Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Five Mile Challenge


Like Jesus once did, Flycatcher Jen's blog has arisen from the dead to make the world a better, more Christian place. Well maybe that isn't entirely true, but I Used To Hate Birds is back, and it makes me feel a lot better about things. I was reading one of her new posts the other day and she mentioned an idea that struck a chord with me...she is starting to track birds she has seen within a 5 mile radius of her house in PDX. Her 5 mile list is quite impressive, definitely larger than mine, and features a number of Vague Runts. My 5 mile list, if I were to try to put it together, is not something I would relish in comparison. I just moved to my new place a few months ago, and my old patch (Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland) is not even in my new circle...what horeseshit. I don't even have any hotspots I check regularly in my new 5 miler.  Good places like Ferry Point, Lake Merritt and Arrowhead Marsh are just out of reach...but I do have the Emeryville Marina, the Albany Bulb, and Tilden Park...it could be much, much worse.

But I digress. I am not about to start a 5 mile list...but how about doing a 5 mile Big Day? It's pretty much a lazy Big Day, which sounds extremely appealing. I'm down to bird more locally (I may not have a choice soon!) and it would be cool to actually check out a couple new spots. So, coming this January, Flycatcher Jen, This Machine Nate (in Austin) and myself will challenge one another to see who can bag the highest number of species within 5 miles of where they live in 24 hours. Simple. We are aiming to all do it the same day in order to make it more suspenseful, but rescheduling is allowed if someone is totally rained out.

What does the winner get? Bird books. I need more bird books, and if I win, each loser will buy me one. This is nerdy as fuck, yes, but at what point have I claimed I wasn't a nerd?  The brand new Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Northern Central America would be an awesome pickup, and something like this would be cool too. Basically, FJ and Nate losing will directly result in me gaining more knowledge and sacred bragging rights, and that's just too good to pass up. Bring it on goddammit!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Decemberance


2010. After ditching a camera for a great many years, by December of 2010 I was back into photography again and always birded with a camera on hand. At the time, that put me in the minority of birders...the boom in bird photography since then wasn't something I expected. This male Allen's Hummingbird had taken up residence in the backyard of where I grew up, in Ventura, CA, and is still the best place I know of see Allen's at point-blank crushing range.

December...we're almost there. The year is almost over, and it's been a doozy. It all started being sick to death in Oakland and doing no partying whatsoever on New Year's Eve for the second year in a row (SHAME), dragging my sick ass to Lake Merritt on January 1 to get some year birds, then heading down to Mexico for a fucking ace birding trip that will go down in the history books. Now, on the other end of the year, I live in a different city, preparing myself to become a father next month...holy shit! Is this really happening? This was not another boring year, by any stretch of the imagination.

Before I grab fatherhood by the balls though, I have one last trip to get out of my system...tonight I will be on my way to a DADCHELOR PARTY birding trip to the one part of the country where I could get the most lifers, which just happens to be in...Puerto Rico! I've never been to any of the Caribbean islands before, so this is a whole new part of the world for me.

So nerds, unfortunately I will be busy birding so won't be posting for a couple weeks. To tide you over, I thought I would revisit some birds from previous Decembers that may have not gotten the attention they deserve recently. I will be back soon with many reviews of all the Puerto Rican strip clubs and quality of cocai...oops hahahaha by that I mean a crop of crushed lifers. Thanks Billy for letting me loose to look at a shitload of birds one more time before (human) nesting season arrives!


2011. By this time I had finally settled on a lens I was happy with (the underperforming Sigma I had purchased recently was stolen by a Mexican cartel, which turned out to be kind of a favor because I went out and got a better lens). Shooting birds like American Pipits was hella more fun than it used to be. Sacramento NWR, CA. 


2012. By now I had quite a few ABA Area and Mexican birds under my belt so it was time to go to that special place where all birders must visit eventually, Costa Rica. This Gray-capped Flycatcher was one of many ridiculous lifers we got at Hotel Gavilan (near La Selva), where we stayed a few nights. I definitely recommend staying there...there is geri birding, after all.


Sarapiqui Eco-Observatory (not sure if the name has changed since then) has an awesome setup for geri birding and overall good birding on the property...I'm sure we would have seen more if it hadn't been raining almost the entire time. The $20 birding/crushing fee did seem ultimately worth it. This Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer was a clutch bird to see up close.


La Selva and birding with Haynor was fucking great. This low-flying King Vulture, a bird I'd always drooled over, was an immense lifer. I definitely want to go back and rebird the shit out of that place.


La Cinchona has some of the best geri birding I've ever experienced. Prong-billed Barbets await.


2013. I went back up to Humboldt County to see the Little Bunting (great success, very nice). Will Humboldt or Del Norte be home to another MEGUH this winter? Highly likely. But if that doesn't happen, just remember Bonaparte's Gulls are fucking cool. Photographed at Arcata Marsh.


2014. California is blessed with a pleasant number of Eurasian Wigeon during the winter months, and every now and then they turn up someplace where they are practically fearless. This drake was getting all pastoral at a small park in Thousand Oaks.


That winter Don Mastwell and I had a sector for the Salton Sea (south end) CBC. We totally failed in taking care of our main responsibility (getting Least Bittern), but at least there were hella Yuma Ridgway's Rails. Fortunately we bagged a Horned Grebe, the only one of the count.


Considering the ridiculous number of rarities that had been seen in the area over past winters, the Salton Sea vague runt situation at the time of the CBC was pretty dull. A Varied Thrush was a great county bird though, and as usual there were Vermilion Flycatchers around. Vermilion Flycatchers are synonymous with good birding if you ask me, and I am the Global Birder Ranking System's #7 U.S. birder, in case you didn't know...so take that to heart.


LeConte's Sparrow is a deeply underappreciated bird. This skulker is intricately patterned and make my eyes bulge painfully and my tongue engorge whenever I see one. Talk about an eye-feast. This easygoing bird wintered at Abbott's Lagoon in Marin County and didn't put much effort into staying hidden, thankfully.


California is arguably the best place in the world for sapsuckery; I haven't done it myself, but there are birders who have achieved the vaunted SAPSUCKER SLAM, getting all four species in the same day....the mind reels. This is the weirdest sapsucker I have ever seen, a reported Red-naped near Inverness Park in Marin County that ostensibly doesn't have any blatant hybrid traits (Red-breasted X Red-naped are regular in the state) but it bizarrely lacks any white behind the eye and has an unusually dark breast. Hypermelanistic?


2015. I pulled into Fields Landing, Humboldt County, during a rainstorm to find a flock of Red Knots feeding in a puddle next to the parking lot. The knots must have been starving because I parked next to them and crushed them with reckless abandon and total disregard to all the knot souls I was stealing. It was brilliant. 

Thanks for jumping into the BB&B time machine today! If all goes well, soon there will be posts littered with Antillean Crested Hummingbirds and Red-legged Thrushes.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Shit and The Sand-Plover


What's that sound? Can you hear it? Maybe not, but I can smell it...the shitwinds are blowing, and you can bet that this is just the calm before the shitphoon that is about blow ashore...

We at BB&B are not the type of people to be optimistic about the next four (or eight) shitty years, not in the slightest. We are not the type of people to ask our brothers and sisters to reach out across the aisles of shit, to attempt handshakes that will just cover your hands in shit. We are far too realistic. For birds, the environment, and yes people too, the waves of shit are now towering above our heads, and when they break there will be nowhere to run. Drowning in shit is a frightening and very real possibility. The last Republican administration was a hellish thing to experience (on environmental and a great many other fronts), but remember this...even George W. Bush admitted that climate change was real, and who knows how things would have played out if his wife wasn't a birdwatcher! It's no coincidence that Papahānaumokuākea National Monument was created after Laura Bush visited Midway Atoll.

That said, I'm already sick of the blame game, the soapboxes, the half truths, the clickbait...especially the clickbait. We may be hanging our heads, but we are not the type of people to beat a dead shithorse. We will not drag this out any more today, just as we seem to be shaking off the great national hangover. But make no mistake...the shitreaper is coming, and we should all be very, very afraid. - Felonious Jive

Fall is winding down now...many of the summer's birds are already making themselves cozy on their wintering grounds, and we await for the winter's crop of waterfowl/raptors/gulls/rarities (???) to pile in. But the bay area's October bore one last juicy piece of fruit for me...LESSER SAND-PLOVER. After Matt Lau (birding hero) found and babysat the bird for several days, a small nerdsquadron was dispatched to make contact with the wayward Russian. Though a great many struggling birders had complained about the long, sandy walk out to the bird, we made a effortless beeline straight from the RCA Patch, complete with the blessing of the National Park Service as we were caught jumping the gate. Navigating our way through the dunes, we quickly found Matt Lau and a contingent of nerds, who were already on the bird.


I hadn't seen a Lesser Sand-Plover in a long time...a long time. Over 20 years in fact (thanks Don!). Now that I think about it, there is no other bird species I've seen before that I'd gone so long without seeing again. The plover did very plovery things, actively feeding almost the whole time we were there, which we appreciated considering that it does register pretty high on the drab scale.


Other birders really crushed the shit out of the bird on previous days, but we were in a foggy soup the whole time and wanted to avoid pushing around the Snowy Plovers it was with, so I'm happy with the mediocre images I got. Typically, one clueless birder coming towards us walked straight through the Snowy Plover flock without pause while we were waving our hands and shouting "no!" at him...ugh. Unbelievable. Not that a disturbance like that is the end of the world, but it's poor form to say the least.


Not that you can tell from these photos, but the thing that really struck me about this bird was how big it was...it was much, much bigger than its Snowy Plover buddies, and really stood out. It was also not particularly cute, which is unusual for smaller plover species. The bird I saw previously seemed very small at the time (but it was completely alone) and was also as cute as goddamn button, but it was an obvious juvenile. I'm not sure what the consensus is on the age of this bird. At any rate, I'd been hoping to reconnect with this species for a great many years, and was stoked to do it in a county I love birding in. Thanks again Matt!


There was also a pair of Red Phalaropes feeding on the open beach, which is super weird. There have been hordes of them inshore this year though, so it wasn't totally shocking.


While this has been a great fall for birding, it has not been so for photography, for some reason. Here are some American White Pelicans that helped buck the trend at Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge.


White pelicans rank very high on the majestic scale, and I'm happy to have them around.


Not all monarchs migrate to Mexico; California has many important wintering sites as well. As with many birds, both the western and eastern monarch populations have experienced precipitous declines in the last 20 years. That's some shit. Photographed at Point Reyes, CA.


My last trip out to Point Reyes with Don Francisco was solid (hello golden-plovers, 112 species on the day) but did not produce anything interesting in the vague runt traps. The resident Great Horned Owls at Mendoza that roost above the cattle guard could give a fuck, but then again they don't seem to give a fuck about anything except sleeping.


I went out to Marin again last weekend to check out the new tidal marsh at Hamilton Field for the first time...damn, that place is good! Much vague runt potential there, and an impressive example of what restoration can do around these parts (it used to be an airfield). I stopped at the Las Gallinas Ponds on the way back, and had nothing unusual save for a brown blackbird with a yellow eye that I could not will into being a Rusty. This immature Red-tailed Hawk let me walk right under it though, so I gave it a quick crush.


Gadwalls...what would we do without Gadwalls? It is a necessary duck. Mark my words...the day Gadwalls go extinct will be the day human beings go extinct.


The bay area offers a great many opportunities to observe and photograph waterfowl at close range, but Cinnamon Teal are not particularly confiding, especially now that the Radio Road ponds are going to be out of commission. This hen didn't seem to know that though. She had a very drab, almost featureless facial pattern typical of the species.

That's all the time we have today. The Great Ornithologist Felonious Jive would like to thank the phenomenal Trailer Park Boys for his inspiration today. Until the next post, I highly recommend you hang up your keyboard commando boots and go birding...

Or drinking. That helps too.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Outer Point Migrage


By the second weekend of October, the fall of 2016 had already been a good one...year birds in the right year, county birds in the right counties, acceptable numbers of migrants around, a state nemesis had been vanquished (Northern Gannet), I found a solid Siberian vague runt at my patch (Bar-tailed Godwit), and had a Sibe *MEGA* give good looks (Dusky Warbler)...if I had to quit birding right then for the rest of 2016 it would have been a pretty good year...but why the fuck would I do that? So I tried to bird someplace else besides SF or Point Reyes, but all I had to show for it...literally...was this Ridgway's Rail at Arrowhead Marsh. I'll take it.


The day after was forecast for decent weather, so I predictably went back out to the Outer Point...it's hard not to be there in October. As I rode a bristling caffeine high past Drake's Estero, a wall of fog appeared just west of the RCA patch, so I turned around to bird RCA in hopes that the fog would lift in the meantime. Hermit Warbler and Lark Sparrow were nice birds, and a couple ultra-confiding Hutton's Vireos dropped down to forage beside me.


This young male Anna's Hummingbird was holding down a flowering shrub next to my car, so I gave it a quick but punishing crush.


A couple miles down the road I got stuck in a birder traffic jam, but that worked out well because I may have just blown by the flock of 20 Greater White-fronts that were grazing next to the road. It's a nice bird to run into on the coast, as most of the big migrant flocks are just flyovers and don't put down too often.


Much of birding the Outer Point, probably 40%, consists of looking at White-crowned Sparrows and hoping that they are not White-crowned Sparrows. This was just a White-crowned Sparrow, so I crushed it and tried to move on with my life. Crush, move on, crush, get on with it...such is the rhythm of birding some days.


I walked over to one of my favorite micro-spots, where I am guaranteed to see nothing but White-crowned Sparrows, but for once there was something I didn't expect at the Zonotrichia stronghold. Here is a Western Bluebird-Tropical Kingbird combo for Caroline, Frank, and Jen. Dan, this would be for you too, but I know how much you hate combos.


Ah, a nice refreshing Mexican rarity. This was a good sign, but there turned out to be little else at the lighthouse (a few getting-late Violet-green Swallows) and Fish Docks was dead.

Using some of the Global Birder Ranking System's data collection tools (I have access to those, being #7 in the U.S.), it is obvious that there has been a statistically significant uptick in the last couple years of West Coast birders thinking they might have a Couch's Kingbird, not a Tropical. While Constant Vigilance is always good, birders should not let themselves get too worked up...Tropical Kingbirds are an expected fall migrant, albeit not a common one. There is no reason to suspect Couch's unless the bird really sounds or looks like one.


Fun with Tropical Kingbird cropping.


The Fish Docks are haunted by the ghosts of many Vague Runts that have dropped in over the years seeking food and shelter. On this day, migrants were few and rarities only lurked through the cypresses in spirit. A Say's Phoebe ominously watched over the birders making the rounds.


My traditionally horrible luck at Nunes was reversed when some other birders got me on this Black-and-white Warbler. Though Black-and-whites are a low-level rarity in much of the state, on Point Reyes they are seen much less frequently than other "eastern" warblers like Blackpoll, Chestnut-sided, Palm, etc. Considering this was a county bird and a far better looking bird than most other fall migrants, I had a nice mellow birdbuzz going after spending time with this bird.


The real avian highlight of the day though was the Tree Swallows. Yep, I'm going with Tree Swallow as Bird of The Day over Tropical Kingbird and Black-and-white Warbler. By early afternoon there were Tree Swallows pretty much everywhere you looked - while this is normal for some places in the east during fall migration, this is not the case in the bay area...it can be rather difficult to actually get to see a bunch of passerines migrating. Migration (landbirds) is just so much less visible here than on the eastern half of the continent, it's difficult to detect birds coming and going, especially large concentrations of them. I walked around in the middle of a huge feeding flock of swallows at Spaletta Plateau, it was a lot of fun.

One of the reasons I had even been out on the point on this day (aside from the obviously great time of year) was because the winds had been forecast to shift during the morning to the south, and south winds takes rare birds out of the sky and put them on the ground. The Black-and-white Warbler may have dropped in for this very reason. The prevailing winds here are out of the northwest, but for the entire following week we had south winds, and the coast was getting absolutely pummeled with rarities. It was hard to withstand...I was stuck in an office gnawing my lower lip to bloody shreds while rare shit just seemed to be raining down everywhere. Luckily, those south winds also brought some rain at the end of the week, which prevented some of these vague runts from continuing their migrations and allowed me to see a Yellow-green Vireo and Black-throated Blue Warbler out at the Fish Docks the following Saturday. Shit conditions and no photos, but those were some damn good birds. Yellow-green Vireos are not even Bird Police birds in California anymore, but I hadn't seen one anywhere since 2010 so I was stoked. And who knows when I will see those two species in the same place again...talk about a good combo.

South winds...how I long for your gentle, overcast touch. Until next fall.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Human Birdwatcher Project Presents: How To Misidentify A Bird


This may be a Curve-billed Thrasher, but we know how you can make it into a Bendire's. The verdict is in...identifying a bird does not need to reflect reality!

For years, The Human Birdwatcher Project ("birders are people too!") has been providing information on how birders can better themselves and avoid making common identification errors. We believe that this has left an impact...but it's not enough. Birds are still getting misidentified by the truckload. Maybe we've been going about it all wrong? Maybe some birders actually do not want to identify birds, they want to misidentify birds. So in the interest of serving the birding community and giving the people what they really want, we will supply you with a truly comprehensive list...that's right, the best misidentification practices to ensure that your identification skills will stay permanently stunted! Follow these tips and just watch yourself turn into an ace misidentifier of birds. Are you on eBird? Following these tips can get you banned! Are you a biologist who studies birds for a living? Kiss that job goodbye! Are you a beloved leader of local Audubon trips? Not anymore! Your once happy and fulfilling birding social life, filled with camaraderie and travelling adventures, will erode into a lonesome weekly dirge of going to the same mediocre places over and over again...misidentifying the same birds you see all the time as different rarities that you've never actually seen anywhere! After putting this list into play, you too can be a Magician of Misidentification, a Stormtrooper of Stringing, a Sultan of Sketchiness.

How is this possible? Well, read on!

Don't use a field guide. Use the internet instead! The internet has never been wrong about anything. Field guides have a lot of good information all condensed in one place. If you have any, throw them on the fire if you want to assure that your misidentification skills are kept razor-sharp.

Don't use a field guide that has been published or updated in the last 15 years. You want to be blinded from taxonomic changes and improved field marks. Golden Guide for life!

Don't learn about bird parts. What the hell is a scapular? How does a duck have a nail in its bill? Who would do such a thing to a poor duck anyway? Field guides and birders alike use a lot of lingo and jargon to describe different parts of bird anatomy, feather tracts, and types of markings. Avoiding learning about what these things mean is a great way to keep yourself in the dark about how to pick up on field marks.


If you avoid looking at range maps, you can successfully transform this Spotted Sandpiper into a Common Sandpiper.

Don't think about range or abundance. Are you in New Hampshire? Did that white bunting you just saw look like a McKay's Bunting? If you avoid learning the range of that bird, you could successfully avoid finding out that you probably saw a Snow Bunting.

In any given place in the country, most bird species are quite rare. There might be a couple hundred that are not, but then there about 9,800 that are. Do not take a bird's local abundance, or lack thereof, into account when identifying birds. That was not a flock of 30 Savannah Sparrows you saw yesterday, they were all Henslow's...knowing that Henslow's are actually very rare in your area could compromise your misidentification.

Don't think about seasonality. One does not find longspurs in California in June. If you are in California in June and you think you are looking at a longspur, it is best to not know this.

Don't consider similar species. You might say, "This bird looks like a Thayer's Gull". To that I would say, leave it at that! Don't delve into all the other gulls it could be and have to examine those pesky fieldmarks.

Don't think about habitat. Unfortunately, many bird species are found only in specific habitats, so if you do have a field guide (which should be ashes in the fireplace by now), don't ever read this section for any species, as it could sadly be quite educational.

Don't observe behavior. Was the bird pumping its tail? Was it on the ground or high up in a tree? These things are better left unnoticed.

Don't think about exotic species and "domestics". If someone questions your Fork-tailed Flycatcher observation and asks if it could have been a Pin-tailed Whydah, you tell them "that is not a real bird". If you see a giant brown goose 5 times the size of a Mallard that is too fat to fly out of the barnyard pond it's in, mark Pink-footed Goose off your checklist and move on.


Carolina Wrens are loud, with a very distinct song. You may be tempted to learn it, but that would be a mistake. Protip: Blare music from your phone whenever you feel like there is too much birdsong around.

Don't listen to bird vocalizations. Vocalizatons are very hard for inexperienced birders to wrap their heads around; even the best birders can be at a complete loss when identifying birds by sound if they are dropped into another state or country for the first time. So why bother? Give in to your confusion, your fears and do not pay attention to any boring noises the bird utters. Waste of time.

Don't use eBird. There are countless good birders out there who don't use eBird. That said, eBird is a fantastic tool for learning about what birds occur in a particular area. If you are an inexperienced birder and want to continue to make identification blunders, by all means continue ignoring the existence of eBird.

One field mark is good enough to clinch an identification. Don't closely examine the entire bird, just hone in on one field mark. I cannot stress how important this one is if you want to be constantly misidentifying birds.

Find your routine and never break it. Go to the same places over and over again, birding new areas as little as possible. Do not bird outside your county. This will assure that you have minimal exposure to different birds that you could inadvertently learn about.

Bird alone. Do not learn from others by any means! Also, you can keep making mistakes and no one will ever try and correct you. Brilliant.

Be completely dependent on your camera. Looking at a bird through a cluttered viewfinder and a hopelessly lost autofocus is absolutely what you want. Only ID birds from photos, no matter how bad they are and no matter how inaccurate the colors on the bird appear. For all those birds you don't photograph, it's like they never existed...right?


This is a Yellow-footed Gull. In the United States, 99.9% of birders will never see one away from the Salton Sea. This is a bird that is not only common away from there, they are not expected any place else in the country, period. Could you be part of that 0.1% to see them someplace else? Absolutely.

Presume it is not a common bird. Yup, you just happened to find the fist ever Pine Bunting in your state at your feeder. What luck! You are so lucky! No way it could be anything else, just go with it.

Presume it is a hybrid. You can read all about that right here, and if you want to learn more, additional resources are available in this post. It is really trendy to misidentify birds as hybrids right now, so come jump on the bandwagon!

You are never wrong about any identifications you make. Duh!

Get butthurt. Attack eBird reviewers who question your observations with great indignation and vitriol. Wage war on your state Bird Police when they reject your records. Not only should you never be wrong, let your emotions escalate and get carried away whenever someone disagrees with an ID you make. I recommend it highly! It's the bitter frosting on the cake of ineptitude.

Of course, if you want to move beyond being atrocious at identifying birds correctly and truly become a horrendous birder overall (the complete package!), the Human Birdwatcher Project has lots more advice to dole out. But you'll have to read the upcoming book to learn more, which is due out...

Nah, no book teaser, we've been providing this service for free for years now. Why? Because we at HBP care about you....it's not about us, it's about you, the human birdwatchers. We care about the birders who like to identify birds, and the the birders who like to misidentify birds...ok we care more about identifying them correctly, but you should now be fully equipped to readily misidentify birds on a daily basis. Please share your findings with rare bird alerts, listservs, eBird and Facebook groups. People will be impressed with your superhuman abilities to find unusual birds, though someday you might have to face an intervention. If that happens...well come right back here, and we will set you straight.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Fall Pelagics: Blue Whales, Whalebows, Murre[let]s, The Burden


And just like that, the pelagic season has come and gone. I already covered my first two trips of the year, so I figure I can go ahead and wrap up the September and October trips I did out of Half Moon Bay.

The September trip was full of marine life...there was a lot going on offshore. Humpback Whales were present in large numbers, frequently giving great looks near the boat.


Lots and lots of Humpbacks. The sea was boiling with whales. The sea wasn't boiling whales though, climate change isn't that bad yet.


We had nice looks at Blue Whales as well. This is always a major bonus of any trip. I don't think a lot of participants know that this is something they can realistically see on trips here, so there is always an atmosphere of bewildered excitement when one of these surfaces near the boat.


It's always a great honor to get good looks at the largest animal to have ever existed. That's some heavy shit...literally.

The day was bright and sunny, and ultimately bad for photography; I have no crushes to offer you. More importantly, we had good numbers of skuas and jaegers, and hundreds of Sabine's Gulls, the most I had ever seen. The western U.S. has been plagued with them this fall, both offshore, along the coast and on interior lakes; there must have been a bumper crop of them this year.

The real drama came when a Hawaiian Petrel was called out...I was quite convinced (ok, totally convinced) I saw it at one point, but when I chimped my photos, all I could find was a goddamn Pink-footed Shearwater. Great confusion ensued...people were calling it out repeatedly...eventually (after the trip), we all realized that no one had gotten a photo of it and only a couple of the leaders really saw it in the first place. That said, when I was going through pictures for this post, the very first photo of the "petrel" I took shows a bird that...well, it looks like a Hawaiian Petrel, not a Pink-footed Shearwater, but it's so bloody poor that I don't think anything can be conclusively made of it. Did I actually see a Hawaiian Petrel, but it pulled the ol' fucking switcharoo with a shearwater? I do not, and cannot know. This is all very typical, as it would be a life bird and is one of the motivating factors for me to keep getting on boats. So close...so fucking close.


Unlike Hawaiian Petrels, which hate me, the local Northern Gannet loves me now and lets me look at it all the time. Here it is majestically surfing Mavericks.


On the first weekend of October, I led my last pelagic of the year. We were pleasantly surprised early on by the numbers of Black-vented Shearwaters (year bird!) we ran into. Black-vented Shearwaters are very unpredictable north of Monterey Bay, so we're always happy to get them on Half Moon Bay trips.


These little homely shearwaters mostly prefer to spend their lives in inshore waters, though some will venture out over the shelf edge.


Rhinoceros Auklets occasionally allow close approach by the boat, a refreshing change from how they normally react.


It's hard to take interesting scenery photos with no land in sight, but I think this uncropped photo has it all. The excitement of cruising up on a giant feeding frenzy of whales (complete with whalebows), sea lions and seabirds does not ever wane.


One of these murres is not like the other. In fact, one of these murres is not a murre.


2016 is, for me, the year that murres and murrelets come together. I have seen a great many murres and a lot of murrelets, but before this year I've never seen a murrelet of any kind seek the company of a murre. Earlier this fall I found a Marbled Murrelet hiding in the middle of a murre flock next to Sail Rock (famed gannet perch), and then there was this Scripps's Murrelet doing a good impression of a baby murre...what in the fuck is the world coming to?


It's not that unusual I suppose, but novel nonetheless. A pair of Scripps's Murrelets were the most unusual species on this day; they are a difficult bird to come by in October. This was actually the one and only "slow" day I've had offshore this fall...we had no storm-petrels, and for my third trip ever, no Black-footed Albatross. We were in weird, gross brownish water almost the whole time, so I suspect the bulk of the local seabird population were elsewhere.


Lots of Red Phalaropes offshore this fall, outnumbering Red-necked on some days. Most mellow.


Dall's Porpoise...such a good mammal, one of my favorites. This is another one of those species that is neither rare or expected on boat trips here, you just have to hope the boat will blunder into a pod. They do bowride, so you can get great looks, but they are agonizing to try and photograph because they are so fast. Most dolphins are slow and slothful in comparison. You would think that a mammal as big as a person would not be so difficult to crush 15 feet away, but such is life.


The Economy of Style has been absolutely rampant in this post, have you noticed? Black, gray, white, brown, plus a dash of color on the head of the gannet and the bill of the auklet...all part of pelagic birding. Well, no bird off our coast pulls off a limited palette better than a Buller's Shearwater...unfortunately this was another down year for them (locally, anyway) so we only saw a handful, and yet again I will go another year without Flesh-footed Shearwater...unexpected this is. And, unfortunate.

Unfortunate that I know the truth?

No! Unfortunate that you rushed to face him. That incomplete was your training. Not ready for the burden were you...

Sorry. Got a little carried away there. Sometimes dipping on Flesh-footed Shearwater feels like learning Darth Vader is your father.