What exactly are pelagic trips?
Pelagic trips are great fun!
Pelagic trips are special birdwatching tours by boat to see seabirds. Most often a group of birders will hire a charter fishing boat for a seabird cruise offshore 20-40 miles to see birds that are rarely glimpsed from shore. These pelagic birding trips may be organized by a local bird club or Audubon Society group. There are several pelagic trip providers in the United States who offer regularly scheduled trips.
The pelagic tours offered by dedicated pelagic trip providers are professionally run. They have helpful expert guides who point out birds, explain identification, and work with the captain of the boat to help all participants to see the birds.
What is a pelagic trip like?
Who's looking at whom? Albatrosses and fulmars at close range!
Pay attention to the trip description. Pelagic trip conditions and goals can vary quite a bit. On the West Coast, waters are rather cool throughout the year. The trip immediately above was in August. The trip in the photo at the top of the page was in February. There is not too much difference in clothing!
Charter fishing boats used for these trips are generally rather slow. Goals on the West Coast include traveling offshore 20-40 miles to see albatrosses. Thus most traditional trips are 7-10 hours in duration, and attempt to see the widest variety of seabirds possible. Special pelagic birding tours targeting certain rare species can be longer. Trips from San Diego are often multi-day, but on the rest of the West Coast are single day trips.
The boats used are called "party boats" on the East Coast. Most on the West Coast are 45-55 feet in length and carry 20-40 passengers. To keep prices as low as possible it is necessary to fill the boat to capacity, which is based on Coast Guard inspection and installed safety equipment.
The first part of the trip will start in a bay, giving people a chance to get used to the procedure of calling out birds and describing their location. Once the boat crosses the bar into the ocean there are many near shore birds such as loons, grebes, sea ducks, gulls, cormorants, pelicans, terns, and other species.
As the tour heads offshore bird numbers drop and the long run out to deeper waters begins. Birds pick up again where shelf waters mix with deeper ocean waters. Shearwaters, storm-petrels, jaegers, and other pelagic birds replace the more familiar near shore birds. It is here that the cry of "albatross!" is the anxiously awaited moment.
At the farthest offshore point the boat stops and various food or fish scraps are offered to entice albatrosses and fulmars right up to the boat. These "chum stops" provide excellent opportunities to photograph many ocean birds at close range.
On the trip back to port additional birds may be glimpsed, perhaps some you may personally have missed on the way out. Dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, seals, whales, the odd ocean sunfish, and various sharks may be encountered on these exciting nature tours.
Expected Oregon Pelagic Birds
Laysan Albatross (late fall-spring)
Black-footed Albatross (year-round)
Northern Fulmar (early fall-spring)
Pink-footed Shearwater (spring-fall)
Flesh-footed Shearwater (fall)
Buller's Shearwater (fall)
Sooty Shearwater (spring-fall)
Short-tailed Shearwater (fall-winter)
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel (spring-fall)
Red Phalarope (spring, fall)
Red-necked Phalarope (spring, fall)
South Polar Skua (fall)
Pomarine Jaeger (spring, fall)
Parasitic Jaeger (spring, fall)
Long-tailed Jaeger (spring, fall)
Black-legged Kittiwake (fall-spring)
Sabine's Gull (spring, fall)
Common Tern (spring)
Arctic Tern (spring, fall)
Common Murre (year-round)
Pigeon Guillemot (year-round)
Cassin's Auklet (year-round)
Marbled Murrelet (year-round)
Ancient Murrelet (late fall, winter)
Rhinoceros Auklet (year-round)
Tufted Puffin (spring-fall)