Thursday, 14 January 2016

CALIFORNIA 2016: Monterey and Moss Landing (14 January)

This blog continues a very enjoyable short-notice trip to California with Matt Eade. 

The second full day of the trip did not start well but turned out to be excellent.  I woke at 02:00 (10:00 UK time) and dozed heavily to 05:00 when we got up and drove to Robinson Canyon.  It is notable for being the home to seven species of owl but a cold morning was not ideal and in two hours we had no response from anything other than a few distant calls from what we thought was a Long-eared Owl.  Disappointing, although flocks of American Robins flying around landing in tree-tops were impressive, at least 300 birds being a cautious estimate. We also saw our only Pacific Wren of the trip, very much like ours but darker.

We left Robinson Canyon at 08:15, stopped briefly at a Safeway on the edge of Carmel for supplies (nice bakery) and drove straight to the harbour where we left the Jeep in a car park by the quay, no where else being immediately obvious, and checked in for our whale trip. We were on the Greatland and after boarding headed straight for the bows, having decided it wasn't worth an extra $20 to be on the upper deck. We departed at 10:00 and headed out into the bay with birds everywhere. We saw a number of Grey Whales but they were a little disappointing with often little visible above the water.  A large (100+) pod of Common Dolphins were much more impressive and seabirds were much better than expected at the time of year.  Rough weather the previous two days, the previous day's trip having been cancelled, and a decent swell doubtless helping.  Black-vented Shearwaters were no surprise, previous day's trips had reported them, and we saw at least 100 but 2 Short-tailed Shearwaters were a bonus and auks were good too with 30 Guillemots and at least 10 Ancient Murrelets and 8 Rhinocerous Auklets.  Best of all though were a couple of sightings of Black-footed Albatross, presumably different birds, which were superb.  We were back at 13:00, a superb 3 hours, and were distracted by tame Heerman's Gulls on the quay before paying the ransom on the Jeep in the extortionate car park.

Great Northern Diver in Monterey Harbour
Sea Lions in Monterey Harbour

Black-vented Shearwater of Monterey, the best I could do while hanging on.  The heavy swell undoubtedly helped bring the birds in but didn't help my attempts at photographing them.  Matt had much greater success.
Brown Pelican on the sea. Later what was thought to be one flying towards us turned out to be an albatross!
the first sign of a Grey Whale
a typical view, until it dived
a small part of a large pod of Common Dolphins

we were not the only trip enjoying seeing them

Common Dolphins bow-riding

returning to Monterey

not all Sea Lions

Heerman's Gull in the harbour at Monterey
a very smart species indeed
and one I was happy to keep clicking away at

Matt was quite taken by them too
but other gulls soon saw the chance of a meal and barged in

a presumed pale first-winter American Herring Gull at Monterey, it also appears in the two images above as does the following first-winter Glaucous-winged  
said Glaucous-winged Gull

it had black bars across the front of its lower legs

We stopped briefly at our motel to check ebird before driving to Moss Landing where we arrived at 14:00.  As with everywhere we had been on the coast (and were to go) there were birds everywhere.  The Sea Otters took a lot of beating but our main interest was the gulls and we saw several Glaucous-winged, two first-winter Thayer's, Mew and American Herring.  By 15:30 we felt we had exhausted the area, no adult Thayer's unfortunately, and tried to find Elkhorn Slough where ebird listed Varied Thrushes as having been seen at the start of the month.  ebird is very useful but for an outsider not as helpful as it might be about how to get to/access sites or where to find particular birds when there.  On this occasion we came up short on the first and could not find an obvious access point on the west side.  we drove around to the east but found no suitable looking habitat there so birded a road by Kirby Park, Campagna Way, away from the Slough seeing 7 Wild Turkeys and, for me, a vanishing Golden-crowned Sparrow.  We returned to the Inn by the Bay and another meal at Denny's, me being unadventurous going for the same as before.
American Coot at Moss Landing
Sea Otters at Moss Landing
a gathering of young males

they seem to spend much of their time with their eyes closed

Sea Lions
Buffleheads at Moss Landing
gulls at Moss Landing

mostly American Herring Gulls, the sitting first-winter was considered a Thayer's
this looked like one too
although the pale base to the bill might suggest a second-winter
large gulls in the pacific seem no easier than ours
first-winter Thayer's Gull

another Thayer's type with a fist-winter Western
an adult Glaucous-winged with American Herring and Western Gulls

first-winter Glaucous-winged Gull
American Herring Gull with striking white head and pink legs
Ring-billed Gull
this one was easy to identify!
American Herring Gull

adult Glaucous-winged Gull

Marbled Godwit
Semipalmated Plover
a superb Hermit Thrush near Kirby Park, they were a firm favourite of us both and a nice change from gulls and waders

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