Pelagic Birding By The Seat Of Our Pants

Katie and I had way too much fun on the job yesterday with our whale watching/pelagic birding trip. And best part was that there was no barfing from us. We took some precautions by having a somewhat healthy breakfast with no greasy foods and taking some Dramamine. We noticed that the food offered on the boat was not my first choice for an anti barf diet:

Chili Cheese Dog on a pelagic trip? This boat crew likes life on the edge.

Funions, Cheetoes and tobasco? That sounds vomitish to me. Sheesh.

We had called around the day before asking people who offer whale watching if they ever see any seabirds on their trips. My favorite answer:

"See birds? Yeah, we see lots of birds. There's one that dives down and swims in there just like it was some kind of fish."

We didn't go with that company. When we called H & M Landing asked them about seabirds, the answer was"

"Oh yeah, you'll see some birds, like petrels, pelicans and gulls on our five hour whale trip."

They used "petrel" in their answer, so we decided to go with them. H & M guarantees a whale sighting on their trips and they recommended that if we want to see birds, we should go along on a fishing trip, since they would chum the waters. Katie and I decided to go for the whale trip since, hey how often would someone from Minnesota or Wisconsin see whales. The downside would be that we would be totally responsible for all bird identification, so we made sure to bone up on our seabirds before we left.

We got a kick out of the captain. He saw us standing on the deck with our DLS binos and proceeded to point and laugh at our "teeny" optics. He later showed us his massive pair of 10x70 binoculars--oy! As he poudly showed us his all powerful optics, he offered that if Katie and I were good, he might let us use them. I don't think we could have if we tried, I know I didn't have the upper arm stregth. We considered asking if he might want to look through ours, since like may things in life, size isn't everything. But we had a feeling that he is very proud to be at the help of his boat toting his massive binoculars while coursing the seas.

They had an antique field guide on board just in case any seabirds came by--published in 1957.

We didn't see too much in the way of whales, but did get to glimpse a juvenile gray whale (got the guaranteed whale, so no money back), harbor seals, sea lions, and dolphins. When we first got to the area where the dolphins were Katie and I both spotted a small black, gray and white football shaped birds whizzing around. We both about peed our pants and shouted, "Murrelet"! As we were freaking out over the life bird, everyone else was freaking about about a dolphin and calf swimming along with us at the bow of the boat. One lady in particular was trying to commune with them by leaning forward and sticking her hand out (left). I know Non Birding Bill is reading this and wondering if I was in fact the one leaning over the bow trying to touch the dolphin since I have a track record of doing foolish things to see wildlife, but I must be maturing because I decided to stay sensibly on the boat.

The trip included a run to the Coronado Islands, they looked like matte paintings of prehistoric islands on our approach. It was so sweet to see the brown pelicans catching thermals off of the clifss and circling, while the gorgeous blue water full of sea lions crashed along the rocks below. The pelicans were breeding, so we got to see the gorgeus color on the males and even a few chicks.

Gulls were following along the boat from time to time, hoping we were fishing and could maybe get some chum. It was interesting to note that younger gulls would follow us for a longer period of time before realizing we weren't going to throw out any fish. Adults would make a quick flyby and then move on.

I only got one lifer, but I saw some great old favorites like a Heerman's gull, earred grebes and some of the best looks at surf scoters I've ever had. We both just enjoyed the adventure of being on a boat over the open sea. We took other steps, like brought jackets (it was cool out over the water) and generously applied sunscreen throughout the day--I noticed one fellow passenger was a crispy critter after being in the sun for so long.

Well, the booth is getting busy, I'll update more after loading up on the yummy fresh seafood.