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4-7 September Southern California pelagic trip

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  • Walter Wehtje
    Greetings: My apologies for the tardiness of this report on our September 4-7 long-range pelagic trip. This trip was our first to take place in late
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 7, 2003

      My apologies for the tardiness of this report on our September 4-7
      long-range pelagic trip. This trip was our first to take place in late
      summer/early fall, and as such was very much an exploratory effort. We had
      decided to take three days and search the area around the Cortez Bank, which
      lies 110 miles due west of San Diego, California, and then continue out into
      deeper water to the south and west. While the absolute number of birds wasn
      ’t high, we did get two extraordinary sightings, as well as good looks at
      some of the more expected late-summer species.

      Upon leaving San Diego on Thursday the 4th of September with a full
      complement of birders and leaders Walter Wehtje, Don DesJardin and Todd
      McGrath, we encountered two Sperm Whales only nine miles offshore. We
      initially found these deepwater whales at the end of their surface interval,
      and after they dove we waited for them to reappear. Close to exactly 30
      minutes after they’d sounded we spotted their distinctive spouts about a
      mile away, and were able to get decent looks at these cetaceans before they
      replenished their oxygen supply and once again headed towards the bottom,
      over 3,000 feet below us.
      We continued almost due west, and began seeing good numbers of Black
      Storm-petrels, a couple of Least Storm-petrels, as well as a sprinkling of
      jaegers and several flocks of migrating terns. Interestingly, there were
      few shearwaters around, less than 50 in total, and the vast majority
      Pink-foots. This may have been related to the water, which was 70o F and
      had an unusually murky – green color. By 6 PM we were approximately 30
      miles south of San Clemente Island and came into an area with good numbers
      of storm-petrels. At this point Todd McGrath spotted a BULEWR’S PETREL
      flying up the wake towards the boat. He called it out and was able to get
      at least half of the passengers on the bird before it crossed our wake and
      disappeared. Several people had excellent views of the bird, and if
      accepted by the California Bird Records Committee, it will constitute a
      second record for California.

      During the night we continued west to the Cortez Bank and anchored there
      before dawn. After breakfast we explored the bank and found it virtually
      bird-free, except for good numbers of Western Gulls. The water temperature
      had fallen to 67o F, but the water remained greenish, not at all the
      expected “clean” blue color we were hoping for. With such conditions we had
      a hard time locating any tuna and the seabirds that accompany them. We
      therefore headed southwest towards clearer waters, but remained in murky
      water for much of the day. One highlight was a pair of Red-billed
      Tropicbirds that circled the boat for 15-20 minutes and gave us wonderful
      looks. However, the most common birds once we left Cortez Bank were
      phalaropes and Leach’s Storm-petrels, always good indicators of deep water.
      As the day drew to a close, one of the crewmembers on the bridge spotted
      some distant spouts. We decided to check them out, and after 30 minutes
      came upon a pod of 20 BAIRD’S BEAKED WHALES, that allowed us great views
      until the sun went down. These animals approached within 100 m of the
      “Seacher”, and didn’t appear concerned with our presence in the slightest.
      It was a nice ending to our second day at sea.

      After a night at sea anchor, during which we made our acquaintance with the
      squid attracted to our lights, we found ourselves in deep-blue waters at
      last. Two Red-billed Tropicbirds visited us during breakfast, and after
      pulling up the sea anchor at 7:30 we began cruising. Half an hour later,
      one of the crew spotted a white bird in the distance that alighted on the
      water. We changed course to get a closer look, and soon had a RED-TAILED
      TROPICBIRD cross our bow a few hundred feet in front of us. We gave chase
      and spent well over an hour searching for, refinding, and then losing this
      bird. It didn’t allow us to approach too closely, but we were able to see
      it in the distance. The bird finally disappeared and we continued sailing
      eastwards. During much of the day we saw good numbers of Leach’s
      Storm-petrels and, and stopped regularly to pull up skipjack and the
      occasional albacore. By mid-afternoon we reached border with Mexico, and
      headed NNW towards the Butterfly and 60-mile Banks. Here we suddenly picked
      up first one, then two, and finally an additional two Red-billed
      Tropicbirds. As the day drew to a close, we laid out a large chum slick,
      and were gratified by the appearance of several Black and a single Least
      Storm-petrel. We stayed at the slick until heading towards San Diego after

      Based upon this experience we've decided to extend the 2004 trip to 5 days,
      and follow our spring itinerary (San Diego to Point Conception, then SW to
      Rodriguez Seamount, and then SSE along the Patton Escarpment to Cortez Bank
      and points south before returning to San Diego). This change should allow
      us to experience a greater variety of water temperatures, which should bring
      us larger variety of numbers of species. Anyone interested in the April and
      September 2004 trips should visit the "Searcher" natural history website at

      Species 4-Sep 5-Sep 6-Sep Total
      Black-footed Albatross 0 0 1 1
      Bulwer's Petrel 1 0 0 1
      Black-vented Shearwater 1 0 0 1
      Sooty Shearwater 3 0 0 3
      Pink-footed Shearwater 45 5 0 50
      Shearwater sp. 0 0 1 1
      Leach's Storm-petrel 0 50 125 175
      Black Storm-petrel 40 8 8 56
      Least Storm-petrel 2 0 2 4
      Red-billed Tropicbird 0 4 6 10
      Red-tailed Tropicbird 0 0 1 1
      Brown Pelican 1 0 0 1
      Red-necked Phalarope 20 20 0 40
      Red Phalarope 8 80 60 148
      Least Sandpiper 0 1 0 1
      Western Gull 100 80 5 185
      Heermann's Gull 10 0 0 10
      Sabine's Gull 0 3 1 4
      Whimbrel 8 0 0 8
      Forster's Tern 1 0 0 1
      Common Tern 100 1 0 101
      Arctic Tern 12 0 0 12
      Royal Tern 10 0 0 10
      Elegant Tern 25 0 0 25
      Long-tailed Jaeger 1 3 1 5
      Parasitic Jaeger 8 1 0 9
      Pomarine Jaeger 15 4 1 20
      Vaux's Swift 0 0 1 1

      Blue Whale 6 2 0 8
      Sperm Whale 2 0 0 2
      Baird's Beaked Whale 0 20 0 20
      Long-beaked Common Dolphin 60 0 0 60
      Short-beaked Common Dolphin 200 0 0 200
      Harbor Seal 1 0 0 1

      Mako Shark 1 0 0 1
      Blue Shark 0 1 0 1
      Mola mola (Ocean Sunfish) 20 30 0 50
      Albacore 0 2 2 4
      Skipjack Tuna 0 2 12 14
      Yellowtail 0 0 1 1
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