San Diego, California October 4-5, 2014. Things were flying down in sunny and hot southern California and they weren’t necessarily all birds like this striped marlin. We also had flying fish, and whales jumping all over the place, and not all that many birds.
I flew from Fargo to San Diego to continue my assault of a life list of 700 birds, I have been picking up the pace to just get this overwith and when my friend Thor called that he was on this the hunt for a rare alcid, Jim and I decided to go. First, what is an Alcid? Alcids are small seabirds which sort of resemble penquins but unlike them they can fly. They are squat roundish birds that feed and invariably nest in odd places like sides of mountains and live out at sea, not usually seen from shore. So we went on what birders call a pelagic to hunt for them. This trip was out of San Diego and was on the ship “Grande” which is usually a fishing boat and it was chartered by the local birding group. First off, the boat was packed as everyone was looking for this alcid: the Craveri’s Murrelet. We had all sorts to people so deathly afraid of the sun they wore body suits to alpha birders, a few younger guys, some locals, some soon to be bored spouses and people desperate for a rare bird, so desperate in fact, one didn’t want to get in their way. So we headed off at dawn out 30 miles to look for one.
We didn’t see any for the first half, just whales. First, Short-finned Pilot Whales: we saw Blue whales, and then a few Humpbacked whalesWe also saw lots and lots of dolphins, mostly in two large pods: Like how everything can be, it was a bit of a long trip, and a little slow. I was frustrated as the storm petrels were just so far away, and there were no rafts of them and just so few birds, couple here, couple there and skittish. We did see some Black storm-petrels and some least storm-petrels which was my life bird 673, but they were unphotographable. It was also hard to see them as everyone crowded the bow and largely the boat was a zoo. People refused to get out of the way. Bearings on birds were bad if not none-existent and well you’d hear about things after the fact. Then when I was eating lunch, word went out of sitting alcids on the water. I threw down my grilled cheese and ran to the forward bow. I was just in time to see a pair of alcids in flight, white below, white under wing that I could see with a naked eye. Lost them behind someone’s head when they flew. They were Craveri’s Murrulets bird #674. Nobody got a photo. I was just lucky to see them as some didn’t. Thor got a good look so he got his life bird 770. Jim also got it. But crap, that was close. No others were seen. Hate to go out all day for a bird and dip out as they say. Then later I got lucky. I was pooped and sitting in the stern after watching the guide through out popcorn to keep the gulls around and a strange gull came in quick and took off. I stood up and snapped pictures of the immature Sabine’s Gull, life bird #675. Nobody crowding the front of the boat got to see it, they were too busy hoping to see another Craveri’s. It was in, and gone in 20 seconds apparently it didn’t like the free popcorn they were throwing overboard. It was good that I got sick of fighting the hoard. It was a bird I needed and had dipped out for on two previous occasions, once one even became shrouded in fog as I was focusing in on it for it only to disappear from view.This small gull has brown on back and dark black leading edges of its wings. We did see some other cool birds: Black-vented Sheerwaters, the second one swimming. Pick-footed Sheerwaters
which you can almost appreciate the pink feet on this bird. I had seen this bird seawatching a year earlier exactly to the day. I saw this photogenic Pomerine Jaeger landing in the water We saw the usual terns, phalaropes, and gulls. It was a long day but a good one. Pretty much we saw what we needed to although in some cases too fleeting…birding can be like that. On Sunday, Jim had a few life birds he needed to see down here so Thor and I went with to make sure he saw them. Both Thor and I specialize in logistical planning for birds so this would be a long but good day. First high tide was at 8am so after dawn, we went to the Tijuana Estuary NWR, at high tide the rails who hide in the reeds come out to higher ground so you can see them and the newly split off bird from the Clapper rail, the Ridgeway’s Rail was about 30 yards out and in the open. Then we had a problem finding a bathroom, too much coffee,..even the Men’s room at Jack in the Box didn’t exist as they didn’t have a men’s room –they only had a ladies room, but we went over to the Pipit Spot and after the compulsory harassment by a Border Guard, we were within 40 feet of the border fence, we joined a group to scope out pipits. We spotted three Red-throated pipits, you can see the light ‘straps’ or braces on the back and black striping on the front of this bird. These are key ID points of the bird. They were not very close and luckily we borrowed someone’s scope to see them. Next stop was the hot and arid east edge of town and we tried and were successful to get Bell’s Sparrows out of some pretty dead looking sage near the Otay Lakes. I could not get a good photo but we got the bird none-the-less after we just about melted out in the 100 degree heat. Next we drove around town and ended up on the north side and we called in California Gnatcatchers. Literally every gnatcatcher for miles came in as we called them. We had like the best photo ops and we were only five minutes in the walk which was actually to find a scaly-breasted munia for Jim. We found the first feeder and saw munia almost as easy as the gnatcatchers. This is a handsome introduced exotic bird added to the list last year which I saw in Ventura and Jim didn’t as he was giving this well-endowed German woman the eye and showing her a hummer (the bird) and didn’t see the Munia a few feet to his right, oh well, now he had it. Jim added 14 lifers on this trip to bring him closer to me at 661. We are not in a race but after my great Alaska trip, I had pulled a head of him somewhat. So it is a really hot right now October in San Diego. Water is up to 75 degrees, the Craveri’s is pushed north but even too far north of here but at least I saw one. The other birds we needed to see were still here and all told, we did get three codes three birds (Craveri’s, Least storm-petrel, and red-throated pipit) and saw some cool stuff. It was a bit workmen like, and I got my California gnatcatcher and Munia spots locked down for any future “Big Year” aspirations I may have, mid afternoon and and an easy spot. You know, I did see quite a lot of birds last year on my big nude year, but I think I may have aspirations for the big record. We’ll have to see. I still got to get my 700th bird and now I got 25 to go. Next week, I am off to solve the biggest of all blockers on my list, the bird that I am so embarrassed to admit, I’ve never seen, so embarrassed, its name is not to be written about.
Maybe I should just take it easy like this sea lion talking to this western gull?
Happy birding, Olaf