A Travellerspoint blog


Continental Shelf, Atlantic Ocean

all seasons in one day 60 °F


Finally, after over two and a half years of delays and cancellations due to Covid, conflicts, rough sea, weather, and more…I was able to take part in a 24-hour NEW YORK PELAGIC!!!

Last night, I boarded the American Princess vessel (accommodating about ~300 people) at 8pm and we were on our way out of Sheepshead Bay and into the Atlantic Ocean within 90 minutes. We sailed into the deep seas far southeast of Long Island — specifically, to the edge of the Continental Shelf since deep waters tend to be much more productive for pelagic birds — over night.

Here is my first look at the American Princess on sunday night prior to boarding:

Departing Jamaica Bay on the “redeye” cruise southeast to the Continental Shelf.

By the time I woke up at 6:40am, land was nowhere in sight: pelagic time!!! My target birds included (but not limited to) possible lifers in the form of Black-capped Petrel, Northern Fulmar, Leach’s Storm-Petrel, Pomarine Jaeger, and maybe Atlantic Puffin. And this isn’t even considering “out-of-range” species, which is really not even a thing since seabirds are all so nomadic by nature.

First light came and went and of course I was up and birding on deck in no time. Within a minute, I had spotted our first pelagic bird of the day, a WILSON’S STORM-PETREL! I was stoked as I’ve only seen these once before, in the Drake Passage on my way back from the Antarctic!

We also began to notice number of migrating warblers, especially YELLOW-RUMPED, passing by intermittently (even though we were so far from land we couldn’t see any land). Other warblers we managed to snag as fly-bys out over the deep sea were BLACKPOLL (probably on its direct flight to South America as they do New England - S America nonstop!), and BLACK-THROATED BLUE.

Then, one of our trip leaders pointed out a Pteredroma species of petrel, this BLACK-CAPPED PETREL, my first lifer and target bird of the trip!! Note the black cap, contrasting white neck band, and the conspicuous white rump patch. Incredibly, this species would be our most common pelagic species…until the afternoon!

And Wilson’s Storm again. Note the legs projecting behind the tail — this is a helpful fieldmark in separating this from the other similar species.

Next, somebody called out or first CORY’S SHEARWATER which is a bird I hadn’t seen since ferrying across the Bosphorus in Istanbul — in 2014! Note the nice warm, gray head.

As if it could get any better than this already, another birder called our “Jaeger!” and it was quickly identified as a dark-morph POMARINE JAEGER, the only Jaeger species I had still needed for my life list!!!

Soon enough, another came by as well, giving even better views. Note the white wing flashes which are characteristic.

One of our most random sightings of the day was a pair of GREAT BLUE HERONS that streamed directly overhead! Neat seeing these birds far from land, and it goes to show that anything can happen during the migration season.

Soon, we started seeing GREAT SHEARWATER after shearwater (another species I’d not seen since the Atlantic north of Antarctica. It soon surpassed the Black-capped Petrel as the most abundant pelagic species.

All absolute hell broke loose when somebody screamed at the top of their lungs “Fea’s Petrel!!!!” Now, Fea’s would have been an absolutely awesome bird for today. but it turned out to be something even better — not five seconds later, he screams “BERMUDA PETREL! BERMUDA PETREL! GET OVER HERE TO SEE THIS BIRD!!!!”

And before you knew it, we were marveling at this wonderful, endangered Petrel species. Note the lack of a white collar, the conspicuous white stripe above the beak, and the small bill. All these markings together confirm this not as its lookalike cousin the more-common Black-capped, but as the Bermuda! Wowzer!

I didn’t even realize how rare it was at first — we were then informed that this species has less than 400 individuals remaining the wild, and this would represent a first EVER confirmed sighting of the species in New York State! Furthermore, I was informed that it is the second-rarest Tubenose species in the world, only edged out by the critically-endangered Chinese Storm-Petrel. I would feel confident calling this the rarest bird I have seen in my entire life, factoring in combination of its more-expected range, and its endangered species status. Absolutely mind-blowing, and it was thankfully one of the most cooperative birds seen today!

Another weird flyover Heron:

LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL — these were surprisingly common far out where we were birding, on top of the American Continental Shelf.

At one point, a pod of Pelagic Bottlesnose Dolphins passed by our vessel. Unfortunately, the winds and waves really started picking up at this point so I was not able to capture anything crisp of these creatures.

Another neat aquatic sighting was this Mola-Mola fish which is a rather unslightly creature that drifts by on its side.

Lighter morph Jaegers made other brief appearances throughout the day which was awesome!!!

Then, the waves got so rough and high that the boat didn’t get a single break from all the pitching and yawing it was doing. For the first time in my life, I felt dreadfully seasick and though I managed to not actually get sick, many others did not have my stomach of fortitude. It was miserable though, and even a bit scary as the boat would lean steeply to one side, only to come crashing down with spray and all just a second later. Repeat X 1000.

Even though the typical afternoon slump in birds coincided with the roughest of the seas today, there were sporadic highlights including flocks of Great Shearwaters:

And a group of WILSON’S STORM-PETRELS sitting on the water!

And I briefly got another lifer in the form of AUDUBON’S SHEARWATER though the waves were too rough and the bird was too fast for any photos. Was glad to have the other birds with me for this as especially this one would have been a tough ID for me.

The large flocks of Great Shearwaters mixed in with gulls like Herring:

And Lesser Black-backed:

Here you can see a deep-sea fishing boat, the Atlantic Pearl, struggling in the high seas — I was glad to be on a boat (The American Princess) a decent bit bigger than this.

One nice avian surprise that came at the peak of my seasick agony came in the form of a WHITE-WINGED SCOTER, our only sea duck of the day oddly enough:

Later towards the evening, we had some more wonderful aquatic animal sightings like a pod of Common Dolphins (my northern hemispheric lifer I think). Again, rough waves + fast-moving creatures = crappy photos.

A nice rainbow appeared at one point:

Slightly more obliging was this Humpback Whale which allowed for a couple photos before disappearing into the depths. Awesome!

And we all enjoyed a beautiful sunset at sea before continuing the last two hours back to Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn (the only new bird in this stretch was a distant, unphotographed NORTHERN GANNET).

What an absolutely terrific day, one of my best ever! It was such a triumphant way to bird after missing this particular pelagic for over two years due to various reasons. Bird-of-the-day goes to the Bermuda Petrel, the rarest bird species I’ve ever seen hands down, with runners-up to two of my other life birds: Pomarine Jaeger and Black-capped Petrel. No awards to unphotographed lifers today (looking at you: Audubon’s Shearwater!).

I would also highly recommend checking out Tim Healy’s great post about this pelagic (with even better photography) on his blog, Nemesis Bird: https://nemesisbird.com/birding/secrets-deep-pelagic-legends-come-life/

The next few weeks are incredibly busy so I doubt I’ll be doing much birding, though fall is rarity season and I love twitching rarities, so you never know!

Happy birding,
World Life List: 1142 Species (4 life birds today: Bermuda & Black-capped Petrels, Audubon’s Shearwater, & Pomarine Jaeger)

Posted by skwclar 03:02 Archived in USA

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Wowza is right! What a great trip Henry!!!

by Poo

This sounds amazing, fantastic; every superlative applies! Happy for you.

by Mary McCutchan

What a fabulous trip! It must be a thrill to see all those birds while at sea!

by liz cifani

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