Monterey Pelagic Birding Trip

I took another pelagic birding trip in Monterey Bay, and had a FANTASTIC time! We saw some fabulous birds (although I only saw one new species, so I’m still a few short of 500), but what I enjoyed even more was the other wildlife. The short version: I saw 31 species of birds, including the much-coveted Xantus’ murrelet; 3 species of pinnipeds, 4 cetacean species (including breaching!!! humpback whales), a leatherback turtle (rare!), and some fish and jellyfish. Keep reading for the long version, with pictures.This trip was my birthday present from Kevin and Connor (a really cool present, by the way), and Kevin had booked a hotel for me, as well, so I drove most of the way to Monterey on Thursday, spending the night in Watsonville. I was up and out by 6.00 a.m. on Friday, for a 7.30 departure (not such an unholy hour, all things considered – we left much earlier last time I took a pelagic trip).We saw several birds at the docks, as well as sea lions and a couple of otters (CUTE!). There were tons of birds and sea lions on the breakwater, as well, and in this area we saw some of the birds that stay near the shore – pelicans, pigeon guillemots (pretty!), Heermann’s gulls, cormorants, and, funnily enough, a couple of great egrets standing on kelp out in the bay.The weather was perfect for birding (although not for photography) – a layer of high overcast which turned everything grey – much easier to spot birds against than the brilliant blue and sparkliness of the ocean under a sunny sky. Plus we didn’t have a lot of glare with which to contend, although it means my photos are kind of flat. (In addition to my own photos, I’m including some photos taken by another member of our boat trip, Don Doolittle). Once we got further out, we spotted some of the truly ocean-going birds – thousands and thousands of sooty shearwaters, pink-footed shearwaters in abundance, as well as some birds seen in smaller numbers. One of my favorites is the black-footed albatross – they’re SO huge, you can see them coming from a long distance away. We had several follow the boat during the day, and land near the boat, giving us some really great views.Black-footed Albatross:

My other favorites were the gorgeous Sabine’s gulls, the South Polar skua, which gave us a great show as it flew around the boat several times, at close range. I also loved seeing father/chick pairs of common murres (I always think of them as guillemots, which is what they’re called in Europe) – apparently at this time of the year, it’s the fathers that stay with the chicks, teaching them to survive on the ocean. So we saw several pairs of adult and juvenile birds. Really cool. I don’t have any other bird pictures, though, as my camera really isn’t suited for wildlife photography – I’d need lots more optical zoom for that. 😀My single lifebird for the day was Xantus’ Murrelet, a bird which is apparently highly sought-after in this area. It’s recently been placed on California’s protected species list, and there are people who go out on dozens of boat trips hoping to see one, and never do. So, this was a cool bird to find (and we saw three; a lone bird, and later a pair).My favorite parts of the day were watching the other wildlife we found. Yeah, the birds are cool, and I love them, but seeing the turtle and the cetaceans really made me feel HAPPY. The first ones of the day were Dall’s Porpoise, which I’d not seen before. They came and rode the bow of the boat for several minutes, which is just SO much fun! I was going to take pictures, but pulled out my camera to find I hadn’t put a flash card in. So, I stayed to watch them, figuring I’d worry about pictures of other things later. I didn’t have to wait long before some Pacific White-sided Dolphins came along – we saw several groups throughout the day, and more often than not, two or three of them would venture over and bowride for a few minutes. I think these were some of my happiest moments of the day. I lovelovelove watching these animals play with the boat, especially when I’m hanging over the bow about 8 feet above the dolphins – I could even see their blowholes open and close when they came up for air. COOL! Pacific White-sided Dolphins:
Leatherback Turtle. Photo credit: Don Doolittle
Leatherback Turtle. Photo credit: Don Doolittle
Possibly the rarest animal we saw today was a HUGE Leatherback Turtle. And I mean *huge* – I would estimate that its shell was about 5 feet in diameter (although it’s difficult to tell size out on the ocean). But it was big (although I was told they can get to be 9 feet long, so this wasn’t nearly as big as they come). Apparently, they swim over from Indonesia, and aren’t seen all that often. Oh man, it was COOL! We were able to watch it for several minutes, as it dove and surfaced near the boat. What a really fantastic sighting! My other happiest moments of the day were watching the Humpback whales. I have been whale watching before, and seen whales at much closer range – these were all fairly far out, and since this was a birding, not a whaling trip, we didn’t go out of our way to follow them – but I’ve never seen them breach before, which these ones were doing. O. M. G. Even at a distance, it was FANTASTIC! They were hurling themselves out of the water, and coming down with magnificent splashes. There were at least three whales breaching, and we watched them (and several others) swimming and diving, as well. SO COOL!As the whales are swimming, their backs come up out of the water, and then, when they dive, you actually get to see more – first the middle part of their back, then the rest comes out of the water a bit at a time, displaying ridges down the back, and then finally the tail flukes come up out of the water, and then slide back in . . . the first time we saw one of the whales do this, several of us less out a totally spontaneous “WHOOOOOOO!!!” – we literally couldn’t help ourselves. Fortunately, we got to see several dives throughout the day.

Another cool thing we saw, which the trip leaders said isn’t seen all that often, was a group of dolphins and birds feeding together. These are Pacific White-sided dolphins, and a flock of mostly Sooty shearwaters:

Pacific White-sided Dolphin
Pacific White-sided Dolphin
Monterey
Monterey

Me on the boat
Me on the boat
Oh, and for the heck of it, here’s me – not much the worse for wear in spite of being blown around all day by the wind, and a bit sunburned in spite of repeated applications of SPF 60:As we headed back to the dock, the fog burned off, making the conditions not at all favorable for watching birds . . . but it did turn the ocean a gorgeous shade of blue. And I was well-satisfied with what we’d already seen. I have no complaints whatsoever about my day on Monterey Bay! I took a couple of pictures of the coast while we were coming in – this is Monterey (with the Monterey Bay Aquarium in the center of the photo). Gorgeous.I decided while watching the whales and dolphins that I’m going to bring Connor on a whale watching trip. Soon. (Before he goes back to school at the end of this month). It was just TOO awesome to watch the whales breaching, and see the dolphins bowriding . . . I really want him to see this stuff. He will LOVE it! He’ll love seeing jellyfish, too. Well, actually, he’ll probably love just about anything we’d see out there. So, I’m planning another trip to Monterey in the next couple of weeks. A whale-watching trip won’t be such a long day, either. The tour I think we’ll take is only a 4 or 5 hour boat ride, which I’m sure he’ll be able to handle. (We were on the water nearly 9 hours yesterday, which is probably longer than I want to take Connor just now). So, I do believe that there are more cetaceans in my future! :DAnd, for the lister in me:(“Life” species are in bold)American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchosRock Dove Columba liviaBlack-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticoraxBarn Swallow Hirundo rusticaWestern Gull Larus occidentalisBrown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalisHeermann’s Gull Larus heermanniBrandt’s Cormorant Phalacrocorax penicillatusBlack Turnstone Arenaria melanocephalaGreat Egret Ardea albaPelagic Cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicusPigeon Guillemot Cepphus columbaCommon Murre Uria aalgeElegant Tern Sterna elegansPink-footed Shearwater Puffinus creatopusRed-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatusSooty Shearwater Puffinus griseusSabine’s Gull Xema sabiniBlack-footed Albatross Phoebastria nigripesPomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinusRhinoceros Auklet Cerorhinca monocerataCassin’s Auklet Ptychoramphus aleuticusBuller’s Shearwater Puffinus bulleriLong-tailed Jaeger Stercorarius longicaudusRed Phalarope Phalaropus fulicariusArctic Tern Sterna paradisaeaSouth Polar Skua Stercorarius maccormickiNorthern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialisXantus’ Murrelet Synthliboramphus hypoleucusCommon Tern Sterna hirundoSurfbird Aphriza virgataOther wildlife:California Sea LionSea OtterHarbor SealDall’s PorpoiseOcean SunfishRisso’s DolphinNorthern Fur SealPacific White-sided DolphinHumpback WhaleLeatherback Sea TurtleMoon jellyfish

Leave a Reply

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑