New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Seabirding Pre- and Post- Hurricane Sandy

     The Last Whale Watch of the Season, Saturday, Oct 27, 2012, Provincetown, Mass.- Well, here we go again!! Its hard to believe that a year has passed and we are right back in the same place with another major storm heading our way. This Hurricane "Sandy" which was a massive storm, was also cloaked with the title of "Another Perfect Storm"! For those who don't live along the Eastern seaboard, in August of 2011, Hurricane Irene hit New England in all of it's monumental fury devastating the area with massive damage and power outages. What seemed like a short time to recover, on October 31, Storm Alfred, a classic Nor'easter blew through our area burying us in two feet of snow along the coast and three feet in the hills. The damage from fallen trees was  unbelievable! Power outages were massive; many areas of CT were without power for nearly three weeks! Obviously, all of us living along the Eastern seaboard were not looking forward to this again!

     I had scheduled another private seabirding charter with Capt. Dave on the Ginny G out of Provincetown, Mass. for Saturday morning Oct. 27. I was watching the storm close, which was scheduled to hit our area around Monday noon. The weather for Saturday was perfect to be in a boat off Race Point: light winds and calm sea. Unfortunately, on Friday night, I received a call from Ginny that Capt. Dave was "under the weather" and in the hospital, the charter was cancelled. With the storm on its way, their problem was compounded since they also had to find someone to pull the Ginny G out of the water. With the storm bearing down on the East coast and heading towards the Cape, the docks were being pulled in the harbor. (I am pleased to report that Capt. Dave is fine and looking forward to spring fishing and sea birding and the Ginny G made it ashore before the storm)!

     Jen and I and four other people had signed onto the charter, On Friday night I spent many hours emailing and on the phone trying to find another boat that would be interested in taking a seabird charter. Since the fishing usually comes to a close in mid to late October finding a boat that was still in the water also presented a challenge. This was difficult enough but now it was complicated with an impending storm; everyone was pulling their boats. However I did find a Captain who's boat was going to be in the water and would have taken the charter, but he was going to be in CT for a wedding (a few towns north of Killingworth) on the weekend; talk about ironic!

     Since I wasn't having any luck finding a boat, I thought about the Dolphin Whale Watch boat. Since Jen and I have taken many Whale Watches with them, maybe that would be an alternative. But would they still be running? It was late in the evening so I couldn't find out until the next morning. Again, Jen and I had business in Rhode Island and Massachusetts on Friday before heading up to Orleans later in the day.  I would have to try and put this together in the car on my Blackberry. At 8:00 am I called the Dolphin Fleet office and yes they were running, it was the last trip of the year. However, the trip was scheduled for 12:15 pm not 9:45 am the usual time. I have always preferred the morning for seabirding, and was never crazy about afternoon trips. But is was an opportunity, and one we would relish! I contacted all the others and two passed understandably preparing for the storm. Paul Wolter from CT and Bill Thompson from Mass. were anxious to go, so we now had a boat. Although we wouldn't be able to control the boat, chum and put out my decoys, but it was a chance to get out on Stellwagen! We all made our reservations with the Dolphin Fleet by 10:00 am and were surprised to find out that they had already had sixty reservations for the last trip of the season.

     Jen and I arrived late in the day on Friday, and had about an hour to seawatch from Herring Cove Beach before the sun went down. There were plenty of birds there: Seaducks, Gannets, a handful of Jaegers and Terns, and a few Shearwaters passing by offshore to make it interesting.

    Paul met us for dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant in Orleans, and Bill unfortunately was tied up in rush hour traffic on 128 just outside Gloucester. Paul would meet us at dawn at Herring Cove Beach for a few hours of seawatching and Bill was heading over to Skaket Beach in Orleans to see if he could find and photograph the Wheatear that was reported the week before.

     Just at the light of daybreak the first groups of birds started moving into the area and began rafting just offshore. Flock after flock of White-winged Scoters came from every direction landing on the sea off the beach forming loosely shaped rafts that stretched from Herring Cove Beach to Hatchess Harbor-

     About a half mile from shore, many scattered flocks of Terns were moving towards Long Point.....

     .....and where you have gatherings of Terns, Parasitic Jaegers can't be too far behind-

     White-winged Scoters continued-

      Flocks of Red-breasted Mergansers followed the Scoters-

      White-winged Scoters-

      There were many surf casters on the beach that morning. It was a spectacular morning for surf casting.

     And the White-wings continued soon to be followed by the morning flights of Eiders-

     Another Jaeger......

     .....joined by a second-

    Now everything was flying: White-winged Scoters, Eiders, Mergansers, Gannets, Loons, Terns, Jaegers, Double-crested Cormorants, Gulls and Terns-

     The Tern and Jaeger show picked up with as many a five Parasitic Jaegers in the area at the same time-

     The Terns started rafting on the sea in many groups (as this group in the distance beyond the continuing flocks of Scoters)-

      Paul enjoying the seabirds-

      The numbers of birds increased making it difficult to look for individual birds. We looked at the mass of birds flying by and landing on the water knowing that we could have been sitting in the middle of it tossing suet off the back of a thirty-four foot boat! -

     Part of a flock of Red-breasted Mergansers: two drakes, five hens)-


     A single Jaeger stirs up the sitting Terns-

     A flock of Dunlin pass the rafting birds-

     Two Parasitic Jaegers single out a Tern-

      Two more Jaegers gang up on a Tern-

     Bonaparte's Gulls start showing up....

     .....and so did the Cory's Shearwaters and Gannets-

     After a few hours of seawatching, we decided to take a look around the Provincetown area. Our first stop was the dike at the Moors. Many groups of Greater Yellowlegs had gathered along the creeks-

     We drove over to MacMIllan's Wharf after picking up our tickets at the Dolphin Fleets office. There weren't many birds in the harbor except the resident Gulls, Eiders and Cormorants on the breakwater. With the lack of wind and bright sun it was quite warm. Jen and I and Paul sat on one of the benches and enjoyed the sun knowing full well what was coming in two days. We had an hour and a half before we could board the Dolphin IX so we shared a few stories and talked about the birds we saw:

     Friday afternoon October 26, Herring Cove Beach- 250 Eider, 300 White-winged Scoter, 100 Red-breasted Merganser, 3 Common Loon, 150 Terns (appeared to be all Common, but didn't look for Forster's), 5 Parasitic Jaegers, 50 Gannets (50 percent adults), 16 Sanderling, 5 Dunlin, 1 Merlin, 1 Kittiwake (near extreme scope range heading towards Race Point. We looked through hundreds of Gulls for banded/tagged birds and White-winged Gulls with no luck. The numbers of Laughing Gulls have diminished considerably.

     Wood End Dike area- low tide flats had many common Shorebirds: 75 Greater Yellowlegs, 35 Black-bellied Plover, 350 Sanderling, 150 Dunlin, 100's Cormorants flying back in to the P'town breakwater (3 Great Cormorant on the breakwater). 550 Red-breasted Mergansers in Harbor area feeding along the sand flat edges. 35 scattered Greater Yellowlegs and a small roost of 16 Great Blue Heron in the 'moors' above the dike.

     Saturday, Oct 27, 7:00 am- Herring Cove Beach seawatch- 350 Terns (mostly Common, few Forster's), 15 PARASITIC JAEGERS, 550 Gannets (mostly adults), 50 CORY'S SHEARWATERS (low estimate, hard to count they were continually moving- I averaged the count since some may have been the same birds), 2 Greater Shearwaters, 3 MANX SHEARWATERS, 16 Bonaparte's Gulls, 9 Common Loon, 3 R T Loon, 850 Eider, 2000 W W Scoter- just birds counted rafted off Hatches Harbor and south of Race Point; many hundred more flying outside in both directions), 30 Black Scoter, 200 Red-breasted Mergansers. 11 Laughing Gull (many harassing  Jaegers), 11 Minke Whales.

     The time ticked away while we soaked up the warm fall sun. By the bench was this display placard that explained the history of Stellwagen Bank, the fishing industry and of course the whales-

      While we watched the workers pull in the docks, Paul asked us why we came to Provincetown so often. Jen and I like Provincetown very much, in fact it is our favorite New England town (closely followed by Jamestown, Rhode Island and Madison, CT of course- Jen's home town). Besides offering the best winter seabirding in New England, P'town is charming historic fishing town, especially in the winter during a snowstorm.

      From "The Provincetown Book" by Nancy W. Payne Smith published 1922:
                                  The Heavenly Town by Alma Martin

     A heavenly town is Provincetown.
     Its streets go winding up and down,
     Way-down-along, way-up-along,
     With laughter, mirthful jest and song.
     Hard working Portuguese
     From far-off seas-
     Their ships in bay
     Pass time of day
     With friends who wander up and down
     The pleasant streets of Provincetown.

     The air is crisp with briny smells,
     The time is told by chime of bells,
     The painters sketch each little nook,
     In colors like a childrens book.
     Yellow shutters, windows pink,
     Purple shingles, trees of ink.
     Front street, back street,
     Narrow winding lanes,
     Many colored fishing boats,
     Sails and nets and seines,
     East end, west end,
     High sandy dunes,
     Wonderful by moonlight
     Or in shining noons.
     Oh, a heavenly town is Provincetown,
     Whose streets go winding up and down. 

     The hope of the day spelled out on a life ring on the RV Shearwater from the Center for Coastal Studies-

     At 11:45 we boarded the Dolphin IX. Being first in line, we went to the pulpit. Bill showed up and joined us there. We all looked out into the harbor to see that a large flock of Gannets has fishing just outside the breakwater-

     The vessel cast off its lines and we were underway. These Eiders were enjoying the warm sun too, loafing on the breakwater-

    Not many Cormorants on the breakwater, their numbers would increase later in the day when the hoards would return from a long day fishing out to sea-

     A small flock of Eiders just outside the breakwater-

     We were now closer to the fishing Gannets just off the port side of the vessel-

     As we rounded Long Point, a large flock of Red-breasted Mergansers passed by-

   Passing by Wood End, we steamed up on a  raft of Common Terns- 

     This raft had two Forster's Terns (one center left, one center right)-

     They all took off as we approached.....

     ......but not without escaping the keen eyesight of this Parasitic Jaeger.....

     .....or the second set from this dark morph Parasitic Jaeger-

     The two Jaegers double-teamed the Tern-

    The first Shearwater of the trip, a Cory's appeared off the bow just off Wood End-

     As we approached Race Point, flocks of Eiders came from offshore joining the large raft of several thousand sea ducks off Hatchess Harbor-

     Just as we passed Race Point, we came up on the first raft of Cory's Shearwaters. This one held thirty-eight birds-

     More flocks of Eiders came from offshore heading for the raft off the Hatchess Harbor-

     Another flock of Terns-

     And a few Cory's Shearwaters were moving along the beach just north of Race Point. Also a few Bonapartes Gulls were fishing with the Shearwaters-


     One of the many Common Terns crossing the bow-

     Cory's Shearwaters were numerous throughout the day-

     First year Gannet takes off-

     A Cory's Shearwater wearing  a very dark plumage. When I first saw it, I thought it was a Sooty-

     Another raft of Cory's Shearwaters enjoying a relatively flat sea-

    A group of adult Gannets......

     ...,..and more rafted Corys!

     Gannets often passed low over the vessel like this stunning adult-

     Gannet and a Cory's Shearwater-

     More Eiders.....

     .....and more Cory's Shearweaters-

      Part 2 "Northeast Stellwagen"- "Whales, Stercorarius, Fulmarus and Rissa" continues....
                                         Click on "OLDER POSTS" below right-