Monday, July 16 , 2018, 2:29 am | Fair 66º


Captain’s Log: Big Story of a Tiny Bird Lost at Sea

Wilson’s Warbler finds comfort aboard the WaveWalker

We had a very strange visitor aboard my charter boat, WaveWalker, while fishing near the Channel Islands. We were enjoying a wildly successful day of fishing for red snapper, chucklehead, johnny bass and lingcod when something small, colorful and quick flitted by. It seemed so out of place that it captured my full attention. But it was gone as fast as it had appeared.

A couple of minutes later it flitted in again — a small colorful land bird. Later, helpful bird experts working with the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and the Channel Islands National Park helped me identify it as a Wilson’s Warbler (WW, for short) — a dusky yellow bird with some gray. It had a distinguishing thatch of black on the crown of its head that identified it as a male. The black beak was relatively long, straight, narrow and sharp-pointed. At full height, the bird looked to be not much over 3 inches tall.

WW was utterly exhausted, and I could understand why. We were several miles off of the north shore of Santa Rosa Island and conditions were just hazy enough that the little bird couldn’t recognize land. It was lost at sea with no place to perch and rest, until it spotted our boat. It landed on a rail, huffing and puffing. We looked very big and scary to that tiny bird and the boat was not exactly a comfort zone, so he kept flying off in search of more familiar terrain. There was none to be found so WW kept returning.

A spot on a seat on the bridge within arm’s reach of me was the only spot the bird could find that was sufficiently sheltered and stable enough to rest up. While it sat staring at me, I could sense its little heart beating like a fast drum roll. It was scared but had no options left other than to trust me. All it could do was tuck its head under its wing for a necessary nap and hope fervently that I don’t like to eat cute little birds.

After a 20-minute nap, the bird awoke, poked its head up and gave me a good long study. Somehow I knew that WW was deciding that since he had given us a perfect opportunity to eat it and we didn’t, we could be trusted. Suddenly that lil’ bird became our buddy. It even flew up and perched on my shoulder for a minute, probably proving that I am a pirate. Ya know ... some pirates get parrots. Me, I get a Wilson’s Warbler. What kind of pirate does that make me?

WW made friends with everyone aboard, landing on rods while people were trying to fish and generally making itself to home. It even went in the cabin awhile to get out of the breeze. Ramona Lisa, my deckhand, fell in love with the critter and gave it a capful of water from her water bottle.

Once we caught our fish and were preparing to head back to harbor, I noticed that conditions had cleared and the islands was clearly visible. When we fired up those big twin 250HP outboards and powered up on the step, WW decided we had become too noisy to stay with. As we roared toward the mainland, WW took flight and streaked toward the island. We waved and cheered the lil’ guy on.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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