August Monthly Report and Pelagic Trip
Updated: Aug 1, 2019
Okay well, let's do this in reverse order. I am going to start with our recent pelagic trip that ran on August 29th. I know I didn't even post it or advertise it on this site but I had my reasons. Immediately after our July 15th trip there was talk of adding another "chase" trip to the same area we found the Tristram's, and Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels but the Island Packers schedule was booked up solid and there were no suitable alternative vessels available. After a few weeks we finally locked in a date well into August. The first day it was taking bookings about 30 people signed up overnight, then by the end of the next day we were at 45, and by the end of the next it was full! Holy cow that was fast! Thanks everyone for getting this trip off the dock.
About a week before the trip the wind forecast for the area we wanted to travel through looked horrible. 25 knots of wind with gust to 30. A few days later the forecast scaled back to a manageable 15-20 knots, but then the day before it ticked up again with 20-25 knots of wind in the region. Another wrinkle in the story is that the United States Military decided to do some live fire exercises in the waters we wished to visit and gave us coordinates with a 22 nautical mile radius to avoid (noted by the red circle).
With those challenges accepted we set out at 0700 from the dock. I was captaining the vessel Island Explorer with 76 passengers aboard. Since I was at the helm through the trip I had limited opportunities to take photos so bear with me here. Not too far out of the harbor we began seeing a huge stream of Black-vented Shearwaters moving westward. A count of 5,500 or so seems about right and we ticked our first Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers, as well as Red and Red-necked Phalaropes. We had a bit of a rocker crossing to the Anacapa Arch which was remarkably bare. Although as we were scanning the arch on the east end of the island a smooth looking Buller's Shearwater flew in from south of the island and regaled us with its graceful flight as it cruised right down the starboard side of the boat.
After our stop by Arch Rock we stretched out behind Anacapa to some deeper water before we had to alter our course to avoid the active military operations. For those of you who were not aware there is a huge area south of the Channel Islands called the Pacific Missile Test Range, and sometimes they prohibit vessels from entering certain parts when active tests are conducted.
Along the alternative route running toward Santa Barbara Island, there is a rise in the sea floor known as Pilgrim Bank, and it usually produces a few birds. This day a South Polar Skua, Long-tailed Jaeger, and Storm-Petrels, Black, Leach's, and Ashy. After the high point we directed our attention towards Santa Barbara Island. While still offshore we had a Red-footed Booby circle the boat a few times and then fly off. I initially popped my head out of the wheelhouse to see what it was and it was so close I could almost reach out and touch it. It passed right along the brow of the wheelhouse not once but twice, then when I grabbed my camera it decided to fly out the back and down our wake never to return. It gave great looks but the sudden appearance and eventual zippy departure left me wanting more time with this bird.
Red-footed Booby caught flying away: Photo by Ryan Terrill
Sutil rock/island off the southwest corner of Santa Barbara Island was checked for Boobies. We were richly rewarded. The expected Brown Boobies where thick in the area with dozens flying by the boat as we approached. On the cliff face two rare guests had checked in. One was a Nazca Booby and the other was a Blue-footed Booby. It was our fortunate luck that the Blue-footed Booby decided to leave its lonesome spot high up on the cliff face and land right next the the Nazca. This allowed three different species of Booby to be seen together! Add to that our Red-footed from earlier and we have a grand total of four Booby species in a day off of southern California! That might be a record!
Nazca on the left, Blue-footed on the right with Browns all around
Brown Booby (sub-adult)
After the Booby bonanza we split off from the island and faced about an hour long run into the wind. This leg was pretty rough going but it allowed us to gain some westward movement and pass over a significant underwater drop off south of San Nicolas Island. It also provided us a slightly better angle back to the north when we eventually had to turn around. As we progressed we spotted a few small groups of Arctic Terns and as we ran along this line we picked up a good number of Shearwaters, mostly Pink-footed, and may have had fleeting glimpses at distant Cook's Petrels but we could never say for certain. A few more Leach's Storm-petrels also bounded by as we paced the waves and wind on a downhill run.
Soon we bent our line back up towards the Osborn Bank south of Santa Barbara Island and encountered a friendly Buller's Shearwater that held position on the water and gave us great looks and photos.
During this part of the trip we had some in flight views of two Craveri's Murrelets but they were not settling back on the water, and then a bit later a second pair of Murrelets not seen well enough to claim the species but were also likely Craveri's.
On the northern run by Santa Barbara Island we passed by it on the east side this time, and picked up dribs and drabs of birds along the way until we made it back into the vicinity of the Pilgrim Bank and had a pair of Storm-Petrels ahead of the bow, one passed fairly close and showed a pretty solid white rump and photos a passenger took showed what looked good for a Townsend's Storm-Petrel.
We covered a bit more ocean and had another bumpy patch of water once we hit the Santa Barbara Channel, but we all arrived safe and sound in the Ventura Harbor just a bit after 7 pm. With the hurdles we had to contend with weather wise and the large military closure I think we pulled off a very memorable trip, and perhaps the last time anyone will record a four Booby day for many Summers to come. We also had sightings of Short-beaked and Long-beaked Common Dolphin, Risso's Dolphin, flying fish, and a Hammerhead Shark.
A big thank you to everyone who signed up and got this trip going, and thanks to all the leaders who volunteered their time on the boat we can't do these trips with out you!
Leaders: David Pereksta, Todd McGrath, Wes Fritz, Peter Gaede, Ryan Terrill, Scott Terrill, Dan Maxwell and Adam Searcy
Island Packers Crew: Joel Barrett, Laurie VanStee, Andrea Mills
There is one more Pelagic on the books this year departing on October 6th out of Ventura with Island Packers. I hope to see you there.
Other notable sightings in August were Red-footed Boobies, or perhaps the same individual, seen from Point Mugu Rock, near Platform Gina, San Nicolas Island, and on a boat near the Port Hueneme Pier all around the middle of the month.
A Magnificent Frigatebird was also spotted about 2 miles offshore of Emmawood State Beach on August 15th.
Pelagic Red Crabs were plentiful around Santa Cruz Island again, and the gulls were swarming on them.
Whales thinned out but a few Humpback where feeding in the deeper waters off the West end of Santa Cruz Island.