea studying pelagic birds, was a leader today. Ken Petersen was onboard and would be on the next three as well. I almost expected Bland Liz and Doug Koch to step on board, but that was a different ocean.
The gray of the fog was virtually the same shade as the sea. Tough birding. We couldn’t see the birds and just as important the birds couldn’t see us. Paul Sykes and his ABA list of 875 was on board. Blair Nikula from Massachusetts who had also been on Wednesdays trip out of Bodega. Larry Sansone and Mike Danzanbaker both distinguished bird photographers, were on board. So was James Huntington who located the Ivory Gull on Gambell.
Why were we all on this pelagic trip? One reason – mega-rarities. Streaked Shearwaters had been seen out of Ft. Bragg as well as Shy Albatross. Neither of these would be likely. More realistically, Fort Bragg pelagic trips offer one of the best opportunities to find Hawaiian Petrels anywhere on the California coast. I wanted this bird bad. It would be #700 for the year.
Suddenly there were Ashy Storm-Petrels at the stern. Don’s friend Wes Hatch had been laying down an oil slick for a while. Seabirds apparently can smell the oil from a long ways away and they were moving in. Black-footed Albatrosses, Sooty Shearwaters, Pink-footed Shearwaters, Sabine’s Gulls and all three jaeger species. This all happened quickly. Everybody’s senses were heightened. Debby, the Queen Bee of the High Sea, had quit chatting and had her bins lined on the horizon. Lot’s of bird activity. Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels were whirling around the slick. But no pterodromas. No Megas showed.
Around 11:30 AM visibility had cleared some. I spotted a seabird flying at 9:00 o’clock on the horizon. A high arching flight reminiscent of the Black-capped Petrels I’d seen so many of in North Carolina three weeks ago. I called to Ken and asked “pterodroma”? Others saw it, Todd thought he could see a dark rump and pale underside. Possible our target bird…..but too far to call…..and it never came into the slick.
It was a good trip. Wilson’s Storm-Petrel and Tufted Puffin were the birds of the day. Lot’s of Sabine’s Gulls were seen as well. But our mega-rarity would have to wait for another day. And I’m still stuck on #699.