text & most photos by Don Roberson
those attributed to other photographers are
used with permission; all rights reserved.
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).
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 above © Richard Ternullo 21 Dec 1998 (left) & © Robert L. Pitman 2 Dec 1983 (right). Photos below © John Sorensen 18 Oct 1998.
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 © Tristan McKee 26 July 1996
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 temperatures.
Photos below © Don Roberson 9 Oct 1977 (left) & © Steve Wilson 26 Sep 1982 (right)
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.
Photo below © Ronald L. Branson
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.
Photos below © Rich Stallcup 31 Aug 1986 (left) & © Don Roberson 11 Oct 1998 (right)
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 1977 (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).
Photo below © Don Roberson 18 June 1992 (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 Aug 1997.
Photos below © John Sorensen 13 Feb 1999 (left) & © Larry Schumacher 5 Apr 1990 (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 right 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).
Photo below © Richard Ternullo 20 Oct 1999 (right)
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 20 years.
Photos below © D. Roberson 3 Dec 1987 (far left and PhotoShopped) & © Steve Pringle from San Francisco Bay 17 Oct 1987 (bottom)

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 Monterey County.
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 © Daniel H. Varoujean & L.J.V. Compagno, 4 Sep 1971 at Moss Landing, and published by them in 1973
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.
Photo below © Larry Balch 13 Oct 1979 (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.
Photos below © Alan S. Hopkins 27 Dec 1997 at Muir Beach MRN, California & specimen photos © D. Roberson (right)
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, right) was
apparently regular in Monterey Bay in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
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.
Photo below © John Sorensen 7 Aug 1999 (left)
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:







Page created 17-30 Nov 2002