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Your turn: Birding at Sea, a Pelagic Primer

NewCptPeteWhether you don’t know what a pelagic is or have been on one a dozen times, I’m sure you will find something worthwhile in Debi Shearwater‘s article in the recent issue of A Birder’s Guide to Travel. “Birding at Sea: a Pelagic Primer” goes through the basics, from what a pelagic is (a boat-based trip out to sea) and why you should want to go on one, to what you should take with you to make the experience as positive as possible. There are lots of considerations we landlubbers could never fathom, but Debi has been running pelagic trips across the world for close to 40 years, so we’d all be wise to pay attention. (The photo above is of Debi’s most recent trip–on 30 Sep.–out of Half Moon Bay, California.) Remember, you can read this article and all others in Birder’s Guide online for free!

Do you have tips that Debi didn’t mention? Or a pelagic birding experience you’d like to share? Please share with us in the comment section, below.

Also be sure to check out the revised Pelagic Directory. A handful of trips out of southern California were inadvertently left out. This autumn has been the best in a decade or more for Craveri’s Murrelet, so be sure to check out the directory and reserve a spot now if the murrelet is an unchecked box on your ABA list!

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Michael Retter
Michael L. P. Retter is the editor of the ABA's newest magazine, Birder's Guide. He also wears his ABA cap while working as a Technical Reviewer for Birding magazine. When not at home, Michael is often leading tours in Middle America (Mexico through Panama). He currently lives with his fiancé, Matt, in Fort Worth, Texas. In his fleeting free time there, he pursues interests in horticulture (especially orchids), music, cooking, and numismatics. Michael also runs GBNA, the continent's informal club and email list for LGBT birders.
  • Nate Dias

    I’d like to review the article mentioned, but due to another crash of the main ABA website (which has now spread to the site), I cannot.

    • Yeah, this hacking attempt has really done a number on us.

  • Greg Gillson

    Debi’s article is quite complete. I would add three items.

    Don’t forget to tip the deck hand. I know, for birding trips they often don’t have much to do compared to fishing. But the better ones spot birds ahead and learn seabird ID over time, take care of odd jobs on the boat, and clean deck “spills” that didn’t quite make it over the rail. $5-10 is reasonable for each participant. Hand it to them as they help you from the boat at the end of the trip.

    For the participant, knowing what to expect makes all the difference. Thoroughly read the trip preparation material. For most trips you are standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the rail with other birders (see the photo accompanying the article). There may be limited seating outside on benches. Even if there is room inside, you can’t see anything from there–and while warmer, you are more likely to get ill. For overnight trips you may share a cabin with a couple of others and have a galley with 2 chefs (90-foot Searcher from San Diego). But most are dorm-like bunks for 50 persons, no privacy, and one head for men and one for women (Grande out of San Diego), or no bunks whatsoever (most other fishing boats on the West Coast). Debi’s advice to get a good night’s sleep is spot on–lack of sleep is the largest culprit in sea sickness. And for many trips (not Gulf Stream) you can’t underestimate how cold it is at sea–45-65F and 85% humidity with 10-20 knots breeze is downright cold after 8 hours. Always overdress.

    Boats are reserved and paid for months in advance. If you have to cancel your reservation expect to forfeit some or all of your payment (be sure you know the policy). It is also for this reason that most trips don’t have weather dates–by the time the forecast shows bad weather the surrounding dates are already booked for fishing. Many seabirds eat fish. When the birding is good also coincides with the best fishing. There is a lot of competition for large vessels. It is very expensive.

    I love pelagic trips. I’ve organized and led over 160 in 20 years, and been on another dozen, including luxury cruises. It’s exhilarating and exhausting. Extreme birding. Fun!

    I can’t wait for my next trip!

  • Pingback: Birder’s Guide to Travel: August 2013 « ABA Publications()

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