Sunday, March 08, 2015

Pelagic Birding

Western Gulls after Popcorn
Today we learned an entirely new way to go birding. Any water in a sea or lake that is neither close to the bottom nor near the shore can be said to be in the pelagic zone. The word "pelagic" is derived from Greek πέλαγος (pélagos), meaning "open sea". So we climbed on a boat (wearing the scop patch applied behind my ear last night, just in case), and headed out the Mission Bay Harbor. We tossed popcorn off the stern as "chum" instead of fish parts. A choice much appreciated by all - after all, gulls eat anything and were quite happy with popcorn.
Brown Pelican over Kelp Bed
 I always have trouble finding little birds in the leafy forest. But at least you can point to a tree, and the warblers are colorful. First, you must remember that the sea is very, VERY large.
Brown Pelican over glassy sea
And there are no landmarks on the ocean, once you get away from shore. The western Brown Pelicans have a bright red area under their bills, which I have not seen with any of the eastern Pelicans.
Cassin's Auklet
And everything moves - the boat moves forward, and up and down, while the birds fly towards you or away from you, or up and down on the water itself. Yikes! The room is still swaying even though we've been back on land for almost 5 hours!
Large Western Gull, Small Immature Ring-billed Gull
The only reliable birds to be seen are the various gulls, who fly right into your face while going for the popcorn chum.
Black-vented Shearwater
 After a while, I could walk a little better, and saw by eye alone more of the brown Shearwaters flying low and fast above the waves. However, I still had little luck finding them in binoculars or the camera lens.
Heerman's Gull
Of course, this gives you a wonderful opportunity to distinguish the gulls, both adults and immatures.
Brown Booby and Pelagic Cormorant
Brown Booby
I liked the Brown Boobys that remind me of their cousins the Blue Booby we saw in the Galapagos Islands.
Brandt's and Double-crested Cormorants

Double-crested Cormorant with white "crests"
We found several varieties of Cormorant. Double-crested Cormorants come to Kentucky all the time, but I've never seen their breeding plumes, the "double crests."
Sea Lions Sunning on Buoy

Sea Lions Sunning on Dock
Dolphins off the bow
We watched for the marine mammals with some interest. Pods of dolphins surfed our bow waves, while sea lions just lounged anywhere they could find. Several whales (grays and a minke) lazed up the coast after spending the winter near Mexico. It was almost impossible to get photos of the whales since they spouted then went back under again. 8 more life birds today, totaling 21 for the week so far. Well, it's one more day, going off to look for raptors - my favorites!

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