Monday, January 17, 2011

Pelagic birding off Cape May

Yesterday (16 January), Tony Leukering, Michael O'Brien, Sam Galick, David La Puma, Melissa Roach, and I headed offshore on the Atlantic Star on a cod fishing trip to see what birds we could find. After a great report from waters off the north shore of NJ on Friday by Mike Fritz, Paul Guris, et al. (see JerseyBirds archives for the post), we had high hopes of numbers of alcids. Well, we found them! The trip set a new NJ high count of Common Murre (26) and found three other species of alcids, including a spectacular Thick-billed Murre that flew by the boat just after sunset at very close range.

And now for a shameless plug for a friend of CMBO... if you're looking to get in on this pelagic birding action soon, Paul Guris and company at See Life Paulagics are running two trips this weekend (January 22 and 23) off northern NJ and Long Island, NY. With really good reports recently, many birders are getting psyched about the possibilities for the coming weekend. There is still space on the trips - check out the See Life Paulagics website for more information.

Our eBird checklist from yesterday, compiled and annotated by Michael, follows:

Location: Cape May County offshore waters
Observation date: 1/16/11
Notes: Cod fishing trip aboard the Atlantic Star, visiting several wrecks up to ~40 miles offshore. Most birds were seen in transit from one wreck to another with no detouring to look for birds. Also seen were 2 unidentified whales (either Humpback or Atlantic Right) and several pods of Common Dolphins.
Number of species: 10

Red-throated Loon 4 mostly closer to shore
Common Loon 6
Northern Gannet 32
Black-legged Kittiwake 24
Herring Gull (American) 60
Great Black-backed Gull 18
Dovekie 8 mostly farther offshore
Common Murre 26 Apparently a new state high count. All singles, widely distributed. Mostly flying in the morning; on the water later in the day.
Thick-billed Murre 1 Seen at 5:09 pm, on the way in. Mostly dark head with a few pale flecks on throat. (edit 27 Jan 2011 - photos show that this was actually a Common Murre in mostly breeding plumage)
Razorbill 25 mostly closer to shore; all in small flocks
large alcid sp. 16 Most/all of these were singles and quite likely Common Murres.

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Common Murre was certainly the bird of the day - we had great looks in flight and on the water, including this bird that popped up just as the boat was anchoring at an offshore wreck. (photo copyright Tom Johnson)

All of the Common Murres we saw appeared to be fully in basic plumage with lots of white in the face. In flight, the very white face, tapered appearance, and heavy back end are good ID points for this species, though they are tough to separate from Thick-billed Murre and Razorbill at a distance. (photo by Tom Johnson)

Black-legged Kittiwakes were sparsely distributed offshore; we had a few very nice looks alongside the boat throughout the day. (photo copyright Tom Johnson)

This mostly black-headed Thick-billed Murre popped up over the horizon alongside the Atlantic Star AFTER the sun had set and we were still ~20 miles offshore. This set all of the birders aboard into quite a frenzy. Somehow, Michael managed great photos even in the low light conditions. (photo copyright Michael O'Brien)
(EDIT - this is actually a Common Murre - see post on this blog from 26 January 2011 for the correction)

Just as it was getting light in the early morning, we started to find alcids, including several flyby flocks of Razorbills. All of our Razors yesterday were in flocks of 2-9 individuals; all of the single large alcids that we identified offshore ended up being Common Murres... interesting! (photo copyright Michael O'Brien)

We had spectacular flight views of this Dovekie, one of 8 for the day, as it flew up our wake and passed just off the port side of the Star. (photo copyright Michael O'Brien)

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