Skua-ville out there yesterday!

Alvaro Jaramillo

Hi everyone.

   We had a fun pelagic trip yesterday in good weather, but not flat calm, choppy enough that it was difficult to get on some alcids and phalaropes. This was in San Mateo and San Francisco counties. We had the great fortune to see at least 6, perhaps more, South Polar Skuas. These were all in San Francisco county. As a boat we recorded 5 species of shearwater, Sooty, Pink-footed, Buller’s, Black-vented and 3-4 people saw a bird called out by Gene Hunn in the front of the boat identified as a Short-tailed. Unfortunately most on the boat, including myself and the spotters did not see this bird. The description was solid, nothing head, bill, underwing and paler throat details. But what everyone did see was a very good number of Black-vented Shearwaters starting close to shore and before any Sooty had been seen, they continued well offshore including some near the continental shelf edge. Having Black-vented way offshore is not the norm, and at least one of these offshore birds was in SF county. Similarly odd, many Brown Pelicans, and a few Brandt’s Cormorants were also well offshore. It was frustratingly sunny on the ocean, making early morning views with strong low light almost impossible for picking out Manx Shearwater – I bet they are out there!

    What was great fun was finding an interesting situation off the continental shelf of bait fish concentrations, some in dense “bait balls” and others being munched on from below by splashing mid-sized fish that we identified as Bonito. We were hoping these were going to be Albacore, but the size was not large enough. Here there were good densities of shearwaters, mostly Pink-footed, some Buller’s (which continues in small numbers) and a few Sooty. We looked hard for Flesh-foot and did not find one unfortunately. The action would move from spot to spot, which we chased as it happened, it was a pretty exciting hour or so of birding offshore. A few Humpbacks showed up, a Fin Whale and some Pacific White-sided Dolphins including some crashing through the bait balls for a quick meal. Some of the skuas were in these fish concentrations along with a handful of Pomarine Jaegers. The setup was good for some rare shearwater to be there, there were  heart stopping moments but we could not pull out something else like a Flesh-foot or better out of the group. We do not know how extensive the area of fish concentration was, maybe it extended to the north of where we were?

     We did find the Northern Gannet on the way back, the classic alcids were out there with nice looks at Rhino Auklets although few fly by Cassin’s Auklets today were difficult to get on. A handful of Black-footed Albatross were about but curiously none in the fish concentrations. This really seemed to be something being exploited by the gulls and shearwaters. We did get into some warm water nearing 60 degrees, but did not find the clear blue water, albacore water, which can be interesting to be in. That could be out there but to the south of where we were able to get to given the weather. A little calmer and we would have gone down there to check it out. Maybe next weekend, on Saturday when we do our last pelagic of the season. This will be the best option for Short-tailed and Flesh-footed shearwaters we shall see!

Alvaro Jaramillo



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