Birding News.

Birding on the coast has been interesting. It started off with a “bang” during the Peregrine Audubon sponsored pelagic trip on September 28th. The boat we used was the Telstar with Captain Randy.

Our leaders were Rob Fowler a bird trip leader from Humboldt County up north and Jon Dunn a nationally known bird expert. You will see his name on the National Geographic's Field Guide to Birds of North America and the Peterson's Guide to Warblers. He is currently a member of the California Bird Records Committee(CBRC). The CBRC members are considered our California birding gods. Here's a picture of Jon partially hidden behind another birder.

Weather and ocean conditions were good. The talk was of finding some rare warm water pelagic birds. There were plenty of birds flying out over the ocean for most of the day. At around 0830 hours and 5.4 miles out I heard Jon Dunn say, “get some pictures of this bird!!!” I spotted the bird but I was on the wrong side of the boat. Lucky for me it came by us again a little later and I was able to get a not so great series of pictures. Only the CBRC has seen this picture because it's so bad but it does show all the necessary points to identify a CORY'S SHEARWATER.

If accepted by the CBRC it will be only the third record for California. The CBRC's website says this about Cory's Shearwater.

Members of borealis breed on islands of the northeastern Atlantic Ocean, are common between May and October off the Atlantic coast of North America (less commonly in the Gulf of Mexico and rarely in the Caribbean Sea), and winter off South America’s Atlantic coast, with substantial numbers reaching the southwestern Indian Ocean (Marchant and Higgins 1990).

Cory’s Shearwater normally occurs over warm water, suggesting that the species may occasionally stray into the Pacific Ocean by way of the Indian Ocean. Another plausible mechanism would involve a bird in the Caribbean Sea or southwestern Gulf of Mexico (both areas where the species is exceptionally rare) being blown across either Panama or the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

In other words it's hard for this bird to be found off the coast of California. It was a life bird for many people on the boat including me.

I did a little better with a Flesh-footed Shearwater. This bird nests in New Zealand and are fairly rare off our coast.

Nailed the South Polar Skua. We saw many of these which is not normal or we saw the same one over and over again.

Also got my first picture of an Arctic Tern.

While not good, this picture of an Ashy Storm-Petrel is the best I've gotten so far and it shows off it's strange shape and small size.

A brief mention about the carbon expenditure of a pelagic trip. The Telstar website says this about the boat.

The Telstar has recently gone through an engine upgrade. She is now powered by a fully electronic Cummins diesel engine. Making her carbon footprint considerably smaller.

The real carbon expenditure is the number of birders and how far they came to bird. Jon Dunn lives in Bishop, CA which is 468 miles from Fort Bragg, one way. Rob Fowler lives about 141 miles away. There were several birders from Lake County which would be about 100 miles away. Several birders came from Ukiah and Hopland. That's in the neighborhood of 60 to 70 miles away. There were very few local birders on the boat. The carbon footprint of a pelagic birding trip is not small. I just may be the only pelagic birder to admit that.

While birding at the Little River Airport early in the month of October I noticed a flock of Lesser Goldfinch fly into a tree. The fact that there was a flock of LEGOs at the airport was unusual since I had only seen individuals there. I took a few pictures and went on my way. When I got home I checked the pictures and there was a Lawrence's Goldfinch in the flock. LAGOs are rare in Mendocino County and especially so on the coast. It was the first one seen at the airport. LAGOs are a strange bird. After nesting they move east and west instead of north and south. They never nest in usual locations so it's hard to determine their population numbers. This is a male with it's black face and very yellow breast.

The big news at Virgin Creek Beach has been the high numbers of Black-bellied Plovers and Dunlins. The BBPL numbers have been approaching 150 and the DUNLINS have been as high as 50+. This has been happening for the last three weeks and have upset the Ebird filters. Sanderlings have also been high. These have been amazing numbers for a small stretch of Mendocino Coast.

The beach has been covered by the most Jellyfish I've ever seen. Normally they are small but these were big ones. Had a hard time dodging them while birding.


There was a Palm Warbler during the last SOS Virgin Creek Beach survey. Though rare here, when there is a shortage of Fall vagrants, like this year, it seems that a Palm Warbler shows up.

After the survey I was coming back from Ward Ave. and I spotted some small geese land in a field. One of the Cackling Geese had a band on it's right leg and a blue neck collar with the numbers 695 on it.

That's it for now. I will leave you with this question. How do they do this?





Out to Sea

Since our regular pelagic trip for September was canceled because of bad weather I have been thinking about how to get out on open water to find some seabirds. A whale watch was my only answer. It’s possible that an albacore fishing trip would do the trick because they go out further and spill fishing guts into the ocean. That might attract a few birds. But I didn’t think of that in time.

Our Fort Bragg Christmas Bird Count got a boat out for the first time. They went out about 4-5 miles and put down a slick. They got Black-footed Albatross, Norther Fulmar, Cassin’s Auklet and Black-legged Kittiwakes. I’ve seen Cassin’s Auklet and Black-legged Kittiwakes close to land on previous pelagic trips so it was with some hope of adding some birds that I went out on the Trek II for a whale watch this last Thursday. 

The local Audubon used to use the Trek II for their pelagic trips but it developed some engine problems and was sidelined for a long time. They now use the Telstar piloted by Captain Randy.

Captain Randy and Captain Richard of Trek II are brothers and I was referred to the Trek II by Randy’s wife because they were out of town.

I was able to take the bus to the bus stop near Social Services and walk down to the harbor. Found a rare Winter Nashville Warbler during the walk. The day was warm and the ocean was calm. I was surprised to see about 18 people going out on the whale watch. I may have been the only local in the group as most were visiting during the holidays. Remember this was the day after Christmas. One of the passengers even had a half case of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Would it turn into a party boat?

We started seeing Gray Whales almost as soon as we got out of the harbor. Whales were many, birds were not. The Captain told everyone that the front of the boat was the best place to see them so I had the back of the boat to myself. I should have brought some popcorn for chumming (attracting gulls attract other birds). Next time! I was able to attract about five Western Gulls with remains of my Wheat Thins.

There were plenty of Common Murres.

Had a few Rhinoceros Auklets, loons, and cormorants but no Cassin’s Auklets. Did I say that the Gray Whales were many?

I have to conclude that this whale watch didn’t go out far enough for most of the birds I was expecting but it was worth the $35.00 just for the whales. Did I find any new year birds? Five Ancient Murrelets did fly by.

So I made it to 250 year birds with over 2906 carbon producing truck miles saved. We got into port later than I was expecting. I realized that I couldn’t walk the uphill distance to the bus stop before the bus was due. I asked if anyone could give me a lift. The guy with the beer said he could. He and his wife were from Berkley, Ca. visiting Mendocino with relatives. Hurrah for Berkley people! Made the bus stop with time to spare.


I writing this post during the time that I should be out on the Pacific Ocean on a pelagic trip. Rain and rough seas cancelled the trip.  I was expecting to add several new birds to my year list. To make the trip more green for me I had arranged to ride to Fort Bragg with Ron LeValley, one of the leaders for the boat trip. It just so happens that Jon Dunn, one of the other leaders was staying at Ron’s house and was in the car when I was picked up. For the birders reading this, yes it was that Jon Dunn, the editor of the National Geographic–“Field Guide to the Birds of North America” now in it’s 6th edition.

After the trip was cancelled we rode around doing some birding. He was really willing to share his knowledge of birds as was Ron. I was hoping some of it would rub off on me.

Without the birds I was expecting to find out on the ocean it will be hard to get over the 240 bird species I had thought I would get doing this experimental “green” year. 

With the Curlew Sandpiper I’m at 232 with over 2175 truck miles saved and with 3/4 of the year over.

Update: I just added a bird and some miles just by checking my records. I forgot about the MacGillivray’s Warbler I found at Hare Creek on the new Mendocino Land Trust Trail. That trip was a combined Hare Creek and Shrunk Rail Tracks trip. New totals are 233 birds with over 2196 truck miles saved. I’ll get to 240 anyway I can.