Monday, October 08, 2007

My First Pelagic

Saturday dawned cold, rainy and windy- not so perfect weather for a pelagic birding trip on Lake Superior out of Duluth. I met Deb from Sand Creek Almanac near a freeway exit between Hasty Brook and Duluth and we motored up to meet Mike Hendrickson and the group he was leading on this memorable trip.

The captain of the LL Smith told Mike he'd still take us out so Mike gave us our options: go out on the lake (20 mph winds with gusts up to 25-30 mph and 6-7 foot swells) , boat around the protected harbor where the water would be calmer, or cancel all together and Mike would lead the group around Park Point by car and foot. We opted for the harbor. I had a good gore-tex rain jacket and layers under that and felt I was prepared for the wind and drizzle.
Mike is an awesome birder and was terrific in calling out everything he saw. I'm quite sure I was the least experienced birder of the bunch and I really appreciated that Mike and the other better birders would call out birds that were probably "old news" to them.
Everyone in the group was asked to bring popcorn which Mike would toss into the water "chumming" to attract gulls.
Here they come!
Deb and I spent the better part of the trip perched by a picnic table at the back of the boat. I was really glad to have that table to grab on to later on when we neared the channel that separates Minnesota Point from Wisconsin Point- the entrance to Lake Superior. I think the plan was to scan this breakwater on Minnesota Point for gulls but I lost interest in birding and conversation the further out into the channel we went.
Ok, so it's getting choppy. Then we started rolling uppp...then down...

I can handle this. The waves are getting taller...

Wisconsin Point, and beyond that, the open lake and 6-7 foot waves. The LL Smith running directly into the waves is REALLY scary, but we had to turn around! So the captain turns the boat, and now we're parallel to those 6 foot rollers.

I look out and we're up high on top of a wave (hang on to the table!), and then, it feels like the deck falls out from under my feet (hang on to the table!) and a wave broke over the back of the boat and the water is OVER the railing! (HANG ON TO THE TABLE!) The spray was over my head.

You can see I was drenched from about mid-thigh on down. That, combined with strong winds and temps in the low 50's made for a chilly morning. But I'm not complaining. I saw :

White-winged Scoter (lifer!)

Caspian Tern (lifer! and a beautiful look)

American Black Duck (lifer!)

Belted Kingfisher -one of the best looks I've ever had

Herring Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Bonaparte's Gull

Double-crested Cormorant

Common Merganser

That was an exciting trip and I'd love to go again. If you're interested, check out Mike's webpage for his spring and fall Lake Superior boat trips and if you have time, stop over at Mike's blog Colder by the Lake Birding and read his hilarious account of this trip.

But wait! The day's not over yet. After Deb and I got a hot lunch in a warm restaurant where our pants and feet could dry, we headed out to Park Point and we saw...


Deb said...

What a trip! I think the picture turned out convincing enough...we look COLD!

It was a great time birding with you; I'd love to do this trip again next year. And thanks so much for the wild edibles book...I've been browsing through it today and now I'm ready to go out foraging!

mon@rch said...

I think the pelagic would have been fun to do but without a doubt those waves would had done me in! Glad for your lifers!

Patrick Belardo said...

Way to "get your feet wet" on pelagic birding!

Lynne said...

Deb- My shoes are still wet! I thoroughly enjoyed spending the day with you. Thank you for inviting me along for such a memorable adventure!

Mon@rch- It's so exciting to see new birds!

Patrick- I got more than my feet wet!!

Ruth said...

The Great Lakes are really inland seas and they get really rough.(and scary for me too!) I am feeling a little seasick reading your post. Glad you got to see all those birds though... makes the discomfort worthwhile.

barefoot gardener said...

I am glad you had fun!

I think it is funny that you and Deb posted almost the exact same picture.

RuthieJ said...

Wow, you girls are troopers! I'm definitely a fair weather birder and only from dry land.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for clarrifying that Mike was chumming the water with popcorn - from the photo I was worried that the waves had gotten to him. ;-)

Sounds as though you had the full pelagic experience - the poor man's version in Cape May should be a breeze in comparison.

LauraHinNJ said...

Sounds pretty scary, Lynne!

Glad you had fun and saw some good birds.

Susan Gets Native said...

You tease, you!
What else did you see? Huh?

Someone remind me to pack an extra pair of socks for the Poor Man's, just in case.

Your pictures and descriptions of the swells made my stomach do a flip flop. I can't wait to get out in the Atlantic!

Jayne said...

ACK! I was holding onto the table with you! Sounds like a fun, yet slightly harrowing day. :c) Glad you spotted so many lifers!

dguzman said...

Wow, I would've done my own form of chumming had I been on that boat with you!

Glad you had such a great time and got some good lifers!

Linda said...

That is such a neat-looking boat! Waves do get very big on the great lakes. I got a bit woozy on the paddleboat dinner cruise going of on Lake Erie in calm waters. I doubt I'd be able to handle something like that. It's one of those scary, but exciting, things you can talk about the rest of your life.

Mary said...


How serious - that's quite a storm. I enjoyed sitting on the edge of my seat - getting a little worried until I read:

"Then we started rolling uppp...then down..."

I cracked up. LOLOLOLOL!

Isn't that what boats do, Linne? Waves make them go up and down, right?

Great birds and fun :o)

Larry said...

You Gals toughed it out.-I've been on a few fishing trips like that.-One had average wave heights of 12 feet with some swells 20'.-Everyone got sick, but at least I one the biggest Codfish pool.

Pelagic is on my list , but not at the top of the list.-At least you got some lifers, and had some fun.

Mary C said...

So cool to get so many lifers! Great job, Lynne. Hope your shoes are dried out by now. ;o)

Anonymous said...


You and Deb look like kindred spirits! Best kind of friend you can have.