Species List

While the majority of these photos were taken by me, I have to send out a big thanks to Matt Victoria and David Pereksta for filling in some of the gaps in my photo library.

 

Albatross

Our most common Albatross. Usually only seen south of the Islands in deepwaters. One was seen only about 6 miles off shore in 2015

Surprisingly similar color scheme as a Western Gull but obviously much larger. Usually well offshore. In 2015 one was seen North of Santa Barbara Island

Very Rare yet the most likely of the three expected Albatross to venture nearshore. One was seen  in July of 2005 near Prisoner's Harbor, Santa Cruz Island. I have still never seen one so I wouldn't consider this a likely bird to get ticked off your list for Southern California.

Photo credit: David Pereksta

Petrels and Fulmars

 

Probably a regular migrant, but may not always passing through our waters close enough to land to be easily detected. 2017 and 2018 were good years to find them.

Photo credit: David Pereksta

Even less likely than the above. Photo source: Arkive.org

Photo credit: Dr. Jorg Kretzschmar

Seems to be regular in the Spring, well off shore. Again count yourself lucky. 

Photo source: Arkive.org

Photo credit: Gerald McCormack

Seems like there are more sightings every pelagic season. Very rare.                                                   Photo source: Kauaiseabirdproject.org

Photo credit:

Daniel L. Webster/www.cascadiaresearch.org

They can vary from nearly all white to dark gray. They love to play chicken with boats and often will not move out of the way. Often approachable, and will fly/swim over to the boat for a hand out. Numbers fluctuate but are highest in winter with a few stragglers during the summer.

Shearwaters

 

Seasonal, Summer-Fall and somewhat rare in Southern California as compared to Northern California.  A very sharp looking bird, most noted for its graceful, bouyant flight, and striking "M" pattern on the back and wings.

Common in small numbers during the Summer. South of the islands their numbers generally increase. Larger than other expected shearwaters. They fly with slower wing beats and look like they are in less of a hurry than those around them. Mostly white underneath but can be variable. Light pinkish bill with a dark tip. 

A rare but regular bird most often seen in the Summer and Fall. Very similar in most aspects to the above Pink-footed Shearwater but this guy is all dark. This usually makes the feet and bill contrast quite a bit from the rest of the bird. Beware of lazily flying Sooty Shearwaters that can sort of look like one of these when not seen well.

Very Common most years in the Summer but in some years they push further north if the water temps go too high and the food flows up the coast. usually in large groups, flies with fast purpose full wing beats then glides. It seems to me an average of 3-5 flaps then a glide when winds are light. If no wind they are reluctant to fly and flap heavily, in heavy wind they are a treat to watch as they bank skyward.

Ridiculously similar to the above Sooty. Seasonality also overlaps but this bird is much more likely in the winter. If you think you saw one it's usually best to do a photographic review to make sure.

Super abundant in Fall and most of Winter. Often seen nearshore, or from shore. The first arrivals can be as early as July, but are more common in August. In strong low angle light they look pure white on bottom and black on top. In clearer typical mid-day light they look brownish on top and smudgy around the edges with some white along the belly and throat.

A typical Atlantic bird but rare in the Pacific. Dark black on top. Clean transition to pure white below. White vent. White "saddle bags" on rump. White "hook" runs up behind the eye. In many ways similar to Black-vented Shearwater but much more contrast between dorasal and ventral sides.

Very rare north of Mexico. A few records along the California Coast.  It's Bouyant flight would be eye catching but could resemble Pink-footed, or Buller's Shearwaters. There is a light and a dark morph so variability is high. 

Photo credit: David Pereksta

Storm Petrels

 

Very rare in our waters. A typical Atlantic bird but some move up from Antarctica and spread along the West coast of North America. They congregate mostly in Central California but can be seen with luck at points south during migration. 

This is a darker bird, as you move north through their breeding colonies in Mexico they tend to have whiter rumps. More of a bent wing in flight with pointed wing tips and jerky flight style. 

Photo Credit: Matt Victoria

Deemed a species of its own in 2016, separate from Leach's Storm-Petrel. Smaller than Leach's and normally has a brighter white rump patch. South of the Channel Islands in summer and fall can be a great place to look for these newly christened birds. Photo Credit: Matt Victoria

Most common Storm-Petrel we see. Biggest too. Slower, deeper wingbeats, black as the name implies with a noticable carpal bar. Relatively long neck often noticeable when the head is raised above the plain of the body.

A local nester on the Channel Islands, and usually seen south of the Islands. A local specialty. Has an ashy gray brown/black color with a slightly paler rump than the rest of the back but very subtle. 

Photo credit: David Pereksta

Occasional visitor this far north, usually in warm water years, generally south of the Channel Islands. Similar in style to Black Storm-Petrel but much smaller than any other Storm-Petrel we expect to see.

Photo credit: Matt Victoria

Usually seen in the winter or Spring. Rare for these parts, but distinctive due to the gray color over all.

Photo source: www.audubon.org

 

Common most of the year. Largest breeding colony is on Anacapa Island. A large, graceful at times, pelican capable of plunge diving out the sky dramatically. Perhaps the iconic species of the Channel Islands National Park.

Rare until a few years ago (2013) and now pretty much expected annually. Usually found on the cliffs of Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands. Generally leaves our area temporarily in mid summer to do ?? mate down south then fly back? only time will tell. Update (3.12.17) few sightings this year, mostly seen in flight/feeding near Anacapa Island.

Rare bird, now to be sorted out between a Nazca Booby. Every few years one of these birds makes its way north and delights us with it's presence.

Seen by few this far north, but with greater coverage and keen observation it is being detected more and more. Almost identical to Masked except for the orange-pink bill. In 2015 one showed up on Anacapa Island. July 15th, 2018 another two birds where seen at Anacapa, and near Santa Barbara Island. The nearest breeding colony is off of Mexico on the Revillagigedo Islands, the next colony is in the Galapagos Islands.

A recent influx (2014-15) has led many to think this is an expected bird somewhere along the California coast. Not true so far, but Anacapa Island was a pretty reliable spot to check during that time. One individual was seen in late February of 2016 on the cliffs of Anacapa. Most recently one was on Sutil rock, off of Santa Barbara Island (August 29th, 2018)

Haven't seen one myself yet...(edit Lifer seen on August 29th, 2018).  More "pelagic" than the other boobies, meaning it spends more time farther offshore. 

Photo credit: David Pereksta

Luck is needed most to see one of these lost young birds this far north, but they seem to occur during the warm water years. This one was seen over the Ventura harbor in 2015. 

Seen the most of all Cormorants sps.

A few are coastal, most out by the islands. White patches on the rump make them an easy ID during breeding season. The rest of the year they are just thin necked and billed compaired to the others with a slight green/purple tinge to the feather sheen.

Found on both fresh and salty water. They nest on the islands (near Frenchies Cove) and can occasionally be seen flying across the channel.  Best ID'd by orange facial skin and crooked neck while in flight.

Usually solitary, seen generally in late summer and Fall when the water is warmest. Often found resting on the water and will appear as a gull when seen at a distance, then perhaps a tern. They fly with a very fast and stiff wingbeat that is fairly distinctive.

 

Alcids

Below is a young bird seen near Santa Rosa, Adults in breeding plumage are all black with white patches on the wings, and bright orange feet.

Local breeders, seen almost year round. Alternative plumage is seen on the right and basic plumage on the left. Males of this species take care of the young and can be seen swimming together in the Summer and early Fall.

Local breeders, especially on Santa Barbara Island. Probably the easiest place in the world to find this bird if you take a boat ride in Spring time. Formerly Xantus's Murrelet but split into Scripps's and Guadalupe Murrelet in 2012.

Generally found far offshore during the summer. Not an easy bird to find, nests south of us in Mexico.

Seen during the summer and fall when the waters are warm, can be found in the SB Channel but usually south of the islands is the best area to search.

Photo credit: Matt Victoria

Can be found nearshore, even in harbors occasionally. A rare winter visitor.

Rare, winter visitor, generally not far from shore. More abundant just to the north of this area.

Photo credit: Matt Victoria

Can be found in large numbers in late Winter and Spring. Some birds have a very white belly and can be confused with Scripps's Murrelet but these little round puff balls have a chunkier body, slower wingbeat and taxi along when getting up into flight where as a Scripps's Murrelet can take off into the air directly.

A stunning bird, basically a Puffin. Their white belly can help differentiate them in flight from a Tufted Puffin.

Rare this far south but occasionally seen.

 

Gull's and Terns

Seen in migration, Spring and Fall.

Winter visitor, numbers fluctuate year to year. Not very common.

Fairly common in the Winter with large numbers seen during migration.

Abundant in Winter. 

Occasionally seen offshore. Winter. Damn this bird looks scary.

Rarely seen offshore but can be found in Winter. Primarily sub-adult birds.

Some years they are fairly numerous, mainly sub-adult birds in the Winter time.

The most abundant gull in our area due to the large breeding colonies on the Channel Islands, namely Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands.

Seen most of the year except the brief time (late Spring/early Summer) they depart to breed down in Mexico. Our most stunning gull in my opinion.

A very large, gull sized tern. Usually near the harbor or along the coast. Seen most of the year.

Bulkier than an Elegant Tern, with a stouter bill. Winter visitor.

Can be very abundant offshore, sometimes found resting on floating objects like kelp paddies.

Seen in migration, mostly in fall. Can be frustratingly similar in appearance to Arctic Tern, thus the tern, pardon me, term "Comic Tern" was coined, merging the names.

Seen in migration, mostly in fall, well offshore. I like to think of them as the No-neck Tern, or All-wings Little-body Tern.

Mostly near shore but sometimes a few miles out. At different times of year they can be difficult to distinguish from Common Tern.

Mostly near shore but seen well off shore during migration. Our smallest tern. Typical along the coast in Summer.

A few migrate offshore, late spring, early summer. In the fall a few are seen along the coast.

Jaegers and Skuas

 

Typically a late summer early fall migrant far offshore, chasing down those Arctic terns for their lunch money (DP). This is a light morph juvenile.

Typically nearshore hassling the smaller gulls and terns for their hard earned fish. Seen in migration and through most of the winter. Always fun to see but not always easy to tell apart from the rest of the Jaegers.

A bigger, bulky Jaegar/Skua sometimes seen near shore but on average further out, usually attacking larger birds like gulls and shearwaters.

The bulkiest of the Skua/Jaegers we see here. Charcoal in color with a cinnimon head. Usually in the Summer they show some heavy molt with massive white wing bars that tidy up as new feathers grow in.

Phalaropes, Loons, and Grebes

 

The larger of the two Phalarope we see offshore. Most of the time we see them the live up to their English name of Gray Phalarope. Best distinguished by their solid gray back, thicker bill and bulkier body. Reminds me of a small ground dove body shape in flight.

Tiny little birds that peck at nearly invisible "stuff" on or near the surface. Often called whale birds because they love the same food as the Blue Whales which is Krill. Seen in Spring, and later summer and fall. 

Usually close to shore or along the surf zone. In flight they will sometimes cock their head up helping identify them in flight.

Can be extreamly abundant during migration. Will often associate with other feeding birds well off the coast.

Seen mostly in migration or during winter in the harbors. Not seen as often feeding off shore.

Photo credit: Matt Victoria

Can be very abundant in the first few miles off shore mainly during the winter.

Less common than the Western Grebe, note the eye is surrounded by white. Usually nearshore, within the first few miles of the coast.

Usually seen in sheltered waters such as the local harbors, but during migration they can be seen over the open ocean.

In my experience mostly seen in harbors but can rarely show up offshore in migration.

Usually coastal. Seen mostly in or near harbors. Rare but regular most years.

The Ocean...The Last Frontier

© 2016 by Joel Barrett

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