San Diego Pelagic – Least SP, Townsend's SP, Cook's P, Black-footed A, Red-billed T, etc., 24 July 2022

Gary Nunn

Yesterday Sunday July 24, 2022 six of us made a pelagic birding trip offshore San Diego County.  We exited San Diego Bay and traveled about due west 30 NM, rather slowly due to the short interval west swell, to The Corner where we put out a fish oil slick and various frozen fishy chumsicle concoctions to attract birds.  We waited there for about two hours, bobbing around, seeing birds coming from the south and attracting many storm-petrels coming in to investigate the food and oil slick.  Light winds were mostly from the west and southwest by the time we reached The Corner.  We more-or-less motored back along the same east-west track on the return with a few short deviations to chase small rafts of storm-petrels.  In total 75 NM traveled.

Making our way west in the morning across the San Diego Trough, at about the midpoint, we did find a particularly large concentration of Black Storm-Petrels, hundreds together, which were kind of loosely rafting but still somewhat active.  We could not keep up with their leapfrogging flights going west and soon gave up trying to approach the birds as they scattered mostly to the west.

Across the trough and reaching the Thirty Mile Bank we quickly began encountering quite a few TOWNSEND'S STORM-PETREL.  This continued throughout the area and further westward at The Corner, drifting slowly with slick and chum, a conservative estimate of 7 TOWNSEND'S STORM-PETREL seen at the slick with at least 1-2 darker rumped individuals with short almost unnotched tails seen too.  At one point I think we had four white-rumped individuals come flying one after the other right by the boat to the chumsicle floating behind us.  Also here at The Corner the local chapmani form of Leach's Storm-Petrel picked out at close range with a relatively longer more deeply notched tail, richer more brown coloration, and a different flight style compared to the Townsend's.  Maybe 20 minutes into the drift at The Corner the first COOK'S PETREL came by, directly from the south, this was followed by 5 more including two together at one point and all from the same direction.  They did not stay long at the slick and continued out of sight quickly to the north.  Here we also had a BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS make a very close pass on a beeline south-to-north.

Coming back across the trough we again saw some small rafts of Black Storm-Petrel so decided to investigate.  In one of these smaller groups Matt Sadowski picked out a LEAST STORM-PETREL hiding in plain sight among the Blacks.

Finally, late in the afternoon, we were motoring fast eastward, just 3.5 NM west of Point Loma, and literally ran into a fantastic RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD sitting on the water!  It appeared a bit messy feathered looking without the characteristic long central tail streamers.  We wondered if it might be injured but it eventually picked up off the water and flew off strongly to the south.

Other notable birds seen included Craveri's Murrelet, Sabine's Gull, and a collection of Leach's/Townsend's Storm-Petrel we will take a closer look at photos of to see how they compare morphologically to our current expectations about the two species.

Gary Nunn
Pacific Beach

3 Mallard
7 Black-bellied Plover
31 Whimbrel
66 Red-necked Phalarope
1 phalarope sp.
11 Craveri's Murrelet
6 Cassin's Auklet
2 alcid sp.
9 Sabine's Gull
1 Heermann's Gull
40 Western Gull
1 Least Tern -- (4)
294 Elegant Tern
1 Red-billed Tropicbird
1 Black-footed Albatross
2 Leach's Storm-Petrel (Chapman's)
11 Townsend's Storm-Petrel
5 Leach's/Townsend's Storm-Petrel (dark-rumped)
9 Leach's/Townsend's Storm-Petrel (white-rumped)
1 Ashy Storm-Petrel
719 Black Storm-Petrel
1 Least Storm-Petrel
8 storm-petrel sp.
6 Cook's Petrel
28 Pink-footed Shearwater
47 Sooty Shearwater
230 Black-vented Shearwater
1 Procellariid sp.
3 Brown Booby
5 Brandt's Cormorant
75 Brown Pelican
2 Snowy Egret