Saturday – Jul;y 23, 2011
I arrived at the Santa Barbara pier at 6:20 AM for the 7:00 AM departure and was surprised at how many birders were already milling around. Kibitzing and drinking coffee as seabirders always seem to do early before the action. And one thing I knew…..there WOULD be action. This was one of the big ones for Southern California sea birders. A 14.5 hour deep water boat trip to the San Juan Seamount and Santa Rosa Ridge southwest of the Channel Islands on the Condor Express. It would also be my first full length Pelagic trip of the year and I freely admit that I was excited with anticipation for the birds to come and I wasn’t the only one. There were some very serious birders in this group. The leaders were Todd McGrath and Dave Pereksta, two veteran sea birders, but there were other experts as well such as Paul Lehman and W. Terry Hunefeld. There were birders that I knew as well from my Big Year journeys, John Arnett in Big Bend, John Groves in Texas, Pat & Marian from Gambell and the young couple from Pennsylvania, who even keep a joint life list .
Early on we began running into Sooty Shearwaters. Both Ashy and Black Storm-Petrels soon began to be seen flying in with the shearwaters. Cassin’s Auklets began showing up soon after. So common, but they were brand spankin new to my year-list.
A Xantus’s Murrelet gave everyone a long satisfying look. Pink-footed Shearwaters became common as we neared the San Juan Seamount. The first rare bird of the day was a Laysan Albatross. Nice to see in Southern California waters, though we were informed that they are now nesting on Guadalupe Island which would imply they’ll be easier to see in Southern Cal waters in the future. I had already seen “Big Al” at Point Areana in February, but it was still great to see. Not long after a Manx Shearwater was found, rare for California waters though not a new year-bird for me. In deep water two races of Leach’s Storm-Petrels became the most common seabird. This was a lifer for me. Just haven’t done enough pelagic boat trips into deep water.
A South Polar Skua put on a real show for the entire boat. In my previous experience they fly by and you’d better be ready because then they’re gone. This guy sat down on the water and ate chum!
Other year-birds for me included Buller’s Shearwater, Black-footed Albatross.
We also found two Red-billed Tropicbirds! Can you believe that? In this remarkable year I’ve now seen red-billed Tropicbirds on both Ocean’s in ABAQ waters.
The Quest for a Thousand list was pumped up as well with Dall’s Porpoise, Risso’s Dolphin and Pacific White-sided Dolphin.
My big miss and now a concern for the year is Cook’s Petrel….but there is still hope. I talked to Debby Shearwater today and she stated that the right water temperatures, particularly the cold/warm change points are better in Northern California waters than Southern Cal waters. As you might imagine, I’ve planned many pelagic trips with Debby this year. She is afterall the “Queen Bee of the High Sea”. Folks this trip and the Condor Express deserves a better writeup than I’m giving it, but for now it will have to do.