Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Post #51 - Impromptu pelagic, will the ABA Big Year record fall this year?

As fate would have it, a last minute cancelation afforded me the last spot on the Sea and Sage Audubon Society winter pelagic trip out of Dana Point this past Saturday. As I hadn't been offshore in the last few months, and ever from Orange County, I figured the trip would be a nice day on the usually calm waters of Southern California. The day went precisely as I expected. We hit pockets of birds here and there, and we managed to run up a list of pelagic species that included Pomarine Jaeger, Northern Fulmar, Pink-footed Shearwater, Black-vented Shearwater, Cassin's Auklet, Common Murre, and Brown Booby (once rare, now expected on SoCal pelagics). All of these were Orange County birds for me, as were near shore species Brandt's Cormorant, Black Oystercatcher, Pacific Loon, and Black Turnstone. Most of the birds were distant or poorly lit, but I did, after many West Coast pelagics, finally get a few really good shots of Black-vented Shearwater!

Black-vented Shearwater - Puffinus opisthomelas
Canon 500mm f/4 IS on EOS 7D2
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 800

Black-vented Shearwater is a generally warm water shearwater that has recently become more common in California. As recurring El Nino events have moved warm water up the California Coast in the last few years, this species has correspondingly spread northward. Named for their black undertail, or vent, they are the smallest of the expected Pacific shearwaters. They are relatively compact and fly with stiff, fast wingbeats. They can be seen from shore and are generally a good bird for beginners to learn before they graduate to separating/identifying rarer Pacific species like Manx Shearwater. Anyway, it was nice to grab a few nice frames of these speedy little guys.

I will admit that I really love this county listing thing, particularly as Orange is so convenient to and small compared to other California counties. What Orange lacks in photographic opportunities, it certainly makes up for with bird diversity. Now-friend Jeff Bray found 329 ABA countable species in Orange County last year to equal the record OC Big Year effort made by also now-friend Tom Ford-Hutchinson in 2013. That's some serious, close to home birding for both of those OC residents!

Some ugly dude, Jeff Bray, OC resident Sharon Harrow 

Anyway, one of the things I love about pelagic trips is the social component. On any pelagic trip there are going to be birdless stretches during which the focus shifts to socializing. This really helps to break up what can otherwise be a long day on the water. Bird stories are predictably swapped, and usually there are at least a few laughs had. On really slow trips each person can take solace in knowing he or she wasn't the only one who ventured forth on that particularly unproductive day. So go pelagics; For every amazing trip there are going to be a few duds from which there is no escape other than a long swim home. Luckily, this wasn't one of them.

On any pelagic, I can be found at the stern....

Also on board the boat was Minnesota resident Olaf Danielson, 2016 Big Year birder extraordinaire! In just the first 3 weeks of the year, Olaf has amassed roughly 350 bird species. To put that into perspective, Neil Hayward, who set the ABA Big Year Record with 749 species in 2013, did not find 350 species until late March! Neil dubbed his year The Accidental Big Year to reflect the fact that he kind of fell into it by chance. Once he got going though there was not stopping him! It will be very interesting to see how Olaf's year unfolds. I simply cannot imagine given the birds he has found already, he won't make a serious run at Neil's record. Olaf is a very interesting character, and I encourage you to visit his blog to see exactly what I mean! 

Olaf D and Tom Ford-Hutchinson

OK, that's it for this installment. Hopefully I'll run into at least a few of you on a pelagic in the near future!

1 comment: