Documenting the Birding Adventures of Scott Whittle
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Pelagic Day Trip
I've been spending a good part of my birding time on Long Island lately...it's the place to be for Terns and other sea birds. The sea watches have been good, and I've seen all the expected species for this time of year by watching from the shore. What I haven't done is gotten photos of most of them, because they are often a mile or two out and moving fast. Since there are no official pelagic birding trips between February and August in NY, I decided to improvise and go out on a party fishing boat. These boats are probably the cheapest way to get out on the water...$60 for a full day...and if you go on a weekday they are not particularly crowded. I went on the Trade Winds II out of the Captree marina, aftering reading a post on the NY Birding messsage boards by John Gluth who had a good experience. The captain, Paul Risi, is very friendly and also very interested in birds, and he was extremely obliging. The boat is 78' long and can carry several dozen people, but today it was about 15 fisherman and me, plus a couple of mates and the captains dog Duke. The fisherman all fish from the lower deck, so apart from a seasick passenger or two I had the upper decks to myself . I used to get seasick a lot as a teenager, so now I use a prescription patch called Scopoderm (scopolomine) which keeps me barf-free.
There was a five foot swell due to hurricane Bertha, but it was manageable. Shooting flying birds from a rolling boat is challenging and I enjoy it, but its another reason to be diligent with sea-sickness meds. Keeping your eye in a telephoto lens while the boat pitches and rolls amplifies the whole experience. Within a few minutes of getting to sea we had a Greater Shearwater come in, and I got a few shots as it cruised stiff-winged past the boat. The shearwaters all have a distinctive flight, using the micro-winds created by the waves to glide just a few feet above the water. I was excited to have one close in. The next bird was a black, sparrow-sized creature flitting above the water...Wilson's Storm Petrel. These birds are often seen in rafts of several hundred, but today I saw twenty in ones and twos. I was hoping to see their feeding behavior...they patter their feet on the water while hovering just a couple of inches above the surface. Sure enough, when we got a little further out I saw various Storm Petrels do just that. The boat made numerous stops and starts, moving to different fishing spots, and along the way we also had a number of Corey's Shearwaters fly by. We built up a fair number of terns around the boat when some bait was being tossed over, and I was hoping a Parasitic Jaeger might drop in to hassle them for food. No Jaeger, but I did have a Roseate Tern briefly join the raucous Common Terns.
Overall it was a great day, and I added three new photos to my collection. I had two Greater Shearwaters, about twenty each of Coreys Shearwaters and Wilsons Storm Petrel, and one Roseate Tern. At this point I've photographed or made an audio recording of every bird except Black Billed Cuckoo, which I heard but didn't record. I'm hoping to keep it up for the rest of the year...it'll be a great collection to look back on and remember this big year.
My name is Scott Whittle and I'm a professional photographer (www.scottwhittle.com). I have an MFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I started birding as a teenager, and then dropped it for many years. I started to bird again in 2007, and have been birding since then in Brooklyn, NY and Cape May, NJ.