These pages feature some of the extremely rare pelagic birds that have
been found on Monterey Bay boat trips. All photos on this page were
taken on Monterey Bay or offshore the Big Sur coast (except the Long-billed
Murrelet and one S.F. Bay booby).
text & most photos by Don Roberson
those attributed to other photographers
used with permission; all rights reserved.
Photos above © Richard Ternullo 21 Dec 1998 (left) & ©
Robert L. Pitman 2 Dec 1983 (right). Photos below © John Sorensen
18 Oct 1998.
Short-tailed Albatross Phoebastria albatrus was once
a regular visitor to Monterey Bay, and was the most common albatross species
seen from shore in the 1800s. The species almost went extinct from egging,
shooting, and volcanic eruptions on its breeding islands off Japan. Much
more on the story is HERE.
Today it is a rare vagrant to Monterey Bay. These two juvenal birds were
on 21 Dec 1998, just 3 nmi off Pt. Pinos (near left) and on 2 Dec 1983
about 60 nmi off Cape San Martin (far right)
Photos below © Tristan McKee 26 July 1996
Great-winged Petrel Pterodroma macroptera is among
the most astonishing rarities to reach Monterey Bay. It is a species of
subAntarctic waters. This individual, of the race gouldi, a breeding
species on islets off New Zealand. was found a dozen nmi off Pt. Pinos
on 18 Oct 1998. There was only one prior record for the North Pacific,
off Pt. Reyes in Aug 1996.
Other Pterodroma petrels to reach Monterey County waters
are Mottled Petrel P. inexpectata (both during storms: one seen
from Pt. Pinos 12 Dec 1984 during gale force winds, and the other stranded
at the Seaside auto mall 24 Nov 1996 and taken to SPCA); Murphy's P.
ultima and Cook's P. cookii Petrels, which may be regular far
offshore; Stejneger's Petrel P. longirostris some 60 nmi off Pt.
Sur on 17 Nov 1979; and Hawaiian (Dark-rumped) Petrel P. sandwichensis
some 30 nmi off Cypress Pt. on 26 June 1994.
Photos of Murphy's, Cook's, and Hawaiian Petrels appear on the page
about far offshore birds.
Photos below © Don Roberson 9 Oct 1977 (left) & ©
Steve Wilson 26 Sep 1982 (right)
Bulwer's Petrel has occurred only once: 16 nmi west of Pt.
Pinos on 26 July 1996. This was during a span of 15 years of extremely
warm waters north to Monterey Bay, a period bracketed by major El Niño
events in 1982-1983 and in 1997-1998. This species is a common component
of tropical waters of the eastern tropical Pacific and was likely dispersed
this far north only due to the decadal pattern of very warm waters in those
years. Monterey Bay has since returned to more normal, cooler sea surface
Photo below © Ronald L. Branson
Streaked Shearwater Calonectris leucomelas has occurred
7 times, all in Sep-Oct. These were 9 Oct 1977 (left) and 26 Sep 1982 (right)
on Monterey Bay.
Photos below © Rich Stallcup 31 Aug 1986 (left) & ©
Don Roberson 11 Oct 1998 (right)
Greater Shearwater, a widespread Atlantic species, has appeared
four times on Monterey Bay (3 in Monterey Co. waters, once nearer to Santa
Cruz Co.): 24 Feb 1979, 1-2 Oct 1994 (photo left), 13-15 Jan 2001, and
8 Oct 2001. This puts two records in fall and two in winter. Greater Shearwaters
typically summer in the North Atlantic and winter in the South Atlantic.
Our birds presumably ended up around Cape Horn in winter, and then moved
north in the Pacific on the 'wrong' side of South America and up to the
North Pacific. They were then attracted to Monterey Bay in fall and winter
due to the abundance of food there at those seasons.
Wedge-tailed Shearwater is a tropical seabird whose occurrence
here has generally been linked to warmer waters, especially the 'warm water
decades' of the 1980s & 1990s book-ended by the major El Niños
of 1982-83 and 1997-98. There are 3 Monterey Bay records.
|The first Wedge-tailed Shearwater was a light-morph bird on 31 Aug
1986 (above, far left) and was the first for California (see Stallcup et
al., 1988, West. Birds 19:61-68). The second was a dark-morph individual
present for several weeks in Oct 1998 (above, middle). The third was another
light-morph bird just outside Monterey harbor 26 Sep 1999 (photo in Monterey
Birds, 2d ed.).
Photos below © Don Roberson 12 Oct 1996 (left) & ©
Rod Norden 29 Aug 1993 (right)
Manx Shearwater is another Atlantic species that made it
around the tip of South America, 'trapping' a population in the Pacific.
They are now rare but regular migrants in Monterey Bay in spring and fall;
a few have wintered locally.
|Since we see apparent juvenal Manx Shearwaters in fall, they are presumably
nesting somewhere north of Monterey Bay in a yet undiscovered locale (Alaska?
B.C.?). This writer authored a major paper on our Manx Shearwaters (Roberson,
1995, Birding 28:18-33).
Photos below © D. Roberson, 3 Oct 1982 (left) & 9 Oct
Photo below © Don Roberson 18 June 1992 (right)
A few Wilson's Storm-Petrel (left, in the wake of boat)
occur each Sep-Oct, but vagrant Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel has appeared
just 3 times, including in the storm-petrel flock shown in this shot (right)
from 9 Oct 1977 (but it is not visible).
Photos below © John Sorensen 13 Feb 1999 (left) & ©
Larry Schumacher 5 Apr 1990 (right)
Masked Booby is a huge tropical booby that generally stays
to warm waters near the Equator. Two adult yellow-billed Masked Boobies
appeared in Monterey Bay during the exceptional warm-water years of the
1990s. This adult (right) roosted among Brown Pelicans at the Salinas R.
mouth on 18, 20, & 22 June 1992 (frustrating those who looked for it
19 & 21 June!). The other was seen by a fishing boat skipper on 29
Photo below © Richard Ternullo 20 Oct 1999 (right)
Nazca Booby is the nesting 'Masked Booby' type booby in
the Galapagos Islands; a few breed elsewhere on the Nazca tectonic plate.
It was only recently determined to be a separate species, Sula granti
(see by Sulidae
family page for more details). This writer has published an identification
paper on separating Masked & Nazca Boobies (Roberson, 1998, Field
Notes 52:276-287). Both of the Nazca Boobies shown here are in juvenal
plumage, before bill color becomes the key character. The bird shown at
was the first California record on 5 Apr 1990 was next to a fishing boat
just off Pt. Lobos; it lacked a cervical collar as do most juv. Nazca Boobies.
The one photographed in the middle of Monterey Bay on 13 Feb 1999 (left)
had a cervical collar, but other features and the February date strongly
suggest it cannot have been a Masked (more discussion of this bird HERE).
Photos below © D. Roberson 3 Dec 1987 (far left and PhotoShopped)
& © Steve Pringle from San Francisco Bay 17 Oct 1987 (bottom)
Brown Booby (right) is a rare visitor. This adult
male of the race brewsteri (right; the white nape and crown identifies
the subspecies) was in the middle of Monterey Bay on 20 Oct 1999. All other
records have been dark-headed females or immatures; there have been 4 such
records between June and October. Three of them landed: one on a fishing
boat, another on an islet at Pt. Lobos, and the third on Castle Rocks down
the Big Sur coast.
We also have one sight record of up to 4 Blue-footed Boobies
(no photos) diving for fish between Pt. Pinos and Lovers Pt.,
Pacific Grove, on 16-17 Oct 1971. The summer and fall of 1971 brought a
spectacular invasion of 80 Blue-footed Boobies to California. These invasions
are very unpredictable, and there hasn't been another like it in the past
Red-footed Booby has appeared only during an unprecedented
warm-water incursion of this tropical booby in fall 1987. Six of them reached
California, including several in coastal northern California, and two in
Photo below © Daniel H. Varoujean & L.J.V. Compagno, 4
Sep 1971 at Moss Landing, and published by them in 1973
|A red-footed dark morph landed on the research vessel Pt. Sur in Monterey
Bay on 8 Oct 1987 and rode the ship into Moss Landing. Another dark morph
landed on a ship in San Francisco Bay on 17 Oct (bottom middle, above).
On 3 Dec, a gray-footed dark morph appeared at Hopkins Marine Station and
then later, at dusk, landed on Pt. Pinos (far left, above). In the fading
light and cold, the sole unretouched photo (far left, above) is double
exposed. Using PhotoShop®, that double image can be removed (above,
upper middle) to show approximate proportions, including bill size, and
wing and tail length. In 1987, it was not yet known that the gray feet
identified it as a very young Red-foot and the bird was mistaken by some
as "Brown Booby" because of whitish in the underwings. As it turned out,
some dark Red-foots have white patches in underwing coverts. The Pt. Pinos
booby proved to be the final Red-footed of the 1987 invasion.
Photo below © Larry Balch 13 Oct 1979 (right)
Magnificent Frigatebird is a rare (mostly) summer visitor
from tropical oceans. The immature photographed (left) appeared over the
old Salinas River channel in Moss Landing on 4 Sep 1971, and kleptoparasitized
two Western Gulls. This photograph was published in The Auk in 1973
(Vol. 90, p. 192) with an article about the occurrence of several frigatebirds
that summer. There are now 21 records for Magnificent Frigatebirds in Monterey
County, almost all from summer or early autumn.
Photos below © Alan S. Hopkins 27 Dec 1997 at Muir Beach MRN,
California & specimen photos © D. Roberson (right)
Great Frigatebird has been found in California only twice.
This adult male (right) was flying over the Monterey beaches from Moss
Landing south to the Salinas R. mouth on 13 Oct 1979, often harassed (as
here) by California Gulls. It was tentatively identified as a Great at
the time but this identification was not unanimously accepted until almost
20 years later. By then a second Great Frigatebird (a female) had been
seen: at SE Farallon I., off San Francisco, 14 Mar 1992.
Among rare alcids, there is one record of Long-billed Murrelet
in the Santa Cruz portion of Monterey Bay, 23 Aug 2001 (another from Marin
Co., California, is shown at left). Parakeet Auklet (both specimens,
apparently regular in Monterey Bay in the late 19th and early 20th
Photo below © John Sorensen 7 Aug 1999 (left)
|Rollo H. Beck collected 18 Parakeet Auklets between 1905-1908, including
this one (above right, bottom shot) just off Pt. Pinos on 13 Jan 1908 (specimen
Calif. Acad. Sci.). The most recent record is one found dead on a Moss
Landing beach 3 Mar 1974 (above right, top shot; specimen Moss Landing
Marine Lab). In addition, both Least and Crested Auklets have been found
on northern California beaches not far north of Monterey Bay.
Horned Puffin is a rare vagrant to Monterey Bay. Nearly
a dozen dead or dying puffins have been found on Monterey Bay beaches,
and there are now 15 records of live Horned Puffins on Monterey Bay, the
vast majority in summer (like this one, left, photographed 7 Aug 1999).
Go to the linked pages on these buttons to view the common and/or regular
species of birds on Monterey Bay:
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Page created 17-30 Nov 2002