Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stellwagen Bank Pelagics

Greater Shearwater (Top and Middle) and Humpback Whale- My camera died before I could get any other photos.

On July 13, 2 and a half weeks ago, I went on a Captain john Boats whale watch out of plymouth harbor in MA. After leaving the harbor and passing the Mayflower II, Plymouth Rock (overrated), and the tern colonies on Plymouth Beach, we got into Cape Cod Bay. I was looking for pelagics and whales.

Wilson's Storm Petrels showed early, just as we were out of the harbor. There were a couple flitting around behind another boat. We would see many of them by the end of the day. Storm-Petrels were secondary here. My main target were the 4 reported shearwaters and the 3 jaegers.

My first glimpse of a large shearwater was inconclusive, with my binoculars being unsteady when the boat rocked and the bird far away. No matter. Soon I had located a sooty shearwater out in front of the boat, flying left to right. Lifer number 1. Then I saw a greater shearwater flying by the boat. And then another. Lifer 2 There was never any shortage of them, with one in sight almost the whole trip after this. The boat passed right by some large rafts, giving close looks. In one of the larger rafts, I picked out a Cory's Shearwater (lifer 3), and the naturalist took a break from the whales to pick out another. My camera battery died at this point, leaving me with the above photos only.

Oh, I forgot to mention the whales. This was, after all, a whale watch. We saw multiple pairs of humpbacks, including interesting behavior- breaching (jumping), and fin-slapping, as well as a mother-calf pair right next to the boat.

The grand finale came after the naturalist got a call from other whale watching boats, reporting many whales at a location to the east of us. We headed over, and found ourselves facing a huge underwater school of bait fish. Above it was a flock of shearwaters, gannets, and gulls numbering over 1000 birds, mostly greater shearwaters. Inside it many whales, including fin, minke, and humpback. We could see pairs of whales in every direction, with probably 10+ in total. The numbers of shearwaters were incredible. If you closed your eyes, the loudest thing yoo could hear was the pattering slapping sound of their feet against the water as they took off in front of the boat. It was specatcular.

Unfortunately, we were already behind schedule, and had to leave after only 10-15 minutes. Given more time, I might have been able to pick out a manx shearwater or jaeger. Still, it was great, and on the return trip I saw dowitchers and hundreds of terns on plymouth beach.

Great trip. If you ever have a chance to go on a pelagic or whale watch, do it.

Part 3- Hammo

The day after doodletown, went with Benjamin and Ryan to Hammonassest SP in connecticut in the evening, mainly for marsh sparrows, but also for some other stuff that had been reported there. We missed cattle egret in one parking lot, after only a half-hour or so, we had seen glossy ibis, willet, martin, little blue heron, and killdeer.

A walk to the end of the moraine trail produced common and least terns, as well as the king eider we were looking for, with 2 surf scoters. The eider was a lifer and ABA bird 250 for me.

On the way back we saw saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrows, and some of them actually stayed in view for a couple seconds. Easily my favorite sparrows.

A walk onto the ceder island trail as the sun was setting yielded seaside and sharp-tailed sparrows, with the seaside sparrows being a lifer. Fighting mosquitos and gnats on the way back to the car, we found a willow flycatcher and more ibis to end the day.


Part 2- #250 at Doodletown

I am way behind on these blog posts, so this will be short. Actually, for this post and the next one, you could just go to Benjamin Van Doran's blog- warblings.wordpress.com. That would save me some time, and he was on both of the trips. Anyway- I went to Doodletown, NY with the NYS Young Birders club a long time ago (about 3 weeks- the day after the rails at marshlands) I had 248 birds on my life list when I got there, and was hoping for my 250th. Warbling Vireo, black vulture, and indigo bunting were in the parking lot, but after that it was quiet until we stumbled across a small group of warblers. Hooded sang and then appeared right next to the trail. 249. Worm-eating warbler called and then was spotted in a more distant tree. 250!! Cerulean was found preening in a very distant tree. 251. Yay. Things were quiet visually (doesn't make any sense, but you get the idea) for a while, despite more vocal ceruleans. A louisiana waterthrush (in a tree!) was another lifer. A very close worm-eating warbler supplemented the distant sighting earlier. And a yellow-throated warbler far above us was the last lifer of the trip.

I have never been to Doodletown in mid-may, when birding is best, but even in late june I saw 5 lifers, with worm-eating warbler being my 250th.

Good Birding,

Eamon Corbett