Booby Sighting off the Coast of Ventura
Today 8/3/2019 on my way back to Ventura from Santa Cruz Island I caught sight of an out of place bird flying well out ahead of us. It caught my eye because it was reminiscent of a Shearwater but was not flying quite right and it had a white underside and a dingy upper side that didn't look all one color. Not the usual confluence of flight and style I am accustomed to here in Southern California. I got some binoculars on it and yelled out ITS A BOOBY! I then raced around the wheelhouse while my second captain Paige took the helm and I set up my camera as fast as I could while the bird was sailing away from us. I had Paige turn the boat to follow it while I tried to snap a few photos but my battery was dead! I had been fiddling with the GPS function on it lately and it totally kept track of my camera but at the dear cost of draining out the battery even while I was not using it.
So luckily Paige kept track of its flight while I swapped batteries and then finally I pulled the camera up and fired off a few photos. Then to cap off the sighting it reversed course after a plunge dive and flew right over to the boat and crossed our bow at a fairly close distance and I managed to get the best string of photos in the whole series taken during this encounter. It was a fortuitous pass because without it I probably would have left this designated as a Masked/Nazca Booby due to the fact that it was an immature bird and not an adult. However it came within close enough range that I believe my photos show the tell tale signs of a Nazca Booby.
What I am looking for here is specifically located on the Bill. Masked Boobies when they are mature have a yellow to greenish bill color. Nazca Boobies have an orange to pinkish bill. From what I understand, even on a fairly young bird like this, one should be able to detect the start of the color change to the more pinkish tones. If I look at this photo and others in the series I see a yellow tip to the bill and then it transitions into a decidedly pink base, especially on the top half of the bill. For me and what research I have done into this ID challenge in the past, it is enough to distinguish the two species. With all that said, if it did not make that gracious sweep through the air across our bow, photos at a distance would have been tricky to decipher the subtleties of this birds bill color. As more distinguishing details can be teased apart between the young of these two species perhaps more complementary field marks can be used but for now bill color seems to be the best marker we can come up with for at sea conditions.
For a good comparison of Nazca and Masked Booby bills check out my blog post from last year around this time.
Thanks of reading, hopefully I see some more fun stuff soon to share.