Guadalupe Murrelet is a tiny member of the Alcid group of 24 species concentrated mostly in the waters of North America. It is confined to the nutrient-rich California Current, where it holds the unfortunate distinction of being one of the most threatened seabirds in the ABA area. Threats include feral predators, oil spills, and the degradation of its prime breeding grounds on namesake Guadalupe Island – about 300 miles southwest of San Diego. Feral goats have extirpated the tussock grasses beneath which the murrelets previously excavated tiny burrows to lay two eggs, sheltered from the sun. What a mess. Like most people I meet on the road, I can’t but feel a churning anxiety about the future of nature. It’s a fine line between the joy of experiencing the best offerings of Planet Earth, and the painful awareness of its future. At best the search for earth’s life treasures is exhilarating – at worst I get the temptation to chuck it all in and take to a less rocky road – like maybe stamp collecting or restoring old cars.
Guadalupe Storm-petrel is one of three closely related species, all of which are confined to the California and Baja coastal areas, and all of which are endangered. I’d seen one of these – Scripps Murrelets during my earlier California pelagic birding efforts in the year, but would rely on the annual Searcher ‘San Diego five-day’ trip for a shot at both Guadalupe and Craveri Murrelets.
I’d missed the Searcher trip in 2016, chosing – poorly as it turned out, to stay the course in Gambell hoping for favourable Asian vagrant-laden winds that never came, and was totally pumped for this year’s – 6 September trip. And my expectations were met, and exceeded. The Searcher Natural History Tours outfit is one of the best ectotour operators I’ve ever encountered. The trip on comfortable 95′ Searcher was a total joy – plenty of room for the 22 punters, 4 leaders, and 4 crew, and the meals – five per day if you count morning and afternoon meal-sized snacks was restaurant quality. I already knew a half-dozen of the birders, and two of the leaders. I made lots of new friends and especially loved hanging out with the four leaders – who were unquestionably the most enthusiastic birders on board – Todd McGrath, Dave Povey, Dave Pereksta and Adam Searcey.