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Pelagic Birding Trip brings Sightings of Razorbills and Dovekies

Amy Evenstad / flickr

With increasing numbers of birders everywhere, it almost seems as if the birds can hardly escape detection. Birders, armed with fantastic optics in the form of binoculars, spotting scopes and digital cameras, as well as a plethora of highly detailed field guides, would appear to have the upper hand.

It would seem that the little birds have no chance of getting away, so to speak.

Well, despite what many birders would like to think, this is just wrong. A tiny fraction, less than one per cent of migrant birds, ever get seen by human observers. While it is true that there are many more highly skilled observers than ever before, as people are really “getting into” birding, the odds still overwhelmingly favor a bird on passage going undetected.

Forget the needle in the haystack; the odds of a small bird flying by or alighting where one can actually see it well and be able to identify it are very small. Most land birds are nocturnal migrants - they are flying machines covering vast distances in the dark. Most are never seen by human observers.

Birds that migrate during the day (hawks, falcons, swallows and many waterfowl) stand a much greater chance of being detected. Still, when you look at a map of anywhere, you realize that while birds are concentrated at certain funneling points during migration, most just go with the flow, migrating over every single piece of airspace continent wide. We are only seeing a small fraction of any species, excepting the mega birds like cranes, geese, eagles and falcons. Thrushes, sparrows, warblers and flycatchers all fly over in the night sky while we are sleeping and go to ground during the day where a tiny percentage are actually seen by birders.

I derive great pleasure when looking at Arctic hatched immature sandpipers during the fall months, the birds oblivious to the hulking mammal, that would be me, that outweighs them by thousands of times, allowing for a close approach and excellent views, as any kind of creature that they need to be concerned about.

They don’t recognize me as any kind of concern of theirs.  I am like a sloth in terms of their fast and mobile life style. Fortunately, I only want to shoot them with a camera but in other parts of the world they may be killed and eaten. I am likely the first human these birds have ever come in contact with and grateful for the experience.

What a marvelous trip it would be to have their bird’s eye view as they wing their way from the top of the planet to the tropics and beyond. Navigating the length and breadth of two continents - no wonder they fascinate the earthbound observer.

Lastly, the past week has brought lots of members of the Alcid family to area waters. A pelagic birding trip on October 24th had lots of seabirds and good numbers of Razorbills and an Atlantic Puffin.

Dovekies, our smallest Alcid, are Starling-sized and very tough little Alcids. On several occasions I have been on a ship in mid-winter with an angry ocean with lots of Dovekies about. Watching as they whir through the air on buzzy wings they approach a huge wave and fly right into it - they fly through the water and pop out the other side of the wave, flying again, back in the air. They can literally fly right through a wave and come out the other side!