Monday, September 17, 2012

85 Miles Out At Sea

Barbara and I went on another pelagic birding trip this weekend.  It was a pretty grueling experience that started on Saturday with us trying to find rare birds in NJ - like the Crested Caracara that was seen just outside of Trenton and the Elegant Tern at Sandy Hook (no, we didn't see either) on our way to Long Island NY; then boarding the boat at midnight (yes, midnight); sleeping on the floor of the upper deck of the StarStream VIII (yes, the floor); birdwatching all day (yes, birdwatching in the deep ocean), and returning at 4:30 on Sunday afternoon; and driving back to Philly.  It was worth the trip.

Captain Lou's StarStream VIII

First, a little geography lesson:  Pelagic is what they call birds and animals that spend most of their lives out at sea in deep water.  85 miles off the coast of New Jersey is definitely far enough offshore to be considered "pelagic". Check out the map below - we left from the "X" on Long Island at 12:30 AM and arrived at the "X" in the dark blue area at 6:00 AM which was approximately an 85 mile trip. The light blue area is the Continental Shelf and has relatively shallow water. The dark blue section shows the deep water that makes up the pelagic part of the ocean. The dark line that runs from NYC out to the dark blue area at the X is the Hudson Canyon which is where the Hudson River used to flow when the light blue section was above sea level. In order to find pelagic birds, you must go to the edge of the shelf where the water currents produce good food supply.  So, that's where we went.

Hudson River Canyon - USGS map

The trip was pretty pleasant with relatively calm winds and seas. Trying to sleep on the floor of a boat is NOT comfortable and we therefore got to look out at the stars under a pitch black sky alot during the night. We woke to a beautiful sunrise and shadows of birds flying past the boat.  Surprisingly, there were 7 or 8 fishing boats near us which made me feel just a little better about being that far offshore.

Now, for a pop science quiz. Question 1: Would you expect to find whales in the deep blue sea?  If you answered "Yes", you are correct because we saw whales!  Humpback whales, to be exact.  Here is a series showing one of the many amazing breaches. This whale got some air.

 Humpback whale breaching

  Humpback whale breaching

  Humpback whale breaching

Splash Down

Question 2: would you expect to see Dolphins in the deep water?  The answer again is "Yes".  So far, you are going for the gold star.

Common Dolphin, Cory's Shearwater, and Great Shearwater

Trick Question 1 - what is the best part of the photo above?  If you answered "Cory's Shearwater" you are a nerd and may even pass this test.  The only reason that I snapped that photo is because the gray bird just above the dolphin is one of the 3 "life birds" that I got on this trip. The dolphin just happened to jump as I was snapping the photo!  I couldn't have planned it better.  Here is an up close shot of the Cory's Shearwater sitting with a Greater Shearwater.  Notice that the Cory's is a little larger, has a gray head and neck, and yellow bill.

 Cory's Shearwater (left), Greater Shearwater (right)

 Cory's Shearwater - life bird and a pretty good photo

Question 3 of our science test:  Would you expect to see Shearwaters and Storm Petrals in the deep ocean?  "Of course" or "Yes" are both correct answers.

 Greater Shearwater playing with a feather

Wilson's Storm Petral "pedaling" on the water to grab a snack

Question 4:  Would you likely see a Pomarine Jaeger at sea?  "Yes" is the answer - considering that a photo follows.

Pomarine Jaeger - another life bird for us

Question 5 (multiple choice): which of these birds would you likely see 85 miles out to sea:

 A) Common Yellowthroat Warbler

 B) Northern Flicker Woodpecker

 C) Purple Finch

D) Cedar Waxwing

E) None of the above

F) All of the above

The only correct answer is "F - All of the above".  If you chose anything else, you would be a normal student however, you would flunk this test.  We saw all of these birds flying their little wings off trying to get back to land after being blown off course during their night time migration.  It was pretty amazing.  Only the juvenile Cedar Waxwing was smart enough to land on the top of the boat and catch a ride back to shore with us. All of the other birds plus 10 red bats and half a dozen Monarch butterflies flew past the boat and out of sight.  I hope they made it back to shore.

I'm glad we made it back to shore too.  We stopped at McDonald's on our way home and we both got a little dizzy when we looked down to get our change from the cashier.  I can't stop swaying with the waves! Post a comment and let me know how you did on the quiz.


Diane Widdop said...

I passed! I passed!

Great recap of a long day. And I can't believe how BLUE the Atlantic Ocean is way out there. A big difference from the brownish grey water that we boogie board in, huh?

Glad you had a good trip. I'm swaying just thinking about it...

Anonymous said...

Great pictures! However, got a call from your house on Susquehanna. It is sooo lonely. Can't for winter when
you might actually spend some time with it. The watermarks on the walls are tears. Sadly we were not able to spend enough time with it to assuage the heart break. It's always the innocent that get hurt. (sob)

The Hearty Handshaker

Anonymous said...

That was supposed to be, "Can't WAIT for winter".


Orphan said...

wow. looks like it was a great trip!