I can’t wait until Sunday! I’ll be on a day-long pelagic trip from Freeport, Long Island, into the briny deep of the Atlantic Ocean. There are so many potential lifers it is ridiculous, as I have never been on a pelagic trip this time of year. Birds like South Polar Skua, Pomarine Jaeger, and Audubon’s Shearwater are possibilities. And trust me, you are not alone if you are looking at those bird names and thinking to yourself, “Skua? Pomarine what-now?”

I’ve been studying, not as much as I probably should, but studying nonetheless, so I have some small chance to actually identify a bit of what I’m going to be (hopefully) looking at on Sunday. Fortunately for me the trip is being run by See Life Paulagics and will have many expert birders who already know a skua from a hole in the ground. I, on the other hand, am just hoping not to embarrass myself by calling a storm-petrel a shearwater or something similarly stupid. Actually, I have five goals besides not embarrassing myself: to see five lifers (which is actually possible as the “target birds” list for the trip contains eleven that would be lifers), to not succumb to chumming, to learn about seabirds, to have fun, and to be present for a first confirmed record of a bird in the Atlantic Ocean.

Wait, what was that last one? Isn’t that a little, well, unlikely? Probably, but that’s what happened the last time I took a pelagic trip in February, 2006, which just happens to be the only pelagic trip I’ve ever been on. That is, we saw what is likely (I think) to be confirmed by the New York State Avian Records Committee as the first-ever accepted record of a Western Gull in the Atlantic Ocean. Here’s a picture I took of it while wondering what all the fuss was about:

The Atlantic's first Western Gull?

One bird I really hope to see is a Cory’s Shearwater, even though the bird-namers managed to spell it wrong. Two of the birds that aren’t terribly likely but would be cool to see are White-faced Storm Petrel and Long-tailed Jaeger. I really don’t deserve to see those two yet, not having put in the time on boats, but I’ll check ’em off if I see ’em.

Also, I have to make sure I am prepared with provisions in addition to seabird knowledge. I will be bringing a bag of pretzel rods to slowly eat all day long as I discovered that really helped calm my stomach on the last pelagic. I’ll also bring sunscreen, a change of clothes, and lots of water. I’ll also be bringing a pen, because the first lifer I see, if I see any, will be life bird number 400 and I want to check it off with a flourish. It had better be a cool bird.

Does anyone out there care to share any advice on pelagic birding?

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Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy, their son, Desmond Shearwater, and their indoor cat, B.B. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.