Each summer flocks of sooty shearwaters fly low over the Monterey Bay, diving and squawking as they feed on masses of bait fish – anchovies, sardines, squid, and krill – that school just below the water’s glistening surface. You see them coming in the distance, a very impressive mass a mile or more in length; thousands of birds flying low over the water forming a cacophony of feathered missiles plunging headfirst for food.

shearwater flock

I think of them as late summer birds, but they’ve shown up early this year. And they’re flying crazy close to shore.

shearwater flock near shore

Pup and I have been watching them every evening, joined by brown pelicans and gulls to feed in the surf.

pelican eating

They’re chasing anchovies this year. I know that for a fact because the bigger waves have been dumping hundreds of the silver fish right on the sand . . . something I’ve never, ever, ever seen. I see other beachgoers whose impulse is “save the fishies!” A noble thought, yes, but talk about going from the frying pan into the fire . . .

Pup seized the opportunity to sample some anchovy sashimi.

pup eating anchovy

There’s a reason you may be having flashbacks to scenes from “The Birds.” These sooty shearwaters were Alfred Hitchcock’s inspiration. On August 18, 1961, Wally Trabing reported in the Santa Cruz Sentinel that “A massive flight of sooty shearwaters, fresh from a feast of anchovies, collided with shoreside structures from Pleasure Point to Rio del Mar during the night.” Three days later the paper reported that “Hollywood mystery producer Alfred Hitchcock phoned The Sentinel Saturday to let us know he is using last Friday’s edition as research material for his latest thriller.”

Pretty cool.