Wednesday, 8 August 2012

California pelagic to the Farallons

I headed out on Sunday to the Farallon Islands, lying just short of 30 miles off the coast of San Francisco - a pelagic I'd been looking forward to since the day I got it booked. And it did not disappoint, as these islands are the largest US west coast seabird colony south of Alaska so it was a pretty stunning spectacle. Especially this was my first time out at sea in the Pacific Ocean...
Heading out of Sausalito it was pretty obvious that it was going to be one of those legendary mill pond like seas, and within an hour or so the first of 1000s of Grey Phals were whizzing about and putting on a show. Some of them were still a bit red, so guess the yanks have some excuse for the name change.
A couple of the 1000 or so Grey Phals
The commonest breeder on the islands are Guillemots, although Pigeon Guillemots are a common breeder on the Farallons too so it was excellent to get some good views of this interesting species - again literally 1000s of them, including some nice creche rafts.

Pigeon Guillemot (adults and juvenile in the bottom pic). One to look out for in the future?
To give it even more of a Pacific mix, auklets were well represented with diminutive Cassin's Auklets in their low 100s and a few Rhino Auklets too.
Cassin's Auklet
And last of the alcids, and the reason why a load of punters had paid their cash for this pelagic, were stunning views of Tufted Puffin. Truly mega birds, big black boys with massive honkers - would certainly have been nice if the Oare bird had lingered... but with that ice cap continuing to melt, perhaps we'll get another go at one of these sometime.
Tufted Puffin - properly mega close views
And then it was out to the open ocean, and soon enough the massive rafts of Sooty Shearwaters started - amongst the 1000s of them, one white-headed, leucistic bird.
Sooty Shearwater - the commonest shearwater by a long way
It wasn't just the bird action that was impressive, as at least a couple of Blue Whales and 40+ Humpbacks put on a show, the latter whales right beside the boat.
Impressive Blue Whales with Sooty Shears crusing above them

Two of the forty or so Humpback Whales
Small numbers - probably less than a dozen, Pink-footed Shearwaters added to the mix while out of the blue came this immature Black-footed Albatross. Pure class to add to the quality already seen.
Pink-footed Shearwater

Black-footed Albatross
There were also a couple of Californian listers on board, as they'd made the voyage out to see the state's first Northern Gannet - a first for the Pacific I believe. And, with one guy having given it five shots already you could see how pumped he was when it turned up on one of the ledges. A massive deal here, as apparently this was only the second boat that had connected. Real California score I guess.
California's first and only Northern Gannet
And then on the way back stuff like Brown Pelicans, Brandt's and Pelagic Cormorants, loads of Heermann's and Western Gulls followed the boat in as we headed under the Golden Gate Bridge and into harbour. A fantastic day.
Brown Pelican
You could, after reading this, think that North Atlantic pelagics really suck. And perhaps they're not as impressive as this type of stuff for sheer numbers but you bet I'd have liked to have been on the Azores last week too. I guess you just can't be in two places at once...
Dude cruising under the GG Bridge coming back into harbour


  1. Nice stuff, just out of interest (as i plan similar next year) what was the cost of the pelagic?

    Laurie -

  2. 157 dollars so basically 100 notes - seems like there really isn't much option bar the Debi Shearwater boats (see