New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Monday, October 1, 2012

"Want Seabirds?- Just Add Chum"!

"Want Seabirds?- Just Add Chum"! - Sunday, Sept. 30- Off Provincetown, Mass.- The week before I was thinking about Tom's trip leading HAS seabirding on the Dolphin X. Jen and I decided that it would be a long day, and since we were staying over on Friday night, we should stay over on Saturday night as well. Tom didn't have anything planned with HAS on Sunday, so if anyone wanted to stay over they could bird on their own. I thought about the great opportunity with all the seabirds off Provincetown, and decided that it would be a great idea to privately charter a boat. This would be perfect for an "up close and personal" experience with the birds. I have done this often with my Father-in-Law many times while fishing on a private charter off  Block Island, Rhode Island.

     I had made a few "connections" last year in P'town with a few fisherman and Lobsterman to possibly put a trip together, but after trying it didn't work out. Jen and I have been on the Dolphin Fleet boats many times on seabird/whale watch trips. I remembered admiring this beautiful Lobster/Sportfishing boat that was moored next to the Dophin boats on the main dock of the Commercial Pier. I couldn't remember the name of the boat, but after a search on the internet I found it; the Ginny G ( ).

      I contacted the Ginny G regarding the possibility of privately chartering them for a seabirding trip for a half day morning trip. Ginny replied to me, and she told me that they had never done this before but were excited about it! The Ginny G is a 34 foot boat which has a full toilet, running water and spacious heated cabin, perfect for a small group of six birders. I also had a phone conversation with Captain Dave mentioning to him that the route I wanted to take was along the shore from Long Point to the area between Race Point and Race Point Beach from 300 yards to a quarter mile off shore. We would be chumming as well, and I wanted to deploy a string of my decoys to help attract the birds close to the boat. I also mentioned that we would ride around finding birds and if we did, he would try and get us close enough for close camera range. He agreed! The morning half day trip of four hours runs from 7:00 am to 11:00 am, perfect time for seabirding. The cost of the charter was very reasonable, giving us the complete latitude to do anything we wanted.

     Captain Dave said he didn't know much about birds, but besides the fishing, he does run private whale watching charters and sees large numbers of birds on these trips. He also asked me what kind of birds we would be looking for, so he could ask around to some of his fishing buddies, many of which know birds. I mentioned the usual birds: Jaegers, Gannets, Shearwaters and of course the Sabine's Gull!

    At that point, it would only be Jen and I on the Ginny G. I asked Tom if he and Guy would be interested, but they were leaving early Sunday morning for home, but maybe some from HAS would be interested. Rick Macsuga from the HAS group signed on. I contacted Bill Thompson a fantastic photographer that Jen and I met last winter in P'town on MacMillan's Pier, and spent time with on a few Pelagic trips. He was in! After posting the trip on the CT birds list, Mary Covello from CT signed on, that meant five hearty souls; perfect for the birding charter!

      Since the Ginny G was now chartered, there were a few things to do before Sunday morning. 1)  In speaking to Capt. Dave the weather was an obvious topic, with wind being the main concern for the trip. However if it was windy from the North/Northeast, we could still catch a lee along the beach to Race Point and set up inside the hook off Hatches Harbor. But it was still the Captain's Call. We would meet on the dock on Sunday morning and talk about it with the Captain. 2)- Keep in contact with Rick, Mary and Bill with updates, 3) I had to get the chum ready. I had thirty pounds of suet in the freezer that needed to be cut up and bagged. Besides the suet, I would bring fifty pounds of dry catfood, and many loaves of bread which I use to attract the Gulls to the chum.

     I asked Capt. Dave if he could pick up some Menhaden Oil for me, but he wasn't sure if he could (it was in short supply this year). But he did offer to pick up some frozen Herring for a very reasonable price, and I told him to pick up a tote full. Capt. Dave also mentioned that he could get a frozen block of "Scallop guts" from a few Scallopers he knew, that would be perfect for a chum slick! Everything was set, hopefully the weather would hold!

     Early Sunday morning Jen and I were driving north on 6 to P'town, and just like Saturday morning it was raining! Not only was it raining steady, but we ran through patches of heavy pouring rain on the way. Jen looked at me and I told her, I don't think we are getting a break today! We were a bit early so we sat on the end of Macmillan's Pier having our coffee and corn muffin. We watched a few fisherman on the pier suited up in their rain gear in the pouring rain. Thankfully the Ginny G had a nice sized cabin to escape the rain once and awhile. Our appointed meeting time was 6:30 am and as we were driving off the pier by the Ginny G's dock, Jen spotted two rain suited people standing by the Ginny G's booth; it was Bill and Rick. They helped me unload our car; my hard crate full of decoys, three five gallon buckets of catfood, cooler with suet, ten loaves of bread, and my gear bag for the boat. We went off to park the car, and when we walked  up the pier to the dock, Mary had shown up. That's great, everyone was here, right on time.

     Captain Dave said that he would meet me at 6:45 on the dock, and he was right on time. After the gear was loaded and we were aboard, we got underway. He told me that it was going to rain all day, and wouldn't clear up til around 3:00 pm. The winds were light Northerly around 10 to 15 knots. On the way across Provincetown Harbor, Capt. Dave and I talked and discussed what I wanted him to do that morning and he was very accommodating! After the plan was discussed, we rounded Long Point. Jen was a bit smarter than us, she settled inside the dry and warm cabin as we headed northeast in the steady rain.

     Jen had a great location in the cabin searching out the forward windows. Just as we crossed Wood End, Jen shouted out that we had two Jaegers off the port bow. Capt. Dave instinctively turned the boat to the starboard so we all could get a good look at the pair of Parasitic Jaegers-

      Heading along the beach near Herring Cove Beach, Gannets started following the Ginny G heading Northeast towards Race Point-

        First year Gannet-

      Third year and adult Gannet-

     The first Shearwater of the day (a Cory's) shadowed the boat-

     This Gannet had a fish hook and leader attached to its left leg (hopefully its a zinc hook designed to dissolve in salt water)-

     The rain continued all day, but did slow down to a light sprinkle a few times. We had a few distant Shearwaters, Jaegers and continual Gannets moving all morning long. Mary (left), Bill (center) and Rick (right) wait for the next flurry of birds before the rain started again-

      Our first chumming spot was just inside Race Point. After attracting some Gulls to the boat with bread and getting the Gulls interested, Capt. Dave cuts up the Herring and adds it to the catfood and suet I had already thrown out-

                         Go Pats!!

   We had several hundred Gulls coming to the chum, about half being Laughing Gulls. I searched hard for a Sabine's Gull (wishful thinking) while everyone else watched for Shearwaters-

     The chumming went very well, of the several hundred Gulls, we even attracted Common Terns-

     The second spot we chummed was just off Race Point in the shoal rip. The large numbers of Gulls continued with some Shearwaters coming to the chum-

     Bill watches a few distant Shearwaters heading in our direction-

     The Gannets continued and continually came to the boat and chum, often flying right over our heads-

      When we started chumming at the third spot (halfway between Race Point and Race Point Beach, I decided to put out the decoys for a little fun-

      Laughing Gull (courtesy of Bill Thompson)-

      This Gannet entertained everyone on board including Captain Dave. We had to keep wiping off our binoculars because of the rain. I gave up after a while, instead enjoyed the challenge of trying to identify birds through hundreds of rain drops on my binoculars! Not an easy task (or much fun) so I just decided to watch the birds in close when they came to the chum!

     This Gannet made a plunge only a few feet off the stern of the boat. It swam around underwater scoffing up the cut up Herring that Capt. Dave was tossing over. The best part was watching the brilliant green glow of the Gannet as it swam underwater-

       Adult Gannet (Courtesy of Bill Thompson)-

      We also had two Common Loons swim into the chum (Courtesy Bill Thompson)-

      We may have been wet, but our spirits weren't! Mary (bottom left), me (center), Bill (top)-

      More and more Shearwaters came to the chum such as this beautiful Cory's (Courtesy Bill Thompson)-

      And this Greater Shearwater (Courtesy Bill Thompson)-

     There were a few small flocks of Scoters like these White-wings (Courtesy Bill Thompson)-

     And the exciting Shearwaters of the day: a Manx and the first of two Sooty Shearwaters that came to the chum that Mary called out-

     While this Sooty was leaving the chum, a Parasitic Jaeger flew across the chum and no one saw it until it was leaving!-

        Excellent shot of Sooty Shearwater #2 coming and going from the chum. (Courtesy Bill Thompson)-

     Look what else we attracted to our chum: an "extreme fisherman" !! I like fishing in boats (big ones), but I am not sure if I want to be in a plastic Kayak fishing out in the Race Point rip in late September with a Northeast wind!!-

    While we were watching for more birds, Rick called out five very small birds flying up our chumline in the distance, maybe Storm-Petrels? The birds picked up again and flew our way in the chum slick but settling in again on the water in the slick. Rick called them out; Red-necked Phalaropes. The birds took off again and flew towards Herring Cove Beach. One of the birds broke off and the other four flew by heading towards Race Point.-

       Red-necked Phalaropes (Courtesy Bill Thompson)-

       Four very hearty souls (and the smart one in the cabin)! (From left to right: Bill, me, Mary and Rick)-

      By now it had started to rain hard (again) in fact pouring! The time was getting to the end and we started back slowly along the beach. Without warning, a single dark morph Parasitic Jaeger appeared and landed a hundred yards out from the Ginny G. I pointed the bird out to Capt. Dave and he brought us within a few yards of the bird. And as usually happens with a great opportunity to photograph a spectacular bird, my memory card filled just as I was taking a few shots of the bird as we approached!-

     I ran into the cabin and tried to quickly change the memory card as fast as I could all the while Bill and Mary were snapping off great close shots of the bird! (Nice shot of this stunning bird bird below (Courtesy of Bill Thompson)-

    I changed the card in near record time and emerged from the cabin just in time to watch the bird fly away. However, a Tern flew by with a large fish which got the attention of the Jaeger. The Jaeger made a quick maneuver at the Tern (below blurry image).....

     .....and the Tern dropped the fish which the Jaeger promptly picked up!

       On the way back in, there was a small pod of Minke Whales that surfaced from time to time. The huge Grey Seals were loafing in the calm water along Wood End Beach. We never saw any pods of Humpback Whales, and although we didn't see as many birds as Jen and I did the day before, this trip was a great success. Even though we did get a little wet, we had a great time with plenty of birds to keep us entertained, and many good pictures were taken.

     In the Harbor, the Common Eiders were hanging out in the usual places along the docks. This late summer eclipse drake image (Courtesy of Bill Thompson)-

      I want to Thank Ginny and Capt. Dave for giving us the opportunity to charter their boat for our seabirding endeavours. We had a great time, and I know this will be the first in many seabirding trips with you on the Ginny G. Capt Dave is very knowledgeable about the waters off Provincetown, and of course the fish and fishing. Capt. Dave was extremely accommodating for my needs and procedures for seabirding, and he seemed to enjoy it too!!

     Anyone interested in planning their own private seabirding charter should check out their website and then contact Ginny directly ( )   They are offering a fantastic opportunity in one of the best seabirding locations along the Atlantic coast and certainly along coastal New England!

     For those who are INTERESTED- I will be chartering the Ginny G one more time before they pull the boat. I am planning the trip at the end of October when the Gannet show will be incredible. Also there is a chance for a few early alcids, Kittiwakes, and of course the concentrated Shearwaters. If you are interested in joining me, please email me for the details.
     The chart below highlights the areas where we chummed-

       Highlights and bird list from the day at the bottom of the report and page.

     Part 3- "Nautical Irony" After a four hour drive home Jen and I opened our garage door just in time to watch the fading sun (yes it finally came out- around 3:30 pm just as Capt. Dave said it would). I emptied the car and started hanging up all the wet clothes in the garage. After hot showers and supper we sat down to relax, it had been a long day! Jen turned on the TV and one of my favorite movies was on: "Masters and Commanders".

       The movie was more than half over with my favorite part of the movie showing. This is the part where the Capt. decided to make a quick retreat from Galapagos to go after the French warship much to the dismay and disappointment of the ships Doctor who was promised time on the Islands to collect specimens. The scene in question shows Captain Aubrey talking with the Doctor about the early departure.

(From the Movie)-

Doctor Stephen Maturin: In fact, Mr. Blakeney and I did make one...very interesting find.

Capt. Jack Aubrey: Is that right? Let me guess; a stick?

Doctor: Tell him about it Mr. Blekeney.

Mr. Blakeney: It's a Phasmid sir!
Captain: a Phasmid?

Mr. Blakeney: It's an insect that disguises itself as a stick in order to confuse its predators.
Captain: A nautical Phasmid Doctor? 

Doctor: At least to a hungry eye, if one has an appetite for Whalers.

Captain: I intend to take a greater interest in the bounty of nature from now on. I had no idea that a study
   of nature could advance the art of naval warfare.

Doctor: Oh I see.

Captain: Now let's pull this predator in close and spring our trap!

Doctor: Jack, you're the predator!

     Monday morning was a beautiful day! The sun was shining bright (it figures) and time to dry everything off and put everything away. I took all the wet clothes from the garage and started to drape them over the wooden benches we have on our back deck. I placed my jacket over the bench and when I pulled my hand back, there was a stick hanging off my hand. I thought at first it was a small pricker twig, but when I went to pull it off, it started moving. Looking down in my hand, there is was; a Phasmid! This is the first walking stick I have ever seen. I placed it on the Trumpet Vine and went in the house, got my camera and took a few shots! That is Irony!!

(Highlights form the Sunday sea birding trip below the Phasmid pictures)

Sunday morning Sept. 30, 7:00 am to 11:00 am. In the rain (from light to heavy) Wind N/NE 10-15 knots. Five hearty souls onboard a privately chartered boat out of Provincetown covered the waters from Long Point to Race Point Beach from 300 to 900 yards off the beaches. We chummed most of the time with success.

There was a steady movement of birds (Gannets, Terns, Shearwaters and Jaegers) heading East.

(Roughly Estimated) Highlights (largest bird concentrations in the area halfway between Race Point and Race Point Beach in the rip):

Of the 350 - 400 Gulls coming to the chum, over half were Laughing Gulls mostly first year birds.

Common Terns- 250 – 300  (may have been a few Roseate- didn't search)
Double-crested Cormorants- hundreds
Great Cormorant-2 (Provincetown breakwater)

Parasitic Jaeger- 15 (minimum count) several very close encounters with Terns near the boat- 1 dark morph bird landed on the water nearby.

Gannets- 300 - 400
White-winged Scoter- 24
Surf Scoter- 11
Common Scoter-2
Red-breasted Merganser-5
Common Eider-50

Common Loon- 3
Red-throated Loon- 1

Greater Shearwater-9
Cory's Shearwater- 40-50
Manx Shearwater- 2
Sooty Shearwater- 2

Red-necked Phalarope- 5

Tree Swallows- 200+/-

small pod Minke Whales (off Herring Cove Beach)
Grey Seal- 18
no Humpbacks

Keith and Jen Mueller    KIllingworth, CT