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October Monthly Report (5 Boobies!)

Another record setting Pelagic trip ran on October 6th out of Ventura, Ca. The Island Packers vessel Island Explorer set out on a full day adventure and ended up spotting a WHOPPING 5 different species of Booby. This is monumental and may never happen again in any of our lifetimes off the coast of California. This year was the perfect set up and we had a four booby day on an earlier pelagic this year, but with a Masked Booby arriving and residing on the cliffs of Anacapa Island we knew we had a real shot at attaining this milestone before we even left the dock. Trip leader David Pereksta was excited about the possibility the night before and managed to make an outside chance a reality the following day.

Masked Booby

Masked Booby on Anacapa Island

Our first Booby was the staked out Masked Booby on the northeast cliffs of Anacapa Island. I first spotted this bird back on September 25th. On our way to the island we had to postpone searching through a huge flock of Shearwaters near the island in order to get our first Booby in the bag. It did not disappoint and we easily found the Masked Booby in its usual spot sitting on the near vertical cliffs with a bunch of Western Gulls. After extremely good looks and photos we swung back through the masses of Shearwaters just off shore and enjoyed the spectacle of so many birds just rafting on the water. It was comprised mainly of Black-vented Shearwaters and a few Pink-footed Shearwaters and quite a few Pomarine Jaegers. Mixed in were a few leucistic Black-vented Shearwaters. During this leg we also had a couple Cassin's Auklets, a Common Murre, and several Northern Fulmars.

Shearwater Flock

Black-vented Shearwaters (a small portion of the thousands out there)

Clockwise from upper left: Dark morph Pomarine Jaeger, side by side with leucistic and normal BVSH, Leucistic BVSH, and normal BVSH

Leucism is a the lack of pigment in parts of the feathers, hair, or skin. It is not the same as albinism which also affects the eyes. Leucistic animals usually retain normal eye color but show lack of pigment in various patterns. Leucism is seen across many animals including humans but has been noted quite often in the Black-vented Shearwaters off of our coast, more so than in any other species I am familiar with in our area.

Red-footed Booby

Red-footed Booby (dark morph juvenile)

After we left the large Shearwater flock behind, we searched the waters a few miles south of Anacapa. There is a significant drop off behind the island and we worked along it for a bit aiming towards an area known as the Footprint which is a high spot mostly surrounded by deep water. Before we could get to this underwater feature though, a call out of a distant booby was heard. As can happen, it took a moment until the excitement allowed better communication. Apparently leader and Chum master Wes Fritz and passenger Nick Lethaby on the lower back deck spotted this bird flying in the distance but no one else was on it yet. I was driving the boat so I turned to port to potentially get this bird somewhere out in front of us and was asking for distance and direction until I could see where our target was. Leader Adam Searcy got on the bird from the bow and I also picked out a speck of a bird, flying like a booby in the distance. With that I brought us up to our max speed (around 20 knots) and we chased this thing down for several minutes until it finally settled on the water. We were still not 100% sure what we had in front of us. We slowed down, confirmed the sighting as a RED-FOOTED BOOBY! and it flew off again but we were able to match its speed and course for a few very exciting minutes. All passengers were able to see it at very close range for an extended time, it was a superb sighting of a very rare bird. During this time we also happened into a group of Pink-footed Shearwaters that had a lone Buller's Shearwater hanging out with them.

I'm quite proud of these photos (that they turned out as well as they did) because I shot them while driving the boat, out of the wheelhouse door, between a bunch of other people who were also trying to photograph the bird.

Red-footed Booby (you can even see the red feet)

Red-footed Booby

This has been an exceptional year for Red-footed Booby sightings up and down the California coast. In most years this is a very rare visitor coming up from our south, possibly from islands off of Mexico or even the Galapagos Islands of South America. There are also populations around the Hawaiian Island chain and in the tropical waters of the West Indian Ocean.

Our next few hours took us south to some very deep water in the Santa Cruz Basin. Depths in this area are over 6000 ft and just about the time we crossed over the deepest portions of the basin we picked up Ashy Storm-Petrel, a dozen plus Black Storm-Petrels, and a brief pass by the bow of a Least Storm-Petrel. We stopped and put out an oil slick in this area and had some luck drawing a few of the Black Storm-Petrels in along with some Pink-footed Shearwaters and Gulls. Several miles away from this spot we picked up two pairs of Craveri's Murrelets. One pair was heard well as they vocalized back and forth to each other. It has been suggested that Murrelets hunt in pairs and so when they get separated they vocalize to each other so they can reunite. It is quite amazing how far a small bird like this can be heard. The rattling trill call can seemingly be heard by human ears at a quarter mile distance, perhaps the ocean surface helps to carry the sound as it reflects off the surface of the water.

Blue-footed Booby with Brown Boobies on Sutil, Santa Barbara Island

Three Brown Boobies in flight, with the Blue-footed Booby in the upper left

A Peregrine Falcon flushed the Boobies into the air

We had our fingers crossed as we approached Sutil Island/rock off the southwest side of Santa Barbara Island. We had already encountered the Masked Booby and a Red-footed Booby, perhaps two of the hardest to find in Southern California this year. We assumed Brown Booby was in the bag because they are attempting to nest on Sutil Island. It is always fun to see so many Brown Boobies in one place, but it was also quite spectacular to see all of them lift into flight when a Peregrine Falcon spooked them as it traced along the cliffs looking for prey.

The continuing Blue-footed Booby was a bonus bird and brought our booby count to four. We searched and searched for the Nazca Booby that had on previous trips been seen mixed in with this group but we could not see it despite 70 pairs of eyes searching every stretch of rock. We bounced back and forth on both sides of the rock searching in vain despite a possible in flight sighting only seen by two people aboard. We were so close and yet without the Nazca Booby we were not going to reach our five booby day.

Happy with our Blue-footed Booby, another very rare species for California, and the large contingent of Browns, we had to leave the island behind and begin our trip back toward the mainland.

A pre-trip check of the temperature break by leader David Pereksta showed that a significant line of demarcation had been forming a few miles to the east of Santa Barbara Island. With that in mind we crossed over to this area and WOW! there were thousands of birds all along this line. We had discovered several more groups of Black-vented Shearwaters amassing in the thousands. During this time we had a large, dark, cinnamon colored bird appear that quickly took off away from us and despite our best attempts we lost it in the masses of birds. Many of us feel this was another Red-footed Booby but we were unable to get any photos and had only fleeting looks at it before it merged undetected back into the milieu.

While we were saddened that we lost such a good find, it did not last long because shouts of a LARGE WHITE BOOBY flying through a group of Shearwaters focused our attention. There it was... the Nazca Booby! at least we hoped, it was still too distant to rule out another Masked but we knew this was our moment to make birding history. I pressed the boat into action again and we charged forward to the bird and gave chase for quite awhile but it was out pacing us and staying away from the boat, but finally it altered course and crossed over into a group of birds and plunged into the water in a feeding dive. We slowed up and creeped forward to see in all its glory, an orangy-pink bill on that big old White Booby body. WE HAD A NAZCA and FIVE BOOBIES in one day!

Nazca Booby

Nazca Booby showing the diagnostic Pinkish-Orange Bill

Needless to say, high fives and hugs were going around as we all felt the relief and joy of being part of such an amazing and historic trip. Masked, Red-footed, Brown, Blue-footed, and Nazca Booby. Usually any one of these species on a trip would make for a great day but we saw all five on one trip, simply amazing. It has to be said also that not only did we see all five species, but everyone on the boat saw them, and had excellent views for long periods of time. It has taken some birders a lifetime to see all of these species in California waters, and then on this day some lucky birders were able to tick all five in one go. How is that for exceeding expectations.

Of course the trip was not over yet, we had quite a few more good looks at Craveri's Murrelets, Sabine's Gulls, Common Terns, another Buller's Shearwater, previous looks at Long-tailed Jaegers, Red and Red-necked Phalaropes, and cooperative weather the whole day.

Craveri's Murrelet

Craveri's Murrelet

Island Packers Pelagic route October 6th, 2018

Island Packers Pelagic route October 6th, 2018

The majority of the action in October was centered around this pelagic trip so I'll just leave it at that. As a bonus though I will slide in a few pictures that I forgot to include from September of a Magnificent Frigatebird that was briefly seen flying around the Ventura Harbor.

Photos courtesy of Dave Newman:

This is a juvenile bird, a rare find this far north, and a real treat to see. It was discovered by Island Packers crew as the boats were entering the Ventura harbor at the end of the day. I tried to get word out as fast as I could but it was not relocated after the initial sighting but it sure was a good one. I love the picture that shows Two Trees in the background.

Okay well that wraps up the month of October and the end of our Pelagic birding season. I am working on getting a list of Pelagic trip dates out ASAP for 2019 so check back to soon for that update.

Thanks again to everyone who joined us for this latest pelagic trip and a huge thanks to all the leaders who volunteer their time to make these trips such a success. Thanks Dave Pereksta, Hugh Ranson, Adam Searcy, and Wes Fritz.

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