Point Loma Pelagic Journey of the Mind

This weekend, we realized our pelagic dreams aboard the Grande…

Leaving from San Diego last Saturday morning, Anne and I joined Devin, Erica, and PJ for a 6-hour cruise out to 9-Mile Bank to look for birds and whales. The great thing about pelagics is that you can always count on something interesting to show up, just by virtue of being out at sea where many birds never venture too close to shore (check out this handy checklist). You can also be surprised by some of the land birds that happen to fly overhead on their way somewhere (we had Audubon’s Warblers and Peregrine Falcons). Because I’m a novice pelagic birder, even common or boring birds are exciting. Luckily, even the regulars on our trip found some excitement on this trip!

First, a deep-sea fishing boat stopping at a bait station on the way out to sea. The aquatic enclosures happen to make decent floating platforms for the local lions.




I’ve seen thousands of Surf Scoters before, but I can’t remember seeing them this close before. Late-migrating Surf Scoters were still hanging around in the harbor and looking incredible!




This Parasitic Jaeger, Stercocarius parasiticus, gave a near fly-by as we left San Diego harbor and allowed for nice views.








Each spring, many thousands of loons migrate north along the Pacific coast. Our encounters were mainly with Pacific, but we also saw many Common and a few Red-throated (Gavia pacifica, Gavia immer, Gavia stellata).




A major highlight of the trip for me, this pair of Scripp’s Murrelets, Synthliboramphus scrippsi, with chick, gave incredible views as they swam around the boat.




Another really great bird, the Brown Booby, Sula leucogaster, breeds nearby in Mexico but is uncommon on this side of the border. This individual flew circles around the boat and nearly landed mere feet away from me at the bow. Close views of any bird are cool, and this individual with a five-foot wingspan was especially exciting!
















Sooty Shearwater flying by.




A large flock of unidentified shorebirds migrating out at sea (maybe dowitchers?)




Another shearwater, this time Black-vented, flying past a Western Gull.





This Northern Fulmar, Fulmarus glacialis, is a bird I’ve seen once off New Hampshire, but with a completely different color morph (dark v light) and much darker than any of the Atlantic birds should get. This bird came in to check out our chum and stayed behind the boat for quite a while. I was actually asleep when the bird first joined our boat and when I finally woke up I saw it and exclaimed loudly “FULMAR!” while gesticulating wildly. Everybody around me looked away, as if they were too cool to get excited. That’s when Anne told me that people had watched and photographed this guy for almost an hour. And nobody woke me?




Admiration and respect on the faces of my fellow birders.











I told an Australian birder that, although fulmars and boobies were pretty cool, for my money Western Gulls are hard to beat. He didn’t think I was serious, but look at these birds!





















As we returned to San Diego harbor, Brown Pelicans flew by the gray and shitty skyline…








the last Black Brants prepared to fly north…




and another Brown Booby joined the Brandt’s and Double-crested Cormorants on the rock jetty.
















I call this photo “Sun Diego.”





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