Pelagic Birding (aka: 17-day Cruise to Hawaii)

Liz and I found a great deal on a 17-day cruise to Hawaii that we turned into a serious pelagic birding trip (see map at end of this blog). We spent much of our time at sea on the deck or sitting inside with a view of the ocean. We’d been told to expect little at sea, and they were right, but we did see some wild birds, including Masked Booby, Black-footed Albatross, White-tailed Tropicbirds, Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. On the islands, we were disappointed by how little time we had to bird, but we saw some fun non-native species (e.g., Zebra Dove, Brazilian Red-crested Cardinal), Nene Geese, and a couple of native forest birds (Apapane and ‘Oma’o). Back at sea on the way home, the cool birds are few and far between, but how can one complain about Christmas Shearwaters on the day before Thanksgiving and a Red-footed Booby that stayed with the ship for three days catching and eating flying fish? Day by day details are given below.

Day 1. November 14. Las Vegas to San Diego.

We got out of town at a respectable 11 AM, but down across the California border Liz remembered that we forgot a piece of luggage, so we turned around to go get it. At home, it was reassuring to see that the cat-sitter had already been there, and after a quick lunch, we headed out again at about 1:30 PM.

Rather than fight traffic on the interstate all afternoon, we took the slightly longer, but more scenic, route through Mojave National Preserve. It was nice to visit again, even if we were just driving through. It is tarantula season, so we paid careful attention to the roadway and dodged several of our eight-legged friends.

Needless to say, we got to San Diego too late for any evening birding, but by about 8 PM we had settled into our favorite room at the Dolphin Motel for a comfortable night.


Dolphin Motel, our favorite place to stay in San Diego

Day 2. November 15. San Diego to the Pacific Ocean

We thought about getting up early and driving to the San Diego River to do some birding, but decided better of it and slept in. After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, we finished packing our gear for the voyage and went for a walk along the harbor. The birds were pretty quiet, but three California Sealions came and played in the water beneath our feet. They are really big animals!

We checked out of the hotel at 11 AM and took a cab to the cruise terminal where we moved through check-in quickly and got on the Holland America Veendam by 1 PM. First things first, we ate lunch and wandered about the ship, including taking a guided tour of the public spaces. By 4:30 the sun was down, and at 5 PM, the ship pulled out. We had hoped to do some birding in near-shore waters, but other than seeing a few birds by the lights of the docks, we were out of luck.

As the lights of San Diego faded over the horizon, we went to dinner then retired to our room for the night. Liz put on a video and knitted in bed while I worked on the computer making webpages.


On board, getting ready to leave San Diego

Day 3. November 16. At Sea in the Pacific Ocean

Our first full day at sea. Thinking back over the day, I see that life aboard ship revolves around food. Get up and eat, hang around for lunch, then busy one’s self until dinner. Oh, and don’t forget the afternoon and late-night snack.

Actually, we had a nice day rummaging around doing not much of anything. We spent some time in the morning birding, but saw nothing on the water or in the sky. At breakfast, we saw a school of silvery foot-long fish jumping as if to get somewhere faster out of the water. As we were finishing lunch, Liz spotted a real bird, and we ran to to see who it was. It turned out to be a fairly cooperative Masked Booby (World List #979) who flew around the ship for 5-10 minutes. If you only get one bird for the day, it might as well be a life-bird!

We attended a discussion about Hawaiian geology, Liz watched a lei-making demonstration, and we spent some time lounging on the deck where Liz knitted and I worked on webpages. After dinner we retired to our cabin for more of the same.


Only bird seen all day: sub-adult Masked Booby

Day 4. November 17. At Sea in the Pacific Ocean

With overcast skies and without out much reason to get up, we slept late. Before breakfast I spent some time on the stern where the wind was down and the morning warmer, but still not a bird in sight. After breakfast, the wind came up out of the south and we retired to indoor areas. The Crow’s Nest Lounge provides nice forward-looking views and comfortable sitting, so this might be a favored location for the rest of the journey.

So far, I’ve set off SPOT every morning and evening, but I don’t know if we have coverage out here, and so far I’m not paying $0.50/minute to find out.

The birding highlight of the day was the only bird we saw: a Brown Booby. We’ve seen this species before, but at about 800 miles offshore, it seemed a bit unusual. The bird followed the boat and danced on the very high winds for most of an hour, permitting lots of nice photos and indoor, as well as outdoor photos.

The afternoon turned gray with heavy clouds, wind, and rain, but not so much to prevent me from climbing into the outdoor hot tub on the after deck.

We missed formal dinner because we got there too late for early seating and we didn’t want to wait for late seating. I didn’t mind taking off my suit and tie and eating with the common folk!

At 8:30 PM, we are 950 miles from San Diego and 1,620 miles from Hawaii.


Crow’s Nest Lounge with nice forward-looking view

Day 5. November 18. At Sea in the Pacific Ocean

Day 3 at sea and we are settling in to a quiet, relaxing way of life. I was up early and out on the aft deck setting off SPOT, then went to breakfast. While settling breakfast and anticipating lunch, we walked a couple of laps around Deck 6, the walking deck. Off the stern, we were treated by a far-off Black-footed Albatross sailing effortlessly on the wind checking the chrun for tasty treats. So far as we could tell, it found nothing and disappeared into the horizon. Off the side of the ship, we noticed 4-5 flying fish gliding away to avoid the ship. It seemed that one of them glided over 100 yards. Off the bow, we saw a second bird — this time a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel. We’d seen them in the Galapagos Islands, so it was a treat to see another. Later, we saw two White-tailed Tropicbirds (World List #980) about an hour apart and both were flying far ahead of the ship.

We are experiencing heavy swells today from a storm some 400 miles north of here. The big waves come in sets, and some really pitched the ship. In the hot tub, water often sloshed out over the side, but the Captain says tomorrow should be smoother. I’m getting smarter — this time I set off SPOT while in the hot tub rather than going up on the deck later in the night.


Aft end of the ship pitching up in heavy seas

Day 6. November 19. At Sea in the Pacific Ocean

We awoke to calmer seas and warm, sunny skies, just as the Captain forecast, with fewer than 1,000 miles to go to Hawaii. While sending the morning SPOT, which takes two cups of coffee, I saw a third, far-off White-tailed Tropicbird and a few old fishing-net floats. A couple of flying fish skittered away from the ship too. It seems odd to have seen no other boats along our way.

After breakfast, Liz went off to participate in a craft class, and after some time gazing off to the empty horizon, I settled into the Crow’s Nest for another day of computing. I’ve been fixing formatting inconsistencies on the vegetation webpages — something I hadn’t taken the time to do at home. The Crow’s Nest is a good place to work and watch for birds, and we spotted a couple more White-tailed Tropicbirds during the afternoon, but always at some great distance.

Before dinner, we walked a few laps around the ship, 4 laps to the mile they say. We were treated to two shearwaters, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters by our best guess, but they too didn’t stick around. We also saw 3-4 Black-footed Albatrosses, two of which followed close behind the ship giving nice photo opportunities with soft setting-sun colors. We had too much fun watching the albatrosses and missed the early seating at dinner, so we ate late. The hot tubs were closed for the night before I could get out for a soak, but we had nice starry skies, went I went to bed with a too-full belly.


Sub-adult Black-footed Albatross following the ship

Day 7. November 20. At Sea in the Pacific Ocean

The morning SPOT was warm and sunny, with rain in the distance and a stiff breeze coming up from behind, but again no birds. The two cups of coffee were long gone by the time a chatty fellow decided to go chat up someone else, and I found Liz already in the breakfast line.

We’ll be in port tomorrow and the next four days, so we decided it was a good day for laundry. We don’t have anything to compare, but it seemed like half the ship had the same idea. After loading up the washers, Liz sat guard duty and I migrated up to the Crow’s Nest. No birds, but a flock of flying fish foretold a hopeful afternoon of computing and watching the seas.

The flying fish were right. During the day we saw 6-8 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (World List #981), another Brown Booby, and a Leach’s Storm-Petrel. Being only a few hundred miles off Hawaii, we had hoped to start seeing more birds, but as night fell outside the window at our dinner table, not a bird graced our table.

In the evening, we were confused about conflicting printed materials about this being a formal dinner night, so we stopped by the dining room about 15 minutes before they opened to ask, and we were assured by two staff that it was, indeed, Formal Night. Returning and finding ourselves the only dressed couple, I quickly shed my tie and coat (in that order), and we chocking the previous discussion up to having something lost in translation.

After dinner, I spent some time in the hot tub, Liz sat with me for company, and then we packed for our adventures starting tomorrow. We anticipate getting up early to watch birds as we approach the islands.


It is a really big ocean!


Brown Booby flying along with the ship

Day 8. November 21. Maui, Lahaina

Tour: Iao Valley, Maui Tropical Plantation, and Haleakala Crater, 10 AM (all day excursion).

Up about 0700. On deck before sunrise. Watched the sea until near 0900 and saw only two Wedge-tailed Shearwaters.

Went ashore about 1030 and boarded a bus. Saw House Sparrow, Spotted Dove, Zebra Dove (World List #982), Common Myna (World List #983), Red-crested Cardinal (World List #984), and Red Junglefowl (World List #985) from the bus.

Iao Valley was a deep, steep-sided canyon with heavy tropical (non-native) vegetation. Off the bus for 30 minutes; Spotted Dove, Zebra Dove.

Lunch at the plantation. The service was less than optimal, but the food was good. Lots of birds: House Sparrow, Spotted Dove, Zebra Dove, Red-crested Cardinal, Java Sparrow, Common Myna, Northern Cardinal, and Pacific Golden-Plover.

Long drive to the crater with a couple of stops. Birds: Hawaiian Owl (World List #986), Nene (Hawaiian Goose; World List #987), Black Francolin (World List #988), Gray Francolin (World List #989), Ring-necked Pheasant, and Eurasian Sky Lark (World List #990). Lots of Silver Sword plants at the top of the crater.

Black-crowned Night-Heron at dusk on the bus ride back to town.

The drive was long, the stops were short, but it probably was worth it overall to get a good overview of the island without having to rent a car. Getting back on the ship was a bit of a hassle with tender boats (the life boats) running shuttles and the port security a joke. Aboard about 1930 hrs. Dinner in Restaurant. It was a treat to see the Golden Plovers, Nene, and Owls.


Liz and Jim at foggy and windy Iao Valley State Park


Jim at cold and hats-blown-off-windy Haleakala Crater Overlook (near 10,000 ft)

Day 9. November 22. Oahu, Honolulu

On our own, we plan to visit the famous Bishop Museum, then eat lunch at a restaurant recommend by the 3rd-grade teacher that Liz volunteers with (Debbie is Hawaiian). After that, we plan to visit the Honolulu Zoo, which is reported to be a good birdwatching location, and then visit an overlook atop of Diamond Head crater.

Well, that was the plan anyways. We bought tickets for the Hop On — Hop Off tour bus, but because of the way the buses run, they suggested we visit the zoo first, which was okay with us, and then the Museum. While waiting for the first bus, Liz realized that the restaurant is closed on Saturdays (this must be Hawaii?), so that was one thing off the list right away. It would be a hike from the bus to the Bishop Museum, but that was okay too.

The bus was slower than we expected, but it dropped us off at Waikiki Beach and we got to walk on the beach for a few minutes before we got to the zoo. The zoo was a delight, especially the African Birds Aviary were we saw many of the species I had seen in East Africa, and we spent far too long at too many exhibits. As a result, we had to skip about 1/3 of the zoo in order to get to Diamond Head — and we had already abandoned plans to visit Bishop Museum. Again, the bus was slower than expected (they run too few, too big busses, so the time between busses is too long). We used the extra time along Waikiki Beach to make some calls and check-in at home.

We eventually got inside Diamond Head crater, but the “Diamond Head Overlook” was a wide spot in the road about half-way back down the hillside — so much for an overlook. Nonetheless, it was nice to see it, and we hoped to use the extra time spending a few minutes at a botanical garden that was an official bus stop.

Well, again, the bus was too slow and we used up our remaining time at the bus transfer station. At least they had open wifi and I was able to clean out the email inbox and respond to a few email messages (I think there were some 600 messages to sort through yesterday and today). We ended up on the last bus of the day and had the grand opportunity to look over the wall of the botanical garden from the top of our double-decker tour bus.

Back at the ship around 5 PM, we went aboard, relaxed for a few minutes, showered (Honolulu is hot, humid, and sticky), and enjoyed a quiet dinner on the outdoor deck at the back of the ship. Long after dark, I visited the hot tub again. The stars here are pretty nice.

We were impressed by the sheer numbers of birds in Honolulu — almost all of which were non-native. We saw hundreds and hundreds each of Common Myna, Zebra Doves, Rock Pigeons, and Red-vented Bulbuls. We also saw lots of House Sparrows, Java Sparrows, and Spotted Doves, and a few dozen total of Cattle Egrets and Red-crested Cardinals. We did see 4-5 native White Terns (formerly Fairy Terns; World List #991), but only flying around the downtown skyscrapers, and we saw lots of Pacific Golden-Plovers that apparently become quite accustomed to being around humans and African wildlife. For new non-native birds today, we saw Japanese White-eye (4; World List #992), Yellow-fronted Canary (5), Common Waxbills (25; World List #993), and Rose-ringed Parakeet (1; World List #994). It was a treat to see and photograph several Nene (Hawaiian Goose) too, even if they were zoo animals.

We had a really good time at the zoo today, but next time I think we will take a taxi.


Jim at Liz at Honolulu Zoo


Liz inside the African Birds Aviary, which was really nice


Pacific Golden-Plover (what’s that in the Hawaiian background?)

Day 10. November 23. Kauai, Niwiliwili

Tour: Grand Canyon of the Pacific (Waimea Canyon), 8:30 AM (all day excursion).

We had to get up and out fairly early this morning, so I was out on the stern for the sunrise setting off SPOT as we arrived on Kauai.

After a quick breakfast, we lined up to get off the ship, then lined up to get on the busses. Driving out of town, we saw several of the usual non-native species, plus a Red Avadavat (World List #995) sitting on a telephone wire. It was great to visit Waimea Canyon and actually see White-tailed Tropicbirds soaring on the winds along their breeding cliffs, but the drive was long (more than an hour) and the stop at Waimea Canyon Overlook was short (20 minutes).

We made two stops on the way out, one of which was the required shopping stop. The restrooms were clean, but we chose to look for birds around the parking lot. I got nice photos of a Java Sparrow with nesting material, and Liz spotted a Japanese White-Eye. They had some interesting plants too, plus wasp nest and huge bumble bees.

On the way back, we stopped along the shore to see a set of blowholes. A hard layer of lava had been undercut, and waves came up under the hard layer and blew mist out a hole. It was interesting to see, and they had more shopping opportunities, but we mostly used our 20 minutes to look around the parking lot for birds. We were rewarded with African Silverbill (2; World List #996) and Chestnut Munia (25; World List #997), Scaly-breasted Munia (Hawaii) (1; World List #1005), plus two more Nene grazing on a golf course.

Back on the ship about 2 hours before shoving off, we watched birds from the ship and saw House Finches, familiar faces from back home, plus several Saffron Finches foraging with them. These birds were foraging on a cliff across the road from the dock.

We set sail a bit late, as it seems a passenger had been misplaced, but we got off before sunset and were delighted by a flock of Ruddy Turnstones resting on the breakwater, plus Black-footed Albatross (1), Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (5), and a Red-footed Booby (1) before dark.

Sailing south into a clear black night, the constellation Orion shone brightly above the light-polluted skies of Oahu and especially Honolulu.


Waterfall in Waimea Canyon


Three of twenty White-tailed Tropicbirds soaring in Waimea Canyon

Day 11. November 24. Hawaii, Kona

Tour: Hawaii Volcanos National Park, 8 AM (all day excursion).

We sailed all night, and as we were approaching Kona on the big island of Hawaii, our ship received a call from the US Coast Guard saying that a distress signal had been sent from near our location, and because we were the only vessel in the area, tradition (and perhaps Maritime Law) dictated that we detour from our route and render all necessary assistance. We went to the area and found nothing, and within an hour, a US Coast Guard C-130 flew over our position and took over the search and rescue operation.

So far as we know, nothing was found in the search area, but we were delayed an hour getting into port and therefore delayed an hour on our shore excursions. As it turned out, our tour took the full original time duration, and we held up the ship an hour in departing Kona, but that is getting ahead of the story.

We departed the ship in “Tenders,” a fancy name for sea taxi, although in this case, we used our life boats, which somehow seemed fitting because we didn’t get to use them on the search and rescue mission. Our tenders are uncomfortable, and I wouldn’t want to do a “Captain Phillips” in them, but they sufficed for the job at hand.

On land, 32 of us boarded a 40-ft motor coach (aka, a bus) and headed south. Because the bus had a toilet, we were not required to make potty-shopping stops along the way, and 2-1/2 hours later we disembarked at Hawaii Volcanos National Park.

Our first 25-minute stop was at an overlook into the active Kīlauea crater, although the lava was down in a pit and we could only see plumes of sulphur dioxide gas and steam emerging. We were treated, however, to a couple of White-tailed Tropicbirds soaring inside the crater. The gas is supposed to be poisonous, but the birds didn’t seem to mind.

From there, we went for a 45-minute lunch where all I wanted to do was finish and get outside to look for forest birds. Of course, food service was extremely slow, and in the last 5 minutes, Liz and I darted outside, looked in the trees around the parking lot, and saw our first native Hawaiian forest birds: a flock of noisy Apapane (Ah-paw-paw-knee; World List #1,000)!

Back on the bus thrilled by our find, we motored to a different part of the park and spent another 25 minutes on a nature trail in a native forest with tall trees, thickets of tree ferns, a 200-yards long lava tube, plus more noisy Apapane (we made recordings of their songs) and one ‘Oma’o (oh-ma-oh; World List #999). Such a thrill to see two species of native forest birds!

Back on the bus racing back, we spent most of our time looking for Hawaiian Hawks, but we saw none. We did, however, see six feral Peafowl (Pea-cocks in this case; World List #998), which are countable here in Hawaii. One could argue that peafowl should be World Bird 1000, but there is no way in hell that I’m putting that species as number 1000 on my list.

So we got back to the ship an hour late, got aboard, had dinner, relaxed, soaked in the hot tub, and revelled in finally seeing 1,000 species of birds for our list. Maybe we’ll even see that hawk tomorrow.


Kīlauea Volcano in Hawaii Volcanos National Park


Apapane (Himatione sanguinea)


‘Oma’o (Myadestes obscurus) singing

Day 12. November 25. Hawaii, Hilo

Tour: Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, 9 AM. After this short shore excursion, we plan to wander about on our own for the rest of the day.

Our last day in the islands started cloudy (this is the rain-forest side of the big island), but we ended up with a nice, sunny morning tour of the Botanical Gardens. Our bus driver took the scenic route through Hilo and we saw some nice parks, shoreline, a black-sand beach, and a family of three Mongoose and a few species of urban birds.

At the gardens, we were impressed by two things: (1) the diversity of plants, and (2) the lack of anything native. The original owners did a lot of work collecting, organizing, and planting a vast array of tropical plants, but we had hoped to see native species. To be fair, we did notice a sign for one native species, but we couldn’t tell which plant the sign was naming. We also got a nice musical serenade from the tree tops, but they were mostly Puerto Rican Coquí frogs and Japanese White-Eye birds, and we saw some colorful green and blue geckos from somewhere is southeast Asia I assume.

Back at the ship, we ate lunch and then headed into town on the free shopping shuttle. Liz found some nice souvenirs, and I bootlegged the wifi from a shoe store to check email. By the time we were finished, the tropical afternoon rain had started, and it continued into departure and the rest of the evening. On deck, birding the last of the failing evening light, we watch Hawaii disappear into the mist.

I must admit that it was sad to see Hawaii disappear. I’m not sure quite why, as I’m rather unimpressed by the place. I certainly was the last person standing on the deck watching Hawaii disappear — maybe I was hoping beyond hope to see something good before it was gone, or maybe I enjoyed the place more that I thought.


Liz lost in the leaves of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden


As night falls, Hawaii fades into the mist

Day 13. November 26. At Sea in the Pacific Ocean

Heading for home, we awoke to bright sunshine, as our room now faces south and catches the sunrise. We encountered wind in the night, and the wind and rolling seas ruled the morning SPOT event on the back of the ship. Per usual, there were no birds, but the hot coffee, warm winds, sunny skies, and conversation with odd passengers made for a delightful morning.

After breakfast, Liz went off to participate in shipboard activities, and I retired to my usual haunt to work on webpages in the Crow’s Nest. We sailed into a big rainstorm, so it was nice to watch a Christmas Shearwater (World List #1,001) fly by from the comfort of a soft chair, cool air conditioning, and clean windows that block the rain and wind. The trivia game going on behind me added interesting background noise. Before long, a Laysan Albatross (World List #1002) came by, and after Liz joined me, a couple of Newell’s Shearwaters (Hawaiian ‘A’O; World List #1003) and another Christmas Shearwater flew by. One of the Newell’s Shearwaters was close enough for photos, but I was too slow getting outside and it was gone.

The rest of the day was without birds, but the sea was mesmerizing. There currently are two large storms in the north Pacific, and each is producing a swell. In our area, the two swells are interacting, and because swells follow the physics of waves, we are getting an irregular sea surface. If a swell and a trough meet, they cancel the wave and the water surface is flat. If, on the other hand, two swells meet, we get a high peak that throws the ship. The most visually interesting thing, however, is when two troughs meet and produce a more-or-less round depression that moves across the surface of the ocean — which is very peculiar to watch.


Sunrise and Hawaii is already some 200 miles behind us


Liz knitting by the mid-deck pool with sunset colors

Day 14. November 27. Thanksgiving At Sea

We crossed a time zone during the night (now in Alaska time), so we leapt forward and slept in an hour to get up at our regular sunrise time. During the morning SPOT, I was treated to a second Masked Booby for the trip, but it was flying opposite our direction, so it faded very quickly into the distance. Later, after breakfast we saw to dark-phase Wedge-tailed Shearwaters flying together and pacing the ship, giving us a nice, long look at them before they drifted laterally into the distance.

The swell has changed today and now we have only one, but this is a big one with 10-15 feet between peak and trough. Fortunately the swell is hitting us almost broadside, so the boat is mostly rolling rather than pitching, which is much more comfortable.

I again retired to the Crow’s Nest with computer while Liz knitted and participated in on-board activities. I was briefly distracted from my writing by a nearby Red-tailed Tropicbird (World List #1004), but by the time I darted outside with the camera, it was nowhere to be seen — how does a big, white bird disappear against a gray sky so quickly? An all-black storm-petrel came by too, but at such a distance as to make photography impossible. These dark little birds are hard to track even with binoculars because they follow the surface of the water seemingly darting in and out of troughs in the swell. During the day, we saw several little, black storm-petrels and several Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, a few Hawaiian Shearwaters, and one Cook’s Petrel.

Today was Thanksgiving, so we went to the sit-down restaurant rather than the buffet. Dinner was tasty, but it was fixed by people with good hearts but no knowledge of our traditional ways. Even so, it was nice to sit down and have a nice dinner together. Liz says that she wants to cook a turkey when we get home we can have left-overs.

After dinner, we spent some time in the library looking up deep-water dolphin species, as we had seen a pod during dinner, but there were at least three choices and we didn’t see them well enough. Later, I soaked in the hot tub while Liz started a video in the cabin and we drifted off to sleep on the light swell.


Cook’s Petrel on a glassy sea


Late-afternoon clouds over a relatively smooth ocean

Day 15. November 28. At Sea in the Pacific Ocean

Mostly sunny skies, a light breeze, and tall-but-gentle swells greeted our morning, but here in the middle of the ocean, we saw no birds during the morning SPOT or during breakfast on the after-deck.

Today we passed the midway point between Hilo and San Diego, with about 1,250 miles in both directions. They say that out this far, we are on our own and too far from anywhere to receive emergency assistance from land if needed. With so many people coughing yesterday and today, I hope we don’t need anything special.

The lack of morning birds was made up for in the afternoon when we were thrilled to have a juvenile Masked Booby come by and start fishing off the bow. As they say, nothing succeeds like success, and soon we were joined by an adult Brown Booby. The two spent hours fishing off the bow and squawking at each other, although most of the arguments were over who gets the fish. Amid the debates, a juvenile Brown Booby joined the fishing fun. With everyone’s belly full of flying fish, they eventually settled in on the flag pole on the bow to preen and sleep. Just before heavy afternoon rains started, I snuck onto the bow and got some nice video of the juvenile Masked Booby and adult Brown Booby preening. From the dry comfort of the Crow’s Nest, Liz and I enjoyed “happy hour” piña coladas watching the birds preen in the rain. This birds stayed all afternoon to the delight of many passengers, but by evening, one of the boobies had left us.

As the afternoon rain faded to evening darkness, we enjoyed “Heritage Night” at the buffet. Most of the crew is Indonesian, so we had Indonesian night for dinner with the buffet area decorated in traditional colors including one free-standing creature: Rangda. In Balinese mythology, Rangda is the bad half of a spirit couple where the female is bad and the male is good; perhaps a yin-yang kind of belief.

Most of the buffet crew were dressed in traditional shirts, but one guy wore his regular uniform shirt. Liz overheard someone ask why he wasn’t dressed for the night, and he replied that he was Filipino and didn’t care to participate in Indonesian night (something might have been lost in translation), but with with two Indonesian chefs and one Filipino chef for the crew, we wondered about cultural differences between the crews. By the way, the food was great!

After dinner, we had thought about watching the evening movie, but with Johnny Depp’s Lone Ranger on the cabin TV, we decided, or maybe just zoned out, and skipped the movie theater.


What’s better than a pair of boobies? — a trio on the forward mast


Liz with Rangda: celebrating Indonesian culture in the buffet

Day 16. November 29. At Sea in the Pacific Ocean

We reset the ship clocks again (back to West Coast time), so this morning we slept in until the 7:15 sunrise and were greeted not only by beautiful sunrise colors but also by the juvenile Masked Booby flying by our window. Such a morning treat!

Out on the stern with SPOT and a cup of coffee, I watched the juvenile Masked Booby and adult Brown Booby fishing. Apparently they spent the night on the ship – a rare treat for pelagic birds. After breakfast, we watched the birds fishing, but eventually the Brown Booby drifted off. It still amazes us how quickly a big brown bird can disappear into the vastness of the ocean haze. The Masked Booby continued fishing, but as we get farther from warm tropical waters, I eventually had to go for long pants and a warm hat.

Back on the top of the ship (Deck 13), I watched the kid booby for most of the morning hoping to get nice photos of the bird catching a flying fish. Mostly I just watched as the bird effortlessly sailed back and forth, but eventually it happened — I got my shots! It seemed, however, that the bird was finished with us — perhaps I wasn’t the only one getting cold — and it quickly disappeared into the distance sitting on the water with a belly-full of flying fish.

After the excitement with the big bird, I decided to celebrate the good fortune of surviving my 30-foot fall by power-walking 5 laps around the ship (4 per mile). Time aboard ship has been good to me with most of my aches and pains fading away. My back is stiff in the morning but then nearly normal, my feet are fine, my right ankle is fine, and the gash on my forehead is only a little scar of remembrance. The worst lingering issue is my right wrist which likes neither direct pressure nor bending very far front to back. I’m glad that it doesn’t affect my camera-holding abilities.

Later in the afternoon, I checked the bow to see if any birds were around, and sure enough, the booby was back. It was roosting on the railing, and I snuck out to get some nice close-ups and some video of the bird preening. Some of the crew were out working, and the bird didn’t seem to care about any of us, although I let the camera lens do the walking and kept my distance. As darkness fell, the bird was asleep on the railing.

Sunset was a bust as a huge storm moved across the western sky, but after dinner, Liz and I took a final lap around the ship and found four Wedge-tailed Storm-Petrels hiding behind chairs on the deck. We got some photos in situ, but a crew member said that one needed to be moved away from a sliding door, so I quickly volunteered. For a little bird, they sure can bite … but what a treat to have in-the-hand such an elusive creature!

Afterwards, we went to the evening show. We’d not seen a single one yet, and tonight was a 3-act variety show (a sample of the three main acts), so we figured it was time to go. We were pleasantly impressed. The first, a magician, wasn’t anything special, but with a small stage and limited supplies, that is not too surprising (remember, we are from Las Vegas). The second act was a stand-up comic, and the guy was good. He’d obviously been working the cruise crowd for some time and had the ship and its quirks worked out. The third was an impressionist singer who claims to have participated in several shows on Broadway, but that would be hard to verify. At any rate, he sang the songs of several famous singers, essentially one per decade since about the 1940s (this is an older crowd).

Back in the room, we decided that we still had a few things to figure out, so we stayed up late to see what the “Late Night Snack” on the buffet was like. Again, we were impressed. I think that with a smaller crowd they expand the quality and diversity of tasty foods.


Juvenile Masked Booby choking down a huge flying fish


Crew practicing with the anti-pirate sound-producing device


Bit by a Storm-Petrel — how lucky can Jim get?

Day 17. November 30. At Sea in the Pacific Ocean

The booby and two storm-petrels were still with us a sunrise, although when walking around the ship early, I did have to pay a bit for my power-walk yesterday. Things are better, but I guess I’m still recovering. All of the birds persisted until mid-morning and we got some nice photos, but the storm-petrels were gone by lunch.

We attended the one and only discussion aboard ship dedicated to Hawaiian natural history. While it would be easy to focus on the factual inaccuracies, it is good that they did something natural, and it was fun to hear anecdotes from the speaker, a native Hawaiian, about his childhood having fun with wild things.

We took our last chance and ate formal lunch in the dining room. The food was tasty, not having to wait in buffet lines while the other of us guarded the table, and the other passengers at our table (most seating is 8-10 people per table) were interesting. One guy, a retired Army General, was interesting, if a bit overbearing.

After lunch, Liz attended a few more onboard activities, and I spent much of the day watching the booby sail back for forth looking for flying fish. I never saw him catch anything today, but it was fun to watch, and fun to see how many passengers came out to see and photograph the bird. We had a beautiful day with gentle seas and a light breeze from the stern, so it was a great day to be outside. There were some clouds in the sky, but all of the rain was far off on the horizon.

It was interesting that the booby spent a fair amount of time in the air preening. It would scratch its throat with one foot or the other, then using its bill, scratch something in the middle of its back or straighten some feathers on its belly. At one point, however, it was fiddling with arm-pit feathers and not paying attention to where it was going, and it nearly ran into me on the railing. A guy next to me threw up his arms at the last possible millisecond and the bird swerved off. It was fun to watch the bird preen, but I hope it doesn’t run into something and hurt itself.

We ate dinner early, before the buffet opened so that Liz could watch the evening movie in the theater and so that I could photograph the last sunset at sea and check on the booby before dark (it was snoozing on the bow).

Back in the room, we are preparing for a few hours ashore in Mexico tomorrow and then getting off in San Diego.


Liz on top of the ship – Deck 13 — watching the booby from above


Our last sunset at sea

Day 18. December 01. Mexico, Ensenada

Liz and I got us and were on deck at sunrise looking for storm-petrels. We found two that looked like they would be more happy if I left them alone, so we got photos and left them to rest on the ship before taking off for the sea.

After breakfast, I went to the bow and Liz went to onboard events. Lucky for Liz, she joined me before the juvenile Peregrine Falcon left us. It seems that the bird wandered too far offshore during the night and was happy to get a rest onboard the ship. The falcon rode towards Ensenada for some time, then must have decided that we were driving too slow and took off on her own.

We eventually made near-shore waters and started seeing the birds we expected to see: Black-vented Shearwaters and Northern Fulmar, plus murrelets, auklets, and some whales.

Coming into Ensenada harbor area, we saw lots of birds and seal ions, plus a few dolphin. We docked around noon, and after lunch, we spent about two hours walking in town and window shopping. It was fun to see the tourist area, and talking with the locals was interesting. I met one guy how had worked construction in Las Vegas for the 10 years preceding the recession, but lost his job and house and returned to Mexico.

Back on the ship, we pulled out at dusk and watched the lights of town fade into the distance. We packed for a few minutes, then went to the buffet and shared our last dinner with new friends Dan and Marilyn.

We finished packing, walked the deck looking for storm-petrels (found none) and turned in for the night. It will be sad to end the trip, but nice to get home.


Liz in Ensenada (prices in pesos)


Motel Las Vegas — are we almost home?

Day 19. December 02. San Diego by Morning

We exited the ship mid-morning to a rainy San Diego day. We retrieved the car from the Dolphin Motel and started for home. The rain never let up until San Bernardino, and at that point, it got much heavier as we climbed the passes heading east on I-10. By the time we reached Yucca Valley, the storm was finally letting up.

We visited our property in Joshua Tree town, and all was well, and headed east to 29 Palms where we picked up our traditional pizza to go and continued towards home.

We stopped at Kelso Depot to use the usually nice and clean restrooms, then pressed on into the night, arriving home about 6 PM. Mocha let us know that she was displeased by our absence, but it only took her a few minutes to get over it this time and come out for ear scratches and belly rubs.

We had a great trip, but it is always nice to get home.


Exiting the ship in San Diego harbor

Map of the Trip


Map of the Trip


Close-up of the Hawaiian Islands


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