Binoculars are essential on these trips. Spotting scopes are discouraged because they are only of use if mounted on a shoulder stock, and even then are only useable during the calmest conditions. Scopes also take up valuable space on the boat.
Tripods and monopods are not allowed. If you are a photographer, we suggest a telephoto lens 300-400 mm in focal length. DSLRs are best, especially if you hope to capture images of birds in flight. Big heavy 500 or 600mm lenses can be hard to handle at sea, and if you bring one be careful show consideration for others as they truly can get in the way. They are helpful for photographing some of the smaller birds, but 400mm or less is better all around. Shutter speeds of 1/1000 second or higher are typically necessary for truly sharp photos, so you may have to use an ISO rating of 400 or more on your digital camera. Even if you don’t have a DSLR and a long lens, you may still be able to get some good photos or video of the seabirds and other marine life we encounter. Remember to stay on the lower deck for stability, whether shooting video or stills.
Winter – Dress warmly, but in layers. Some trips may be bitterly cold while others are quite pleasant. Sunshine or clouds makes a big difference. Even if we are having a balmy spell on land, the cold water temperatures offshore can still make for a cold trip. We might also have much warmer water just a few miles offshore than what we have around the dock or close to the beach. A good two piece rain suit (no ponchos please) and waterproof footwear are essential on these trips.
Spring/Summer/Fall – Layering is suggested. Spring and fall trips may start out on the cool side, but all of our North Carolina trips go to the Gulf Stream, where the surface waters often exceed 80 degrees F in the summer. Shorts and sunscreen are the usual attire on these trips. There is always a chance of getting wet, so be sure to wear something that will dry during the day. A good two piece rainsuit (no unsecured ponchos please – they flap wildly in the breeze!) is helpful should we encounter rough weather or showers.
All Trips – Remember to wear soft-soled shoes on board. If you are wearing hiking boots or sandals with dark sloes, be mindful of where you put your feet. Do NOT put your feet up against the white gelcoat on the side of the boat if your shoes leave a mark! Sunglasses are essential on bright days.
Prevention of Seasickness
Be sure to take any seasickness remedies before you get on the boat. Dramamine, Bonine and Marezine are all available over the counter. Scopolamine (“the patch”) works well for some but requires a prescription. If you weigh less than 150 pounds, you might want to try using half a patch to lessen side effects. (Remember to wash your hands after handling the patch.) Alternatives include ginger root pills and “sea bands” – wrist bands that work by accupressure.
Perhaps the best prevention for seasickness is a good night’s sleep before the trip, followed by a good breakfast, frequent snacking, and a positive attitude.
Here is a link to a blog post by one of our leaders, Nick Bonomo, about seasickness. Good to peruse!
Food & Drink
You need to bring all your food and drink along. During the summer, a cooler is highly recommended. In all cases please try to consolidate food and drinks into as few coolers as possible to maximize deck space on the boat. Coolers should be kept outside to free up cabin space. Styrofoam coolers are not appropriate for these trips as they are too fragile to endure a day at sea.
We occasionally stop to catch a fish or two for dinner and we might troll a line or two for a while. If you would like to wind in a fish let us know.
What to Expect From Our Pelagic Trips
When you go on one of our pelagic trips, you can be assured that we will do our best to make it as productive as possible. We will use our many years of experience (which includes understanding the movements of currents) to find the best places to go birding on any particular day.
Generally, on the East Coast, we have to travel a lot farther to reach the edge of the continental shelf (where the real pelagic birds occur) than one has to go off the West Coast. Off North Carolina’s Outer Banks, this means that we usually spend at least two hours running at full cruising speed to reach productive waters. (Note – off Virginia Beach the shelf is even wider and we may run for twice as long.) When we reach a productive area (usually, but not always at the shelf edge) we slow down to a pace at which we can scan for birds. When we spot birds (or cetaceans, or other marine life for that matter) we make an announcement over the boat’s P.A. system to alert folks on deck, and if possible, try to get the boat in a better position to see what has been spotted.
During the winter, we do a lot of chumming which attracts some species (including gulls, gannets, fulmars and Great Skuas) quite close to the boat. During the warmer months, we don’t use nearly as much chum, but we are often chumming, often by dripping fish oil to make a slick and or melting a frozen chum block behind the boat. We’ve found that it doesn’t take a large quantity of chum to make a big difference during the warmer months. Chumming works best on windy days during the spring, summer, and fall and the scent alone might enable us to have a good look at some of the tubenoses here.
We also take note of cetaceans and other marine life during our pelagic birding trips, and may take a few minutes to study some whales or dolphins, but we don’t tend to stay around for a long time waiting for them to resurface, nor do we follow a particular group or animal for long periods of time. Nevertheless, our trips have yielded some very interesting encounters with various cetaceans, and we have been able to document the occurrence of some rare visitors to our waters.
Although the emphasis of our trips is clearly on birds, what we strive for on our trips is a well-rounded experience with all of the offshore wildlife, be it birds, whales, dolphins, fish, sea turtles, or something else.
The weather has a big impact on how we run our trips too. On calm days we might do a bit more riding around and it might be possible to catch up with a bird or a feeding flock of birds for a closer look. On rough days it is often a matter of getting the birds to come closer to us by chumming them in. Our boat, the Stormy Petrel II is very comfortable in a big sea and has good stability on the drift.