Pelagic trips are a gamble on the vastness of the ocean. They can be incredibly dull or amazingly exciting on smooth seas or big waves. They can bring awesome rarities or nothing much at all. Rarely, you run aground. The point is almost anything can happen when you are out in a boat on the water but it certainly won’t happen, at least not to you, if you aren’t on the boat. This is why I spent this past Sunday out on a boat in the very cold Atlantic Ocean with a bunch of my fellow birders hoping to see birds. Perhaps this was not my wisest decision considering that my last two trips both involved me vomiting. But I can’t resist getting out to sea and trips organized by Sea Life Paulagics out of Freeport, New York, don’t happen more than a few times a year so I had to go for it.

ducks at dawn

ducks at dawn

The day started nicely with us steaming out of Jones Inlet in the dawn light to discover a calm ocean, with waves not exceeding two or three feet. Chumming commenced once we cleared the inlet and we quickly had a nice flock of gulls behind us with the occasional Northern Gannet swinging into the chum scrum to see what was available.

Northern Gannet

Northern Gannet

Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull

We continued steaming south throughout the morning, spotting the occasional flock of Razorbills and enjoying the less common gulls as they came in to see what the Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls were following us for.

Razorbill

Razorbill

Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte’s Gull

Razorbills

Razorbills

Lesser Black-backed Gull 2nd cycle

Lesser Black-backed Gull

And still we continued south, picking up Common Murres and more gulls, to say nothing of the continually present gannets, including a first-year bird. Occasionally, we would slow down to try to get a closer look at an alcid that landed on the water but they weren’t having it, refusing to the boat approach closely.

Razorbill 2

Razorbill

Common Murre

Common Murre

Northern Gannet

Northern Gannet

Northern Gannet first year

Northern Gannet

Eventually we reached the temperature of water we were hoping to reach – about 45 F – and we started to find Dovekies!

Dovekies

Dovekies

Dovekie

Dovekie

Dovekies are awesome whether you call them Dovekie, Little Auk, or Alle alle. And we saw lots! Eventually, we had reached the point that we had to turn around and head back to land which we did, reluctantly, both because we never found any Northern Fulmars and because the wind had shifted a bit to the west and picked up quite a bit, which meant that we were now motoring perpendicular to what had become larger waves. This did not make my stomach happy. But for the first couple of hours I was still alright, mostly because we had good gulls behind the boat still.

Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake

Lesser Black-backed Gull adult

Lesser Black-backed Gull

But one gull in particular caused much debate because it couldn’t be fit neatly into a species box. Herring Gull? Kumlien’s Gull? Thayer’s Gull? Personally, and after talking to some better larophiles than I am, I came to the conclusion that it is a dark Kumlien’s Gull but I don’t think that the bird’s identity is fully settled yet. What do you think?

unknown gull

gull sp. (More images here.)

Before too long the rough waves got the best of me and I added to the chum. But then I felt better but not great. I spent the last couple of hours of the trip sitting on the port side of the boat, huddled up to preserve warmth, wishing that we would sink. Fortunately, despite the occasional wave large enough for the captain to have to turn into it to avoid a very rough ride, we made it back safely. Numbers of some of the better birds are below, stolen from Sean Simes email to the state listserv.

Razorbill  37
Common Murre  8
Dovekie   87
Iceland Gull 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull   4
Black-legged Kittiwake   8

Will I do another pelagic despite my now notorious tendency to puke? Of course! Especially now that we have a full slate of pelagics going out of Brooklyn this year with See Life Paulagics! Sign up and join the fun…I promise not to puke on you.

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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.