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.

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