Fall Pelagic

There was a complete absence of fog as I crested the hill down to Pacifica heading south on Highway One toward Pillar Point Harbor. This was not the only difference from my August 18th pelagic trip. A fall pelagic is known for quality not quantity. We would not find the large numbers of shearwaters but the diversity of species should be higher.

When we headed out on the Huli Cat at 7:00 AM, the skies were clear and the winds were light. A nice treat on the way out to the Continental Shelf was to see the entire genius of turnstone on the breakwater: black and ruddy turnstone, perched amount the pelicans and Heermann’s gull.

Once outside of the harbor we started to see our constant companions for this trip, the common murre. The auk was seen bobbing on the swells throughout the voyage. Framed in the blue sky, lines of brown pelicans heading out to fish.

Heading further out, the uptick of shearwaters picked up but not in the same numbers as in August. In some small flocks pink-footed outnumbered the often omnipresent pelagic staple, the sooty shearwater.

At about 24 miles from Pillar Point Harbor we where over the Continental Shelf and we headed north into San Francisco County waters. The skies where covered in low gray clouds and the sea became a little choppy. This made finding one of the targets of this pelagic, Guadalupe murrelet, very tough to spot in between the swells.

There where more storm-petrels seen on this trip than in August with a high of 19 black storm-petrels and 252 ashy storm-petals. These swallows of the seas fly low to the water, picking off food from the ocean’s surface. Some species even seem to “dance” on the water.

I had a few target birds for this trip. Short-tailed and flesh-footed shearwater. Both would be lifers. It is said about the flesh-footed that it takes ten pelagic to see your first flesh-footed. I was hoping to me a little more lucky.

As we were motoring in San Francisco waters, I spotted a lone, dark shearwater on a parallel course, heading in the opposite direction from my perch on the starboard side of the Huli Cat. My first impression was that it was just another sooty until I noticed the bi-colored black and pink bill like a pink-footed shearwater. All the field marks clicked and before I could put it into words a spotter in the stern shouted out, “Flesh-footed!!” And just like that I had a new pelagic lifer!

Another birder on the Huli Cat ticked this shearwater on her list list. Nicole was doing a Big Year and the flesh-footed was the 752nd species she had recorded in the calendar year

A Big Year is an attempt to see the highest amount of birds in a calendar year. According to the American Birding Association (ABA), there are 993 species that have occurred in North America so I have 438 more birds to go!

I highly recommend Alvaro’s Adventures for a pelagic birding trip.

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