New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Provincetown Seabirding Whale Watch"- Searching for the Sabine's Gull (Part 3)

     Sept. 15, 2012-Provincetown, Mass. 11)-"Provincetown Seabirding Whale Watch"- Searching for the Sabine's Gull (Part 3)- Although the weather was calling for the possibility of showers, we woke up to a brilliant sunrise. Seeing the sun rising to the east did offer a glint of encouragement. However the sky to the west was heavy with clouds; the front was moving in our direction. Maybe we could get the morning trip in before the rain?


     We made the drive from Orleans to Provincetown in good time, there wasn't a car on Route 6. I kept watching the clouds to the west and it seemed the front had stalled (wishful thinking). We arrived in Provincetown with two cups of fresh coffee and two hours to spare. The Whale boat wasn't leaving until 9:45 so that left us some time to do a little seawatching and then get back to Macmillan's Pier to pick up our tickets and get in line. We drove over to Herring Cove Beach.  In fifteen minutes we watched 13 Parasitic Jaegers (including these four) flying by and chasing Terns.....

     ......this Jaeger has singled out a Tern......

         .....and is on the move!-

         Still good numbers of Terns around-

      Provincetown Harbor, wonder how this mast got bent- strong winds or a collision?-

      Portrait of many years of hard use-

     Common Eiders in summer moult-

      The Dolphin X was underway. There were a few Double-crested Cormorants remaining on the breakwater, most had gone to sea to go fishing. Last year a Brown Booby spent the late summer and early fall here.

       Common Tern

        Laughing Gull-

     Passing Race Point heading to Stelwwagen Bank-


     We had just passed the Point when the first of many Cory's Shearwaters crossed the bow. This bird was very close-

      The front had finally arrived and thick dark clouds filled the sky from horizon to horizon. The first Gannet of the day appeared, this one a first year bird-

        On the steam to Stellwagen, more Shearwaters appeared such as the first Greater Shearwater of the day-

       Manx Shearwaters are my favorite Shearwater species and one of my favorite New England seabirds. They may be a small Shearwater, but they are very quick and agile as they twist and turn and skim over the waves. The vessel got very close to this bird before it skittered across the sea and took off -

     Third year Gannet-

       To the East the Tuna boats were lined up on "the Bank" and the Dolphin headed in their direction. Tuna boats toss over large amounts of cut-up fish chum into the sea. Where there is chum, Shearwaters are usually nearby!-

        Since it is a whale boat, the first "blows" of the day were sighted to the north. The vessel steered towards the whales and away from the Tuna boats. The first pod of Humpbacks was soon off the bow- 

       Humpback Whales-

       In the distance the vanishing Tuna boats were upstaged by a passing Cory's Shearwater-

      The Humpbacks put on a great show (as they usually do)!-

      The vessel moved around from time to time. The whales would sound and then surface again in the distance. As the vessel steamed towards the whales, seabirds would appear both in flight and swimming on the sea. This Cory's Shearwater wasn't bothered by the boat and let us get very close to it before it took off--

      One of the whale pods brought us back closer to shore. Although the image appears that we are just off the beach, we were still a mile out; an illusion from the telephoto lens. A Cory's Shearwater passes by the (distant) Pilgrim Tower-

         Another pod appeared on the horizon again to the east at Stellwagen. The Dolphin X throttled up into the wind to get close and personal with that pod. These whales weren't just "blowing" this time, they were "breaching" which is very thrilling to see!-

     As we steamed towards the whales, it began to rain large heavy drops. With the boat moving at ten to twelve knots into the fifteen mile per hour wind, those drops of rain felt like little stones being thrown at  your face; ouch!!  Just before the vessel reached the whales we had moved right into a small gathering of birds. Birds were taking off in front of the bow and others swimming away all distances from the vessel. The difficulty in identifying the birds was greatly inhibited by the pitch and yaw, the rise and fall of the bow and of course the digging in and lurching into the swells from a large vessel traveling at ten knots. It was hard enough holding onto the pulpit rail let alone take pictures or trying to look through a pair of binoculars! The birds were mostly Greater, Cory's and  Manx Shearwaters. As the boat slowed a bit, I started looking through all the Shearwaters looking for something different which I did.

     In a small group of mostly Cory's and Manx Shearwaters were three Sooty Shearwaters and a single Razorbill. The birds were fifty to sixty yards from the vessel and they slowly disappeared over the swells as the vessel passed by at a much slower speed. More birds were buzzing by and I picked up my camera and started taking a few pictures (such as they are). Here is a Manx Shearwater flying fast away from the bow-

       We reached the whale pod and one of the calves was putting on a great show by "breaching" every minute or two-

      This Tuna fisherman was enjoying the close encounters of the whale kind!-


      A few Common Terns showed up while we were watching the whales-

       More Cory's Shearwaters-


      On the way back passing by Race Point Beach, these 4 Jaegers (2 Pomarine and 2 Parasitic) flew by and over the bow-

       Pomarine Jaeger on left (Jaeger A). Bird on right (Jaeger B) displayed a very light underwing showing extended light base of greater primary coverts and remaining underwing coverts. Bird was considerably smaller but had a larger bill (see images below)- If anyone has an opinion on this bird please contact me-

      Another close-up cropped and lightened view of the above bird on left (Jaeger A). The light base of the underwing greater primary coverts is clearly visible-


         (Jaeger B)-

      Notice the 2 Red-necked Phalaropes (top left of image) scurrying away from the Jaegers?-

       (Above image lightened and cropped)-

      Two of the Jaegers interact in the air. Parasitic in the foreground and the small immature Pomarine (Jaeger B) behind showing the detailed underwing and extensive white base of the primary coverts and remaining wing coverts-

       Close-up view of the underwing coverts (Jaeger B)-


      There was a nearly steady precession of Cory's Shearwaters that day-

      Common Tern-


       When we were nearing Race Point from the north, I noticed a large mat of floating rockweed in the Race Point Rip. I knew this would be a wonderful spot to look for Red-necked Phalaropes which are attracted to floating weed mats like magnets. Just as I thought, I spotted a large flock of feeding Phalaropes on the mat through my binoculars. As we got closer I picked up my camera as the entire flock of approx. fifty birds rose up and took off. Just as I pushed my camera shutter, the boat lunged into the sloppy waves of the rip. As my auto wind of my camera cranked off ten frames per second, I knew that I was taking some great shots of the water and sky! I kept the shutter depressed and soon the birds disappeared into the unsetttled sea of the rip; I had no idea where they went!

      A quick review in my camera's LED screen revealed that I did capture some of the birds in the images, ad also very blurry shots of the water and sky! Red-necked Phalaropes just leaving the edges of the large weed mat-

       Second and Third year Gannets-

     A few more Red-necked Phalaropes escorted the vessel along Herring Cove Beach-

       This Manx Shearwater popped up from a dive right off the port bow of the vessel. As it pattered across the sea to get air born, it appeared that it would hit the bow right underneath me on the pulpit. It realized that it wouldn't make it without a collision with the vessel, so it made a quick turn to avoid the boat. It landed just off the wake from the bow on the port side and swam off like nothing had happened. What was a great photo opportunity for me ended up being a great encounter with a great bird and documented with really bad images. The bird was too close for my lens for good images, but a memorable sighting for sure!-

       There were two more Parasitic Jaegers flying along the beach of Wood End (in the distance)-

     Gannet with the Pilgrim Tower in the background-

     Nearing Long Point, a handful of Red-necked Phalaropes crossed the bow-

       Here are the highlights form the morning. I didn't count the whales and the birds were only approximated and were my best guess:

Saturday Sept 15,  Herring Cove Beach at 7:45. Within the first fifteen minutes we counted 13 Parasitic Jaegers having a field day with the 250 Terns feeding from Race Point to out in front of Herring Cove Beach. I counted 13 Forster's Terns in the group closest to shore. The Jaegers were relentless even bearing down on the Laughing Gulls.

On the Dolphin X- the Humpbacks put on a great show with many close-encounter breaching, flipper slapping, logging and fluking. In total we saw approx. 11 different whales. The birding was excellent with over 50 Shearwaters (mostly Cory's), 7 additional Jaegers (including 1 dark Pomarine), Gannets, Red-necked Phalaropes, Wilson's Storm-Petrels, Laughing Gulls and a few nice surprises.

Most of the concentrations of birds were just off Race Point in Race Rip, and the southern edge of Stellwagen near the tuna boats.

Highlights for the day (combined total- Herring Cove Beach and on the Dolphin X)-

Terns- 400 (rough estimate) (mostly Common- I didn't examine the small groups for other species)
Forster's Tern- 13
Roseate Tern- 3
Black Tern- 1 (a single bird flying off Long Point)
Least Tern- 1 (a surprising single bird flying along the breakwater on the trip in to port)
Caspian Tern???- 1 (one very large slow flying Tern seen flying along the beach by Race Point Beach- only saw the bird for a few minutes through binoculars while the vessel was steaming back to port) Caspian would be my best guess?

Parasitic Jaegers- 17
Pomarine Jaeger- 3 (1 dark morph on Stellwagen)

Gannets- 40
Wilson's Storm-Petrels- 13 (all of Race Point in the rip)

Shearwaters- (most flying, but many sitting on the water)
Cory's Shearwater- 27 (spectacular close views)
Manx Shearwater- 15 (love these little shearwaters)!
Sooty Shearwater- 3 (all on Stellwagen Bank at a distance)
Greater Shearwater- 16

Red-necked Phalarope- 60 (majority seen off Race Point in the rip- few singles and pairs- one large flock 50 birds. Other sightings 1 small group 5 birds, trios, pairs and singles off Herring Cove Beach and Long Point)

Razorbill- 1 (sitting on the water with a small group of resting Manx and Cory's Shearwater on Stellwagen Bank).

Keith Mueller   Killingworth, CT.