Feeding frenzy? Aquatic ballet? Sea-faring mosh pit? Whatever you call it, the rhythmic but raucous performances staged by anchovy-hungry seabirds, whales and trawlers in Half Moon Bay over the past two weeks have been big fun to watch.
Heat and holidays drive gaggles of day-tripping tourists to the relative chill of Coastside beaches each summer. Similarly, schools of anchovy and mackerel that typically tack with colder, food-rich waters offshore will move toward the coastline when they encounter warm currents. The birds, sea mammals and fishing boats tag along.
While coastline mini-frenzies are common, the sheer numbers of birds populating the recent feeding extravaganzas impressed even the local birders. In addition to brown pelicans, cormorants and multiple varieties of gulls, the bulk of the winged mob has been made up of sooty shearwaters, which birders report stormed the Coastside by the tens of thousands in late August.
While the avian swarm can suddenly shift location en masse, the actual feeding is a decidedly unchoreographed free-for-all. The view from shore is like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” – swooping, screeching, splashing, diving, and blind blood-lust. No reports of Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor or human casualties, but we wouldn’t want to be the gull who got in the way of a pelican dropping beak-first into the chum scrum.
In our three summers on the Coastside, we’ve learned to look for whales when seabirds congregate to feed offshore. We spotted a handful of humpbacks spouting, breaching and generally lolling comfortably over dinner in the most recent frenzies, along with dozens of busy fishing vessels throughout the day and into the night. We’ve also seen plenty of harbor seals near shore in recent days, their eye peering at the action while bobbing like Halloween apples in a barrel.
Not every bird is a joiner. We watched in amusement one evening as a blue heron landed awkwardly on the bluff at Surfer’s Beach and haltingly tip-toed away from the scene offshore. A wader that typically feeds on fish and amphibians in the shallows but can also devour a mole or gopher, the heron wanted no piece of the anarchy in the deep water.
Unfortunately, it was walking uncomfortably close to Highway 1. Like all Coastsiders, if it sticks around, it doubtless will learn to avoid the anarchy that is holiday traffic on Highway 1. We know a quiet street in the back of Montara we can recommend. We like new neighbors. And we really need to get after those gophers.