So I had seen my albatross, resplendent in the sunset. But the Inimitable Todd had missed it! Worse, he’d also missed the one that flew over the boat just before breakfast. The Inimitable Todd was beginning to think that albatrosses were all some big birder in-joke. Possibly a conspiracy. It was putting a stress fracture in our relationship – after all, counselors say that after money and kids the number one cause of break-ups is a life list mismatch. (I think I heard that somewhere, anyway.)
You’d think an albatross would be hard to miss. Especially as the birds were thinning out. There were still Buller’s Shearwaters in plenty, along with a few Pink-footeds and Sooties. There were still storm-petrels, nearly all Leach’s – but as I mentioned, this didn’t mean that they were all the same bird; this would be the only day that we’d see all the expected races, including the nominate. But overall, this was not the rich and hectic world of our last two days. It was, instead, a place to scan the sea and air for the shier, rarer Pacific wanderers, the birds that think nothing of commuting to South America or even Australia, the larger petrels, the tropicbirds, and, of course, the albatrosses.
After the previous day’s total cetacean bliss-out, we had to be eased back into sea-mammal watching with a few distant Fin and Blue Whales as we chugged over the Rodriguez Dome into the deep water on the other side of the continental shelf. We also encountered dolphins, both our old friends the Common Dolphins (Long and Short-beaked) and the Pacific White-sided Dolphin.
We scanned the skies, looking for rarities, trailing a magnificent slick of chum and waiting for the rarities to come.
The waiting was neither unexpected nor entirely unpleasant. Eventually some albatrosses showed themselves satisfactorily to the Skeptical Inimitable Todd (although not to his camera). More Leach’s Storm Petrels. More Buller’s Shearwaters. Skuas, and all the Jaegers. Lots of waves.
Someone shouted that they saw a Murrelet! The engines were cut at once and we tried to sneak up on it. Unfortunately, it is very hard for a 95-foot boat to sneak up on a 10-inch bird in the open ocean. It flushed, and when it landed it dove, and that was it for any hopes of seeing the Xantus’s Murrelet (for such it was. Or so I was told.)
The Guadalupe Fur Seals were a bit more obliging. Perhaps being thought extinct has prompted them to be more forthcoming, or perhaps it’s just that they’re easier to see. Either way, we spotted 22, of the roughly 10,000 that now exist. That’s more than there are of Xantus’s Murrelet, by the way.
An Arctic Tern paused on its annual journey across the face of the globe and let us all get a look. Another Xantus’s Murrelet popped up, this time allowing a brief but countable look (at the determination that it was of the scrippsi subspecies.)
Then it was back to practicing our birdwatching Zen. Again, I say this not to complain. There’s a whole lot of Pacific Ocean, as I’ve been pointing out in a variety of hopefully entertaining ways. And it’s impossible to predict which bits of it will have birds and mammals on at any particular time.
Still, our job would have been easier were humans not constantly driving ocean species to the edge of extinction (let alone over it.)
More terns, more petrels. And just before the dinner call, more Murrelets; subspecies hypoleucus this time, a pair that peeped to each other even as they wound up on either side of the boat. With the engine cut, their calls were clear above the wind and waves and the sound of excited birders rushing from rail to rail. Xantus’s Murrelets are believed to be monogamous, and these two certainly seemed eager to stay together, though even the waves were bigger than them. We watched them for a long time, from our perches above the water. And when they finally flew away, I only hoped that they would be able to find each other again quickly, their life lists perhaps both up by one species of bipedal mammal.