Last year, I was contemplating going on the NECWA's (New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance) annual September "Seabird and Whale Tales Excursion" which has a good history of seeing Sabine's Gulls
(http://www.necwa.org/trip_6-2006.html ). Again my schedule conflicted with the date, and I thought about changing my schedule around, but decided against it. Well as expected they spotted two Sabine's Gulls (again), following up the one spotted the year before and the four in 2008 and two in 2007! This year I wasn't going to miss it!!
In August, the notice appeared in my Inbox, and the check for Jen and I went out that morning. I mentioned to our friend Tom (Robben) that we were going and he did the same. We both have a special place in our hearts for the Sabine's Gull and that species has become a symbol of a "rare" New England summer transient pelagic species to us; a noble bird to search for. For me, it gives me a few more excuses to get out on the water especially off Provincetown. We have both seen them before; I have only once and Tom has many times especially on the West coast. Last year two Sabine's Gulls were reported feeding together in Hatchess Harbor inlet, so off we went. But since this is a here-again, gone-again species known to stop for a minute and then move on, we were unsuccessful.
A few days earlier the Rhode Island overnight Canyon Pelagic trip was cancelled because of the high waves formed by storm surge of Hurricane Leslie. Since this was only a few days later we were all concerned. Although the weather was calling for moderate winds and a possibility of rain, it was the surge that warranted caution. Cape Cod Bay being sheltered to the south wasn't the area to watch, it was the area nearing Provincetown and Stellwagen Bank which would be exposed to the storm surge. Krill Carson the host and organizer of the trip kept everyone informed. Her emails were upbeat and positive, but there was always that chance it would be cancelled. As the time grew closer, it was still a go, but with the possibility of cancellation that morning.
Jen and I met Tom at the Mystic, CT commuter lot at 4:30 am. With a three hour ride ahead of us, we left for Plymouth all the while I was checking my Blackberry hoping (not) to get an email from Krill announcing the cancellation of the trip. The excursion left the wharf at 10:00 am and returned at 6:00 pm; a full eight hours on the water. We wanted to get there a bit early (as my usual) and thats just what we did. We had time for a relaxing breakfast in downtown Plymouth and then went back to the pier. People started arriving for the excursion and some started boarding. I dropped Jen and Tom off with the gear while I went to park the car. After a bit of anxiety because of my impatience with the parking kiosk, I joined Jen and Tom onboard the one hundred ten foot "Tales of the Sea" from the Capt. John Whale Watching Tours Fleet.
The sky was overcast and was sprinkling off and on, and it was a bit chilly (as expected)-
Tom and I went immediately to the pulpit (which is our favorite spot) while Jen was a bit smarter and chose the bench under the canopy! While we were waiting for the lines to be cast off and the ships horn to blow, there was a little bit of birding in the harbor from the deck. Mallards and a Black Duck-
Double-crested Cormorants are always entertaining. A Common Tern flew by while I was taking the picture of the Cormorant-
Common Terns were busy fishing in the inner harbor-
Not many birds to see in the "dead zone" in the middle of Cape Cod Bay, just a distant first year Gannet-
In between the short jaunts following the whale pods around Stellwagen, the first of five Mola mola passed by the vessel-
Another pair of Common Loons-
Spending some time with the two whale pods, they decided to move around to look for birds. Although we did find a few hands full of birds during the morning, it was quite slow for September at Stellwagen Bank. Three more Manx Shearwaters perked us up a bit!-
At one point around noon, the vessel was moving along headed for another area, when one of the spotters on the upper deck located a small flock of Phalaropes on the water. The "Tales of the Sea" made a wide circle and slowly eased back towards the area where they were last seen. A call came over the pa system that the birds were off the starboard side. For some reason, I couldn't spot the birds. Jen was directing me to the birds which she said were "right in front of me". With her direction and a quick point from a kind birder standing next to me; there they were! I was looking too far away from the vessel when in fact the birds were only twenty yards out. O the water was a flock of seven Red-necked Phalaropes which stayed long enough to capture this series of images (of most of them).
There were scattered sightings of Terns mostly in singles and pairs. As we were moving to another location where more whale blows were seen, a small group of Terns passed by the bow.
I was just about ready to say to Tom to keep an eye out for Jaegers, when a single Jaeger appeared flying along the deck to the port. It lifted up and then flew right in front of us over the bow. Even though it was backlit, its large silhouette with deep chest and heavy bill identifies it as a Pomarine.-
The calf was very accommodating often surfacing by the boat and showing off for everyone. It seemed to enjoy the attention-
Another large Mola-
A large scattered pod of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins appeared and gave us a great show!-
The day was getting long and it would be time to head back to Plymouth soon. The birding was slow off Stellwagen (athough a few flurries and species were observed), but the Whales, Dolphins and Mola kept the day moving. A few parting shots of the Humpbacks-
The fifth and final Mola; incredible!-
Tom on the pulpit. I know what he was thinking because I was thinking the same thing- "There must be one Sabine's Gull out there somewhere"! We spotted a few more very distant large Shearwaters and a second Jaeger which was too far out to identify.
It was overcast all day, but the predicted rain held off except for one brief passing of heavy drops with (what felt like) small hail on your skin on Stellwagen. To the east was blue sky that never made it until we were back in port!-
The vessel headed over to a more "birdy area" from Highland Light to Race Point. Unfortunately this usual very "birdy" spot was very quiet......
.....which was confirmed by the spotting plane flying overhead. They informed the crew that there wasn't too much surface feeding activity with the whales. No feeding activity meant no birds!
Here and there, a few Terns would be visible feeding along the surface-
Gannet numbers increased, but they were just flying down along the coast. We never saw any of them plunging!-
At one point, there was a moderate sized flock of mostly Common (with a few Roseate) Terns feeding on a school of fish-
To Jen and I the sight of a flock of Gannets flying along the dunes of the outer Cape is quite spectacular!!-
Race Point Lighthouse. I am sure all the birders checked through all the Gulls that lined the beach!-
Tom and I were looking back beyond Race Point. There were a few distant Terns buzzing around and we spotted another Jaeger. As we were watching the Jaeger, a few flocks of Terns appeared in the sky. I didn't see where they all came from, but my guess would have been from Hatchess Harbor.
There must have been some schools of baitfish in the area, many of the fishing boats lined up along Race Rip were catching Stripers and Bluefish (as in this image)-
The numbers of Laughing Gulls increased-
But one thing was different; the sun finally came out and we came back to this awesome rainbow!
10)- "Stratford Shorebirding"- Late Season Willets continues....
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