Friday, August 11, 2017

Post #113 - Preparing for fall pelagic season! Come visit me in CA!

Sorry to be gone so long! I was in Southeastern Arizona all last week. I had a great time and will certainly post something about that trip once I have all my photos edited. So please stayed tuned. Following the blog will guarantee you never miss a thing (shameless self-promotion, I know)! OK, on with the show.....

Shorebird migration is now well underway here in the Bay Area, and soon other species will be following those migrational pioneers south. Included are pelagic species, species that are so highly oceanic they spend almost all of their non-nesting time far offshore. Albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters, storm-petrels, jaegers, skuas, alcids, and phalaropes all fall into that pelagic category, and one can reasonably expect to see a nice cross section of these birds on any fall pelagic trip from the Northcentral California Coast (Monterey, Half Moon Bay, and Bodega). September and October are prime time, and there are a number of boat/tour operators that can get you offshore to experience the spectacle of pelagic migration. These include Alvaro's Adventures, Monterey Seabirds, and Shearwater Journeys. All of these operators have years of offshore experience and can get you onto to birds and marine mammals that you want to see. I will be acting as a spotter on a number of these trips, so, if you'd like to join me at any point, please see my schedule at the end of the post.

Sooty Shearwater - Ardenna grisea
Canon 400mm f/5.6 on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/1600 at f/8, ISO 400

The New Captain Pete in Half Moon Bay
A fairly typical boat for Central/Northern CA pelagics.
The SoCal boats are much bigger for those that have been on those.

Water temperatures have dropped compared to the previous few years, and there is a ton of food for both fish and birds out there right now. Reports from early season trips (i.e. summer) have been very positive, so the fall is shaping up to be really good! For those thinking about planning a trip to California for pelagics, I will offer a number of suggestions. 

First, pelagic trips are very popular, and spots on the various boats are limited. Make your reservations as early as possible to guarantee yourself a spot! 

Second, think about booking a number of trips if you are coming from far away. One pelagic trip is highly unlikely to show you all the cool things the ocean has to offer. Taking multiple trips will let you maximize what you can see for the cost of the same plane ticket (if you don't already live here!)

Third, if you book multiple trips, you might think about spacing them out a bit. While waters in Central California are usually not terribly rough, don't under estimate the energy you'll use birding and balancing yourself over the course of 8 to 12 hours. There are a lot of trips, so you could come for 6 days and schedule trips on only even days or odd days to give yourself a break between them. Fall pelagics don't usually get weathered out, but spacing them out a bit also buys you insurance in case the wind kicks up for a day or two. 

Fourth, the volume of bird tends to be highest in September but generally more rare birds are seen later in the season, notably October. Do remember that people who have seen a lot of pelagic rarities have taken A LOT of pelagics over the years. Weird/cool stuff can show up anytime, so these are just general suggestions. 

Lastly, plan ahead to avoid seasickness. Everyone's threshold is different, but take what steps you think you need to prevent your day from being ruined by barfing. Ear patches work well but require a prescription (I think), so deal with that beforehand. Dramamine works fine and should be taken 45-60 minutes prior to getting on the boat. Wrist bands are a scam/joke and should be avoided completely. Getting a good night's sleep before the trip, eating small amounts throughout the day, and drinking plenty of water will all help prevent illness. 

The Big and Badass Black-footed Albatross - Phoebastria nigripes
Canon 400mm f/5.6 on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 800

A stocky Northern Fulmar  - Fulmaris glacialis (light phase)
Canon 400mm f/5.6 on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/3200 at f/7.1, ISO 400

A note about pelagic photography - it is REALLY HARD! Pelagic birds move really fast and the boat is usually bouncing around, so getting close, sharp images of these speedsters is a challenge. You will need a fast shutter, something certainly less than or equal to 1/1600 with 1/2500 or 1/3200 being preferable. That's not an issue when it sunny but gets much tougher in cloudy conditions. Teleconverters can help in those bright, high contrast conditions but will greatly hinder your efforts to get flight shots when it's cloudy. So, you'll have to adjust based on the day and the conditions. Remember, you can always crank up your ISO to keep your shutter fast and fix the noise on a sharp, in-focus shot later. If a shot is out-of-focus or isn't sharp, they're ain't a thing you can do after the fact!

Fork-tailed Storm-petrel - Oceanodroma furcata
Canon 500mm f/4 IS on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/2000 at f/4, ISO 1600

So, hopefully this gives you at least a bit of info should you be thinking about coming to California for some pelagic birding. Fall is also the best time for terrestrial birding in California, so it would be easy to fill in some land birding around your schedule boat trips. Please feel free to contact me with any questions that you have, and I will do my best to point you in the right direction. It would be great to see some of you out on the water this fall!

My pelagic schedule for this fall - Remember these a just a few of the many tips offered!
Sat, August 26            10hr Half Moon Bay      Alvaro's Adventures
Sun, September 10     10hr Half Moon Bay       Alvaro's Adventures
Sat, September 16       10hr Half Moon Bay      Alvaro's Adventures
Sun, September 17      8hr Monterey                  Monterey Seabirds
Mon, September 18     12hr Monterey               Monterey Seabirds
Mon, September 25     12hr Monterey               Monterey Seabirds
Tues, September 26     8hr Monterey                 Monterey Seabirds
Sun, October 1             8hr Monterey                 Monterey Seabirds
Mon, October 2           12hr Monterey                Monterey Seabirds
Sat, October 7             10hr Half Moon Bay      Alvaro's Adventures
Sat, October 14           10hr Half Moon Bay      Alvaro's Adventures
Sun, October 15           8hr Monterey                 Monterey Seabirds
Mon, October 16         12hr Monterey                Monterey Seabirds