A spectacular gathering a SOOTY SHEARWATERS numbering in the tens of thousands dazzled birders and non-birders alike with its unusually close proximity to the Avila Beach Pier (SLO County) on Sunday afternoon, September 5th. Gradually working their way inshore to distances rendering binoculars unnecessary, the birds formed a dense and virtually unbroken horseshoe-shaped raft around the pier, even as additional concentrations formed separate rafts of near-equal size
farther out to sea.
By 5 PM, activity had reached such a feverish pitch, that the proximate group's calls had formed an uninterrupted din as it drifted ever closer. Thousands of other birds could be enjoyed with the unaided eye as they flew past observers within 20M, while others, drawn to a distant boil of presumed mackerel or anchovies, joined a whitewater frenzy of gulls, harbor seals, pelicans, and dolphins.
By sundown, my initial estimate of 14,000 individuals had to be revised to a number closer to 40,000 -- conservative, to be sure, considering the dark blotches of innumerable individuals too distant to count and stretching practically to the horizon. I'd venture that an afternoon's total of 60,000 shearwaters would hardly be an exaggeration.
I also received a second-hand report Sunday from an observer who witnessed a "white bird, a little larger than a gull, with black wingtips, and 2 long whitetail feathers" flying over nearby Pismo Beach. The gentleman was only a casual birder, but has promised to submit details of what, by most reckonings, appears adequately to describe a Red-billed Tropicbird.
Sherman Oaks, CA