Thursday, October 18 , 2018, 1:31 am | Fair 55º


David Bacon

Captain’s Log: Gone to the Birds

Seabirds swarm white caps topped with popcorn. The bird-watchers fantasy is one of many delights aboard the WaveWalker. Click to view larger
Seabirds swarm white caps topped with popcorn. The bird-watchers fantasy is one of many delights aboard the WaveWalker. (David Bacon photo)

I have been chartered a number of times to take groups of birdwatchers out to sea aboard my WaveWalker, and these are very special trips with unusual tidbits aboard.

On some trips we make the run to Santa Cruz Island to look for the unique island scrub-jay or raucous shore birds such as oystercatchers. On most trips we scout mid-Channel to locate local and pelagic seabirds.

These winged hunters out in the middle of the Santa Barbara Channel generally need to be brought into viewing range with tempting tidbits. Nothing seems to work quite as well as popcorn.

It is kinda funny when birdwatchers board my charterboat in the morning. They have their lunches, cameras, binoculars, species identification and log books, and huge bags of popped corn.

Popcorn? Yes, popcorn is the best chum for many species of seabirds and they gobble it up like there is no tomorrow.

It might be interesting to get some ornithologist’s input on what are some other great chum to draw seabirds.

When picking a spot to draw seabirds, I commonly look for an area with current breaks or upwelling, because I know from experience that these are spots where birds naturally tend to forage intensely.

When we begin chumming handfuls of popcorn, birds seem to mysteriously appear out of nowhere. It can be quite astounding how many different species of birds will wheel and dive around the boat.

Popcorn is tasty stuff, and watching the birds tuck and reel is amazing to watch!

After gathering dozens and sometimes hundreds of birds around the boat, everyone has an opportunity to log the birds they haven’t yet seen personally.

Then we get underway and cruise at about 8 knots with a great mixed flock of birds moving with us. At times there are so many birds that it looks like Alfred Hitchcock may have been right!

The idea behind getting underway and bringing the birds with us by continuing to toss out popcorn chum is that the birds present a different photographic profile when following along with a moving boat than when flocking to a drifting and nearly stationary boat.

One thing I enjoy about bird watchers is that they believe each other. If one of them has a bird written in their birding book, everyone believes it without question.

I laugh when I compare that to fisherfolk… you can talk about a fish you caught until you are blue in the face, but if you can’t quick-draw your smartphone and show a picture of you with it, that fish never happened!

— 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. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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