October 24, 2010
Offshore seabirds are the plainest group of birds to be found. Mostly they are black, white and gray in various combinations. However, despite their plainness, they captivate birders because of their rarity or difficulty in reaching the places where they hang out. Usually, you have to go out on a boat to see them and I did that while in Monterey. Fortunately, we had a sunny day with a calm ocean.
The largest seabirds are the albatrosses. The only one I have seen is a Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes). On a pelagic last year, I had photos of both a juvenile and an adult. Here is the adult. Notice that it just has a white ring at the base of the bill.
On this trip, I saw a bird with extensive white on the face and head. I looked at the reference books and it appears to be an 'aged' bird. As albatrosses can live 40-50 years, I guess they turn gray like us humans or our old dogs who develop gray or white faces.
Several alcids were encountered including this Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) in non-breeding plumage. Notice that the horn at the base of the bill has almost disappeared. For a comparison with a breeding plumaged bird with a large horn, look at this photo from Alaska in June.
Here is a Tufted Puffin (Fratercula arctica) also in non-breeding plumage. This is the first of this species I ever saw in California, despite the fact that they breed off San Francisco.
For a beginning pelagic birder like myself, it is impressive to see the guides catch a glimpse of a faraway bird and be able to ID it almost instantly. However, when you can get some photos and study them, the differences in plumage begin to fall into place.
There are 2 shearwaters off California that have white underparts. One is the Pink-footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus). Notice on the underwing, the white is smudgy and there is a lot of brown on the edges. This bird breeds of Chile and New Zealand.
Compare that photo to this Buller's Shearwater (Puffinus bulleri). The underwing is almost totally white, with just a rim of brown. Also, the demarcation of white and brown is sharp.
Additionally, the Buller's Shearwater has a white patterned upper wing surface. This bird breeds of New Zealand. It was a life bird for me.
The Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) is also a member of the shearwater family. This 18" stocky bird occurs in both the north Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. 2 color variants are recognized, a dark phase that is gray overall and a light phase that is white bodied with gray wings. We saw both birds on the trip. The dark phase is shown here. Notice the tube nostril on the beak and the yellow tip to the beak. This was my first time to see a dark bird.
Here is a light phase bird.
The 18" Pomarine Jaeger (Stercorarius pomarinus) also comes in 2 phases. The light phase has a white head and underparts with a dark collar. In non-breeding plumage shown here, the tail feathers are short. Also, it has 4-6 white primary feather shafts seen on the upper wing.
This was my first encounter with a dark phase bird.
The last 2 birds are Storm-Petrels. These small oceanic birds only come ashore to nest. In the fall, they gather in huge flocks (5,000-10,000) offshore Monterey CA.
The first of these is the 8" Ashy Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma homochroa). I had seen this bird previously on an overcast day and it appeared black. However, in the sun it was browner and the pale areas on the wings were well seen.
The Black Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma melanita) is the largest (9") in North America. It has long wings and tail and is darker then the bird above. One way the experts ID these birds is by their wingbeats. The wingbeats of the Black Storm-Petrel is similar to that of a Common Nighthawk. This was a life bird for me.
All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.
Happy birding and photography,
photos copyright 2010 David McDonald
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