In mid-May I endured a three-day cruise from LA to Vancouver aboard the Star Princess. 2,000 folks reveled in the round-the-clock gambling, drinking and other entertainment on this 950 foot long, ten story high monster while I joined 50 bird-crazed people outside on the bow of the ship from 6am to dark, exposed to the cool Pacific Ocean climate. Why? Because this is the best way to catch a glimpse of elusive Pacific pelagic avians (seabirds).
More specifically, the target birds were petrels. Petrels are small, tube-nosed, ocean-going birds which return to land (generally remote islands) only to breed. They appear to “walk on water”, a la Saint Peter, as they hover and flutter over the ocean’s surface. Our leader was one of the world’s premier ornithologists….Paul Lehman. His knowledge is astounding but even more impressive is his endurance. For 2.5 days he NEVER left his feet or took his eyes off the horizon. We stared for hours across the blue-gray sky-sea and except for a few Humpback Whale spouts, the only signs of life were intermittent appearances of common petrels, shearwaters and an occasional puffin. Admittedly, I took a couple twenty minute respites each day to relieve my legs and back….and yes, some boredom. But Paul had his meals brought to him and without his skill, we never would have had the ten second look on our second day at the rare Hawaiian Petrel.
The Cook’s Petrel was a target species but unfortunately we were enveloped by fog for the few hours that we crossed its territory and thus we “dipped” on that bird. Murphy’s Petrel was the expected “lifer” for me but it wasn’t until the end of our second day that one thankfully crossed our bow. Lucky for me, if I had rested ten more minutes I would have missed it!
Full confession: Neither petrel photograph are mine. But these are the actual birds we saw, albeit briefly. This trip was a rite of passage if you’re going to call yourself a serious birder…..a marathon-type experience that I am unlikely to repeat. No regrets: Two lifers and 784 ABA area species.