California cruise and two Cuvier’s beaked whales

We’re heading to California again to see our friends in Davenport. We’ve crossed the Atlantic with mixed weather, spotted a few dolphins and a half dozen sperm whales, and enjoyed a couple of days in a wintry New York. The trip from there to Florida and through the Caribbean was uneventful except for the presence of sea smoke, a phenomenon which is best described as similar to a jacuzzi, caused by the sea at around 19c being warmer than the air at around 0c, and low humidity.  The Panama Canal was an experience not easily forgotten. Queen Elizabeth just fits into the locks with a few feet to spare.  Brown pelicans and magnificent frigatebirds provided some natural entertainment while fishing just outside the locks and a few raptors added to the photo opportunities.

As I write this, we’re in Puerto Quetzel, Guatemala and the past two days have been interesting indeed. I’ve counted 13 turtles on the surface and a long, slim but as yet unidentifed fish approached the ship. Brown and masked boobies spent a whole day chasing flying fish and then came the dance of the dolphins. The booby action had quietened down on the second day and I could have been forgiven for leaving the deck for a well-earned cuppa but I am glad I stayed as we saw hundreds of common dolphins accompanied by what I think were Central American spinners, feeding and playing close to the ship. Mobula Rays started hurling themselves out of the water and crashing down with a huge splash.

But the most intriguing sighting so far was two whales off Costa Rica which I believe to be mother and calf Cuvier’s whales.  These toothed whales are quite widespread across all oceans but rarely seen.  In the image I have, the calf has its head completely out of the water (pictured above).  Mother is close behind with a much larger dorsal fin.

(The Costa Rica Cetacean Research Centre has now confirmed the identity of the whales a mother and calf Cuvier’s beaked whales)

The weather forecast for tomorrow is grim with 60 mph winds and 7 metre swells expected. The captain is going to hug the Mexican coast to limit the effects but I doubt there’ll be much photography going on as the decks will likely be closed. Let’s wait and see.

Well, we managed a Force 12 hurricane at 7am, caused by high pressure from the Caribbean whistling through the Mexican mountains into the Eastern North Pacific Ocean but, within the hour, the wind suddenly dropped and over the next few hours the sea calmed. A few dolphins paid cursory visits and I stopped counting sea turtles after 35. The next two days gave us little excitement on the water, the only surprise being a dozen or so sea lions resting on their backs on the surface.

We arrived in Cabo San Lucas to disappointing and unexpected poor weather. This is where we were supposed to get out to see the humpbacks on a whale watch but the winds were too high and the harbourmaster grounded all the small boats. I had to make do with a walk around the harbour and some nice pics of a northern flicker, a snowy egret and a brown pelican In fine breeding plumage.  We were able to watch the humpbacks way out in the ocean from the ship’s deck.  Unfortunately, we left Cabo in darkness so missed the whale activity and the beautiful coastline.

The following two days were calm and visibility was excellent but without much activity.  However, a pair of laysan albatrosses made an appearance and went a long way to making my day.

We left the ship in San Francisco and headed to Davenport via Princeton Harbour.  Here, a fine great blue heron posed for a portrait and a common loon fished close to the shore.  We’re now settled into our Davenport cottage with Paul, Barbara and Jim and already the Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbirds have been whizzing around the garden, one of them inspecting all four sides of my head so closely I could feel the draught from its wings.  On the headland next to the ocean, I paid a visit to the northern harriers, now sharing their territory with a pair of white tailed kites and a red tailed hawk.  This will probably be a daily visit.  I never tire of watching these amazing birds.

This is great country for raptors.  Red-tailed Hawks, red-shouldered Hawks, American kestrels, Northern harriers, white-tailed kites and Cooper’s hawks are everywhere.  The southern sea otters were relaxing in the sun at Moss Landing.  At Elkhorn Slough, the acorn woodpeckers were showing well and I noticed they still have an abundance of acorns in their larder trees.  Yesterday, we visited neighbours on their 100 acre property and fresh mountain lion tracks had been found that morning.  A grey fox passed the crittercam last night, but I still have to find a bobcat.  Monday, we’re going whale watching from Moss landing, hoping for some good action in Monterey Bay.  Meanwhile, Sunday found us in Santa Cruz watching monarch butterflies in their hundreds clinging to cypress and eucalyptus trees prior to their migration towards the Pacific north-west.

Well, the whale watching was mediocre although the crew did their best.  It’s not the best time of the year for Monterey but we did see one grey whale on its migratory route and a few lazy humpbacks.  A critically endangered black-footed albatross with its 7′ wingspan paid two visits to the boat’s environs but I’ll have to see how the long range photo will turn out.

A small boat trip into Elkorn Slough brought much more of interest with herons, egrets, cormorants, otters and a good selection of waders.  And, on my way home from visiting the harriers, at long last I found my bobcat sitting in the middle of a field and later stalking some small prey.

It’s home tomorrow so not much chance for anything else but I think I’ll have a decent selection of photos on site before the end of the month.  It’s been a good trip and another great stay at Swanton.


This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Hi Ray and Sarah,
    Looking forward to seeing you both on Feb 5.

  2. Harold Moses says:

    Hi Ray and Sarah, what a coincidence, we were on the CMV Columbus that you were following through the Panama Canal in January.

    I did get some images of the Queen Elizabeth going through some of the locks if you would like me to send you them, with very best wishes, Harold and Susan

  3. Ray Brown says:

    Hi Harold and Susan,

    That is a coincidence. We were on the front of the ship and a couple on our ship were shouting to friends on the Columbus. Great experience. I’ll send you a mail.

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