Mexico Pelagic - NEW AND IMPROVED!
Bird & Wildlife Cruise
seabirds, whales and dolphins, other marine life, scenery and photography
San Diego – Guadalupe Island – Alijos Rocks – Socorro Island – Cabo San Lucas
Cool to warm
24 passenger live-aboard sports fishing boat, cabins with washbasin only.
Townsend’s Shearwater, Black-vented Shearwater, Ainley's Storm-petrel, Least Storm-petrel, Ashy Storm-petrel, Black Storm-petrels, Laysan Albatross, Black-footed Albatross, Guadalupe Murrelet, Blue Whale, Bryde’s Whale, Humpback Whale, Orca, Pacific White-sided Dolphin, Spinner Dolphin & Giant Manta Ray
Stormies, shearwaters and sharks
Following on from the spectacular success of our inaugural expedition to Guadalupe and Socorro which sailed from San Diego in November 2015, WildWings is delighted to announce there will be a repeat of this unique ‘world first’ voyage in 2020, with an improved itinerary. (We will only operate this voyage again if there is sufficient demand!) We will be targeting some of the special seabirds in the East Pacific including Townsend’s Shearwater, Ainley’s Storm-petrel, Least Storm-petrel, Black Storm-petrel and Guadalupe Murrelet. We also hope to see a host of desirable cetaceans, seals and other marine creatures including Great White Sharks (although getting a bit late in the season for them), Guadalupe Fur Seals and Northern Elephant Seals, so this exciting pelagic should appeal to those with a wide range of sea-related interests.
Our expedition begins in San Diego and after clearing customs just over the Mexican border at Ensenada, we will sail in a south-westerly direction for the island of Guadalupe. This island is probably most famous in seabirding circles for the Guadalupe Storm-petrel, a species which was considered abundant at the beginning of the 20th Century but is now regarded as critically endangered and potentially extinct. With several other Pacific seabirds either “coming back from the dead” or being discovered in recent years (eg Beck’s, Fiji and Vanuatu Petrels) and only a handful of recent at sea searches in the waters off Guadalupe, there is surely a chance that this storm-petrel could still be out there, especially as there are some impressive stacks off the southern end of the main island where other storm-petrels are known to breed.
Whilst we will certainly be alert to the possibility of this almost mythical bird, our main reason for visiting Guadalupe is to look for another endangered storm-petrel and that is Ainley’s Storm-petrel. Until recently, this was regarded as part of the Leach’s Storm-petrel complex but recent work by Steve Howell and others has shown that this is indeed a good species. With the birds only known to breed on three small islets off Guadalupe and egg-laying taking place in November-December, our trip has been perfectly time to ensure we have an excellent chance of finding this poorly known bird.
Another important bird which breeds here is the highly localised Guadalupe Murrelet which up until 2012 was regarded as conspecific with Scripps’s Murrelet, with both being collectively known as Xantus’ Murrelet. This split has now been widely accepted and whilst we will be at Guadalupe Island outside of the murrelet breeding season, nevertheless, we hope to find this ‘new’ species during our expedition, as well as the more widespread Cassin’s Auklet.
As both Guadalupe and Socorro are Biosphere Reserves, landings are not permitted, however, we plan to go on skiff rides and hope to find both Guadalupe Fur Seal and Northern Elephant Seal around Guadalupe and the endemic Socorro Wren on Socorro, all of which were seen in 2015.
We will also be on the lookout for one of the world’s most feared creatures, the Great White Shark, as these apex predators are known to gather off Guadalupe (but slightly earlier in the year). Other desirable seabirds we could see on our way to the island include the Black-vented, Wedge-tailed and Pink-footed Shearwaters, Black and Least Storm-petrels, Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses, as well as more widespread species such as Magnificent Frigatebird and Masked Booby.
After a day and a half exploring the seas around Guadalupe, we will set a course for the Alijos Rocks which are three impressive stacks which we will pass on our way to Socorro Island. With very few seabirding trips having ever been through these waters, we can expect to encounter some surprises and possibilities include Galapagos Shearwater, Buller’s Shearwater, Christmas Shearwater, Cook’s Petrel, Mottled Petrel, Hawaiian Petrel, Galapagos Petrel, Wedge-rumped Storm-petrel, Townsend’s Storm-petrel (a summer breeder on Guadalupe) and Chapman’s Storm-petrel (a summer breeder).
Through the selective use of both fish oil and chum during the voyage, we should get some great views of many of the seabirds that we encounter. It is worth noting that in 2015 ‘El Nino’ was in effect, sea temperatures were much higher than normal. It may well be in a ‘normal’ year we may encounter more seabirds and cetaceans, especially between the island groups.
As we traverse the deep waters on the way from Guadalupe to Socorro, we will also be looking for cetaceans and as well as Blue, Humpback and Bryde’s Whales, we hope to find some pelagic dolphin species such as Common and Bottlenose. If conditions are good, we may also see some beaked whales (Cuvier’s was seen in 2015) and both Dwarf and Pygmy Sperm Whales are also possible.
The main reason for including Socorro Island in this exciting itinerary, however, is to maximise our chances of finding one of the most endangered seabirds in the world, Townsend’s Shearwater. Birdlife International treat this species as ‘critically endangered’ and it is believed that there may now be as few as 250 birds left (see the recently published ‘The World’s Rarest Birds’). Our visit is intended to coincide with the period when it is known that birds range around the island immediately prior to breeding and in 2015 we saw up to thirty five individuals during the two days we spent around the island.
During our time around Socorro, we will also hope to see some Giant Manta Rays as the island is regarded as one of the most reliable place in the world to find these incredible creatures which can have a ‘wingspan’ of over 6 metres, however, getting in the water is not recommended given the number of sharks in the area !!! Hammerhead Sharks and four species of marine turtle are also possible, as are Humpback Whales, so there should be plenty of marine life to look for. After two days of exploring around Socorro, we will reluctantly set a course for the mainland and with a final day at sea we will hope to find some last seabirds and cetaceans before disembarking in Cabo San Lucas.
An optional day’s birding will be offered around San Diego, on November 4th, up to 100 bird species can be expected. Highlights in 2015 included Californian endemics such as California Gnatcatcher and Thrasher, Wrentit plus geese, waders, White-throated Swift, Allen’s Hummingbird, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, the recently split Ridgway’s Rail plus an unexpected but very welcome Varied Thrush.
Tom Blackman, a veteran American seabirder, will be joining Chris And Art onboard as part of our team, Tom travelled with us in 2015.
World’s first video of Ainley’s Storm-Petrel taken during the 2015 WildWings Mexican Pelagic, by kind permission of Bob Floodhere.
(Day 0: Arrive San Diego, overnight hotel suggested for participants from UK and Europe etc).
Day 1: Board vessel in the morning in San Diego and sail. We will clear Mexican customs at Ensenada in the early afternoon and then set a course for Guadalupe Island.
Day 2: We intend to chum at some reefs approximately fifty miles to the north-east of Guadalupe where in 2015 we saw both Black and Least Storm-petrels, as well as our first storm-petrels from the “Leach’s complex”. We will then continue onwards towards Guadalupe Island where we hope to arrive by mid-afternoon. We plan to spend the night at anchor near the stacks where Ainley’s Storm-petrel is known to breed.
Day 3: We will spend the day in the vicinity of Guadalupe and depending on conditions plan to look for seabirds (both inshore and a few miles offshore) and offer skiff rides along the coastline. We will be looking for Ainley’s Storm-petrel and Great White Sharks, whilst on the beaches, we hope to see Northern Elephant Seals and Guadalupe Fur Seals. We plan to depart during the late evening for Alijos Rocks.
Day 4: At sea with possibilities for deep water cetaceans and an interesting mix of seabirds.
Day 5: We expect to arrive at Alijos Rocks during the morning where we should find more new seabirds which could include Laysan Albatross, Blue-footed Booby and Magnificent Frigatebird. After a few hours around these amazing stacks, we will continue onwards towards San Benedicto and Socorro Islands.
Day 6: Depending on sea conditions we hope to pass San Benedicto Island in the late afternoon, before continuing on towards Socorro. Historically Townsend’s Shearwaters were known to have bred on San Benedicto, so this will be our first opportunity to find this critically endangered species. Other possibilities here include Nazca Booby and Red-tailed Tropicbird.
Days 7-8: We anticipate being off Socorro Island at dawn on day 8 and will have the rest of that day and the daylight hours of day 9 to look for birds and marine wildlife around the island. Our main target will be Townsend’s Shearwater but we will also want to see Brewster’s Brown Booby which is very different from all other forms. We plan to offer at least one skiff ride and will hope to find Socorro Wren and possibly Socorro Warbler.
Day 9: A day at sea as we head back towards mainland Mexico.
Day 10: Arrive Cabo San Lucas and disembark after breakfast. Many flights depart for the US around lunchtime and into the afternoon, so there should be enough time for an optional excursion to look for two local Baja endemics, Belding’s Yellowthroat and Grey Thrasher (both seen in 2015).
Itinerary subject to weather, sea and local conditions plus government permissions. We are asking the authorities about landings but at the moment, because of both islands ‘reserve’ status, we are being declined. If we are successful in gaining any landing permissions in due course note additional landing fees may apply. Permission for the voyage itself has been granted.
Selected target pelagic birds: Ainley's Storm-petrel, Townsend’s, Black-vented and Pink-footed Shearwaters, Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses, Least, Black, Chapman’s and Townsend’s Storm-petrels, Guadalupe Murrelet, Magnificent and Great Frigatebirds, Masked, Nazca, Brewster’s Brown, Red-footed and Blue-footed Boobies.
Potential cetaceans: Fin, Minke, Humpback, Bryde’s and Blue Whales. Several species of beaked whales are possible with Cuvier’s seen in 2015. Dolphins could include Short-beaked and Long-beaked Common, Bottlenose, Pacific White-sided and Rough-toothed as well as Pilot Whales and Orca (Killer Whale).
Please note: All itineraries are subject to weather, local conditions and final approval by the relevant authorities.
Dates: November 2021
Max no of participants: 22
Example of what price includes: in rooms with private facilities, on a room only basis. Travel and accommodation aboard the Searcher, a 95-foot long, U.S registered boat, air-conditioned with twin cabins with washbasin and bedside reading lights. Cabins are small (for sleeping and changing), with limited storage space only. There is a spacious salon for relaxing, socialising and eating. Four toilets and two hot freshwater showers. The vessel has 3 metal-hulled skiffs. All meals and beverages aboard the Searcher (including beer and wine), services of leaders and crew, Mexican visas and Conservation passports, WildWings pre-voyage information pack plus bird and marine mammal checklist for use during the voyage.
Example of what price excludes: Flights to San Diego/ from Cabo San Lucas (available from c£849 return from London), transfers in San Diego and Cabo (taxis from/to airports c.US$10/US$30pp), pre-cruise overnight hotel accommodation in San Diego if required (from £55pp sharing a twin), crew gratuities aboard vessel (we suggest US$25 per person per day), items of a personal nature and travel insurance. Island landing fees if any permissions are granted in due course.
Optional San Diego birding excursion, cUS$150pp, payable in cash locally.
We may be able to offer a few single cabins on the vessel, supplement £1495 / US$1869.
Chris has birded in over 80 countries and territories around the world and now spends the quite a lot of his time at sea. Although professionally qualified as a Chartered Accountant, these days Chris concentrates on wildlife-related projects and was very instrumental in setting up the Western Pacific Odyssey and also guides our Russian Far East voyages.