Out of sight of land, the ocean is considered salt-water desert bysome. But not by experienced birders. They know that at the edge ofthe continental shelf–in general, from 10 to 100 or more miles out–thebest pelagic (high-seas) birding begins. It’s there you’relikely to be stunned by the sight of albatrosses with 7-foot wing spans,tiny petrels that flutter over the water like moths, and dark-backedmurres remindful of their Southern Hemisphere counterparts, thepenguins. From August into February, you can observe pelagic birds onspecial charter-boat day trips with naturalist guides. Leaving fromports in Washington, Oregon, or California, you’ll see speciesrarely spotted from land, since they feed on off-shore fish andplankton; now through winter, currents carry their food fish here, andin winter, cold weather at their nesting grounds can bring these birdsclose to our coast–sometimes in awesome numbers.
A few launch ports open to deep submarine canyons and banks (seemap), bringing food fish and pelagic birds close enough to shore thatyou needn’t sail too far out to see them. Monterey Bay, with itsextraordinary submarine canyon, is considered one of the finest pelagicbirding spots in the world. Costs range from $22 to $50 for an all-day outing. Many trips aresponsored by Audubon Society chapters, but nonmembers are welcome.You’ll see more than just birds Many of the people who go on pelagic birding trips are experiencedbirders and fair amateur oceanographers. Even if you can’t tell agull from a tern, you’ll find willing teachers all around you.Whenever whales, seals, dolphins, sailborne jellyfish, or birds comeinto view, word quickly passes to everybody on board, usually followedby commentary on where they are from, where they’re going, how theylive.
Expect a different bird-watching experience from what you get onshore. Since both birds and boat are always in motion, you can’tdepend on minor field marks for identification. Instead, you learn tocheck silhouette, flight pattern, and major field marks (the light bellyand dark back of a pink-footed shearwater, for example).
For these reasons, your eyes alone are as important as yourbinoculars. When you first spot ocean-going birds, you’ll probablyhave trouble making positive identification. But chances areyou’ll see each of more than a dozen kinds of birds–maybe as manyas 20 or 25 species–many times in the course of a long day. What youneed to take along Just as binoculars magnify distant objects, they also magnifymotion, so choose low-power (6x or 7x) binoculars. Center-focusingmodels are desirable because you can use them with one hand (you’llprobably be hanging onto the boat rail with the other); it’s allthe better if they’re water-resistant. Take along a slicker and extra-warm clothing to protect you fromsalt spray, and wind and sun screen to prevent burning. Your tripleader will tell you how much food to bring.
Guided trips: Westport toSan Diego Listed north to south, here is a sampling of upcoming trips. Thistime of year, birding is good and seas tend to be calm. Reserve wellahead. Westport, Washington, September 9 and 23 ($40). Coordinator:Terry Wahl, 3041 Eldridge Ave., Bellingham, Wash.
98225; (206) 733-8255.Hammond, Oregon, September 8; $42. Eight-hour trips are run by PortlandAudubon Society, 5151 N.W. Cornell Rd.
, Portland 97210; (503) 292-6855.Garibadli, Oregon, September 15 and October 13; 8-hour trips cost $25.Coordinator: Dave Irons, 4005 S.E. Lambert St.
, Portland 97202; (503)771-7170. Newport, Oregon, August 25; $32. Coordinator: Rick Krabbe,Rt. 1, Box 9G, Philomath 97370; (503) 929-5541.
Charleston, Oregon,September 15; this 10-hour trip costs $25. Coordinator: BarbaraGriffin, 1691 Grant St., North Bend 97459; (503) 756-5688. Coos Bay,Oregon, September 16; $30, 8-hour trip. Trip run by Ronald Valley andRonn Storro-Patterson, Biological Journies, Inc.
, 1876 Ocean Dr.,McKinleyville, Calif. 95521; (707) 839-0178. Crescent City,California, September 22; $30, 8-hour trip sponsored by BiologicalJournies (address above). Eureka, California, September 23; $30, 8-hourtrip out of Humboldt Bay sponsored by Biological Journies (addressabove).
This trip gets to deep water faster than any other except theones out of Monterey Bay. Birding should be very good. Eureka to SanFrancisco, September 24-26; $220, meals included.
Bring your ownsleeping bag for this overnighter on the 50-foot Delphinus. Makereservations with Biological Journies (address above). San Francisco,weekends June through October; $40. Oceanic Society runs trips to theFarallon Islands, leaving San Francisco Yacht Harbor at 9 each Friday,Saturday, and Sunday morning and returning at 5. See puffins,shearwaters, auklets, humpback and blue whales, elephant seals. Forreservations, call (415) 441-1106. Monterey, September 12, 16, 23, 26,29, 30; October 6, 7, 13, 14, 20; November 3, 11, December 1, 27; costfrom $15 to $27. Shearwater Journeys runs day trips (7:45 to 3 P.
M.)into the bay; you might see albatross, red phalarope, tufted puffin, orthousands of storm petrels; plus blue or humpback whales, fur seals,Dall’s porpoise. For reservations, write to Shearwater Journeys,221 Claudius Dr., Aptos, Calif.
95003 or call (408) 688-1990. SantaBarbara, September 16 and October 20; $33. The Natural Conservancy runsday trips to Santa Cruz Island in channel Islands National Park. Fromthe boat, you’re likely to see cormorants, brown pelicans, puffins;after docking, there’s a guided hike of the island. Trips lastfrom 8 to 6, leaving from the Island Packers landing at 1867 SpinnakerDrive, Ventura Harbor; call (805) 642-1393.
Departing September 7, 14,and 23, three-day Oceanic Society trips go from Ventura Harbor to theChannel Islands; $375. For information and reservations, call (415)441-1106. Los Angeles, September 23, $25. “Redbilledtropicbird” trip circles San Clemente Island; leaves 5:30 A.M.,returns 6 P.
M. October 14, $22. “Shearwaters and storm 6 A.M.
,returns 6 P.M. Both leave from San Pedro are sponsored by Los AngelesAudubon Society; for reservations and map, call (213) 876-0202. SanDiego, September 8; $40. Western Field Ornithologists’ day trip(5:30 A.
M. to 6 P.M.) heads to San Clemente Island. You’ll seepetrels, shearwaters, possibly redbilled tropicbirds, and more.Departure is from Seaforth Sportfishing landing, 1717 Quivira Road.
Forreservations, write to Ginger Johnson, 4637 Del Mar Ave., San Diego92107. Flite Tours runs trips along the coast between Imperial Beach andLa Jolla the second and fourth Saturdays in January and February; $38 to$50. Departure is from H&M landing at Emerson and Scott streets.See arctic loon, rhinoceros auklet, black-vented shearwater. Forreservations, write to Flite Tours, 2932 Greyling Dr., San Diego 92123.