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Island Packers Pelagic Trip: October 5th, 2019

Track line from Ventura Harbor with county line overlay. Image courtesy of David Pereksta

Hello everyone, here is a little recap of the October 5th, 2019 Pelagic Birding trip on the Island Packers Vessel Island Explorer. Trip leaders were David Pereksta, Todd McGrath, Tom Benson, Hugh Ranson, Wes Fritz, Peter Gaede, Bernardo Alps and myself Joel Barrett, who was driving the boat along with crew members Paige, and Dani. The trip was from 0700-1800 for an 11 hr trip. We covered about 150 nautical miles in total, mostly south of Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands.

The weather was very accommodating with clear skies, low to no wind most of the day, and at times glassy seas. We had low to moderate swell, most notable in the Santa Barbara Channel but it dissipated as we moved into deeper water.

The channel held a pretty solid aggregation of Black-vented Shearwaters for us to look at, along with some Parasitic Jaegers and numerous gulls, pelicans, and cormorants. We eventually stopped off at the iconic arch on the east end of Anacapa Island. Past years have yielded multiple Booby species here and along the cliffs outside of the landing cove. This time we just barely scraped up a Brown Booby. It was nearly perfectly color matched to the rock and the early morning sunrise was not aiding us in seeing it as we stared eastward from the boat. Lobster fishing season had just opened and Lobster traps have been set all about this area. We had to stay clear of them so our angle was compromised for a bit but some nice looks were eventually found as we inched closer after a thoughtful Lobster boat moved out of the way so we could get closer.

Brown Booby on the Anacapa Arch

Our next leg took us westward along the deep water that abuts the southern shores of Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands. We encountered hundreds of Shearwaters, mostly Pink-footed. We methodically crept up on the rafting birds and then sorted through them looking for any odd balls. We picked up a few Sooty Shearwaters and several Black-vented Shearwaters in the process. We eventually popped a Buller's Shearwater or two out of one of the groups, but it and the other birds were being particularly skittish and never let us get a sustained look at it on the water. Decent if not distant looks were had as it flew along.

Sooty, Pink-footed, and Black-vented Shearwaters with a young Western Gull in the foreground

The other highlight amongst the Shearwaters were the numerous Pomarine Jaegers and at least three South Polar Skuas all seen together. We had some marvelous looks at these highly sought after beasts of the sea and air.

South Polar Skua

We saw them flying around, sitting on the water, and thrashing other birds. It was great.

We ended up having a "problem" by early afternoon. We had been seeing so many birds and getting some quality time with them that we were running out of time to make it all the way to Santa Barbara Island. This is where there have been upwards of 50 plus Brown Boobies loafing around and making nests, and other less common Boobies were recently sighted here too. We had to take the good with the bad and thanked our good fortune that we had such a "problem" because we were getting on some really good groups of birds and marine life. I think up to this point we had also spotted both Long-beaked and Short-beaked Common Dolphins, Two Humpback Whales, plus Bottlenose and Risso's Dolphins. We were traveling to the south at this point, and had even flirted with a few Murrelets. We distantly saw some Craveri's and then eventually settled down with a confiding Scripps's Murrelet.

Later as we abbreviated our southward progress to swing eastward toward the Pilgrim Bank we caught on to many many more Craveri's that were just not cooperating and would fly off despite our best efforts to slowly glide the boat into their general vicinity. Patience, practice, and persistence paid off though and we finally had some outstanding looks at a pair of Craveri's Murrelets. You might not know that by my photos, but mind you, I was driving the boat AND able to still get off these pictures you are seeing here.

Scripps's Murrelet note the small white wedge forward of the eye

Craveri's Murrelet. Note relatively straight black line on the lower face and no white wedge in front of the eye

Craveri's Murrelets. Often cock their tails up even higher than this picture shows

Around this time of the day we also started spotting a few Long-tailed Jaegers but I sadly didn't get any photos of them although we had a few pretty good looks. We also picked up some Storm-Petrels. A couple of quirky Leach's Storm-Petrels were flying up high above the horizon in the near absence of wind. We spotted a few Black Storm-Petrels and then we happened upon some rafts with hundreds of Black Storm-Petrels and a handful of Ashy Storm-Petrels. It was nice to see this out here, it allowed everyone on the boat to really get some solid experience with these sometimes difficult birds. Also after seeing many more Black Storm-Petrels since our July Pelagic, I am pretty convinced that mystery Storm-Petrel we saw back then was not a Black and was something much larger and waaaaay rarer.

Black Storm-Petrels rafting up

Black Storm-Petrels in flight

After we passed through the Storm-Petrel area we continued to have birds in low doses for the ride back in, but those were the highlights. We also had brief looks at a Striped Marlin and a Swordfish. I'm probably forgetting a few other things... oh a few Cassin's Auklets, a Northern Fulmar, and a couple of Red-necked Phalaropes, all three species of Jaegers and Skua for the slam.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the journey, and thanks to all the leaders who volunteered their time and energy to make this trip a success. We will have more trips for next year and may have some birding related trips coming up as soon as November... I'll keep you posted when I know more.

South Polar Skua

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