It's hard to take pictures of soaring birds while on a boat in rough seas. But here are a few shots of a Flesh-footed Shearwater (Puffinus carneipes) near Bodega Canyon on 26 October 2012.
Don't pay too much attention to the common name. Although they have pinkish-colored feet, the feet are not often visible in flight.
Look for the overall dark brown coloration on both the upper and lower surfaces. And note how the pink bill (with gray/black tip) contrasts with the very dark head.
More subtle field marks include the relatively large overall size (wingspan of ~40 inches) and the relatively broad wings when compared with other local shearwaters.
Although the flight feathers can appear silvery in some light, it's still a much darker bird than a Sooty Shearwater that shows strong white wing linings. Sooty Shearwaters also have a much thinner and uniformly dark bill.
The wings of Flesh-footed Shearwaters can look narrower at some angles (see below). But again, note the contrast between the dark head and the pink bill.
Flesh-footed Shearwaters are regular but rare to uncommon visitors to our region. They are trans-equatorial migrants — birds that breed on islands off Australia and New Zealand spend the non-breeding season in the North Pacific. Most records at Bodega Canyon/Cordell Bank are between September and November, when the birds are probably making the journey back to the southern hemisphere.
You may see hundreds of individuals of other species of shearwaters on an offshore boat trip, but you'll be lucky to spot one or two Flesh-footed Shearwaters.
Here's another view of the same bird silhouetted against the sky. There's something awe-inspiring about the design of seabirds and how well suited they are to spending most of their lives soaring with wind and waves.