The August Brooklyn Pelagic a.k.a pterodroma magic

Drew WeberBird Sightings, Birding, Rarities1 Comment

For the 3rd August in a row, I’ve managed to find myself on Paulagics fantastic overnight pelagics. This year they have moved to a new boat, the Brooklyn IV, and a new dock in Brooklyn which is more convenient than the old spot in Freeport.

There had been several fantastic pelagics just north and south of us recently, including double-digit White-faced Storm-Petrels, 2 species of tropicbird, and Black-capped Petrels out of Massachusetts, so it was with great excitement that we loaded up on the boat and headed out for deep water at 9pm. I was excited to try out my Leica V-Lux (Typ 114) (review coming soon!) which is the most legit non-digiscoping camera setup I’ve used for birding. Digiscoping wasn’t going to do me much good on a seriously moving boat, so I was pumped to try my luck with this 20mp camera which falls somewhere in between a point-and-shoot and a DSLR, and comes with a 400mm lens. The seas were predicted at a relatively calm 2-4 feet, so after saying our hellos to everyone on the boat we all drifted apart to find spots to bunk down for the night.

At some point around midnight I realized that we were pitching back and forth a lot more than I expected, and being on the top deck I was holding on to a handrail so that I wouldn’t slide off my sleeping pad. There was some commotion about the forecast having changed, which at this point was pretty obvious, but the captain and leaders decided we were good to continue out. It was at this point that I decided that the sandwich I had grabbed before hopping onto the boat had been a mistake, and so I wandered down to the back of the boat to relieve some pressure from my stomach. Feeling better, I staked out a bench inside the cabin and proceeded to pass out, only waking up once the boat slowed down, having reached our destination in Hudson Canyon.

Some buckets of chum, chopped up fish, and fish oil to really bring in the birds.

Some buckets of chum, chopped up fish, and fish oil to really bring in the birds.

I like the first few hours after we stop. The sky is still pitch black, but chum is already being slung off the stern of the boat, and there is a lot of anticipation in the air. Leach’s Storm-Petrels are often only seen during first light, presumably because they are nocturnally feeding, but then I am not sure where they are spending the days. Regardless, the first storm-petrels of the day are often seen crossing the beams of light glaring off the sides of the boat, and today was no different. It was 5:37am when I first recorded a Wilson’s Storm-Petrels fluttering through the beams at a distance, looking like an oversized moth bouncing across the ocean’s surface.

As the sun came up and our chum slick attracted more birds, we got some really great looks at the Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, as you can see in the animation below. The longer-winged Band-rumped Storm-Petrels tended to stay further away on the chum slick, and the Leach’s Storm-Petrels were a no-show, at least as far as I could tell.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel zooming past the stern

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel zooming past the stern (tap image to see it animated)

The Wilson’s Storm-Petrel show continued throughout the day, and it seemed that we would only have to wait a minute or two after stopping the boat and starting to lay down a chum slick for the first curious ones to come in. Here are some of my favorite photos from the day.

We stuck around at each slick for a while, drifting with the current while the slick stretched out away from us. When we felt we had pulled in the birds we were going to get, we turned around and headed back up the slick to get closer views of anything else coming in to the other end of the slick.

We saw numerous Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, including one bird that showed active molt in the wings, possibly coming from a different population referred to as “Grant’s Storm-Petrel“. Future split?

We were working our way north from the mouth of Hudson Canyon when I first heard the excited screams of “BLACK-CAPPED PETREL!!!” This was a lifer for me, so my first instinct was to get great views rather than photograph it. It came in hot on one side of the boat and circled around, giving people on all sides of the boat a great look. It wasn’t until the 3rd or 4th came in that I finally managed to get a (poor) photo, but it’s mostly identifiable I think. Right….

One of 5 Black-capped Petrels I saw.

One of 5 Black-capped Petrels I saw.

Since we are so far out, we end up having to pick up and head home around mid-day to get to the docks by 8pm. This gives us some time to stop and enjoy birds as we encounter them, but we often end up going for long stretches with the only birds in sight being a couple Wilson’s Storm-Petrels. A couple of hours back towards land, we came across several large (by NY pelagic standards) flocks of shearwaters. Not only were there a good mix of Cory’s and Great Shearwaters, but there were several Pomarine Jaegers just happily loafing with them! I spent too much time watching and not photographing them. After some truly incredible looks at all the birds hanging around, we had to keep heading back to the docks. Over the next hour we head another 5 Pomarine Jaegers in two different groups appear in the distance behind the boat and eventually overtake us. It was definitely the most jaegers I’ve ever seen in such a short amount of time!

Altogether, it was a really fantastic trip, and another great experience with Paulagics. The rougher seas didn’t help our cause in some aspects, and some of the birds we were dreaming of such as South Polar Skua, White-faced Storm-Petrel and White-tailed Tropicbird never materialized. We also saw little in the way of other marine life, but any day with 50+ Band-rumped Storm-Petrels and 5 Black-capped Petrels in NY is a great day! It felt really good to get back on solid ground after 18 hours of pitching back and forth, and the crew even sent us home with some mahi-mahi that Tom, Doug and I immediately fried up for a delicious end to the trip.