I've had my heart set on a Atlantic Pelagic trips for many years. So when I woke in the pre-dawn hours in my Hatteras North Carolina motel room, I was very excited. I wasn't put off by the sound of rain beating on pavement outside. I could hear the wind too, and I supposed this morning's winds were the sort that helped get the Wright brother aloft.
Still, when I stood under the awning of a small closed shop, on the dock with several other birds an hour later, I was uneasy. Everyone else was far better clothed than I was - and no wonder! I was only wearing my down parka lining. I had no clue where or what happened to my parka shell. I had spent a good 20 minutes hunting for it before leaving the motel, but my beautiful navy blue parka was nowhere to be found. For all I knew it was back in the Raleigh motel I had stayed in on my first night in North Carolina.
The other thing I was thinking, was "I hope today's Saturday trip is canceled". I suspect that's what most of the other shivering birders was thinking too. The reasoning was, not only was it a particularly cold, windy and rainy Saturday, but the Pattenson's game plan was for 2 scheduled birding trips taken over a span of 3 days - Saturday, Sunday and if necessary from a canceled weather canceled trip, Monday. So Monday is the 'just in case of crap weather' day. How could weather get much worse than today's overcast skies, wind and rain? If we skipped today's trip, we might just score better weather for Sunday and Monday.
No such luck! Our skipper and trip leader Pattenson said the trip was on. I suspected Pattenson wanted his Monday free, but what the heck - maybe the weather would grow worse Sunday and Monday, and today would be my only one shot at the birdy laden waters off North Carolina.
Soon we were headed out to sea. We all sat in the ensie cabin of the smallest pelagic vessel I've ever traveled on; the Stormy Petrel. The passengers stared at each other and chated from cold as much as conversation. There were no comfy dining tables as I've experienced on most of the pelagic trips I've taken - there was only a horse-shoe shaped bench with space underneath for stowing our gear. I didn't feel annoyed about the tiny space - it only made me realize how easy and spoiled we are in California. And more importantly than the size of the boat's interior was that we were not overloaded with passengers. I've been on Shearwater pelagics that were so jammed full of passengers I would often miss viewings of birds because there were so many birders we had to practically climb over each other to access a view.
I was shivering away, when I noticed whenever someone entered or left the cabin, a flurry of snow flakes blew in. It was snowing on the ocean! Well 'DUH'. I suppose I have spent my life not ever thing such a thing happens. Come on, how often are snowmen seen on the ocean?
Birdwise, I was cheered by the sight of hundreds and hundreds of Northern Gannets, which are snowy, showy white seabirds with goofy looking bills and a goofier squeals. They sound like airborne bathtub toys. Click on the video below to hear some mid-Atlantic birdie noise.
At one point when I dared to leave the warmth of the tiny cabin, there was a stowaway! Somehow a gannet managed to land on board. Poor little thing was rather pathetic in its over sized webbed feet. Finally a deck hand lady picked up the bird - being careful to hold that razor sharp beak shut, picked up the bird and lobbed it overboard. The bird flew away, not the worse for its ship side pelagic adventure.
Wet, the coldest I can ever remember being in my life, but damn it, I got one lifer for the day, a small ocean going bird with a Jimmy Durante schnoz, the Razorbill! We ran across several of the birds, and I was thrilled to see them.
So day one of my 2 days of pelagic trips ended. Score one lifer bird, with a few crappy photos - the Razorbill. Will I add some lifers tomorrow? We'll see.