Pelagic Bird Jinx

Yesterday, Monday, we again ventured out of Half Moon Bay and motored out through the fog for 38 miles into the clear skies, blue waters and warmer sea temperatures of the Pioneer Canyon. The paucity of birds was truly amazing. To say there were few birds would have been a huge understatement.  We didn’t have our first Pink-footed Shearwater till around 3:00 PM!  Debi Shearwater feels this is all due to lack of food for the seabirds to eat. She is puzzled. Last year on the same trip there was so much krill in the water that 75 Humpback Whales were counted in one day! Thousands of Cassin’s Auklets, Common Murres, shearwaters and albatrosses were seen -loaded down with krill and squid, fat and sassy.  Petrels were slicing their aerodynamic wings gracefully through the sea breeze.  What is going on? This It certainly wasn’t the fault of our captain, Dennis, who worked his butt off to get us in position to find birds, In fact we  didn’t return to the harbor till almost 8:00 PM!  On Sunday’s trip the boat returned at 7:00 PM. Debi is certainly working hard to find birds.

Late Return to Half Moon Bay (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

Sun Set on a Shearwater Journeys Pelagic trip (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

All this was to no avail.  Debi can’t figure out what’s going on…but I can. It’s me.

I have now officially been labeled a jinx on pelagic trips.  In fact it’s so bad that one of my blog readers on Sunday’s pelagic trip, Rich Frechette from Peterborough, NH, introduced himself and informed me that though he originally was looking forward to meeting me on one of these boat trips, decided after reading in my blog about my lack of success on last months Ft. Bragg trips and six days of crippling northeast winds on Gambell this spring, that that he would scheduled his Half Moon Bay trip on Sunday to avoid being on the same boat with me! You see, Sunday was the trip, which I originally was NOT scheduled to be on.  I was a late add when Doug Koch volunteered to give up his place for me.  It was a noble gesture by Doug to help me in my “Big Year” effort.  Of course, one reason Doug was in the mood to do this was that he saw a Great-winged Petrel on Saturday – the only trip I WASN’T on the Shearwater Journeys boat for. This was only the fifth record of Great-winged Petrel for the Northern hemisphere!  Are you beginning to see where I’m going with this?   I seem to have become a Faustian character in my own personal comic tragedy.

I have one hope. One salvation. You see Rich Frechette also unclassified me as a jinx when less than five minutes after labeling me as such, his one target bird for the trip, Laysan Albatross, flew into the wake of our boat and provided great looks for everyone on board.  Maybe there is some hope. I still have a few more pelagic trips on my schedule. The next trip is scheduled for October 8 out of San Diego with two target species – Black-vented Shearwater and Least Storm-Petrel- on the line.  Please don’t mention this to SOCAL Birding, I wouldn’t want them to change their start hour by an hour in an attempt to insure I don’t come on board. Rumor has it that Todd McGrath is considering somehow adding me to the equation for the “rare pelagic birds dead zone”   I also intend on scheduling a November trip with Brookline Bird Club to see if I can add a Great Skua to my year list. I have another trick up my sleeve as well, a wildcard megararities trip.

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2 Responses to Pelagic Bird Jinx

  1. Paul Whiteman says:


    I had Black-vented Shearwater from land somewhere near Santa Cruz, just wherever you can see the Ocean from PCH 1 and where a huge raft of Marbled Murrelets hang out, perhaps a local can think of the name of the place, If you are still in the area it might be worth a shot checking with a scope as they are quite an inshore bird. (We stare out to sea for hours here in the UK as we generally only get seabirds in the sort of weather that boats can’t run in! something to do with the continental shelf being so far out) Worth checking as you leave the coast on any future long range pelagics too.

    Enjoying the blog by the way, best wishes on your quest. What is the target to beat?



  2. John Vanderpoel says:

    Thanks for the info, Paul. It may be a way to find a Long-billed Murrelet

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