Friday, August 6, 2010

August 6: Pelagic

Three birder friends and I had picked this day several months ago for a seabird trip from Vinalhaven with biologist John Drury in his boat Fluke. Who knew we'd have such luck? Today everything came together for the perfect pelagic outing: good people, clear skies, relatively calm seas, and lots of birds*.

There's something special about the birds you see when you're on the open ocean with no land in sight. Wilson's storm-petrels, small brown seabirds that dart among the waves like swallows, seemed to appear out of nowhere to flit past the boat and then disappear beyond the swells. Young gannets dropped from height, plummeting after fish head-first, straight down into the water like shining white arrows that always hit their target. Terns wheeled acrobatically on slender white wings, dipping into waves right alongside the boat for little fish to bring back to almost-fledged young. At one point we saw two jaegers in the distance and gave chase, but these big, gull-like birds that like to steal prey from other birds were quickly out of sight.

Sometimes we passed a lobster boat pulling traps, and each swell would half-hide the other boat from view. But these were long, smooth swells, no white-caps in sight, so not scary, just a little disorienting. It doesn't take long to get into the primal rhythm of the water, the rise and fall that every so often seems to come to life in the form of the dark fins of porpoises. A day like this makes me think owning a boat would be really cool, until I remind myself that days like this are truly rare.

Fog lifts. Swelling sea
carries us on its grey back.
We leave land behind.

* I would be remiss if I didn't somehow get in here that the real highlight of this pelagic trip was seeing a red-billed tropicbird on Seal Island, a life bird for me. This tropical vagrant is spending its sixth summer in Penobscot Bay, which it has apparently chosen as its home. John Drury, who knows the location of the bird's lair on the island, says he thinks it thinks it's a tern, but the terns don't want to have anything to do with it. This exotic summer visitor is, I fear, doomed to lead a lonely life, unless a fellow tropicbird of the opposite gender also happens to wander this far off course...

Tropicbird in Maine--
despite your lonely summers,
you keep coming back.

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