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October 9, 2007

San Pedro, CA

The traveling booby

Masked visitor makes an appearance in Southern California waters

Masked Booby photo

Masked Booby was treated at IBRRC's San Pedro bird center and released at Catalina Island. See larger photo (Photo: Susan Kaveggia/IBRRC)

O n Saturday, September 27th, a commercial fishing boat returned from Catalina Island. After pulling into dock at Shoreline Village, a passerby asked if the captain knew they had a "duck" on the top of their wheel house. It was definitely too big to be a duck – maybe it was an albatross? They decided to leave it alone hoping it would fly off and be gone by the next morning.

The next day the crew went back to Catalina and the bird stayed on the boat for the entire trip. Upon returning to port they reported their strange visitor and found help close by; International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) in San Pedro, which specializes in the rescue and rehabilitation of seabirds and waterfowl.

When the bird arrived at the center, the staff wasn’t certain what species they had either. It certainly wasn’t a bird they normally see. They enlisted the help of ornithologist Kimball Garrett, who positively ID’d the bird as a Masked Booby, a species normally not seen in Southern California.

When Susan Kaveggia, a volunteer for IBRRC, reported this information to the California Birds Record Committee (CBRC) they thought it was possibly the first sighting on record for a Masked Booby in Los Angeles County. 

Curious to find out if the bird had landed on the fishing boat far out at sea, Kaveggia tracked down the Captain, who confirmed the boat only goes to Catalina and back.   

Masked booby rehab photo

Julie King, manager at IBRRC's San Pedro bird center, prepares to capture Masked Booby in preparation for release. (Photo: IBRRC)

This Booby was far from home, and needed to get back out to sea quickly, but a through check up needed to be done to determine if it was capable of the long journey home.  Blood work and an x-ray showed it to be in good health with no fishing line or hook ingestion. After rest and food, IBRRC’s executive director, Jay Holcomb, felt it best the Booby was released somewhere remote, where the chances of landing on another boat were slim.

IBRRC volunteer Akiko Kanna-Jones, who is a pilot for Island Express Helicopters, a company that flies from San Pedro to Catalina, was asked if the company would be willing to donate a round-trip flight in order that IBRRC could get the Booby to Catalina. Island Express Helicopters owner agreed to help out IBRRC and the Booby.

Peter Sharpe, PhD, Research Wildlife Ecologist at the Institute for Wildlife Studies on Catalina Island was also asked to help. Sharpe is well known for his work re-introducing Bald Eagles to Catalina Island. He would let IBRRC know if the bird, which IBRRC banded with a Federal band, returned to Catalina instead of heading west. On Tuesday, October 09, 2007, Kaveggia and Kanna-Jones flew the wayward Booby to the west coast of Catalina Island for release.  

The Masked Booby, a member of the bird family Sulidae, which includes the gannets and boobies, is the largest of the Boobies with a wing span of over five feet. Masked Boobies are spectacular divers, plunging diagonally into the ocean at high speeds to catch small fish.

Bobbies are rarely seen far away from their breeding colonies, the largest of which is on Boatswain Bird Island in the central Atlantic. Caribbean Masked Boobies occasionally wander north to warm southern Gulf Stream waters off the eastern seaboard of the United States.  Masked Boobies also breed in the Galapagos and on Clipperton Island, an uninhabited atoll in the Pacific off the coast of Costa Rica. Small colonies have established around the mouth of the Red Sea, the Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean, and islands off Northern Australia into Indonesia.

IBRRC typically receives one or two wayward Laysan Albatross every year, but has never seen a Masked Booby in their 36 year history. Because it is now banded, there is a chance IBRRC’s bird experts will learn where this bird’s colony is, should it be spotted by researchers.

More information:

Island Express Helicopters: http://www.islandexpress.com/
Institute for Wildlife Studies: www.iws.org 
California Bird Records Committee: http://www.wfo-cbrc.org/cbrc/


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