Birding Without Borders

Day 145: Out to Sea

Noah tries to track down a migrant, along with some special guests.

May 25, 2015, Los Angeles, California — A couple of days ago, a Nazca Booby was reported to be sitting on a guano-covered rock on Anacapa Island, off the coast of Ventura County north of Los Angeles. Nazca Boobies normally live in the Galapagos (where I am not going this year), and there is just one previous record from the United States of a wild bird, which was seen last year from a boat off Los Angeles. If I could see this one, it would be a big bonus.

Anacapa Island is next to Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park, about 11 miles offshore. Boat trips regularly visit both islands; it takes about an hour to get to either one from the mainland. Besides this booby, Anacapa doesn’t have any particularly special birds, although it’s possible to see some interesting seabirds in the channel crossing. Santa Cruz, meanwhile, hosts an endemic species called the Island Scrub-Jay, which is easy to see there. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to visit both islands in one day. Thus, a dilemma: Should I go to Santa Cruz, with a near 100 percent chance of seeing the endemic scrub-jay, or go to Anacapa instead in hopes of finding the rare Nazca Booby?

I went for the Hail Mary pass and booked boat tickets for Anacapa. The scrub-jays will always be there, but this booby is now or never. (Also, the Santa Cruz trip would have been all day, while Anacapa could be visited in an afternoon). Today’s birding posse included Dave Bell, a couple of friends named Frank and Susan Gilliland, and a 12-year-old birder from Montrose named Dessi Sieburth. The five of us caught the boat to Anacapa in early afternoon.

Dessi was recently named the American Birding Association’s 2015 Young Birder of the Year (in the 10-13 age category)—eleven years after I won the same contest in 2004!—and he’s the sharpest seventh-grader I’ve ever met. It was cool to hang out with him for a day. He called out birds like it was no big deal to identify chip notes and fleeting glimpses, and knew the local birds as well as any of us. Dessi is doing a big year within Los Angeles County this year (catching rides to rarities whenever he can) and seems to be well on his way to setting a new record. Jennie Duberstein, who I birded with in Arizona this week and who works with the ABA’s young birder programs, said that Dessi’s conservation work is impressive, too; he recently gave a full 45-minute presentation to an Audubon chapter in L.A. and answered questions for 15 minutes afterward.

It was a beautiful day for the crossing—flat seas, a slight breeze, and sunshine. En route, we found a blue whale, a group of bow-riding bottlenose dolphins, and a large pod of common dolphins, along with a Pink-footed Shearwater, four Cassin’s Auklet’s, and a dozen Bonaparte’s Gulls. So it wasn’t too disappointing when the guano-covered rock was covered with nothing but guano—no booby in sight! Maybe the Nazca was out fishing, or maybe it realized its bearings and headed back to the Galapagos.

New birds today: 28

Year list: 2653

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