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alcid chase trips, Yellow-billed Loon departure, inland waterbird groundings
Inclement weather in spring (March-May) often "grounds" notable waterbirds on inland bodies of water. This morning, 20 March, at Sweetwater Reservoir there was a drake Surf Scoter, drake Red-breasted Merganser, Horned Grebe, Whimbrel, and a large concentration of 360 Double-crested Cormorants. As well as the expected good numbers of swallows and continuing Bald Eagle (but the nest there has failed). Also continuing Bald Eagle and plenty of swallows at Lower Otay Lake. Barabara Wise had a nice-sized "inland" flock of 43 Bonaparte's Gulls at Lake Murray.
Currently, the "last" definite date for the wintering Yellow-billed Loon is 15 March. It has been missed several times since then. So either it has become less reliable, has shifted to a different part of Mission Bay, or has departed. But any future reports of this bird that extend the dates more than just a single day or two will require more documentation than just saying it is "continuing."
With the recent sightings offshore during the past month of both a Parakeet Auklet and a Tufted Puffin, a few folks have asked about the possibility of organizing rare alcid "chase trips." That may be something that has a small but worthwhile chance of success with trying to re-find a rare albatross or a bunch of Cook's Petrels, but it is another matter with a single alcid swimming around somewhere in the ocean. Finding such a bird even an hour later is unlikely. There is also the issue of needing a fairly flat ocean surface to effectively look for alcids. Having said that, during the past month there have been 2 or 3 Tufted Puffins not far offshore off Southern California, another Parakeet Auklet washed up dead in Marin County, and I just heard that there may have been a Horned Puffin off Santa Cruz over this past weekend. So, perhaps there is a "northern alcid" surge beginning, and which will hopefully continue well into the spring (in past years, puffin invasions often peak in May and even into early June). There are scheduled pelagic trips aboard "Legacy" out of Seaforth Sportfishing on 7 May and 3 June (see sandiegopelagics.com). And there is always the availability of whalewatch trips, although you never know how far offshore they will go and of course it is doubtful they would be too interested in going out of their way to get closer to a possibly interesting distant alcid....but taking such a trip on a calm morning might be worthwhile.
--Paul Lehman, San Diego
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