Today, my Dad and I joined 36 other birders on a Winter Pelagic out of Galilee, RI.. Hosting some other CT birders- Frank Mantlik, Keith Mueller, Julian Hough, etc., and with perfect weather conditions, we were all looking forward to a great trip. And it was. Why? Read on, my friend….
We started the voyage at dawn by picking up most common sea ducks right in the harbor- Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Eider, Bufflehead, and so forth. A FOY Double-crested Cormorant was hanging out with the multiple Great Cormorants on the breakwater. Once we passed out of the Harbor we entered the realm of the Atlantic- rolling waves and wind, and no visible landmarks, except for the ships clock system (Great Cormorant at 3:oo!). For a while we cruised along, and watched the sea duck numbers begin to dwindle as we entered deeper water. Scattered flocks of Scoters (of all 3 species) soon were the only birds in sight. Until…… “Razorbills!” the first call of an Alcid recieved a charge to the side of the boat, where all saw the flock of Razorbills sitting on the water. Our first Alcid, a sign of good things to come. As we sailed on, we began to see more and more flocks of Razorbills, little fast moving clouds of black and white. Soon we came across a large flock of gulls, which also contained multiple Northern Gannets.
On the Water were also our second species of alcid- Common Murres! And still, we plowed on farther out to sea. We soon reached an area where the locals said Dovekies hanged around. Dovekie was a goal of mine, so I was excited. Soon one was spotted of the bow, and we all rushed to the bird. It was crowded, loud, and the loudspeaker was booming. ” Dovekie, at 2:oo, 75 ft out!”
But I could not see the tiny alcid among the waves, and soon it seemed to just vanish to the people who did see it. “How did you not see it?” people asked me. The next one was so close it could not be missed, unless you were in the bathroom, as I was. ” Oh, you just missed another! It was right off the bow!”
Now I was a bit annoyed. But finally I saw a Dovekie flying across the bow! Such a pretty bird! Thankfully, I got views of one swimming later in the trip. Right after the dovekies things really picked up. Flocks of Razorbills and Common Murres crisscrossed the horizon on a very regular basis now. At one point I was down on the lower deck with Julian Hough, and we saw a strange Alcid fly across the horizon. At first glance I thought it was a Razorbill, but Julian had other ideas. Because this Alcid didn’t look exactly like a Razorbill….. “PUFFIN!” Julian yelled, and the boat erupted in a frenzy of running and shouts.
The Atlantic Puffin flew across the view from the ship, and most people got looks. While we were watching the Puffin another Dovekie popped up, and a Black-legged Kittiwake sailed by, met by cheers from the birders. After this exciting encounter most of the people went inside to eat lunch, and a lull fell as we cruised along, passing multiple Murres and once a probable Minke Whale.
After eating and lounging on the benches along the lower deck, my Dad suddenly stood up. ”I have a feeling,” he said, ” something is about to happen. Something real good.”
OK….. I walked to the bow with some other birders and we saw a large gull flock following a trawler. We directed the captain to sail closer. Suddenly, a group of small gulls flew up, revealing their identity- Bonaparte’s Gulls. But one was different, a smaller gull with striking black underwings. Little Gull! Yes! This was a bird I was not totally expecting to see. For the remainder of the trip we kept seeing more flocks of Razorbills and Murres, very close views of Gannets, and a few more Dovekie. But it was becoming time to head back to shore. For a long time we headed towards the sliver of land, now just raising one quick binocular glance to see the Razorbills, which still came on in large flocks. But soon we began to see increases in sea ducks again, and before we knew it, we were entering the breakwater zone…. where a Glaucous Gull was flying. NICE. And as we docked another “white-winged” Gull showed up on the docks. But what was this one? The birders, now off the boat, stood all over, looking at this Gull that was literally 10 ft. away, but know one could decide. People discussed the bill, the primary extension, head shape, but even the most experienced birders took some time to come to a conclusion. Can you? Leave your opinion in the comments.
So, a great way to end a great day, and now we were going home. On the road again- TWACK. There goes an engine belt! And, there goes the engine! Great! Now were stuck. SOOOOOO, we call AAA, the truck eventually picks us up, and we arrive home late in the cramped cab of a flatbed truck. Oh, these are the good times…..
Thanks to Carlos Pedro and all the great RI birders who arranged this pelagic trip!