Todd McGrath screamed “Flesh-footed Shearwater…no it’s better…. get on this bird”. Pandemonium ensued. If I remember correctly, a Skua had caused this commotion by flying in among a group of four or five seabirds. One of these seabirds was bigger than the others and very dark. Moments later Steve Howell yelled, “It’s a Procellaria”. What…in the Northern Hemisphere? I broke into a cold sweat. A cascade of thoughts raced through my mind, but I remember repeating to myself “Keep on the bird…. don’t loose it…stay focused…OMG… this is unbelievable.”
It was just past 9:35 AM. We were slowly motoring along the west edge of the Cordell Bank. For the last ½ hour we had been surrounded by a lot of feeding seabirds and marine mammals. Even the gulls had turned their noses up at our offering of popcorn chum. Apparently there was too much seafood around for them to dine on.
The dark bird was now up and flying, Steve proclaimed “It’s a White-chinned Petrel” and then the bird peeled off to the right and began flying away from us. I yelled stay on the bird, but Todd didn’t need my encouragement. He remained rock steady on the boat deck, never waivered and never lost sight of the petrel as it flew ahead and to the right. Ken Petersen and our captain, Vince, were immediately on the same wavelength, “let’s go after her”; music to my ears -the Miss Annie was a fast boat. Vince pushed the throttle forward and we were off. The chase was on.
Todd never lost sight of the bird and happily it landed on the water less than a half-mile ahead. A minute later we had narrowed the distance from the bird so Vince eased off the throttle and we approached slowly. The petrel reciprocated by floating on the glass smooth water a hundred yards in front of the bow. Soon it was only 50 yards –then 35. We continued to approach closer and closer to our prize. Vince wisely turned the motor off and we glided into position 30 feet from the petrel.
I remember the silence-broken only by the gentle lapping of the sea and the sound of the rapid shutter clicks from six cameras. Ken, Steve and Todd were firing away as were Tom Blackmon and Glenn Tepke. Today was Glenn’s birthday. One hell of a present that’s for sure.
This continued for what seemed like ten minutes, perhaps it was only three or four. Eventually the bird lifted off and lazily flew a hundred yards behind it. We let it be.
It was a joyous moment indeed. You should have witnessed the broad smiles and high fives exchanged by everyone. White-chinned Petrel was an ABA lifer for everyone on board except for Todd. Amazingly, Todd had discovered another White-chinned Petrel in early September off of Santa Barbara. Once accepted, this will be only the eighth record of White-chinned Petrel in the Northern Hemisphere (according to Steve) and only the third record for California.. Personally, this was a thrilling adventure and a fabulous bird to add to my year-list. For these pelagic aficionados, it must have been the equivalent of winning the lottery.
So now when the mastermind, Ken Petersen, whispers the password at some point in the future…no one will snicker…and if I ever receive an invitation, I’m all on board. For I now have little doubt that they will eventually find their Parkinson’s Petrel.