Although I had gone on a Brookline Birding Club pelagic trip out of Hyannis before, my trip in late August was the first time doing it not as a birder, but as an all-around naturalist. Being interested in more than just the bird life we would see on the trip unlocked dozens of potential new species I hadn’t even noticed before.
The trip started off slow. Leaving the harbor we were almost immediately surrounded by thick fog, making it very difficult to see any birds at all. We were lucky enough to spot both Common and Roseate Terns feeding just outside the harbor, but they were few and far between. Not long after reaching the open ocean, we had our first exciting species. “Get on that Cory’s!!” As soon as I heard that announcement I knew what the spotters had found. A Scopoli’s Shearwater! While currently considered a subspecies of Cory’s Shearwater, many scientists believe this to be a distinctive species making it a major target for birders on the East Coast. Just as we were getting over the excitement of the shearwater, a Parasitic Jaeger flew right over the bow of the boat! While I had seen many of these birds from shore on Cape Cod, it was a lifer for many onboard and a cause for celebration.
The next few hours were not as exciting. The constant pitching and tossing of the waves had me laying down on a bench with my eyes fixed on the horizon. Luckily I didn’t miss much. The best sighting was an Atlantic Manta Ray, which I was able to get poor but identifiable photos of before collapsing back on the bench. Just as I was starting to feel well enough to head back up to the front of the boat, someone yelled out “WHITE-FACED STORM PETREL!!” I immediately jumped up and rushed to the bow, surrounded by other anxious birders scanning the horizon, hoping they didn’t miss this incredibly rare species. After 15 minutes of searching, we finally caught up to the storm petrel. These storm petrels have a wingspan of just over 7 inches long, yet spend their entire lives on the open ocean, only coming to land to nest. They traverse the waves by pushing off from the water with their feet and using their stiff wings to glide a few feet before repeating the process again and again for hundreds or even thousands of miles. This distinctive way of movement gives them the nickname “sea kangaroos” and is what makes them one of my favorite animals on the planet. It took nearly half an hour for everyone on board to get over the excitement of seeing this amazing bird. Just imagine what everyone was feeling when we started seeing many, many, more.