New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Provincetown Ramblings


     Day 3 (Oct 14) When we awoke at 4:30 am, I immediately looked outside. The expected fog was still present, and at that point the rain had held. When we pulled into the parking lot at Herring Cove Beach, the veil of fog was thinner illuminated by a soft glow from the oncoming break of day. Since it hadn’t rained yet, Jen and I decided to get ready for our walk down the beach to Hatches Harbor inlet. In preparation for the possibility of rain, I brought along my waterproof backpack which included our two paunchos that we use in the rainforests of Costa Rica, a waterproof covering for my camera, and ample room for my camera and scope just in case. Just needed to zip up our jackets when a truck pulled up on the side of us with a twenty-something man and his two dogs. Since there were many fisherman on the beach that morning, I assumed that he was looking for fish breaks along the beach. When we were just about to lock our truck and head down the beach, his truck door opened and out came the two very energetic dogs……and you can guess where they went! The two dogs bolted down the beach with speeds that would make Greyhounds jealous. As they disappeared down the beach towards the inlet, roosting gulls were sent flying out into the dissipating fog. The man decided to take off after his dogs and all three of them disappeared down the beach sending hundreds of gulls into the air.

     If there were a Sabine’s or Little Gull there, they wouldn’t be found that morning!! Saying that I was not in the best of moods after that would be an under-statement; especially since he was parked next to this sign…….. 

     Deciding to make alternate plans, a single Harrier flew across the street and disappeared behind the dunes as we were leaving. That put a smile on my face!

     We took a short ride to Race Point Beach and were greeted by a tom Wild Turkey feeding along the road on the edge of the dunes. The visibility was still limited, so we decided to drive back to the pier in town stopping first at the moors and the Wood End Breakwater.

    The harbor flats were exposed from the low tide, and very good numbers of Shorebirds were present: Black-bellied Plovers, Greater Yellowlegs, Sanderlings, Dunlins and Semi-palmated Plovers (like the bird below that found a sandworm).

    At Macmillan’s Wharf, the wind started to pick up and the fog began to slowly dissipate. The harbor was a peaceful and picturesque scene with small flocks of Common Eiders mingling with the fishing vessels resting quietly in the soft fog; a postcard moment.

                                   A Common Tern flies out of the fog

     What seemed like only a few minutes, the curtain of fog lifted and the sun slowly began to peek through the many cracks in the cloud ceiling. Grasping the opportunity, I set up the scope and began searching the outer breakwater for the Brown Booby which Jen and I saw a week earlier. The breakwater was nearly empty of birds, with only a few Double-crested Cormorants topping the boulders along its entire length. Since the one thousand plus Cormorants had left the breakwater early in the morning for the fishing grounds, I assumed that the Brown Booby did the same. As the fog passed us and retreated over the town, Jen and I noticed large concentrations of whirling sea birds fishing outside the breakwater in the outer harbor. The large swarms of birds mostly Gannets and Laughing Gulls had found a large school of baitfish. With the breaking of the fog, and the blinking sunlight, the large school of fish became easy to spot, especially for the sharp-eyed sea birds.

     With the change in the weather, a good opportunity to set up our scope was a welcomed opportunity. Immediately, we could see the Gannets were not only plunge-diving in a mass frenzy, but also still roosting on the sea just outside the breakwater.

     Intermingled between the Gannets were large numbers of “crazed” Laughing Gulls also caught up in the sudden coastal bounty. As I was looking through the mass of feeding birds, a small and chunky bird, followed by another pair flew along the water just outside the breakwater. Their rapid wing beat and characteristically stout head profile made ID simple: Razorbills, the first three of the season. I followed the birds in my scope and they flew directly towards Long Point and soon disappeared. As I continued watching the sea bird frenzy in the harbor, I wanted to try and for a few long distance digiscoped shots. Jen said that there was a small flock of birds coming in my direction form the left. I located them in my cameras LCD screen and managed a few quick shots. One of the images revealed five birds (that were just about to leave my view); Razorbills again!
     The feeding frenzy of twisting sea birds continued for another half an hour, and then the sky changed, it became darker; it was obvious the little window of weather break was gone. The distant sky over Cape Cod Bay was quite dark and ominous. In the middle of the Bay, a heavy squall was coming from the south, heading directly for the tip of the “finger” of Cape Cod.

    Within seconds, the sky was as dark as dusk, and the rain (that I was hoping wouldn’t show), made its grand entrance on the stage. The intro came in small droplets, the tempo mounted to cascading sheets and finally the rhythm building to a crescendo of a soaking downpour! From our truck, and through the timing of the windshield wipers, we watched as the torrent obliterated our fabulous harbor views. But within the torrent and fury, Common Eiders floated effortlessly, oblivious to Mother Natures tantrum!

   Looks like the weather report became a reality, and the rain now offering us few options, maybe it would be a good time for a lunch break. Jen and I decided to drive to Truro to a favorite lunchtime restaurant; Savory’s. On the way out of P’town we decided to do a bit of “car birding” and we made a quick stop at Herring Beach Cove. The heavy rain tapered off a bit by this time, but was still falling steady. We pulled into a parking spot along the beach and almost immediately a flock of Terns came flying along the beach, the Jaegers couldn’t be far behind.

     Within a minute, two Parasitic Jaegers came hauling down the beach ganging up on a single Tern. The chase continued out in front of us, and slowly the birds vanished to the south heading towards Wood End Point.


    While we sat there, a few more single Jaegers came flying across the deck following closely behind the sporadic Terns.

    Sea Ducks mostly Eiders and Scoters flew across our view heading towards Race Point. A single hen Surf Scoter swam by along the beach, well within the distance of a good surf fisherman’s cast!

     As we were leaving, Jen started scanning the large concentration of Gulls that were on the beach in front of our truck. Suddenly she exclaimed, “there is another wing-tagged gull”! Jen is very good at spotting these special gulls, and has found six or seven of them over the last year. Looking into the flock, I saw the juvenile Herring Gull with the green wing tag #85 and red leg marker #36 and took a few images, this would be the eleventh wing tagged gull we have found. (I would eventually report the information when we were home after the trip. The report data is listed below in the highlights).

     While having lunch at Savory’s Restaurant, the rain suddenly gave way to a beautiful cobalt blue sky and bright clean sunshine; the rain was gone! What was forecasted as a “wash-out” of a day, had materialized into a brief squall, and turned into a spectacular early fall day. With the bright sunny skies now blessing the remaining hours of our day, it was time to pay P’town another visit, especially Macmillan’s Wharf. Within a few minutes, Jen and I pulled out onto the pier under a brilliant sky and the wind had picked up strong So’ westerly at about 30 knots.

 We drove to the middle of the pier and set up our scope. Good numbers of Cormorants had returned to the breakwater, but our main reason for being there was Sula leucogaster. The last time we saw the Brown Booby (a week earlier) it was positioned proudly on top of the breakwater at the “bend” in the wall, just behind the moored sailboat the “Winslow”. Hoping for a repeat performance (or maybe a bit of luck) I positioned the scope nearly in the exact location. To my great surprise, the Brown Booby was standing there almost on the same boulder, backlit by the sun in all its magnificence!

     Since I was only able to take long distance “digiscoped” images, I really wanted to get close to that bird and take more intimate shots. I started looking at every boat in the harbor, hoping any of the small fishing boats would be attended by their Captains and I could charter them for a quick run out to the breakwall. Since I couldn’t locate anyone, I tried the harbormaster’s office. In the meantime, Jen found a very friendly lobster fisherman who generously agreed to take me out to the breakwater to photograph the bird. The boat was called the “Black Sheep” a stern fishing vessel with Captain Dana Pazolt its owner at its helm.

     Captain Dana asked me where the bird was as he offloaded his catch. We talked for a bit before the mate cast off the lines, and Capt. Danas extensive knowledge of the sea was impressive. And even more impressive was his knowledge of sea birds, that was quite exciting to me! After a quick dock side stop for ice for the fish crates, we were headed for the “Winslow”. By now the fog started to return, as the sun grew dim from the incoming cloud, but not dim enough to hide the mass of Cormorants that had suddenly returned to the sea wall.

     As we approached the Winslow, I spotted an adult Gannet standing on top of the wall. As I readied my camera, the Black Sheep turned and I was out of position for the shot. I looked frantically for the Brown Booby since we were now at the spot, but it was gone! I kept searching for a large brown bird with a cerulean blue bill and pale yellow feet, but all I could see were Cormorants; hundreds of them. I thought that maybe the Brown Booby had moved to the “lee side” of the wall because its last position was directly in the strong s/west wind. Captain Dana said he would take me around the breakwater maybe the bird was there on the outside. As we paralled the wall, I tried to look at every bird as we passed by. The Cormorant numbers increased, and so did the numbers of Great Cormorants, mostly juveniles, but several adults were in view. Approaching the eastern end of the wall, Captain Dana pointed out a heron; an adult Black-crowned night-Heron. This spectacular Heron posed for me, then flew up the wall a few yards ahead of the approaching lobster boat.

     Before we reached the tip of the wall, several hen Common Eiders had found a quiet roost out of the wind settled in on a few of the lower boulders at the foot of the breakwater. Their contentment created a perfect picture, a classic portrait of these gentle sea ducks.

    As we turned the eastern end of the wall, you could see the massive concentration of Cormorants along the lee side of the wall. Gannets were flying just overhead, and flocks of Common Eiders and Scoters buzzed by the vessel as we turned the corner. With the chaotic numbers of birds assembled in every direction, it was difficult to decide on what birds to photograph. My head was spinning! I soon returned to reality telling myself, we were here to find Sula! The huge swarm of roosting Cormorants extended the entire length of the wall disappearing into the light fog that enveloped the western end of the nearly half mile long breakwater.

     Skirting the outside of the wall, we didn’t find the Brown Booby, but did find many adult Great Cormorants. Captain Dana made one more circle around the breakwater, but couldn’t find the Brown Booby.

     Heading back to the slip, I wasn’t disappointed for not finding the Brown Booby, it was a great experience overall. I look at it as a great success for many reasons. hadn’t been to the outside wall in quite a few years, and it was great to be back there again. My mind is now churning with ideas about birding from that wall in the future. I Observed huge numbers of birds fly by, swim by and land on that breakwater. We have always watched great birds here including Sea Ducks, Gannets, Alcids, Kittiwakes and White-winged Gulls. Talking with Captain Dana in his slip while he was filleting some sea bass, we talked about the possibility of chartering him for a few sea bird trips next season. He was very receptive to the idea. I told him I would want to concentrate our efforts in the waters around Provincetown harbor, and the stretch of beach from Long Point to Race Point; prime sea bird waters. Capt. Dana is willing, and he said that he usually pulls his boat out of the water in early November, perfect for late summer/early fall sea birding in the area. I will plan a few private trips with Captain Dana, I will keep everyone posted! Thank you again, Captain Dana!
     Saying good bye to the Captain, I wanted to take just one more look at the breakwater from the pier, just in case the Booby returned to its roost. Not finding the Booby, Jen and I decided to head back to the hotel, we would be meeting Tom (the trip leader) and a few members of the Hartford Audubon for a get acquainted dinner. As we drove by the Harbormasters office, a truck was parked with full crates of cod filets in the back of the truck. We stopped for a moment seeing that many clever Great black-backed Gulls had figured out how to relieve the fisherman of some of their choice market cod fillets.

     A few hours later Jen and I met up with Tom and Paul Wolter at the hotel. We were joined by and was a pleasure to meet Fred and Donna Nowak, and Carl and Catherine Ekroth. After a nice dinner and “bird talk”, every one was anxious for the morning. We said our good nights and turned in.
Continues.......Day 4 (Oct 15) A day with the Hartford Audubon Society's Birding Club

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