Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Blue-footed Visitors from the Galapagos

Blue-footed Booby, Cove Beach
Not since 1971 has a Blue-footed Booby been spotted in Northern California. For the last week or so, multiple reports of immature and sub-adult Blue-footed Boobies have been reported ranging up the CA coast. There are about twenty reports from San Diego, LA area, Mono Lake, Salton Sea and Pt Reyes. Today Monterey Bay coastline and San Francisco is hosting a few. Evidently this phenomenon has not been seen since 1971 (B. Sullivan fide), and may correlate with the local abundance of anchovies seen this season off the CA coastline.

After getting a report from Peninsula Birds about the Blue-footed Booby at Cove Beach, I went on down Wednesday 9/18 to Cove Beach about 1 pm. Sure enough on the west end near the surfer area was the juvenile booby sitting on the rocks where the corms and BRPE hang out. I was able to observe the bird for about ½ hour before it flew, see picture. The lighting was horrible but, hey it’s a BFBO, a good day for sure!
Blue-footed Booby Flight

Here is some more information on the California event from the Joe Morlan Blog:

Status in California
Until this year, there were 114 previously accepted records of Blue-footed Booby in California. The species was removed from the CBRC review list in 1974 because it was thought to be of regular occurrence. It was restored in 1986 when it became apparent it was no longer a regular or expected visitor to the state. Major invasions occurred in 1969 (32 birds) and 1972 (at least 45 birds), but over 40 years have passed since then. Now we are experiencing what appears to be the largest invasion ever with more than 18 birds together at Obsidian Butte (Salton Sea), more than 10 on Anacapa Island and up to 7 at Playa Del Rey. Birds have been seen as far north as Bodega Head in Sonoma County, and one was reportedly photographed at Mono Lake. .
There has been considerable speculation about the cause of this invasion. It seems likely to be related to food resources with sardine stocks being over-fished in the Gulf of California by purse seine fishing and reported declines in anchovy off the California Coast.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

In-Seine Squid

Last July I sailed out of Half Moon Bay on a pelagic birding trip. A few miles off the coast we encountered a squid shoal, a grouping of many thousand market or opalescent Squid (Doryteuthis Opalescens).
Mineo Bros Squid Boat unloading at Johnson's Pier,
Pillar Point Harbor, California.
This has been typically a real cash crop along the California coast but for the last 7 years squid activity around Half Moon Bay has been non-existent. Mike McHenry has been fishing the waters of Pillar Point Harbor for the last 30 years and is the only local squid boat captain. His boat the Meva M actually sank July 24th 1984 due to being overloaded with squid. It remained on the bottom for 1 month before being raised and restored.

Normally about 80% of California squid is harvested in Southern California mostly around the Channel Islands with the rest coming from Monterey. This year the squid returned in massive numbers again near Half Moon Bay and suddenly many squid boats from the west coast and Canada descended on the Pillar Point Harbor. Fish and Wildlife has set a yearly quota of about 118,000 tons which amounts to about $70,000,000! A typical squid boat can net about 80-150 tons of squid which can be worth up to $90,000. During a recent survey of the harbor I spied about 7 non-local boats. 

Container of Ice and Squid

I'm not an expert on fishing or squids but I'm very interested in local activities in and around the coastside. I often hang out at the harbor, something about a genuine working fishing village draws my interest.  If you hang around the harbor long enough something interesting and exciting will happen such as the squid bloom now, or a sinking or rescue at sea, world class surfing at Mavericks, and the constant arrivals and departures of exotic birds from around the world.

Purse Seine are large long nets that hang vertically in the water like a fence. A small skiff holds one end in place while a larger 'seiner' vessel encircles a school of fish or squid. A rope along the net bottom is then pulled "pursing" the net- closing of the seine bottom like a drawstring. A successful set may yield a harvest of about 40 tons. Much squid fishing is done at night. The boat locates the squid using sonar and powerful lights mounted on the boat draw the squid to the surface for netting.
Purse Seine Fisheries

Pillar Point Harbor is well equipped to handle large quantities of squid and has streamlined the process. At Johnson Pier Morningstar Fisheries uses a vacuum system to off load the boats. The squid are put in large containers filled with ice and loaded onto large tractor trailer trucks and hauled down to Southern California Seafood of Watsonville. 95% percent of the squid is exported and 70% goes to China.

It can be a very chaotic scene on the pier with several forklifts speeding around at break neck speed. I've seen angry forklift operators yelling warnings to tourist that inadvertently wander into the midst of the operation. I'm thinking why don't they cone off the pier during these times as most tourist on the pier don't have a clue as to what's going on.

Squid Loading at Pillar Point Harbor

Squid distribution is dependent on water temperature and there have been attempts to relate squid movement with El Nino. The last big El Nino event occurred in 1996-97 and this was a big squid year around Half Moon Bay. That year the winter rains doubled it's usual average with San Francisco getting about 40 inches of rain. According to NOAA this year and into early 2014 we are looking at ENSO neutral variability meaning no El Nino or La Nina are expected.
Lady J from Monterey Off-loading Squid
Johnson Pier

 Some similarities between 1997 and today from my personal observations are, more bait fish (from bird observations), more squid, and an unusual humid spell! It will be interesting to see what this winter brings weather wise, as we have just come off two years in a row with below normal rainfall.