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Seawatching


Linus Blomqvist
 

Hi all,

I had an interesting 50 minutes seawatching from Coal Oil Point this evening, from 6.40 to 7.30. The wind report seemed potentially promising, with moderate (20 mph) westerly wind in the channel but also farther offshore, in contrast to the more typical north/northwest. These seemed like pretty good conditions for something more pelagic to drift in.

There were three things of note that I'll explain here.

When I arrived, sooty shearwaters were passing by at a rate of approximately 25 per minute. This rate was maintained for about ten minutes. A bit later another big group with almost a hundred individuals passed by. In total I counted about 400.

I also saw two other pelagic birds. The distance made ID'ing challenging. The first one was a shearwater with mostly or all white underneath and fairly dark (but not black) upperparts. Typical shearwater/pelagic flight with gliding mixed with neat arcs, unlike any gull in this wind (or any other wind, for that sake). It was on the larger side of shearwater, with somewhat drooping and angled wings and a sort of relaxed, regal style. In my experience, this matches best with pink-footed shearwater, which has a structure and flight style most closely resembling cory's shearwater (with which I have a lot of experience from the Mediterranean). The general color scheme also matches pink-footed. I can't really think of any other candidate, so perhaps the general probability of pink-footed in these waters combined with the characteristics described above is enough for an ID, but I'd be interested in people's opinion on this. It was rather far out so there was no chance of seeing any more detail.

The second one looked more like an intermediate-morph northern fulmar. But like the first one, it was far out (by which I mean upwards of two miles, which might strike anyone but the most seasoned seawatcher as a bit absurd). This one had the same general flight pattern with gliding and arcs, but the wings were held more stiffly and the occasional wingbeats were shallow. Unlike the contrasting under- and upper-parts of the shearwater, it was the same light grayish (could have been light brown for all I know) color all over. It seems late in the season, but not unheard of.

The third thing of note puzzles me and I'd love to hear what people think it might be. I counted over 500 of some very small birds with very purposeful flight pretty far out over the water (I don't think a single flock came within a mile). By their flight they seemed sandpiper-like. Very rapid wingbeats, very tight flocks that flew just above the water and seemed to go up and down for every wave. One split second their underparts, seemingly all white, would be visible, and the next split second dark upperparts. It kind of reminded me of a school of anchovy, shimmering in the light. They must have been some kind of wader. The best I can think of is phalaropes, which would also make sense given their pelagic habits.

Altogether, a fun 50 minutes, even though I wish some of the birds had come just a bit closer.

Linus

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Linus Blomqvist


Dave Compton
 

Hi Linus,

At this date, Pink-footed is the most likely shearwater to see during a sea watch in these parts, after Sooty. If you do a lot of sea watches in spring, you will see one on occasion, as you will Northern Fulmar. We also can regularly see flocks of Red-necked Phalaropes moving west off the south coast. Sounds like a good afternoon out there.

Dave Compton
Santa Barbara 

On Sun, May 17, 2020 at 8:38 PM Linus Blomqvist <linus.blomqvist@...> wrote:
Hi all,

I had an interesting 50 minutes seawatching from Coal Oil Point this evening, from 6.40 to 7.30. The wind report seemed potentially promising, with moderate (20 mph) westerly wind in the channel but also farther offshore, in contrast to the more typical north/northwest. These seemed like pretty good conditions for something more pelagic to drift in.

There were three things of note that I'll explain here.

When I arrived, sooty shearwaters were passing by at a rate of approximately 25 per minute. This rate was maintained for about ten minutes. A bit later another big group with almost a hundred individuals passed by. In total I counted about 400.

I also saw two other pelagic birds. The distance made ID'ing challenging. The first one was a shearwater with mostly or all white underneath and fairly dark (but not black) upperparts. Typical shearwater/pelagic flight with gliding mixed with neat arcs, unlike any gull in this wind (or any other wind, for that sake). It was on the larger side of shearwater, with somewhat drooping and angled wings and a sort of relaxed, regal style. In my experience, this matches best with pink-footed shearwater, which has a structure and flight style most closely resembling cory's shearwater (with which I have a lot of experience from the Mediterranean). The general color scheme also matches pink-footed. I can't really think of any other candidate, so perhaps the general probability of pink-footed in these waters combined with the characteristics described above is enough for an ID, but I'd be interested in people's opinion on this. It was rather far out so there was no chance of seeing any more detail.

The second one looked more like an intermediate-morph northern fulmar. But like the first one, it was far out (by which I mean upwards of two miles, which might strike anyone but the most seasoned seawatcher as a bit absurd). This one had the same general flight pattern with gliding and arcs, but the wings were held more stiffly and the occasional wingbeats were shallow. Unlike the contrasting under- and upper-parts of the shearwater, it was the same light grayish (could have been light brown for all I know) color all over. It seems late in the season, but not unheard of.

The third thing of note puzzles me and I'd love to hear what people think it might be. I counted over 500 of some very small birds with very purposeful flight pretty far out over the water (I don't think a single flock came within a mile). By their flight they seemed sandpiper-like. Very rapid wingbeats, very tight flocks that flew just above the water and seemed to go up and down for every wave. One split second their underparts, seemingly all white, would be visible, and the next split second dark upperparts. It kind of reminded me of a school of anchovy, shimmering in the light. They must have been some kind of wader. The best I can think of is phalaropes, which would also make sense given their pelagic habits.

Altogether, a fun 50 minutes, even though I wish some of the birds had come just a bit closer.

Linus

______________
Linus Blomqvist