Re: Cliffhouse today- Upwelling vs. El Nino

Alvaro Jaramillo

Josiah et al.


  Hey, thanks for this great email with all sorts of interesting information. I am no expert on oceanography, and this is more a question than a statement, so I have a great deal of uncertainty in the following but maybe someone out there can clarify.


ENSO – El Niño Southern Oscillation. This event has the warm (niño) and cold (niña) episodes. It occurs in the tropical Pacific, warming up the American side of the Pacific during the warm cycle.


Here is the question though. As far as I know, El Niño does not occur in California. When it is happening in the tropical pacific it certainly affects weather up here, but note that weak Niños do not give us wet winters necessarily. The second year of the massive two year drought in the 70s was during an El Niño year!! But more importantly, water does not warm here when there are El Niños, at least not consistently. My impression is that during certain (but not all??) massive El Niños, we have had a corresponding warm water episode off Mexico and California. But this is not expected, and for all I know not necessarily caused by the El Niño. Even so during massive El Niños, birds from the Humbold Current and likely tropical pacific are displaced, and it could be a good time to look for oddities here; but don’t necessarily expect the water to be warmer.


Anything going on now with fish and birds off our coast has nothing to do with an El Niño, as that is not even happening yet. The sea surface temperature in the tropical pacific is warming, and there is a better than 50% chance of a warm episode developing during our summer, but it is not a done deal yet. Even so, your predictions are correct – a Red-billed Tropicbird showed up on Monterey a few days ago!! So I agree with the predictions you are making, but offer that it may not be El Niño that is causing it.






Alvaro Jaramillo



From: SFBirds@... [mailto:SFBirds@...] On Behalf Of Josiah Clark
Sent: Saturday, May 03, 2014 1:11 PM
To: sfbirds@...
Subject: [SFBirds] Cliffhouse today- Upwelling vs. El Nino



With the predicted westerly winds and associated shut down of land bird migrants I hit the cliff house by scope this morning anticipating some seabird activity.

The shift in winds has begun to stir the pot out there, with upwelling revealing patches of plankton, krill and the baitfish that follow it. Too much wind will shut down food availability to seabirds and salmon alike, but in the relatively calm conditions this morning there were hundreds of cormorants, gulls and smaller numbers of the other expected seabirds. A handsome Pacific Loon flew south, plunging into the middle of the feeding frenzy, suggesting it was worth a break on its otherwise determined northbound journey.

Somewhat predictably the salmon bite also broke wide open yesterday so check your party boats and local meat market for availability of wild caught King Salmon, aka- “the medicine meat.” Demand local, fresh and wild caught, otherwise you will get something else.

  Of particular bird note was one northbound Rhino Auklet flying with Murres.  A Wandering Tattler was the only migratory rocky shorebird present today, though yesterday Andy Kleinhesselink and I viewed 2 late Surfbird on the backside of Seal Rock during a harrowing yet fruitless kayak-crabbing mission in the horrendous, raging river-like currents ripping into the bay.

Most notable in my experience were the unseasonably large numbers of Brown Pelicans seen near and far during my 1hr visit, well over 100. At least 16 Heerman’s Gulls are similarly out of place, and easily seen on the main rocks. Completing the tri-fecta of otherwise southerly breeding post breeding dispersers were the 15 Elegant Terns I viewed yesterday off of Ft. Point. Traveling as a cohesive unit looking out for each other before they picked up and left, they were elegant indeed.

All these birds confirm what my Chief, Scott Anderson tells me he saw while leading Oceanic Society trips in Baja recently: large-scale nest failure at rookeries to the south due to warmer than usual water and the associated poor fishing. I’d say be on the lookout for tropical seabirds in the coming weeks including frigatebirds and boobies and probably new breeding locations for otherwise southerly species in breeding seasons to come.  Looks like a big El Nino forming. The good news is hopefully more rain.

 Best Josiah Clark, Consulting Ecologist


Josiah Clark | Consulting Ecologist | 415.317.3978

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