This weekend, Anne, PJ, Erica and I went out on another Dana Point pelagic trip. Lots of great opportunities to study our shearwaters and I lucked out with a birthday lifer!
The trip started out with a lot of excitement – we were barely pulling out of the harbor and large numbers of Black-vented Shearwaters were already flying by! People yelling and pointing! Cameras clicking away! Binoculars to-and-fro! With all that excitement, and my being unaccustomed to shearwaters’ small size, I exclaimed “alcids at three o’clock!”
Everybody around me, including pelagic legend Jon Dunn, looked to starboard at the passing shearwaters and then looked quietly disappointed. Oops. I gave a sheepish smile to the birders around me and exclaimed that those shearwaters certainly did look small. I’d loudly jumped the gun and announced my amateur-status. In my shame I went to the back of the boat to quietly study the small-looking shearwaters.
As I scanned from the back of the boat, I immediately noticed something flying by like a lone pelican, but smaller. A booby?!?
Boobies are mid-sized coastal seabirds, mainly of the tropics and subtropics, who plunge-dive for fish. The Northern Gannet is in the same family and it’s most likely to show up in the US, but only on the East Coast. Brown Boobies are the most likely to show up on the Pacific, but any kind of booby would be exciting anywhere in the US. Not ready to publicly embarrass myself twice in as many minutes, I issued an aside “is that a booby?”
Trip leader Tom Benson, who was standing nearby, heard me and immediately began yelling as I’ve only heard on previous pelagics when a booby is sighted “BOOBY! BOOBY! BOOBY! BLUE-FOOTED BOOBY!”
I lifted my camera and triumphantly captured these two frames:
As you can see from the second shot, the bird flew directly away. Though many people ran to the back of the boat to see the booby, many of them only saw it disappear into the distance, including my wife who wished I had just announced the bird loud-and-clear in the first place. So there you have a lesson learned: if you’re going to be a lousy birder, embrace it and don’t be shy.
You can tell that’s a Blue-footed Booby, Sula nebouxii, because of the way it is. The BFBO is a very rare visitor to the US, though it lives and breeds in the Sea of Cortez. These birds rarely make the short leap over Yuma to the Salton Sea, and even more rarely show up on the California coast.
The Blue-footed Booby wasn’t the only cool thing we saw that day, shearwaters, jaegers, actual real alcids, and more below: