Two noteworthy pelagic birding events have occurred recently.
First came announcement of Debi Shearwater’s retirement after 44 years of leading more than 1,400 pelagic birding trips on the West coast, mostly out of Monterey, Calif.
Then came publication of “Oceanic Birds of the World: a photo guide” by Princeton University Press. It illustrates why a good guide is essential to successful birding at sea.
Birds that are mostly black, white, and various shades of gray are difficult to identify from the deck of a moving boat. The publishers description of the book uses the phrase “unusual identification challenge…” For sure.
Authors Steven N. G. Howell and Kirk Zufelt, doing their best with text, maps, and more than 2,200 photos, have given birders an exceptional tool for identifying pelagic birds.
These are seabirds, incidentally, not shorebirds, the latter including gull species, all of which are freshwater species. There are no gulls in this book.
This is the first field guide to the world’s oceanic bird species published in two decades. It is a very successful effort by two men whose time at sea probably can be measured in years.
Most of the photos were taken by Zufelt. I have been there and done that: His photos are extraordinary, use in the book equally so.
There is clear text, helpful notes overprinted on the photos, and maps also clear and helpful.
At 358 pages, the book is organized to offer on-the-spot identification help, although I would rather do prep work preceding the trip, then spend my time on deck. It is a prep tool, certainly, and priceless for careful examination of the photos you might take.
There is nothing else like this effort in either case.
The book has flexible covers (which would shed water if necessary), a sewn binding offering long life, 358 pages, an introduction to identification of seabirds (taxonomy and types), tips to use when you are at sea, discussion of species splits, a long list of references, and an index. The book is priced at $35.
It can easily be used as a wish list, although for only a few more weeks with Ms. Shearwater. Her final trip casts off from her home port of Monterey on Sunday, Oct. 20. I imagine that trip — all of her trips this year — is booked full.
It is not a coincidence that she uses the surname Shearwater. Formerly Debi Love, she chose a pelagic bird name for the obvious reason.
I have been birding with her about 10 times, never failing to enjoy every moment. She chose good boats, good captains, knew where to find birds in her season (August-October), and brought with her a cadre of experienced birders who kept sharp eyes on the horizon, loudly announcing each bird that approached the ship.
She also liked and knew whales and other sea mammals, various fish, and land birds whether seen at sea or ashore. She has personality to burn. She was fun to be with.
She took more than 67,000 of us to sea, birders from all 50 states and 30 foreign countries. I think all of us will miss her.