I took the Sea & Sage Audubon spring pelagic trip out of Dana Point on 03-MAY-14. It was a glorious eight hours of birding on a glassy calm Pacific Ocean with cool temperatures and almost no breeze. The trip started with us cruising past one of Orange County’s only nesting pairs of Black Oystercatchers on the breakwater. This young California Sea Lion pup loafing on the rocks was too adorable to ignore. Once out to sea, it was a little while before the pelicans, gulls and terns began congregating behind the boat for the popcorn being thrown to them. This trip was characterized by low numbers of a good variety of birds.
We had a good variety of terns, including Caspian, Elegant, Forster’s, Common, Least and Black Terns. These terns were caught in flight after lifting off a floating raft of kelp. The gulls were fairly mundane, including California, Western, Heermann’s, and Bonaparte’s, but the best of that lot was a group of eight Sabine’s Gulls encountered near Catalina Island, including three fully hooded adults. Now that’s a snazzy bird! We did well for true seabirds as well, with a single Black-vented Shearwater, three languidly flying Pink-footed Shearwaters and dozens of Sooty Shearwaters (photo), most of which were in such dramatic states of molt it was a wonder they could get airborne. There were also two distant Black Storm-Petrels seen in the afternoon. All three of the expected loon species (Common, Pacific and Red-throated) were seen multiple times. Alcids were represented by many Scripp’s Murrelets, a dozen or so Cassin’s Auklets, and one sub-adult Rhinoceros Auklet with a weird hooked extension to its culmen. Several groups of Scripp’s Murrelets (photo) included flightless young ones, though they still dive like pros! We kept running across large rafts of phalaropes, more than 90% of which were Red-necked Phalaropes like these shown here. There were isolated Red Phalaropes feeding on kelp rafts, and occasionally mixed in with the Red-necked. But the best show of the day wasn’t put on by birds – it was the marine mammals. In addition to the California Sea Lions, we also saw Stellar’s Sea Lions, Northern Elephant Seals, Bottle-nosed Dolphins and three different Minke Whales. The first pair of Minke Whales were quite friendly, circling the boat and obligingly surfacing repeatedly for photos. But on the way back to the harbor, we encountered one that got playful with us, dashing under the boat and then fully breaching right up close. Though lots of people missed the original jump, that Minke proceeded to breach 4 more times! What a glorious way to end a trip. All photos were taken with a Canon EOS Rebel T3 camera using a Canon 100-400 mm zoom lens.