Stormy-petrels / by Michael Johns

What makes people on the Farallones stop what they're doing for a field trip to "The Domes" to stare at the ocean? Well anything unusual really. In this particular photo, we are watching a large flock of fork-tailed storm-petrels which were spotted surfing in the breakers just off the intertidal rocks. An unprecedented event first because storm-petrels only approach the island at night and are almost never seen from shore during the day, and second because unlike ashy storm-petrels which breed on the Farallones, fork-tailed storm-petrels breed much further north in British Columbia and Alaska. We occasionally catch the odd fork-tailed during mist netting for ashies at night, but for the most part this northern species is a rare find off central California. We even had some flying into coves just below out feet at one of the island landing sites.

It has been said that storm-petrels are often seen in harbors and close to shore during approaching severe wind fronts, and mariners considered them indicators of fowl weather. This aligns with the 45 knot northwesterlies we've had over this past few days. There have also been reports further south of fort-tailed storm-petrels in Monterey Harbor and thousands more throughout Monterey Bay.