New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Gloucester Whale Watch- Looking for a Sabine's Gull

This report will begin an eleven-part series "Seabirds and Shorebirds" early September-

1) "Gloucester Whale Watch"-searching for the Sabine's Gull (Part 1)
2) "Shorebirding Early September"- the Long-billed Dowitcher
3)- "Herons and Stilt Sandpipers"
4)- "Low Tide Dowitchers"
5)- "Shorebirding and a Visiting White Ibis"
6)- "Avocet in Stratford"
7)- "Windy Day- Laughing Gulls, Solitary and Pectoral Sandpipers"
8)- "NECWA- Seabirds and Whale Tales Excursion"- Plymouth, Mass.- Searching for the Sabine's Gull (part 2)
9)- "Milford Shorebirding"- the Western Sandpiper
10)- "Stratford Shorebirding"- Late Season Willets
11)- "Provincetown Seabirding Whale Watch"- Saarching for the Sabine's Gull (Part 3)

1) August 30, 2012- Gloucester Whale Watch- Searching for the Sabine's Gull, (Part 1)

     I was looking at the Seven Seas Whale Watch (Gloucester) website, and again this year they spotted another adult Sabine's Gull a few days earlier. Not only did they spot an adult Gull once but twice within two days of each other. I called Tom and suggested we take a run up to Gloucester to try our luck. In speaking with the Captain on the phone he told me that hadn't seen the bird in two days, but it was still worth a try.

     Tom and I met early and within a few hours we were driving through Gloucester Center, one of my favorite New England towns. The whale boat was scheduled to leave at 8:30 am, and since we were a bit early, we took a quick look around at Jodrey's Pier. We timed it just right because they were unloading several Herring boats on the docks, and the hungry Gulls were present in good numbers. Tom and I searched through all the Gulls looking for something a bit different, and I noticed a juvenile Herring Gull with Appledore leg bands; it was walking on the loading dock right in front of Tom's car-

     After studying just about every Gull we saw in the inner harbor, docks and pier we drove over to the Seven Seas parking lot and picked up our tickets. Before long we were on the pulpit of the vessel, and the lines were cast off.  We headed out of the harbor under a brilliant blue and cloudless sky-

     On the way out of the Harbor, there were a few birds to watch. Eiders-

     Laughing Gulls.....

     ......and this single Bonaparte's Gull-


     As we started by Dogbar Breakwater, this flock of White-winged Scoters passed by.....


     .....and a two small groups of Black Scoters-

    The vessel passed by Eastern Point and a large dark bird took off from the water and landed again after a short flight. Looking into the sun, it was hard to ID the bird; I first thought it was a first year Gannet (judging by its size). But when I looked at the images in my camera, it was a Great Cormorant, the first I have seen in Mass, this late summer-


     When we were on the dock waiting to board, the mates told us that the whales have been hard to find over the last few days. That meant we would be going out to Stellwagen increasing our chances for seabirds and hopefully the Sabine's. As we steamed east towards Stellwagen, Tom and I looked hard from the pulpit scanning every inch of ocean that we could. Despite our efforts we didn't find one bird, not even a Storm-Petrel! Even though the numbers of Wilson's Storm-Petrels are down this year, I have always seen plenty of them on this route while aboard the cod boats.

     We had only gone about five miles, when the first "blows" were seen, we had whales! For the entire time on board that morning the Humpback show was incredible! We stayed in the area just west of Stellwagen from five to ten miles from shore; a few miles shy of the western edge of the Bank. In fact. I kept looking at the tuna boats that were lined up a few more miles offshore in the center of the bank hoping that we would head out there; I knew there would be plenty of birds moving in and around the boats especially with all the chum in the water. Unfortunately, we never made it out there.

     The Humpbacks including two sets of mothers and calves put on an amazing show for us: blowing, flukeing, bubbling, flipper slapping, logging, rolling and of course (the very popular) breaching!-

      Following the Whales (and the Seven Seas vessel) were these pods of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins, and they also gave us a wonderful show-


     Although not many birds in the area, we did find a few. The small majority of birds seen were Greater Shearwater-

     We spotted this swimming Greater and Cory's Shearwater three different times that morning-

     Plenty of Laughing Gulls......


     .....and Terns like these Commons-

     Near the end of the trip just after noon, a distant single Red-necked Phalarope was swimming directly towards the vessel-

     The Phalarope continued getting closer to the bow of the vessel. When it was nearly thirty yards from the pulpit, someone spotted a blow and the boat took off to persue the whale. I cringed a bit; just one more minute and the bird would have been in ideal camera range!

   Even though the birds were few, the whales more than made up for it!

   This report continues with "Shorebirding early September"- the Long-billed Dowitcher.

                       Just click on "Older Posts" below right to continue------

Keith Mueller
Killingworth, CT