One of 7 (yes seven!!) Scripps's Murrelets found on our trip. We were able to find some warm water and that was key, for most of us it was our first time encountering this species in San Mateo County, and perhaps a county high number record!
This Scripps's Murrelet looks to have a handy little hook, they make excellent Christmas tree ornaments I am told.
We have been seeing Ashy Storm-Petrels regularly on our trips, and sometimes quite close allowing for good studies. They are all dark, but show a slightly more grayish rump. They are shorter winged and narrower winged than the Black Storm-Petrel. Ashy has a bat like flight, very different to that of the Black Storm-Petrel.
The Black Storm-Petrel, a Mexican breeder, is larger and darker than the Ashy. It also has a broader wing (particularly at the wrist) and a longer inner wing; when they flap they remind one of a nighthawk, quite unlike the more bat-like Ashy Storm-Petrel. The uderwings on the black are uniformly dark, while Ashy has a pale flash on the underwing.
Here two Ashy Storm-Petrles show the upperwing pattern with paler "ulnar" bar above, and a slightly grayish rump. From below they have a pale flash down the midwing.
This photo lets you see how unique the shape of the Black Storm-Petrel is with long inner wings, and oddly broad yet long wings. The body looks small for the size of the wings!
Black-footed Albatross in the waves
I like this photo as the waves suggest a big sea, it wasn't actually the case. I just caught a Black-footed Albatross on the best wave set of the day!
Northern Fulmar with albatross
A molting ad rather bedraggled dark morph Northern Fulmar looks puny near a Black-footed Albatross. There is great diversity out there, what a joy it is to be able to visit the birds of the California Current!
Laysan Albatross adult
The Laysan Albatross is quite a bit rarer than the Black-footed in central California, yet we have had amazingly good luck with it off Half Moon Bay! It is essentially a 50% chance. This individual is an adult due to the colorful bill and the grey wash on the face.
The Buller's Shearwater nests in New Zealand, and it is certainly the prettiest of our shearwaters. The dark cap contrasts strongly with the white underparts, and even on this swimming bird you can see the complex pattern of grey and black upperparts.
This is a very fresh looking, so recently molted, Pink-footed Shearwater. They breed in Chile, and will be back on breeding islands by October - November. When fresh the secondaries and inner primaries can look more grayish than the coverts, and in some lights the pattern may suggest a Buller's Shearwater.
The Sooty breeds in New Zealand and Chile, although a generalist in food habits, it is more likely to rely on small bait fish (anchovies for example) than the previous two shearwaters. This one has just finished replacing its feathers and has a curious greyish tone to the wings that disappear as they wear.
Sooty Shearwater swimming
The long and thin bill of the Sooty is clear here, but also is the strong hook at the tip. If you eat slippery stuff like fish and squid, you better be able to grip on it tightly!
Sabine's Gull adult
Sabine's Gulls breed in the high Arctic and migrate offshore to offshore waters in Chile and Peru. They have a unique pattern of grey back, white triangle on wings, and then a black triangle on the outer part of the wing. The yellow-tipped dark bill is unique.
Common Tern adult
When Common Terns migrate south (to Ecuador - Peru - Chile) in the West, they do it well offshore. Out east, this is not the case and the terns are common on beaches and even the interior. Common Terns are very difficult to separate from the Arctic Tern, but they are longer billed, longer necked and adults have a dark wedge on the upperwing, and broader dark trailing edge on the underwing.
Often on pelagic trips many of the jaegers are immature and very difficult to identify. This is a fully adult, breeding plumaged, Parasitic Jaeger. It has a mid-length sharp tail streamers, a broad dark cap (more restricted on the Long-tailed Jaeger), and entirely uniform upperwings, a feature it shares with the Pomarine, but not Long-tailed.
Pomarine Jaeger adult
This adult Pomarine Jaeger is showing pretty good spoon shaped tail streamers, a feature unique to the Pomarine Jaeger. Also the dark cap extends well below the eye, to the chin. Unusual on this individual is that it lacks a breast band, it may be a male.
Cassin's Auklet in flight
The Cassin's Auklet is a small alcid, about the size of a Nerf Football when it flies. It is uniformly greyish with a pale belly and when seen up close it has a white spot above the eyes.
Tufted Puffin in flight
The Tufted Puffin is super fancy in breeding, and more subdued in winter. This individual is actually a subadult, when fully adult the orange bills have three ridge lines that trisect the bill. When flying Tufted Puffin is entirely blackish below, and shows no white anywhere except near the face.
Black Oystercatcher in flight
Back at the harbor, the birding continues! This is a black bird that appears to carry a carrot - a look unique to the Black Oystercatcher. Note that it is changing the main feathers of the wing.
This is the Black Oystercatcher perched - still looks like it is carrying a carrot.
In minutes you can see all three species of cormorants on the breakwalls at Pillar Point Harbor. On left is the largest and bulkiest, the Double-crested Cormorant. Apart from size check out the orange throat and spot before the eye. In the middle is a young Brandt's Cormorant, similar in size to the Double-crested but slightly slimmer particularly on the bill, and lacking the orange throat. Instead it shows a buffy throat area. Finally on the right is the very small headed, and long-billed Pelagic Cormorant. This species can appear snake like due to the small head and long neck. The tail is also proportionately long on the Pelagic.
Common in the harbor, but their numbers decrease dramatically in winter when they head down south to breed.
Another Mexican winter breeder is the Heermann's Gull, this one not yet an adult.
Also largely a Mexican breeder is the Elegant Tern, a mid sized tern with a long and droopy orange bill and shaggy crest. On most birds you can see a salmon wash to the underparts, but it is very difficult to capture this on camera.
I end this slide show with a very elegant pose from an Elegant Tern. One of the things I like about seabirds is their shapes, their "lines", and how graceful they can appear as they fly over our ocean.