A Trip to the Islands

I took a wonderful trip to the Islands on Saturday, September 7th. These are not some luxurious islands with upscale resorts. Just 30 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge, these rocky islands make up the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and lie amid the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. This food-rich marine ecosystem attracts whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, and seabirds each summer and fall to feed and to breed.

I joined the Marin Audubon Society field trip aboard the “Outer Limits” catamaran for an 8-hour adventure, leaving from and returning to the Clipper Yacht Harbor in Sausalito.

Cormorants and Brown Pelicans can be seen roosting on the Farallon Islands. The white coloration of the rocks is from guano. Sony a9 + 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @213 mm, ISO 400, f/8, 1/2500s. ©Stanley Buman. All Rights Reserved.

The public is not allowed on any of the islands because the steep, rocky shoreline, as can be seen in the above image. Also, the wildlife are very sensitive to disturbance. So, we stayed a safe distance from the islands while viewing the abundant wildlife from the boat.

California Sea Lions resting on Farallon Island 7836
California Sea Lions rest on the rocks just above the water line. Sony a9 + 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @560 mm, ISO 800, f/8, 1/2000. ©Stanley Buman. All Rights Reserved.

The Farallon Islands Refuge is the largest seabird rookery in the contiguous United States with nesting Tufted Puffins and numerous other species. These islands are at the southern end of the breeding range for the Tufted Puffins. I always enjoy seeing these comical-looking seabirds.

A Tufted Puffin takes flight by running across the water. Sony a9 + 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @560 mm, ISO 400, f/8, 1/3200s. ©Stanley Buman. All Rights Reserved.

While the main focus of the trip was looking for pelagic (relating to the open sea) birds, sea mammals provided frequent interruptions. Multiple pods of Humpback whales were seen feeding. The best experience was on our return trip when we ran into a feeding frenzy of whales, sea lions, and sea birds. It was a spectacular show. I can honestly say that I did not spend any time identifying birds with all of the whale activity.

Humpback Whales surfaced while feeding. Sony a9 + 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @560 mm, ISO 640, f/8, 1/2500s. ©Stanley Buman. All Rights Reserved.