01home02babybrain05lifelist04tastebuds08bbbs10roguewedding11nerdybirdy12travels

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Nerdy Birdy: Audubon Pelagic Tour out of Dana Point

Two months ago I bought two tickets to go on a boat out to the Fourteen Mile bank to search for migrating birds with the Los Angeles Audubon group. Mr. Rogue was supposed to join me, but alas he had to work, so I dragged my cousin Ms. Sweetie along. I say dragged because the boat left at 6:30am and Dana Point, where the boat was going to be taking off, was a good hour away from my house. Therefore we had to leave at 5:30 which put us crawling out of bed at around 5 am. Of course waking up this early was not optimal on a Saturday, but it does make it quite a bit more tolerable if you are a SUPER GEEK and love birds as much as I do. Hence why I had to drag Ms. Sweetie along. Not only is Saterday her only day to sleep in, the girl wasn’t as thrilled about bouncing around a boat all day looking for birds. In the end she came and after we got off the boat and home for a nap she was super excited that she did.

So we were up dark and early whisking away on LALA land expressways eerily devoid of traffic. We arrived on time to a slightly foggy, dreary morning, but at least the captain let us know that although it would be cold at least the seas would be quiet.

092411_pelagicTour01

Hearing the words “calm seas” was so super exciting to me. The last time I went on a Pelagic Tour in May of 2010 the seas were so rough that over half the boat of passengers were terribly sea sick. That coupled with the fact that the boat was thrown all over the place made it nearly impossible to take any photos of the birds. Today the boat was much calmer, and because of my rough lesson last time I went birding on a boat I was super happy with the shots I was able to get of the birds.

092411_pelagicTour01b
I’M ON A BOAT

As the boat pulled out of the harbor we saw our first birds. A group of them were sitting on the rocks just on the end of the bay. There was the Double Breasted Cormorant who I have seen before.

092411_bird_doubleCresttedCormorant01
DOUBLE BREASTED CORMORANT

092411_bird_doubleCresttedCormorant04
DOUBLE BREASTED CORMORANT

092411_bird_doubleCresttedCormorant03
DOUBLE BREASTED CORMORANT

And then nestled into that group of Double Breasted Cormorants was a few of the Brant’s Cormorants, a new bird to cross off my Nerdy Birdy List. This makes new bird number 1 for this trip! It was super nice to see them side by side. You can really compare the smaller build, the thinner beak and the lack of orange pigmentation on the face.

092411_bird_brantsCormorant01
BRANT’S CORMORANTS

092411_bird_brantsCormorant02
BRANT’S CORMORANTS

Then on the ocean side of the rocks protecting the marina we spotted a group of three American Black Oystercatchers. I had seen the American Oystercatcher numerous times (they have a white belly) but the black one seemed to allude me. NEW BIRD number 2 and we were only 10 minutes on the boat! HURAH!

092411_bird_blackOystercatcher
AMERICAN BLACK OYSTERCATCHER

The last birds we saw in the harbor were the Elegant Terns. There were hundreds of them, all with little calling chicks. And although it was too early, and too little light, to get a sharp photo of them in flight I kinda loved how this photo came out anyways.

092411_bird_elegantTern
ELEGANT TERN

After clearing the harbor it was a long ride out to the Fourteen mile bank. As we got further from land one of us started throwing chum off the back of the boat. Chum is basically popcorn used to attract the sea birds, most of which are scavengers. Soon we had a good trail of birds following the boat, most were common seagulls that are easily spotted on land and not that interesting to us, but also in that mix we spotted quite a few birds of interest.

During the down times between seeing cool birds I spent some time with Ms. Sweetie showing her the various birds we had already seen and some that we were likely to see. It was fun to teach someone the various differences between the bird classifications and then the smaller differences of birds in the same family.

092411_pelagicTour02
MS. SWEETIE A NERDY BIRDY IN TRAINING

We saw a ton of Pink Footed Shearwaters; so many in fact that I was able to get quite a few fantastic shots of them. Although I would have wished for a slightly sunnier day, lighter to get crisper photos, I was really happy with the quality of photos I got of this bird while on a rocking boat.

092411_bird_pinkFootedShearwater01
PINK FOOTED SHEARWATER

Many birds at sea land to eat or rest. Bull kelp floats provide a good resting area, and maybe even contain something nice to eat. In the photo below you can see three Pink Footed Shearwaters on the right and one gull on the left.

092411_bird_pinkFootedShearwater02
PINK FOOTED SHEARWATER

They end up taking off with a running start. In this position you can really see their pink feet.

092411_bird_pinkFootedShearwater03
PINK FOOTED SHEARWATER

Shearwaters are part of the Pelagic bird species, which means that they live most of their life (except for breeding season) on the ocean. They are better adapted to life at sea with longer wings and low wing loading. In fact they are called Shearwaters because of their stiff wings make it look to have a “shearing” effect to their flight.

Although the shearwaters are not on my Nerdy Birdy List, because technically they only really land in Chile where they breed, I was really happy to see and photo them.

092411_bird_pinkFootedShearwater04
PINK FOOTED SHEARWATER

The other Shearwater that we spotted on this trip was the Sooty Shearwater. They travel distance in excess of 9,000 miles every year. These guys can dive for food but normally just eat off the surface of the ocean, in particular often following whales to eat fish disturbed by them.

092411_bird_sootyShearwater
SOOTY SHEARWATER

By the middle of the day my arms were really killing me. I decided to bring the big lens on this trip (I didn’t have it last year when I went on the pelagic trip) and I was a little worried it wouldn’t work well on the boat. In fact I almost left it in the car but at the last minute I decided to just take it and try it. Boy was I glad I did, it was the lens I used most often. After bowling last night, and then carrying this lens for a few hours while on a rocking boat I was really in pain. But you know what they say “No Pain No Gain” baby!

092411_pelagicTour03
MY LOVELY LADY GUNS ARE GONNA BE HUGE

Some of the more common birds following the boat may not have been interesting to others more experienced birders but I am still trying to easily identify my gulls. With 25 different types in California, and with all of them looking very much the same, it is going to be a hard one to master. Plus Gulls have a breeding plumage, a non-breeding plumage and a first year, second year and third year plumage that is all different. I got a great shot of a juvenile Heerman’s Gull flying abreast to the boat.

092411_bird_juvenileHermansGull
JUVENILE HEERMAN’S GULL

Then, while I talked with a fellow birder about how to identify gulls easier, someone spotted the California Gull. This is another new bird for me, making this new bird number 3 for this trip. The bird very conveniently followed the boat for quite some time giving me a ton of opportunity to get great photos.

092411_bird_californiaGull01
CALIFORNIA GULL

For instance, getting a photo of a bird flying straight toward the camera is difficult on land. Put the photographer on a boat and you multiply the difficulty by seven hundred. I was lucky to get this photo.

092411_bird_californiaGull02
CALIFORNIA GULL

On our way back another California Gull was spotted resting in the water. The boat skimmed right by and this bird didn’t move a muscle. I kept thinking, hurry, get the shot he is going to take off any second.

092411_bird_californiaGull03
CALIFORNIA GULL

Ms. Sweetie got a little bored of bird talk about four hours into the trip. Since I wasn’t using my smaller zoom lens I popped it into her hands and let her go to town. She had so much fun learning a little bit about photography and it kept her happy.

092411_pelagicTour04

I laughed so hard when an hour later I saw her nose. I forgot to remind her not to mash her nose against the back, a common occurrence in trying to figure out a comfortable way to look through the view finder. Poor Ms. Sweetie, a newbie mistake gave her a little Rudolph nose.

092411_pelagicTour05
RUDOLPH NOSE

One of my favorite birds to see were the Jaegers. I had seen the Pomarine Jaeger on my last trip, but for some reason on this trip we saw them more often and closer to the boat. I was able to get a few shots the bird, and much better than I did the last time I took this birds photo, see here.

092411_bird_pomarineJaeger01
POMARINE JAEGER

092411_bird_pomarineJaeger02
POMARINE JAEGER

As well as the Pomarine Jaeger we were able to spot the two other Jaegers on this trip. The Long Tailed Jaeger I only spotted this once. New bird number 4 on this trip to cross off my Nerdy Birdy List. Thankfully I got an OK shot.

092411_bird_LongTailedJaeger01
LONG TAILED JAEGER

The Parasitic Jaeger flew right over the boat, not once but twice. I was able to get a fantastic shot of it and I was super excited to see all three Jaegers on this trip. Seeing this bird made my new bird sightings to number 5.

092411_bird_parasiticJaeger
PARASITIC JAEGER

I also spotted another bird I had seen on the last trip, except this one was very tolerant about floating super close to the boat. The Northern Fulmar isn’t technically on my list but it is a pretty cool bird. I love its tuber nose, a common nose for pelagic birds that holds a glad in them to help the bird expel salt from its body after ingesting food or salt water.

092411_bird_NorthernFulmar01
NORTHERN FULMAR

This poor guy had pretty pale feathers due to wear and tear. Northern Fulmars replace their flight feathers every year and this guy is defiantly ready for new set.

092411_bird_NorthernFulmar02
NORTHERN FULMAR

A pretty unique experience for me was when we spotted a young chipping sparrow far out to sea. It had obviously lost its way, because sparrows are not equip for long flight over water. The whole group on the boat sighed a relieved breath when the little guy tiredly landed on deck. As we were already on our way back it was our hope that he could get back to land safely with us.

092411_bird_chippingSparrow02
CHIPPING SPARROW FAR AWAY FROM HOME

We were all careful to tiptoe around his little hiding place until something scared him away, and he flew straight toward me and landed right on my shoulder. This is the second time a bird has landed on me in the past year. First the Galapagos Flycatcher on my lens, and now this tired little Chipping Sparrow on my shoulder. THANKFULLY I was able to grab my little point and shoot and I snapped this shot of myself before my little friend took off.

092411_bird_chippingSparrow01
CHIPPING SPARROW ON MY SHOULDER

Although having a bird land on me, and getting a shot of it, was pretty amazing. And although seeing five new birds on this trip was SO GREAT. I still have to share with you my absolute favorite thing that happened. See part two tomorrow!

092411_osprey
AN OSPREY BID US FAREWELL AS WE GOT OFF THE BOAT

2 comments:

paul peggy zeus said...

Great shots and I love the chip on your shoulder.

lilmansworld said...

I could not handle a bird on my shoulder at all! Cousin looks wonderful :) Pretty gray day!

Post a Comment