Preparing for a pelagic

After every trip to sea I feel like I come back a different person. After a few successful trips, I think I’ve gained some insight that might help pelagic-curious people out there. Or those who’ve had bad experiences (like I have). If you’ve never taken a pelagic, I’d recommend starting with a shorter trip. I started with 12 hours and probably shouldn’t have done that.

Get to know what it’s like because it is a strange, smelly, unsteady, and awesome (!) world out there. Who knows, maybe you’re one of those lucky people with a steel stomach. Unfortunately, that’s not me. Everyone has their own comfort levels and know what works for them, but here’s a breakdown of what works for me.

TLDR: take Bonine over-the counter medication for motion sickness the night before, and the morning of the trip and you should be good to go!

My full packing list:

Clothing:

  • Base-layer top
  • Long-sleeved wool undershirt
  • Fleece vest
  • Snuggy polyester sweatshirt
  • Backup puffy jacket
  • Rain Jacket
  • Base-layer wool pants
  • Track shorts
  • Rain pants
  • Socks (two pairs-thin and thick)
  • Rain boots
  • Warm hat
  • (Secure) ball cap
  • Gloves

Accessories:

  • Lip Balm
  • Sunglasses
  • Eye drops
  • Lens cloth

Food:

  • Pre-boat breakfast: Plain bagel, banana
  • “Lunch”: Plain bread, mild cheese, honey pretzels
  • Pocket snacks: Saltines, Life Savors (pineapple flavor only!), nuts
  • Liquids: Water, Gatorade, Ginger Ale

Gear:

  • Binoculars
  • Camera
  • Camera rain cover
  • Phone – in a zip lock baggie or waterproof case

Medication:

  • Bonine for motion sickness
  • Anti-anxiety
  • Immodium AD
  • Ibuprofen

I wear five layers on top. A tank top undershirt, followed by a long sleeve Smartwool base-layer, a Columbia fleece vest (that has bonus pockets), a poly sweatshirt on top and then rain jacket over everything. I keep a backup puffy jacket in my pack too just in case (I only had to use once on a really chilly trip). My Red Ledge rain jacket has amazing pockets large enough to hold a 16.9 oz bottle of ginger ale. This is the key to taking fewer rocky trips to the cabin.

My rain pants were too tight on my first trip and the pressure from the elastic band exacerbated my stomach pains. So I’ve since made a bunch of trips to Andy and Bax surplus sporting goods store to try out pants. I ended up swapping out traditional rain pants in favor of Viking brand Journeyman Waterproof Industrial Bib Pant. I unsnapped the bib and cut off the suspender part. They are comfy and I love them. Underneath I wear Smartwool mid-weight base layer pants, with some gym shorts on top.

I wear two pairs of socks, one light and one thick for warmth and cushion since most rain boots aren’t very insulated. I should probably invest in another pair of Bogs, but for now I bought a cheap (but solid) $12 pair of rubber boots from Fred Meyer. They get the job done for now. My gloves are fingerless flip-mittens made out of alpaca wool and acrylic from Andes Gifts (found at New Seasons). And my favorite sun hat is Columbia Coolhead Cachalot Hat (not just for men!), the safari flap tucks under nicely and the adjustable drawcord in the back tightens securely for windy times.

I’ve found an amazing retailer for waterproof camera covers in the UK called Camera Accessories Outdoors. Their products are well-made and reasonably priced. The one for my camera/lens combo is under $30 including shipping. I use another camera lens sleeve underneath for double protection, but it’s pretty much just a plastic bag. The more covers the better since sea salt can do a lot of damage to equipment. (I clean my gear after each trip).

Photos of all the gear:

My pelagic planning begins the week before. I cut out coffee and alcohol, eat bland food, and get plenty of sleep. Sounds extreme perhaps, but the more cards I can stack on the side of a good outcome the better. I’m in favor of medication (talk to your doctor). I wasn’t anxious my first trip and then I got seasick. Now my body tries to protect me from doing that again. Thanks body, but I love albatross too much. So now I have anti-anxiety meds (Lorazepam) just for boat rides (similar to situational anxiety for flying). It’s really helped, because this is not the appropriate time for a fight or flight response. Someone recently asked if weed would have a similar affect, and maybe? It is legal here. But I’ve never had a good reaction and wouldn’t want to add another element of uncertainty for myself.

My thoughts on Scopolamine: also called “the patch” or Transderm Scop, which is a small round band-aid sized prescription for motion sickness that goes behind the ear. I tried it my first trip and got sick. What I didn’t know (and the pharmacist didn’t tell me) is that it should be put on the night before a trip, so maybe I would have been fine, but it’s dead to me now. Some people, even guides use it and swear by it. Others have had adverse side effects (blurred vision) for days. I’ve had good results with over-the-counter Bonine so I’m sticking with that.

The night before: Some people can drink beer and eat hotdogs the night before. I could too, but then I’d get sick. To avoid this I eat bland food. I had a basic BLT sandwich one time (dry), and before this last trip I ate a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios because it was easy. I have one half (to one) anti-anxiety pill and a Bonine pill for dessert. Yum.

The morning of: Wake up, get base layers on, go to the bathroom 100 times (approx.). Eat something. I had half a plain bagel and half a banana last trip. Some people can handle coffee, I can’t (I’d never leave the bathroom). I take the other half anti-anxiety pill, Imodium A-D, Bonine, and this time I took two Ibuprofen to ease my mind about potential ankle pain. Somehow I get the rest of my gear on and get out the door.

On the boat: Anxiety is better (hopefully medication is working). There are birds to look at! Wonderful distractions. During slow periods mental strategies help: think about the turnaround point, look at the horizon, stay out of the cabin and try to get fresh air (beware of diesel and chum stank). As hard as it is, it helps to snack. I munch on saltines, have a Lifesaver, or some nuts. I tried almonds last time but they were too big and turned into gummy paste in my mouth. I had better luck this time with shelled pistachios. Salt is good. Some people can have ginger candy, ginger snaps, etc. I can’t stomach the power of ginger so I’ve found pineapple flavored Lifesavers to be a good mild alternative. And if you have to get sick, you’re not alone, it happens.

After: Time for celebration!!!

And time to plan the next trip. Every time is different, there’s highs and lows, but the birds always make it worthwhile. And having a system in place can help ease the struggle. My brain wants to protect me from the trauma of my first trip, while my heart wants to keep trying.

Good job heart.

Tweets and tips,

Audrey

Camera updates and such

It’s incredible how far this birding lifestyle has progressed. Especially with the gear. I started with an old pair of Bushnell binoculars and a small point and shoot camera.

I knew birding was hard and it didn’t take long before I realized how much harder it is to take photos of birds. You’d think it was easy enough. Have a camera, see a bird, take a photo. Not so much. I’d originally hoped photographing birds would help me to ID them. But it wasn’t until Tomas upgraded my point and shoot camera that it became a more realistic possibility.

I was well on my way. It was fascinating to see the difference in photos. Here’s an example, Northern Flicker with the old camera:

Is there even a bird in that photo? Northern Flicker with the SX50:

Woah. No question that is a bird. ID made easy. That camera combined with my new Vortex Diamondback binoculars (recommended by a few folks at Audubon) got me through the next two years. I got good at juggling tasks and mastered car-birding.

Pro at work

This past year I’ve upped my game. I’ve experimented with DSLR cameras and lens of all shapes and sizes. Luckily, there’s a great local photo shop with rental gear allowing me to try on this expensive equipment. I started with a Nikon D7200 in combination with various lens sizes including the 200-500.

I was in love with the image quality but hated the weight. At about 7lbs it was more than I was willing to carry without ditching the binoculars. And I refuse to give those up because it’s not just about the photos to me. I had to ask myself what I really hoped to get out of this investment and find that balance between satisfying photo quality and heavy gear that doesn’t suck the joy out of life.

This has all led me to the Canon EOS 80D in combination with the 100-400mm F4.5-5.6L IS USM Mark II lens. The combo is 2lbs lighter than the Nikon setup and much more tolerable.

The progression is real

It’s still quite the commitment and costs more than I’ve once paid for a used car, but so far it’s been worth it. Another fun progression:

SX100

SX50

80D 100-400

80D 100-400

Turns that Song Sparrow right into an a hummingbird. It’s that amazing.

I’ve also added a new pair of binoculars to the family. The Nikon Monarch 5.

It’s a binocular!

I get to try out the new bins tomorrow on the Audubon Shorebird field trip. Maybe they will help me ID all those brown and white look-alikes.

Even with all this gear, I still have room in the family for one more. A scope. I’m eyeing the Vortex Viper 65mm. It’s still on the wishlist at this point, but I’ll have good news to share soon I’m sure.

In the meantime, I’m having fun pushing buttons on top of mountains (photo by Jen Sanford).

Living the good birding life and loving it.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Books!

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This is my current bird-book library.

1. The World of Birds: A Beginner’s Guide is a fun, eye-pleasing book from the National Wildlife Federation. It contains beautiful and engaging illustrations, trivia, facts, and all sorts of information for over a hundred bird species.

2. My boyfriend, Tomas, won Latin for Bird Lovers for me in a Twitter contest presented by Timber Press. This delicately illustrated book explains and explores more than 3000 bird names. Digging deeper into the origins of names reveals connections of why birds were named the way they were. For instance, the scientific name (genus) Pelagodrama is of Greek origin for pelagos, sea, and dromos, runner, as in Pelagodroma marina, the White-faced Storm Petrel, for its habit of pattering its feet on the sea surface. Fascinating!

3. I picked up the Birds of Oregon book from a trip to the coast. I like the way this field guide is laid out, including a quick guide on the back cover and  large illustrations. The book details the 328 bird species expected to Oregon annually.

4. The Big Year. What can I say. Besides having a hilarious front cover (who doesn’t want to be that guy??) this book inspired the 2011 movie with Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson. I picked it up at a used book shop in Seattle and am about halfway through, taking notes as I read. The book follows the 1998 North American Big Year, “the greatest – or perhaps the worst – birding competition of all time.” I enjoy the narrative pace of this adventure story, and it incorporates meaningful details about the birds seen and places traveled, as well as the eccentric birders. It’s given me insight into other birder personalities.

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5. The National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of Western North America is a new addition I picked up for Tomas last week. He hinted he would like a field guide of his own to take on his adventures. I’ve heard from others, including Laura Whittemore, birding instructor with Audubon, that the NGFG is an excellent field guide with detailed illustrations noting important field marks to look for.

6. Just the other day I came across Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park at a used book store in Portland and couldn’t resist taking it home. The book jacket reveals this is a story about a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks that nest on the ledge of a tall building in NYC on Fifth Avenue. People become devoted to watching the hawks as they attempt to survive in the city. The author, Marie Winn, is a guest speaker in the movie Birders: A Central Park Effect.

7. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America is my go-to field guide! This book has been my buddy since my Ornithology professor in college recommended it years ago. I’m pleased with the illustrations, the quick guide in the back, the size of the book, and so far I’ve yet to come across a bird not included. Everyone has their own preferences for field guides, and this is the one that works for me.

From an informative field guide review site:

Peterson’s field guides have the better illustrations, they are somewhat larger and more color saturated than the Sibley series. The Peterson’s series also include sections highlighted in bold for “Similar species” and “Habitat”, Sibley’s does not include these sections.

The Sibley’s series has more varied illustrations of individual species, including many more in-flight illustrations than the Peterson guides provide. Sibley’s also has the better field mark notations that include pointers and textual information surrounding the subject. Peterson’s just includes pointers to the field marks.”

8. When I attended the waterfowl outing hosted by Audubon, the group leader and longtime birder, Ron Escano, recommended finding an older Peterson guide since it includes black and white bird illustrations. This is helpful for identifying birds in poor light or bad weather conditions. Pretty useful for winter in Portland. I lucked out finding a 1941 version of A Field Guide To Western Birds Peterson guide at a used book store in town. I plan on enlarging/laminating key pages to make it more useful in the field.

9. Birds of Oregon is a handy little guide that has bird photographs rather than illustrations. It might seem counter-intuitive, but illustrated guides are favored over photographs because illustrations emphasize important field marks that photographs might miss due to lighting, camera angle, or subtle variations. It’s generally recommended to have (at least) two field guides, one with illustrations and one with photos to use as a cross-reference. I have another edition, Birds of the Willamette Valley Region, on my wish list.

10. Bird Brain-Teasers: Puzzles, Games, & Avian Trivia is AWESOME. This book combines birds and puzzles, two of my favorite loves. I only wish it would last forever.

11. A teeny tiny Golden Guide to Birds contains illustrations and notes on 129 common birds of North America, where/when to find them, how to attract them, and what to look for. I picked it up from Audubon gift center for supplemental reading.

12. Last but not least is a Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Hummingbirds. It’s small, includes photographs, and looks pretty thorough. We have hummingbird feeders up in the yard, but I’ve yet to need the guide since the only resident winter hummingbirds we have are Anna’s. I’m hoping to see a few more species this summer!

Happy reading!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey