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Mendocino Whale Watch

I started my whale watch just down the street from my digs at the Mendocino Art Center at the Mendocino Headlands State Park.

I set up my scope at 7:45 AM and looked for blows just below the horizon.

I looked and I looked. I looked at gulls and I looked at oystercatchers and I looked at the constant stream of common murres heading south.

But no blows.

I looked at a bottling harbor seal and I looked at the lone snow goose on a bluff to the north, and I even turned around to look at the perched white-tail kite and harrier.

Where were the migrating gray whales? Perhaps I was too early.

Perhaps there was a gap in the southern stream of pregnant females on their journey to the birthing lagoons of Baja California. Or maybe they were farther off, just on the other side of the curvature of the earth. But whatever it was, after two mornings of whale watching, I saw zero whales.

The plus of being a sketcher is that you are never bored, and if you have a pen and sketchbook handy, you can pass the time with a sketch (featured sketch).

This sign at Point Carrillo Light Station was one of my better “whale” sightings.
This gray whale mural in a back alley in Fort Bragg was probably the “best” whale sighting of the trip!
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Orca Bones of Fort Bragg

The great thing about sketching bones is that they don’t move.

And there is a set of bones that I wanted to sketch in Fort Bragg. These are the bones of a male orca or killer whale. The orca (Orcinus orca) is not a whale but the world’s largest dolphin and these bones are from one of the largest specimen.

These impressive bones are to be found at the Noyo Center for Marine Science on Main Street (Highway One), in Fort Bragg, across the street from the Guest House Museum.

This orca was trapped in some netting off the Mendocino County Coast. In the summer of 2017, the skeleton was articulated or put together by experts ranging as far away as Alaska and Canada who came to Ft. Bragg to give the orca skeleton “life”. It’s the impressive centerpiece of the museum’s collection.

An orca sighting at Point Cabrillo Light Station. And the answer is “Yes!”
The male orca skeleton at the Noyo Center in historic downtown Fort Bragg. This is one killer dolphin!!
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The Rime of the Ancient Murrelet

On Veteran’s Day Weekend, consisting of a birding and camping adventure with Dickcissel, I had one bird on my wishlist: the ancient murrelet (Synthiloramphus antiquus).

I have been to the Mendocino Coast many times but had not put the effort into a dedicated seawatch to see this small alcid. (I also did not bring the scope required for finding this bird.)

Before heading up to the Mendocino Coast, I did a study sketch of this small alcid (the featured sketch). When I did this sketch, using the Sibley Guide, photos, and Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, it was a way of creating a mental image of this bird; It’s field marks, behavior, and flight. This helped me single out the other birds and find the two toned “flying penguin “. A bird named “ancient” because of the gray feather of it’s head, giving the impression of being really old.

We started our Seawatch on the observation decks at Laguna Point in MacKerricher State Park just north of Fort Bragg. It was a beautiful day, clear and calm which makes for great seawatching with the sun at our backs providing great light to see the passing birds on the water. There was a lots of birds moving south, mainly loons and surf scoters that flew close to shore, low across the water.

Now it was just a matter of finding a small gray-backed alcid with white underwings, a light, short bill and a twisting and turning flight pattern. Really there where not too many birds that we could confuse it for.

About 30 minutes into our watch, I got on a two small alcids, heading south. I panned the scope with them and they checked all the boxes! Ancient Murrelet, ABA lifebird #570!

Scoping the Pacific. There was lots of southerly movement at Laguna Point. Mostly loons and surf scoters and the alcid I wanted to see: the ancient murrelet. Does this hat make me look ancient?

We also scoped from the Mendocino Headlands State Park.

A little nature loafing in between seawatches at Mendocino Headlands State Park. We had a glorious day on the Mendocino Coast. From here we spotted a peregrine, loons, black oystercatchers, mergansers, and five snow geese. The latter had never been recorded for this location!