There are some birds that are difficult to see from land. These ‘pelagic’ birds spend most of their lives out on the open ocean, venturing on to solid ground only to breed and nest. When they do, an offshore island is often their choice of site. For the birder who want to see these rare birds – storm petrels, jaegers, shearwaters, phalaropes and more – a deep sea boat trip is a must.
Maine is an outstanding pelagic birding location, and today we ventured out on Maine Audubon’s annual pelagic birding trip off of Bar Harbor on Mt. Dessert Island. Rising well before dawn we joined a couple hundred other birders, who came from all over the country and one from Norway, on the Atlanticat, a large catamaran. Catamarans are known for their stability making the ride more pleasant on the changeable ocean swells and surf, thankfully reducing the incidents of the dreaded seasickness!
We left the dock at 6:00 AM in a blanket of fog that thickened and remained with us for most of our eight hour excursion. Of course, this cut down on the number of birds sighted. After two hours and the sighting of only a great black-backed gull we began to despair that we would not see much. Thanks to an occasional thinning of the fog, most of this over Canadian waters, we were treated not only to beautiful views of a variety of species but also to a long visit from a pod of approximately 30 pilot whales, who spent more than half an hour surfacing and playing right next to our boat. This was one of those unexpected, thrilling experiences in nature that makes one grateful to be alive!
All tolled today we added nine birds to our 2017 bird list and six to our life list. Not bad for a foggy day off the coast of Maine!