Island Packers July 16th, 2017 Pelagic trip out of Ventura, Ca
Silk Bath (Scripps's Murrelet)
We covered a lot of water on this one... a lot of water that looked A LOT like this. The understated highlight of the trip on this fine July day was perhaps the weather. The fortunate folks aboard the Island Packers Vessel, Island Adventure, were treated to silky smooth waters and wonderful creatures both above, on, and below the surface.
Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters
Clockwise from top: Black-vented Shearwater, Pink-footed Shearwater, Northern Fulmar, and Rhinoceros Auklet
As the trip started off we were making good time and getting great looks at many of the expected seabirds for this time of year and a few that are not very abundant during the summer but can be found if one keeps a sharp eye out. In recent years Common Murre have been recorded nesting out at San Miguel Island again after a long absence, perhaps Rhinoceros Auklets have also taken to the Channel Islands many nooks and crannies as well. This years flock of Sooty Shearwaters has been steady and robust, a nice change after a near absence the past couple of years. Pink-footed Shearwaters were quite numerous south of the northern Channel Islands, and in the Anacapa Passage. We even found a few scraggly Northern Fulmars mixed in with the bunch. Black-vented Shearwaters have been a year round species in 2016-17 with numbers only dipping briefly during late spring and early summer.
Brown Booby (adult female)
Before we even made it to the Arch Rock at Anacapa Island loud cries of "BOOBY" shot out from somewhere on the boat. Initially the bird was well off in the distance but as we sped over to its location, one Booby turned into two. One of the pair flew off but the other put on quite a show as it demonstrated its spectacular fishing technique.
After reaching numbers well over 100 on Anacapa Island at times in the past few years, Brown Boobies are now once again somewhat of a rare sighting around the Channel Islands.
Once we started traveling over some deeper, warmer water south of the islands the sightings started to get pretty interesting. We saw two different Swordfish slicing through the water, we also at various times had two Blue Sharks, a Mako Shark, Flying Fish, and plenty of Mola Mola sightings.
South Polar Skua
A South Polar Skua attacking a Pink-footed Shearwater
As a big dark bulky bird flew up and into view I couldn't contain myself and spontaneously blurted out with joy... SKUA! We ended up seeing a few throughout the day and gave a good chase on one or two and were eventually rewarded with a close pass by the bow and we were able to watch it trounce a Pink-footed Shearwater.
Not too long after we were putting some miles in south of Santa Cruz Island we found our first Ashy Storm-Petrel, a few people got onto what looked like a Leach's Storm-Petrel but looks were brief. We were running a leg of the trip down the western rim of the Santa Cruz Basin on our way toward San Nicholas Island. Here we also found a few Scripps's Murrelets.
Scripps's Murrelet family
Scripps's Murrelet chick
Santa Barbara Island along with Anacapa Island are the major nesting sites for these birds off the coast of California so it is nice to see some of the habit restoration working!
We ended up seeing extraordinary numbers of these Craveri's Murrelets. Almost all of them were paired up, including one group of six all in a line. I think our total for the trip was around 45 Craveri's Murrelets. This is astounding since some years they can't be found at all in California waters!
Another Craveri's Murrelet showing a cocked up tail and dark feathering from under the chin well below and behind the eye with no white intrusion before the eye. This gives a clean black to white line on the face.
Just an interlude, over the next giant stretch of water we saw Common Dolphin (both long-beaked and short-beaked), Risso's Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphin, a few were lucky to see a couple of Northern Right Whale Dolphin, Blue Whale, Humpback Whale (a breach seen by a few), and a Fin Whale. I might have missed something in there.... oh yah the pinnepeds.
Guadelupe Fur Seal
We don't see many of these Guadelupe Fur Seals (in fact this is the first I have ever seen) on our trips so this was a real treat. We also had plenty of California Sea Lions, and a few Northern Elephant Seals.
While watching a Blue Whale just west of San Nicholas Island we were blessed with a very special bird zipping by the bow. It was small, gray over white, with a big dark "M" on its back... COOK's PETREL!!!!
The fuse on the amplifier nearly gave out as news of this gem was broadcasted to all aboard. This first bird was not very cooperative and just kept on going along totally ignoring our calls for it to return. We didn't have to wait long though before several more birds were sighted south of San Nicholas Island where we were treated to some great views.
The winds were light all day so these birds were not doing any high flying cartwheels or anything but at times they definitely flew in a different manner than any of the shearwaters. They were much more buoyant and would often glide flat much higher off the water. At other times they would skim along the surface similar to our typical shearwaters.
What struck me most was the small size, they seemed to be and in fact are, even smaller than a Black-vented Shearwater. Their gray back against the gray sea and sky could make it a challenge to keep an eye on the more distant birds. What a sweet sight, they haven't been seen in numbers off the coast of California since 2010.
Loggerhead Sea Turtle
Loggerhead Sea Turtle
This trip was a wildlife spectacle and soon after the first Cook's Petrel sightings we came across a Loggerhead Sea Turtle. Then another, and another... We totaled three and many were pleased to see these cute little reptiles mixing it up with the birds and marine mammals.
Just when the sightings would not quit, in flew a Black-footed Albatross the perennial people pleaser.
Head on with an Ashy Storm-Petrel and a Black Storm-Petrel
The last deep water stretch northwest of Santa Barbara Island yielded some more Storm-Petrels. I like the one pictured far above not for its high quality resolution but because it literally shows the two species head to head. So to clear things up I'll leave you all with a much better picture of a Black Storm-Petrel.
This trip was great on so many levels. Great weather, birds, turtles, fish, sharks, dolphins, whales, and of course leaders. Thanks to all the leaders who give their time and come aboard to not only spot and describe birds to the passengers, but for all the behind the scenes work. Helping to organize the trip, bringing chum and flinging it overboard at the right times, and putting together accurate, and detailed lists for everyone who was aboard. A huge thanks to all the participants, you all picked a winner! this was a massively successful trip and it couldn't have left the dock with out your support.
We'll see you October 7th, 2017 for our next big outing.
Below is the route we took. Thanks go out to Curtis Marantz for this image.