This is the Buena Vista Audubon and Grande trip report for Sunday, August 19, 2018.
Fifty-eight passengers and six leaders meet in front of H & M Landing this morning among the crazy busy hubbub of a sportfishing landing in August. We gathered everyone off to one side to clear the way for unloading tuna, fishing tackle, and the like. Paul Lehman gave a boat orientation then we walked down the dock to board the Grande. We depart quickly, got Captain James’ safety talk, and headed out of the boat basin.
Oddly while searching the yacht mast for our somewhat regular Peregrine Falcon, which was not seen, a White–winged Dove was found. Certainly an unusual sighting among the terns, gulls, cormorants, and the like normally found here.
We worked our way down the channel and out to Ballast Point, which was nearly devoid of bird life today. Plenty of Elegant, Caspian, and one each Royal and Forster’s Terns were seen on the way out.
I like to make a quick observation here that each trip seems to have its own unique character. This trip had two completely different characters. All onboard will understand what I mean here. I hope you will to by the end of this narrative.
Offshore we found seas very manageable, though the “roughest” portion of the ride is always just beyond the harbor mouth, were the shallows, the currents, and the winds cross and combine to mix and build the seas to their steepest and shortest interval. Nothing too serious, just the normal process of getting ones “sea legs” as the first few birds are being called out. Once clear of that area life improves immensely. We found mobs of terns working the area, but as we were determined to put some miles under our hull, we pushed on for more distant waters to the west.
The early stretch really had few sightings – a Black-vented Shearwater or two, an OK but somewhat distant look at a Brown Booby, a quick flyby Black Tern, which escaped as we worked out issues with radios and communication to the wheelhouse. Also seen were a number of phalaropes, both Red and Red-necked, then a scattering of Black Storm-Petrels. Frustratingly distant, though we had better looks once well offshore.
Bird life on the outer edge of the Nine-Mile Bank picked up slightly, A Sabine’s Gull and distant jaeger, better looks at Black-vented Shearwaters, and even a few Pink-footed Shearwaters for comparison. Two Ashy Storm-Petrels were mixed in with the Black Storm-Petrels, and we got looks at two more Brown Boobies. Out here we had a few Common Dolphin and a rather large Hammerhead Shark. We also got good looks at a fast moving Blue Whale that passed by our bow. That species of whale always adds to a day’s excitement. Westward for more Storm-Petrels – Black, Ashy, and now a couple of Leach’s – more Red and Red necked Phalaropes, decent looks at a pair of Craveri’s Murrelets; a life bird for some, year bird for many. Always a good find and today not under the best search and viewing conditions.
Once we hit the Thirty-Mile Bank we picked up more Stormies. Blacks were most numerous as always, but we also had a surprising number of Leach’s Storm-Petrels. Leach’s Storm-Petrels are quite common further offshore and out over much deeper waters, but they are not as often seen on our trips out to the Thirty-Mile Bank . We got looks at two more Craveri’s and missed another pair of murrelets as they flushed – like this species often does.
Now to this point in the day, noon, I have to say the trip was just OK. Nothing spectacular. We were looking for the expected storm-petrel rafts we’d scouted out two days earlier. They should be in this area, then the cry went out ALBATROSS. A Black-footed Albatross sailed by. Now this guy is a crowd pleaser but not exactly a show stopping rarity. We had one on the June trip, and although more likely seen in spring than in fall here, they can certainly be expected any day of the year further offshore. Our sighting of that Albatross was like a light switch that was suddenly turned on – CLICK! In short order we had a Long-tailed Jaeger, Craveri’s Murrelets (for the best looks of the day), Sabine’s Gull, South Polar Skua, two Pomarine Jaegers, one of the day ‘s two Sooty Shearwaters, but best of all, a Red-footed Booby! That bird was a first for any of our pelagic trips over almost 20 years. Though this species was seen on the scouting trip two days prior (that one was my personal San Diego County bird), this was clearly a different, much paler bird. Wow! Unexpected, but we now we had two booby species for the day, and the switch was still on! Next up was an immature Masked Booby! Again, we had this species on our scouting trip a few days earlier, but again this was a different bird! Now we had three booby species on the day! What an improvement.
Unfortunately, we did have one species elude us out on the water: Least Storm-Petrel. However, photos of one of the several groups of Black Storm-Petrels we saw included a Least Storm-Petrel that was not noticed at the time. It was only identified later from photographs when we were back on dry land. Least Storm-Petrel was one of the trip’s major target birds, and that lone photographed individual was likely the only one for the day. Though participants called several others out, most proved to be other species, or were not definitively identified.
So the trip had had gone from an OK trip to a stunning trip in the space of just an hour or two. But we weren’t done yet. Back on the Nine-Mile Bank, a sharp-eyed leader picked out an albatross back in the sun. At least 10 miles from the nearest place it should be, we had a Laysan Albatross! This is a species where San Diego records can be counted on one hand. This bird was banded and the number could be seen in photographs. It is likely from Guadalupe Island off western Mexico. We have submitted the band number to the bird banding lab and should have details soon. Now the trip had entered into the record books, and we still weren’t done just yet. The seabirding gods must have been smiling on us. The Fishing boat Liberty called us and sent Captain James a photo of a booby that had ridden the boat for the last 24 hours – ANOTHER Red-footed Booby! We headed off to intercept them as they entered San Diego harbor, and we ended up with great looks at yet another booby on the day. Six different boobies of three different species and two species of albatross. Amazing!
We also picked up two Parasitic Jaegers on the way in for a jaeger grand slam on the day. What a day, and what an amazing change in a single day!
Bird species seen in San Diego Bay
Great Blue Heron
Bird species at sea
South Polar Skua
California Sea Lion
California Flying Fish
Mola mola (Ocean Sunfish)
San Diego Pelagics
Buena Vista Audubon