Saturday, February 13, 2010

Pelagic Trips--Day 1

Today I went out on a boat--Stormy Petrel II--from Hatteras, NC. Brian Patteson has been running seabird viewing trips for over 20 years. He also has a good group of birding experts who act as spotters on his boat. One of the premier birders in the US if not the world is Steve Howell who was on our trip today. He is also a bit eccentric. He always wears sandals like Chacos even on winter trips. Today was no exception even though it was snowing some with high winds and a temp of about 35 degrees.

Pelagic refers to seabirds that spend all their lives at sea except when they come into land to breed. Most birders come to pelagic birding only after realizing that they like land birding. This is because pelagic trips cost about $150 per day, plus you need to travel to a coastal location and generally pay for lodging unless you happen to know someone locally who can put you up. Finally, you usually board the boat before sunrise and spend all day out on what may be somewhat rough waters. Moreover, seasickness can be a real problem that for some people makes for an uncomfortable day, or worse, being curled up all day in a fetal position praying for the trip to end. As a result, some very good birders choose not to partake in pelagic boat trips.

There were about 15 people on the boat which is typical for a winter pelagic trip. They were from all around the country as well. Summer trips will have twice that many, or even more on bigger boats. Today was mostly about staying as dry as possible, and warming up in the cabin often. In my case, I spent alot of time in the cabin because it was the most comfortable place to be. Also, while I have not gotten sick on a pelagic trip, I do not want to ever find myself in a fetal position for the day. So I tend to munch on food regularly to keep my stomach full and busy. This is easier to do by staying near your pack which you keep in the cabin area.

The day started quickly with the sighting of a little gull, an appropriately named small gull that you are fortunate to locate since there are not many in the US, and its whereabouts is quite random in the lower 48 states. The rest of the day was typical for pelagic birding--many of the same birds, northern gannets and gulls today, following the boat to eat the chum thrown off the back of the boat regularly to get birds to follow us. By day's end 5 more year birds were seen--little gull, northern gannet, red-throated loon, razorbill, and atlantic puffin. This brings the YTD total to 293. The new week's count after 2 days is up to 47 birds. Tomorrow I will brave the seas again in hopes of getting the 2 key birds missed today--great skua and dovekie. Stay tuned!

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