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“Almost _______________”

In an article in the October 2017 Birding, Luke Maillefer tells the story of a trip that didn’t quite get to its intended destination. Luke and several high school classmates had been selected for the trip of a lifetime: Antarctica! But a medical emergency arose en route, and the students and mentors couldn’t make it farther than southern Chile. Hence the title of Luke’s essay: “Almost Antarctica.” I don’t want to spoil the rest of the story for you. Suffice it to say, “Almost Antarctica” has a happy ending.

In the course of my work on Birding, I was reviewing “Almost Antarctica” back in late July of this year, the day before my kids and I were set to go on a boat trip out of Montauk, Long Island, New York. I hadn’t been on a boat in a couple years, and it’d been even longer for my son and daughter. We were excited!

That Saturday night in late July, I got the call: It would be too windy, and the boat trip had been cancelled. Part of me was inclined to bail on the Montauk thing altogether; it’s a long haul across Suffolk County, and for what?—the “scenery” of the Long Island Expressway, and then all that stop-and-go traffic in the Hamptons. Another part of me, though, had been affected by Luke’s article. He’d made the best of a last-minute change of plans and, by golly, so would we!

“Almost the Atlantic.” The boat trip didn’t go out, but it was the best pelagic birding! Montauk Point, Long Island, New York; July 30, 2017. Photo by © Ted Floyd.

I’ll cut to the chase. Even though we couldn’t get on a boat, Sunday morning at Montauk was the best pelagic birding I’ve ever experienced off the East Coast of North America. We eBirded 800 Cory’s Shearwaters, and the real total was surely much higher. Some of birds flew in so close to shore that we could pick out the Scopoli’s in the mix. We also saw Great, Sooty, and Manx shearwaters—all while beachcombing and kicking catbirds out of the way. (Montauk Point in the summer is seriously infested with Gray Catbirds!)

There’s an expression, “Make lemonade out of lemons.” But that’s not what Luke’s talking about. Instead, he’s saying that there are great birds (and other things), no matter where you are on this Earth, no matter who you are and what you’re doing. I’ve thought about Luke’s article a lot in the past several months, and I suspect it will be an inspiration for the rest of my life.

And I’m curious about something: What sort of “Almost Antarctica” experiences have you had?

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