As with any big-year pursuit, a serious bid will require birders to hit the open ocean several times in search of pelagic specialties. As part of the Cape Cod Birding Festival, Travis the Traveling Trinovid joined local Cape Cod wunderkind, Miles Goldenberg, for some birding in the productive waters off of Massachusetts. Read on for Miles’s account, and keep an eye out for this kid who was just dubbed one of the “Young Turks of modern birding” by the great Pete Dunne.
During the weekend of the Cape Cod Birding Festival, Travis spent a beautiful, sunny day out at sea on a pelagic trip into the Nantucket Shoals and the waters east of Chatham, MA. This was my first real pelagic trip, so I stood a good chance of adding a couple birds to my life list as well. For Travis, already an experienced pelagic birder, it was going to be a challenge. He was hoping for a Great Skua, but the coastal waters had other plans.
Although I had to wake up at 4:30 to catch the shuttle from the festival headquarters to the harbor, it was worth it to watch the sunrise from the boat.
As the boat left the harbor and began to move through Nantucket Sound, we passed a few groups of Common Terns and spotted a couple of Black Terns as well. We observed a couple of migrating passerines as we approached the open water. A Cape May Warbler circled the boat before finally continuing south. Later, a Magnolia Warbler and an unidentified warbler flew low over the boat. Other offshore migrants included a Black-crowned Night-Heron and a Northern Harrier. Chumming attracted a large flock of gulls, including one Lesser Black-backed Gull. A few Sooty and Great Shearwaters were also drawn in by the activity.
My first life bird of the trip, a Red-necked Phalarope, was spotted drifting near the boat.
Not long after the phalarope, we encountered two Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) feeding in an upwelling. Following the sunfish there was a major lull in bird activity. The only birds we were finding in the shoals were gulls, so the trip leaders had the captain change course and head to the waters off of East Chatham.
Our change in course paid off when a flock of nine Red-necked Phalaropes was spotted near the boat. The phalaropes were very cool birds to watch. I find it very strange that they look like regular shorebirds, but spend a lot of their life out at sea. Shortly after they were found, though, they were upstaged when Jeff Bouton spotted a storm-petrel flitting around off the bow of the boat with a flight pattern reminiscent of a nighthawk. It was a Leach’s Storm-Petrel, a life bird for me!
Only a few minutes after the storm-petrel was spotted, a Parasitic Jaeger was observed chasing a flock of terns. Eventually the jaeger singled out a tern, forcing it to drop the fish it was carrying. Later, a juvenile jaeger was spotted drifting towards the boat. Photo analysis revealed that it was a Long-tailed Jaeger, yet another life bird for me!
As we headed back to Hyannis Harbor, we got some great looks at a Basking Shark. Scanning the beaches of South Monomoy revealed two Great Cormorants and a Lesser Black-backed Gull sitting with the Double-crested Cormorants and Herring/Great Black-backed Gulls roosting on the beach. The last notable birds of the trip were a couple of Roseate Terns that flew past the boat, giving their distinctive “chiv-ik” call as we approached the harbor.
The bird that got away on this trip was the Manx Shearwater. Travis and I just missed it as it flew close to the water down the starboard side of the boat. We were on the port side of the boat when it was announced, and by the time we reached the other side of the boat, the potential life bird (for me) was gone.
My first pelagic trip was a great experience and a lot of fun. Although Travis did not get any life birds (but the Basking Shark was a life fish), I got four life birds! I’m really grateful to Jeff Bouton and David La Puma for teaching me so much about pelagic birding, and letting me use Travis. Travis is an excellent pair of binoculars, and it’s so cool to know that these are the same binoculars used by birders like Tom Johnson and Kenn Kaufman. I had a great time and I wish Travis luck on his big year!