New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Part 6- Great Round Shoal Channel- "Looking for Whales"

Part 6- Great Round Shoal Channel- "Looking for Whales"- In the distance, a few Whale spouts were spotted. To me you can't have a successful seabird trip without Whales. Not only are Whales exciting to watch and experience, but their amazing presence usually means one thing: baitfish! And if the Whales and Baitfish are there, the Seabirds aren't usually far away! As we sailed towards the Whales, Kittiwakes were everywhere.-

     As well as a few more Greater Shearwaters-

     Kittiwakes are thrilling to me. In fact I look forward to winter codfishing where I see many of them along with a few Fulmar. This first winter Kittiwake wasn't intimidated by the approaching vessel. In fact it let us get real close to it before it took off-

     Stunning adult! The yellow/green bill color contrasts nicely to the soft white and grey of its plumage-

     A few more Greater Shearwaters, the backlighting really accents their pink feet-

     And of course another Pomarine Jaeger-

     The first Podicep of the day: a Red-necked Grebe was spotted off the port bow-

     Soon followed by three sitting Greater Shearwaters-

     This Manx Shearwater passed by the port side of the pulpit....

     .....only to be followed closely by a second Manx-

Part 7- "Breach"!! Approaching the area of Great Round Shoal Channel- a breach! It was soon followed by several "tail -lobbing" episodes! This Humpback Whale was putting on an amazing show!

     With the surfacing Whales came the birds: mostly Gannets and Kittiwake-

    Well almost, here is another Manx Shearwater-

     Humpback Whales-

     Another Great Shearwater flies low over the surfacing Humpback Whales-

     The Humpback Whales gave us all a wonderful experience. They eventually disappeared to the East. We had gone a short distance seeing more Gannets, Kittiwakes, Greater and Manx Shearwaters, Razorbill, and a single Common Murre, that I unfortunately missed! A few hundred yards off the bow of the Helen H, a small cluster of feeding Gulls could be seen holding tight to the surface. The swirling Gulls were upstaged by an occasional blow spray. This could only mean one thing: "bubbling" Humpbacks!-

     As we got closer, you could see the tips of the Humpbacks rostrums protruding out of the sea.

    The Gulls were frantically grabbing as many fish as they could that were spilling out of the Whales huge gaping mouths...often flying into their mouths to steal a fish or two!-

     An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull was found in the flock (center top)-

       Lesser Black-backed Gull (right)-       

      The Humpbacks "bubble-netting" showing their massive open gapes. The Whale on the left shows its scrape injury from digging down into the sand at the bottom chasing and trying to uncover Sandlance that had buried themselves into the sand.

     The Lesser Black-backed Gull is extreme left-


     Good close-up of the gaping Humpback and Lesser Black-backed Gull (left)-

     Humpback Whale and Lesser Black-backed Gull (courtesy of Bill Thompson) (next two images)-

     Good overview of the Whale and Gull interaction-


      Lesser Black-backed Gull (showing its short emerging p9 and p10 primary remiges) (Note- photo is a bit overexposed- not clearly showing the darker grey dorsal feathering of the bird)-

     A few of the Gulls perched on the rostrum of the Humpback-

     The same adult Lesser Black-backed Gull sitting on the sea-

     While I was watching and photographing the Lesser Black-backed Gull (upper left) another Greater Shearwater joined in to the feeding bonanza!-

    When the Whales sounded, the Gulls re-grouped, and the Lesser Black-backed Gull flew by the bow-

     A handsome Greater Shearwater-

     Patient Gulls wait while two Humpbacks break the surface-

     As we all were watching and waiting for the Whales to return to the surface, Steve announced that a single Dovekie was spotted flying by about seventy-five yards off the bow. Many of us only got a quick distant look at the bird, and I managed to take just one shot before I lost it in the waves-

Another nice surprise for the day; a second Lesser Black-backed Gull, this one a first winter bird. The number of Gulls in the cluster that were following the Whales were fifty to seventy-five. Having two Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the same flock so far from shore is a rather uncommon experience-

      Although most of the Gannets seen were adults with a fewer number of third winter birds. Even fewer first and second winter birds (like this one) were observed-

     The number of passerines that flew by, over and landed on the vessel were unusual. This Pine Siskin landed on this kind birder. The bird rested for some time, and even accepted a handout form another birders sandwich-

     "Ho-hum"- another Pomarine Jaeger!-

    The bird stayed for quite a while, and then flew up to the upper deck to resume its rest! At one point a Redpoll was spotted circling the boat. Since I was on the tip of the pulpit, I extended my hand out to the Redpoll as it passed by the bow. The bird attempted to land on my out stretched hand, and only touched my fingertips for a second. That was surprise number four! Unfortunately, I wasn't that fast or good enough with a camera to capture that!

     Heading west to North Nantucket- The Helen H started west leaving behind an impressive number of birds that we had seen so far! John Oshlick had spotted another four groups of Razorbills-

     The real prize of the day (for me) has to go to this very dark morph Pomarine Jaeger. Unfortunately, this bird was backlit from my position, so I couldn't capture its spectacular plumage in the images. The bird was absolutely breath-taking!-

     As we steamed towards Nantucket, I said Good-bye to the Kittiwakes. Their numbers shrank the closer we got to Nantucket!-

     This was the last Shearwater of the day, a Manx-

    On the pulpit with me- Bill Thompson-

     Paul Wolter-

     and John Oshlick-

     The Helen H pulled into the quieter waters off  Great Point, Nantucket. On the beach under the Great Point Lighthouse, another large Grey Seal haul-out-

     The vessel paralleled the shore. I assumed that they were looking for a possible Brown Pelican of maybe another Lapwing in the ponds. After a few minutes, the Helen H steamed home back to Hyannis. Many stayed on deck, I took a break with Jen in the cabin and shared a few stories or "tales" with other birders.

    It was a wonderful seabirding experience, especially in the fact that it was November, just after a major Nor'easter, and the vessel sailed! Fantastic!

    Jen and I wish to Thank the Brookline Bird Club for having these wonderful seabirding trips. Also we would like to Thank Ida for hosting such a great tip; her hard work is often overlooked. To Steve Mirick for (always) adding inspiring and colorful commentary and bird spotting for everyone on the vessel, and to Captain Joe for making the trip comfortable and safe!

   Species list and totals listed below.

     This trip chart courtesy Steve Mirick-

     This trip chart courtesy Bill Thompson-

     Species highlights and estimates:

This is only a roughly estimated species list and totals. The complete and official list and report will be available in the future on the Brookline Bird Club's website-

*** - denotes unusual sighting

Herring, Greater Black-backed and Ring-billed Gulls- (many)
Bonaparte's Gull- (18 +/-)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (3- 2 adult, 1 first winter)
Iceland Gull- (1 adult)
Black-legged Kittiwake- (100's and 100's)
Double-crested Cormorant (many)

Common Loon- (50+)
Red-throated Loon- (8)
Red-necked Grebe- (1)
Coot- (1)***

Red Phalarope- (1)
American Woodcock- (1)***

Gannet- (100's and 100's)
Pomarine Jaeger- (18 +/-)

Razorbill- (45+/-)
Common Murre- (1)
Dovekie- (1- very possibly 4 total)

Greater Shearwater- (40+/-) (a few may have been recounted)
Manx Shearwater-  (18 +/-)

Common Eider (1,000's and 1,000's)
Scoters (all 3 species) (1,000's and 1,000's)
Oldsquaw- (100's)
Black Ducks- (12)
Common Goldeneye- (5)
Bufflehead- (9)

Peregrine Falcon- (1)
Harrier- (1)***
Goldfinch, Crossbills, Pine Siskins (many)
Redpoll- (1)

Fin Whale (?)
Humpback Whales (?)
Grey Seals (100's)

Other birds (not seen by us) but reported by others:

White-rumped Sandpiper- (1) on the beach of Monomoy

Keith Mueller
Killingworth, CT