Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sun. 4/13: Pelagic Trip out of Cape May

After being postponed in March due to poor weather, See Life Paulagics ran its annual Cape May pelagic trip today. The weather generally cooperated- we left the dock at 6:00am under cloudy skies, but these passed and we enjoyed clear conditions for the midday hours. By the middle of the afternoon more clouds arrived, bringing with them some occasional light rain. Winds were at about 10-15mph out of the northwest throughout the day, and seas were a reasonable 4-6ft.

April is by no means a "generic" time to go on a pelagic trip here. Most trips go out during the winter (for alcids, fulmars and kittiwakes) or during the end of summer (for storm-petrels, tropical terns and shearwaters). Therefore, we really didn't know what to expect... but our day started out pretty well, as we noted Northern Gannets of several different ages, all three scoters, and a decent number of Common Loons flying north just as we exited Cold Spring Inlet. Common Loon would actually end up being one of our most common birds today; some were flying north at least 40 miles offshore.

One of the real highlights of our day was the nice number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls that were feeding in our "chum" slick behind the boat (chum = mix of beef suet, popcorn and fish). We recorded Lesser-backs of all age classes, totalling about 15 in all. Other notables included an unidentified songbird seen at least 20 miles offshore, 2 Canada Geese about 30 miles offshore, and a Mourning Dove seen 28 miles from shore! ...and you thought Mourning Doves didn't migrate...

Our main destination today was the "The Elephant Trunk", an area that has recently been re-opened to scallop harvesters, and there were indeed plenty of boats in the area, implying that there was likely quite a bit of food available for seabirds. However, try as we might, we couldn't find much of anything other than gulls. All was not lost though, as a few minutes later Don Freiday picked out a Sooty Shearwater flying straight at the boat. The shearwater put on a decent show for five minutes, periodically flying back and forth behind the boat.

The ride back to dock wasn't particularly exciting, but we did get more chances to study Lesser Black-backed Gulls and some gorgeous, fully-hooded adult Bonaparte's Gulls. It certainly wasn't the world's most productive pelagic trip, but it is always nice to spend a day out at sea.

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