HumpbackTail CMP6_30_16On Thursday I went whale watching with FastRaft and friends. I expected to see whales — humpbacks are usually in the Monterey Bay during the summer — and there had been reports of Risso’s and other types of dolphins, too.


It turned out to be a great trip (even with the thick fog and swells). The whales were awesome. We saw humpbacks feeding, fin whales cruising nearby, and orcas (killer whales) hunting. Kate Spencer of FastRaft posted some fine whale shots on Facebook.

BFAlbatrosses CMP6_30_16Fin whales were a new sighting for me and I’ve never seen killer whales while out on Monterey Bay. But what I found even more amazing were the black-footed albatrosses. About 8 miles out, off Marina, the orcas had killed and abandoned a harbor porpoise. (We heard the pod later got a harbor seal, too.) After watching the whales, Kate took us back to the albatrosses. [Thanks, Kate!]

BFAlbatross1 CMP6_30_16Around the dead porpoise were several albatrosses and a few western gulls.  The black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) is a pelagic (open-water) bird — it spends nearly all of its time gliding on a wingspan of 76 – 85 inches (193 – 216 cm). I have taken photos of them on the wing before, and they’re beautiful fliers, but that’s nothing compared to close-up views. These birds were feeding right next to us. Here are some of my best shots. I’m not including anything too gory (and there was plenty of that with the partially eaten porpoise).

Finally, a reminder. The population of black-footed albatross is supposedly stable, yet it’s classified as “near threatened” due to today’s ocean issues: fishing practices, pollution and plastic, climate change. What you do on land every day can have a positive or negative impact on amazing ocean life that we seldom see. They’re out there trying to make a living, as we all are, and making better use of your reusable water bottle or driving fewer miles can make a difference.

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Point Lobos birding +

Point Lobos (Point Lobos State Natural Reserve) is a great place to visit any time of the year — the views are amazing and the wildlife always plenty. Yet this time of year is truly amazing for watching breeding birds and marine mammals with pups. To celebrate today’s World Oceans Day, I spent the morning at Point Lobos with my birding class led by Brian Weed, and here are some of our sightings.


Black-crowned night heron



Black oystercatcher



Brandt’s cormorants



Pelagic cormorants


California thrasher






Sea otter


I wrote about our local June gloom — thick marine layer (fog) — in a June 2013 post. Since that post explains the why behind the cloudy days, for this post I’ll just show you this year’s gloom. Fortunately, the clouds aren’t lasting all day each day on the coast, but we still wake to gray.

Enjoy the soft, cool, changing light.



RedCrabs CMaParsonsTwice in my three decades living on the Monterey Peninsula I’ve witnessed two invasions by pelagic red crabs, also called tuna crabs, or langostino by some. These are spectacular and rare occurrences along our coast, although we’ve had a couple this year, the most recent last week. The first local invasion that I could find mention of was in 1895 (Boyd 1967).

RedCrabClUp CMaParsons A pelagic red crab (Pleuroncodes planipes) looks like a small lobster — it’s even called a squat lobster — about 5 inches (13 cm) long. They’re part of the “micronecton,” that is, small swimming marine organisms that live in the water column. Adults tend to live closer to the bottom and feed on plankton near the surface. However, they’re swimming abilities are limited and they’re easily caught up in tides and currents. As a result, they sometimes end up in the wrong place (for a pelagic crab), like our Monterey Bay beaches.

RedCrabTrio CMaParsonsThis year, as with the last invasion I observed in the early 1980s, was an El Niño year, a natural recurring event (every 7 years or so) when waters off Peru and Ecuador become unusually warm, changing Pacific water flow and weather worldwide. The sight of red crabs indicates warm subtropical waters moving northward off the west coast of the U.S. These crabs are most typically found off Baja California and in the Gulf of California, although they are seen off Chile and up to Washington state.


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The brightly colored crabs not only attract the attention of people, but that of shorebirds, especially gulls. They were gorging themselves on the bounty in the shallow water, jumping the waves and trying to avoid one another. The crabs are probably a welcome, easy, tasty meal. Many gulls looked too full to move.


While researching this post, I found a Yummly page with red crab recipes. If gulls, tuna and whales can enjoy them, why not people? Although, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography recommends not eating red crabs because of possible toxins (of which significant amounts were found in shellfish this year causing a long delay to the opening of the Dungeness crab season). If not edible, the display is certainly a shoreline spectacle.

Gull CMaParsons

References & Sources
Boyd, C.M. (1987). The Benthic and Pelagic Habitats of the Red Crab, Pleuroncodes planipes. Pacific Science XXI (3): 394-403.
National Marine Sanctuaries. Pelagic Red Crabs
Scripps Institution of Oceanography UCSD. Red Crabs Invade San Diego Shores

Song sparrow

Everywhere I walk this time of year I hear, and often see, song sparrows singing. They have a distinctive and melodious song. So I’m sharing with you my collection of these songsters.

While reading up on song sparrows, I learned that the males are the singers and the females do most of the nest-making. He sings, she builds. Then they both care for the young. Listen while you walk and you may hear him, too.