Winter Pelagic 2017

~Northern  Gannet, See Life Paulagics’ Brooklyn Trip, 01/14/17.~

Yesterday I went on a 14 hour pelagic birding trip with See Life Paulagics – it was quite a birding adventure. The Brooklyn VI set sail out of Brooklyn at 5:00 am. We headed 50 miles out to sea and covered one heck of a lot of territory. The target birds for the trip included: Northern Fulmar, Dovekie, Razorbill, Common Murre, Atlantic Puffin, Glaucous, Iceland, and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Black-legged Kittiwake, Red Phalarope. We located all the targets with the exception of the Glaucous and Iceland Gulls and Red Phalarope. I spoke with several more experienced birders on board (I didn’t think I would be a good judge since I was thrilled to just be there), and all agreed that the trip was a good one and a success, getting all the target birds that folks really wanted to see and more importantly, getting birds ALL DAY LONG. There were very few lulls in the action, when we weren’t getting any alcids it seemed like the gulls would step it up and keep everyone happy. Full kudos to See Life Paulagics.

I only knew one other person on the boat, Maha Katnani. It was great to see a familiar face and I enjoyed much of the day birding with her and her two friends Barbara Mansell and Susan Ells Joseph. Meanwhile, it was also good to meet some new folks as I moved around the boat. Photography was tough because of a variety of reasons (see below), but with so many birds, there were plenty of photo ops throughout the day. Most of the Alcids tended to be a little on the distant side, but with some closer looks from time to time. Gulls and Gannets, on the other hand, were very available and I particularly enjoyed shooting the BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES. I found that they are a clean, good looking bird with a lot of character and, in my opinion, they are very photogenic. They were one of two life birds I got on the trip (scroll down to see the 2nd…), and I spent a good amount of time photographing them.

~ Black-legged Kittiwake, See Life Paulagics’ Brooklyn Trip, 01/14/17.~
~ A nice close up of a Black-legged Kittiwake, See Life Paulagics’ Brooklyn Trip, 01/14/17.~
~ Black-legged Kittiwake, See Life Paulagics’ Brooklyn Trip, 01/14/17.~
~ Black-legged Kittiwake, See Life Paulagics’ Brooklyn Trip, 01/14/17.~
~ A first year Black-legged Kittiwake in flight. This bird gave me ample opportunity for a better shot than this (I was trying for a top down shot of the bird over the water to emphasize the black “W” on its back), but alas, my timing didn’t work out for this bird.  See Life Paulagics’ Brooklyn Trip, 01/14/17.~


1. Pelagic Birding is tough. First of all, it is a long day (and this is one of the shorter trips). I woke up at 2:00 am and left the house a half hour later. The boat set sail at 5:00 am and we travelled in the dark for over two hours before Sunrise. Then, it’s a full day of birding, sunrise to sunset, followed by another two-plus hours in the dark to get back to the dock. And finally, I had the drive back from Brooklyn; I arrived home right at 9:00 pm. That’s a 19 hour day! Secondly, it is exhausting. The long hours speak for themselves, but what’s not so evident is that the entire time you are birding, you are fighting to maintain your balance. Grabbing handrails, leaning on handrails while using your binoculars or camera, constantly counterbalancing to react to the rocking of the boat. I imagine with time this just becomes second nature, and I got better at is as the day went on, but for a land lubber like myself, it was exhausting. And, because the birding was so good and I didn’t want to miss anything, I barely took a break all day long.

~ Northern Gannet striking a pose during the See Life Paulagics’ Brooklyn Trip, 01/14/17.~

2. Birders are nice people. I am not the most social of birders, especially when I first meet folks, but I have to say how great everyone on board was. I’ve said it before on this blog, but here it is again – birders are generous people. Everyone was making sure that the people around them were getting on the birds as much as possible, especially the folks from See Life Paulagics. They have an incredibly talented group that really know the birds and do very well to make sure that everyone gets a decent look at as many species as possible. AND, they are just fun to talk to and good people to be around.

~ Northern Gannet striking a pose during the See Life Paulagics’ Brooklyn Trip, 01/14/17.~

3. Pelagic birding is challenging and therefore, very fun and awesome. Identifying often distant birds on a rocking boat with binoculars is not an easy task. One thing I would consider, moving forward, would be purchasing a set of 8X power binoculars, as opposed to the 10X power in my current bins. I think for pelagic birding there are just too many moving parts and that taking a little shake out of the binoculars by moving to 8X will be worthwhile. So, while it can be difficult, it is SO rewarding, allowing you to get some super birds that you won’t see any other way and also allowing for some great photo opportunities of some gorgeous birds. While I wouldn’t say I’m addicted yet, but I am certainly thinking about my next pelagic birding trip.

~Good bird – Lesser Black-backed Gull. I couldn’t believe that during one of my rare breaks, while I was grabbing a sandwich, they located one of these beauties. I missed that bird, but was very happy that we got a second one. See Life Paulagics’ Brooklyn Trip, 01/14/17.~
~Probably my favorite of the Alcids, a Razorbill makes its move. See Life Paulagics’ Brooklyn Trip 01/14/17.~
~Common Murre doing all it can to take off. See Life Paulagics’ Brooklyn Trip, 01/14/17.~
~Common Murre on the water during the See Life Paulagics’ Brooklyn Trip, 01/14/17.~
~LIFE BIRD alert! We had many DOVEKIES throughout the day. Early on the birds were distant and flying, making them very hard to see. Later on we got some good, closer looks of them on the water. See Life Paulagics’ Brooklyn Trip, 01/14/17~
~DOVEKIE taking off, See Life Paulagics’ Brooklyn Trip, 01/14/17.~



22 thoughts on “Winter Pelagic 2017”

  1. I have been anxiously awaiting your post! Sounds like it was a fabulous day! Your photos are fantastic (as if they would be anything else) and it seems like you had great views of everything. Congratulations on your lifers and the new state birds too. I still need a Common Murre for New York, maybe some day. So glad you had a great time, the exhausting part can be tough but as you say, it is worth it. Thanks for sharing your story and the wonderful photos! John

    1. Thanks, John, it really was a great day and the good definitely outweighs the bad by a long shot. I’m looking forward to the next one… Matt

  2. So glad you had fun, Matt, and made it home safely. We were wondering how you were making out. Love your pictures of the Gannett. It’s one of my favorite birds from my coastal birding. Would love to hear more about this trip!

    1. Yes, I would love to tell you all about it. Really this post just scratches the surface; it was a really tremendous experience – I’m thinking you will do one, one day. Matt

  3. Really enjoyed your write up of this pelagic Matt! The photos are fantastic and I particularly enjoyed the Black-legged Kittiwakes. I can’t even imagine how tired you must have been especially knowing once you docked you still had a long drive home!

    1. Oh, Scotty, the drive home was the worst part. I was pretty tired, and it had snowed and then it was raining and below freezing and I just needed to get home. Thankfully it went without a hitch. Meanwhile, the birding was great, and I too really enjoyed the kittiwakes – they are great looking bird. Matt

  4. I so enjoyed reading your write up for your pelagic trip, Matt. It sounds like such an interesting day between the fabulous birds and the great birders you encountered. The photo of the Gannet is my favorite. I think they are such beautiful birds and I love watching them precision dive into the sea. So glad you made it home safely.

    1. Tricia was glad I made it home too, lol. Glad you enjoyed the post, I’ve always loved gannets and to see them and shoot them up close like that was amazing. Matt

  5. Thank you so much for this amazing recount of the day. Your photography is great and we enjoyed your blog post so much! Thank you for your compliments for our company, and leaders. We try hard and we are thrilled you had a great experience. – Anita & Paul See Life Paulagics

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for a great day. I can’t wait until the next one, see you both then. Matt

  6. Matt,

    FANTASTIC photos as always!!!! Great job and I was happy for you and not at all jealous UNTIL you used those plastic props to resemble DOVEKIE! Matt, everyone knows that Dovekies are myths and that no one has ever seen one!!!!

    Otherwise SENSATIOAL as always. The Kittiwake shots are beautiful and the Gannet as well. I could practically smell and taste the salty water.

    1. Ken,
      Thanks so much, glad you enjoyed the post. And, if those Dovekies were plastic props, I wasn’t in on the joke – they really got me, lol. Matt

  7. What a great write up and pictures….I looked at taking that trip but thought it wasn’t a good time right now, you reminded me just how hard it is, no way I’d be able to handle it. I still haven’t seen a Dovekie either!


    1. I think you probably made the right decision – it was a long exhausting day for sure. I’m glad you liked the post. Matt

  8. Matt..what a fabulous immersion…am tempted to try this…earlier this year I did a much smaller whale watch that yielded loads of shearwaters and some petrels…but I’ve just got to try this voyage.

    1. Thanks so much Wayne. We did a whale watch over the summer that was rewarding for birders (not so much for whale watchers since we struck out). You should go to and check out their upcoming schedule. Matt

  9. I knew you’d get great pictures Matt. I was pleasantly surprised to see you on the boat. One doesn’t have to worry on a birding trip like that because like you said everybody was nice and was easy to talk to. Without my friends Barbara and Susan I wouldn’t have gone. I don’t like to drive down there and I don’t like to be alone. Thanks for the company and photography tips you gave me. They worked! It was fun photographing the birds following the ship: gulls, Kittiwakes and Gannets. The alcids were further away. I don’t know where I was when you had that Razorbill you photographed. I’m still mad I didn’t see one well. Maybe tomorrow I’ll post and tag you in a bad picture of the immature kittiwake the way you wanted to get. It was difficult all day standing and trying to hold on hard for balance but it was still fun. I’d do another trip too.

    1. Thanks Maha. I was glad to see you too; it was nice to have someone I know to share the day with. I will be on the lookout for your kittiwake photo, please post it. See you out there. Matt

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