Cajoling an avid fisherman into taking a group of enthusiastic birdwatchers offshore at the height of the fishing season normally is not an easy task. Luckily Capt. Flip Harrington is a birder as well as a fisherman. He also happens to be my husband.

This is no Wilson's storm petrel. — Lanny McDowell

The pelagic birding trip had been planned a couple of weeks earlier. The birders, myself, Allan Keith, Lanny McDowell, Pete Gilmore and Ken Magnuson gathered in Menemsha at 7 a.m. on Sept. 6. We boarded M/V Auklet and stowed our gear below making sure the binoculars and cameras were either around our necks or within easy reach. Flip gave us his routine safety lecture on the location of life jackets, fire extinguishers, overboard buoy and how to use a marine head.

The weather was perfect for observing birds on the water — flat calm. We motored out of the channel along Dogfish Bar and wended our way through Devil’s Bridge off Gay Head observing very few birds. A few pelagic species appeared just south of Noman’s Land. Several Cory’s shearwaters and a couple of Wilson’s storm petrels (known locally as Mother’s Cary’s chickens) glided effortless above the glassy water. We slowed down to take photos but Flip and Allan kept urging the crew further offshore.

Field guide books call it bird on a pogo stick. — Lanny McDowell

Our course took us south and east of Noman’s. The lack of birds was upsetting. A bank of fog way offshore looked like a huge iceberg. Small bait called hoppers jumped alongside the Auklet. Our attention returned to birds when we spotted numerous flocks of phalaropes numbering between 20 and 100 per flock. We noted the wing and head markings but it was the photographers who verified the identification. No one onboard had ever seen so many red-necked Phalaropes close to shore.

Flip spotted a dragger south and west of our location and headed in that direction, knowing that birds are attracted to the leftovers available as the fishermen haul back their nets. Our location about 17 miles south of Squibnocket was where we spotted the bird. A lone small storm petrel flittered just above the water off the port bow. Flip headed the Auklet toward the bird and we all noted the odd way it moved. The bird hit the water with its feet or bill and immediately bounced up. The movement is aptly described in many bird field guides as a bird on a pogo stick.

The Auklet cruised within 20 feet of the bird. Cameras with big lenses were clicking away and elbows flying to make sure good views were possible and recordable. The conversation went every which way: “This is no Wilson’s storm petrel, the wingbeat is wrong, wow, it has a weird way of feeding, oh my God it has a white face, it has to be a white-faced storm petrel.”

Other finds 17 miles offshore included great shearwaters keeping an eye on a shark in their midst. — Lanny McDowell

It was an Island record and great excitement prevailed. We checked in the National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America to make sure we were correct. Later photographs from both Ken Magnuson and Lanny McDowell clinched the identification.

Until now the white-faced storm petrel had never been seen in or around the Vineyard. Pete Gilmore and fellow birders spotted 28 of these birds on a recent pelagic trip 75 to 100 miles offshore on Georges Banks, a new North American record. Speaking of records, the white-faced storm-petrel was one of four life birds for Ken Magnuson. Lanny McDowell had seen the bird several years ago on a pelagic trip from Hyannis. Flip, Allan Keith and I had seen the bird off New Zealand, but never in U.S. waters. The bird sighting is a new North American record for us three as well as a new Martha’s Vineyard record for the six of us.

The question that has yet to be answered, is this the closest to land that a white-faced storm petrel has been seen, a mere 17.5 nautical miles offshore?

Cory's shearwater soars. — Ken Magnuson

The day was young so we continued toward the dragger. A pod of common dolphins joined us and rode our bow wake giving us excellent views. Ken and Lanny photographed the activity. Approaching the dragger, we were flabbergasted at the number of birds in the air and on the water. Hundreds of great shearwaters were sitting behind the dragger, many of which rose and flew to the stern of the dragger as it hauled its net. Others remained on the water; we speculated that they were so full they couldn’t move. But move they did when a blue shark, spotted by Flip, coursed through the flock. Suddenly the shearwaters in the shark’s path put their heads underwater to check to see where the beast was. The birds closest to the shark rose to the sky and then as the shark passed settled back on the water.

Later Lanny found that one of his photos was of a sooty shearwater, one of the three most common shearwaters seen off the Vineyard, and the one we had missed.

Wind was picking up as we headed back to Menemsha. What a day — a new bird record for Martha’s Vineyard, great company and just plain fun.

See more pictures from expedition on M/V Auklet.