New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Codfishing and Fulmars

Gloucester and Tillies Bank

     April 17, 2012- The 2012 Gloucester codfishing season opened on Monday. Haddock fishing has been steady, but with the opening of the cod season, my Father-in-Law and I decided to go on Tuesday. Honestly, we were both anxious to get out of Gloucester Harbor to Stellwagen for another spring/summer season. Although April is a slow month for sea birds (winter alcids are gone, and summer tube-noses are not due until June), there are Gannets arriving in good numbers and maybe a Kittiwake or two around; it would still be worth a trip.

     We were at the Yankee Fleet dock (across the east side of the inner harbor from Jodrey's) by 5:30 am hoping to be there early to reserve good rail positions on the stern (boat departure at 7:00 am).

     It was obvious that many were anxious for the start of the cod season as well, because there was a crowd gathering already at the dock. Well, we weren't early enough....we ended up with mid-port side rail positions; it was an OK spot for fishing, but not the best for birding. The stern offers a wide range perspective for watching sea birds. Being positioned on one of the sides of the vessel limits the range and visiblity.

     We still had about an hour before we could board the Yankee Clipper, so I walked to the end of the dock that was covered with a huge stack of lobster traps ready for the season. But there was enough room between the traps and the end of the dock, so I took a good position ready with my camera and binoculars.
     Just after first light, flocks of Double-crested Cormorants flew up the harbor and disappeared over the city of Gloucester heading northeast.


         A single third winter Herring Gull flew by holding a Herring

     I kept searching the buildings and vessels at Jodrey's for any White-winged Gulls in my binoculars. Last year around this time, I had a single Glaucous Gull fly out from the pier and then over my head while I was waiting for the Yankee Clipper to cast off; maybe a similar encounter would repeat itself. Sure enough, I spotted a single white Glaucous Gull fly out from the roof  at Whole Foods on Jodrey's and start flying northeast over the east side of the inner Harbor. This was probably one of the same birds that I photographed earlier this year in March on the pier (see blog reports:

     I grabbed my camera and only had enough time to take a few quick shots at the Gull before it disappeared behind the building next to me. Unfortunately, the lens focused on the pole and not the distant Gull.

     A little better on this passing Great Egret!

     The Gull with the herring returned being chased by a younger Gull which was following close behind, obviously having its eyes focused on that fish

     A pair of Brant flew up the harbor and also disapperaed northeast over the city.


     By now the sun had started lighting up the harbor, a second Great Egret followed by this Snowy Egret flew up the harbor and both disappeared over the city.


     At 6:30 am we boarded the Clipper. After securing our rods in the rod holders, and stowing the gear, I walked up onto the pulpit to continue birding the harbor. A single adult Black-crowned Night-Heron flew out from the pilings under the small processing building next to the Clipper and flew by heading out of the harbor.

    This young Herring Gull landed right next to me on the piling begging to have his picture taken, so....

     Double-crested Cormorants were trading in and out of the inner harbor.

          The Clipper's lines were cast off, and the trip was underway. Eiders were spread out through the entire inner harbor.

     As the vessel approached Ten Pound Island, I spotted two first winter Iceland Gulls. One was on the rocks on the north east point of the island, the other was swimming in the water fifty yards to the west of the first bird. It soon lifted off the water and then landed on the rocks on the edge of the Island.

     At the mouth of the Harbor, a distant flock of Eiders pass by Eastern Point Lighthouse.

    Outside the Harbor, the first birds to fly by the bow of the Clipper were these three Surf Scoters....

    .....followed by this pair of Oldsquaw.

     Heading out to Tillies Bank (about an hour and a half ride) there were few birds seen, except for a few flocks of dark-winged Scoters......

     ......a few singles, pairs and trios of Oldsquaw....

    ...... and a few Common Loons.....

     .....and small numbers of Gannets.

     Arriving on Tillies Bank, the wind was light southerly, and the seas were nearly flat. However, there were only a few birds seen; the ocean was quiet. But, the fishing was quite good. Everyone started catching Acadian Redfish, which were soon replaced by Haddock which gave steady bite. (I have posted a few fishing images at the bottom of this report). Of course a few Greater Black-backed Gulls arrived and took their usual positions off the stern of the vessel waiting for any opportunities of thrown back small fish or tossed over clam bait. One Gull didn't have to wait long as the first small Redfish was thrown back; the Gull moved right in! But a sharp-eyed Gannet spotted the Gull (most likely the fish) and flew in to challenge the Gull for the prize.


         After landing nearby, the Gull decided it was time to eat the fish rather than to show it off and risk losing it. The Gannet made a quick lunge for the fish, trying the "underwater grab" tactic hoping to catch the Gull off-guard!  

    The encounter ended with a Gull victory. The Gannet retreated and flew off.

     After the encounter with the Gannet, instead of swallowing the redfish, the Gull decided to again guard the fish as it floated on the sea.

     This changed quickly as a second Black-backed Gull flew in......

 it chases off the other Gull!


     While I was watching the "Gull Show" two Fulmars passed by the Clipper. I spotted them when they were off the bow.

    A few more Gannets passed by as well.

    It was just after noon and the Captain called out to "reel 'em up" it was time to try one of the cod spots. At that point, the birding was still slow, besides the few Gulls, two dozen Gannets and five Fulmars, there wasn't much else flying.

    After a short steam to the cod spot, we fished that area for half an hour. The cod that did come into the boat were under-sized and had to be safely returned to the sea. So the anchor was pulled again, and the Captain said that we would have a half hour run to the Haddock spot heading to southwest Tillies. As we neared the spot. I started to see whitish birds on the sea in the distance. As the distance closed, they were easy to identify: Fulmars. I first spotted a pair of them swimming. and the Clipper came fairly close.


      another pair.......

    ........many singles and pairs flying a distance from the vessel.


    The Clipper approached another swimming bird, I took this sequence of taking-off shots.....

    In the middle of the Fulmars was this single Laughing Gull.

     Another three swimming Fulmar; the bird on the right is a light blue morph (the first of four blue morph birds in the group). It became clear why all the Fulmar were in this area; the birds were hanging with a large floating mat of weed and drift plant material.

    The light blue morph Fulmar.

    Four more Fulmar......

    The second blue morph (med dark blue) Fulmar flies by the vessel.

   Fulmars continued flying by the vessel at all distances.

   Another (dark) blue morph Fulmar.....


    Five Fulmar including the dark blue morph.

    A White-throated Sparrow (thanks Jeremiah for the ID correction) suddenly appeared and tried to land on the Clipper. It eventually flew off to the west. (Sorry for the correction- as I have stated many times; Passerines are not my strongest bird order, as I focus all my efforts on Waterfowl, Waterbirds and Sea Birds).

      The end of the day came, and the Captain told everyone to pull up your lines for the day. As we steamed back to port, the mates began filleting the fish on the stern.  As the Gulls rallied behind the vessel looking for the tossed over fish remnants, Gannets also joined the Gulls and tried their luck at the fish frames. This Gannet circled once and dropped in quietly behind the Gulls who appeared to be startled by the silent plunge-diver!

    It surfaced underneath this Gull causing it to take flight!

    More migrating Double-crested Cormorants heading northeast.

     I always enjoy Gannets!

     Another Herring Gull with pale yellow/green tarii and feet.

    Back home in harbor. the Eiders set the scene just as it began nine hours earlier!

   This pair were swimming across the harbor in front of the Clipper....they had to hurry their pace a bit!

   Fishing images on bottom of Report.
   Highlights (estimates) unless noted:

   Common Eider- 75
   Surf/Black Scoter- 150
   Oldsquaw- 15 (counted)
   Double-crested Cormorant- 325
   Great Cormorant- 11 (one flock heading northeast on Tillies)
   Common Loon- 11 (counted)
   NORTHERN FULMAR- 27 (including 4 blue morph) (counted)
   Gannet- 45
   GLAUCOUS GULL- 1 (first winter, inner Gloucester Harbor)
   ICELAND GULL- 2 (north side of Ten Pound Island)
   Great Egret- 2
   Snowy Egret- 1
   Black-crowned Night-Heron- 1
   White-throated Sparrow- 1 (Tillies Bank)
   Herring and G B-b Gulls-
   unidentified Dolphin species- 2
   unidentified Whale species- 2
   Gray Seal- 1 (Tillies)

   Keith Mueller
   Killingworth, CT

    The proceeds from  the auction will go to benefit Audubon Connecticut's bird conservation programs. Patrick Comins from CT Audubon suggested an Oystercatcher for this years auction carving for a few reasons.  They are a really exciting species, people like them and Long Island Sound is important for them.  Also it is a species that they have been working on quite a bit for the last couple of years.  They are working with the USFWS on a project to inventory, monitor and implement conservation action for them in CT and RI.

     The carved bird ready for paint-

     Primed and "pre-painted"-

     The painting begins with color and feather blending on the primaries, tertials and dorsal feathering...... continues onto the wing coverts-

     When the dark dorsal feathering is completed, I then paint the white secondaries of the wing, breast and chest, and then paint the black head and chest adding a bit of violet iridescent highlights to the back of the head. The red/orange bill is painted with a single coat and the bird is allowed to dry overnight.

     The feather edges, feather splits and other details are added to the tacky blended foundation painting. The second application of red/orange paint is blended on the bill, and the red eye rings are added. The decoy is now completed and set aside to dry for a few days.


   I always like to add wood features to the base that highlight the birds natural history, and to compliment the dynamic of the species. Since many Oystercatchers winter in the Caribbean, I selected two Caribbean wood species: Black Mangrove (base) and Mango (foot of the base). Good Luck Greenwich Audubon- I hope this decoy generates important proceeds for you!

       Here are a few images from the fishing:

      One of the larger Acadian Redfish I caught-

     Dad unhooking a small Redfish. (Don't tell him I took this picture)! :^)

      That's Better!

      One of the many Haddock caught that day!

     One of the Haddock I caught.

     Dad caught the only Sculpin of the day.

        Last but not least- George having a bit of fun posing with a really small Redfish!