The boat left Hyannis Harbor at 7am , and we soon were seeing flocks of White-winged Scoters, a few Common Eiders, and a handful of Northern Gannets in the waters off the Cape. Not long afterwards we passed Nantucket and entered the region known as the Nantucket Shoals, where currents create shallows and odd wave-breaks. It's also a productive marine ecosystem, and we quickly spotted a couple of spouting whales, which turned out to be Humpbacks, and got good looks at one of them. A Sanderling in the wake briefly tricked us into thinking it was a phalarope, but we eventually started getting our first real pelagic birds: first few Great Shearwaters, then a Cory's or two, and then a very nice flock of 20-30 shearwaters sitting on the water that contained both of those species as well as 8 Manx Shearwaters, giving us good comparisons. Groups of gulls contained a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls: we would see them on occasion for the whole trip.
|Great Shearwaters (With a couple Manx in the back)|
|Shearwater assortment: Cory's, Manx, Great|
Suddenly there was the call of "Jaegers!" followed immediately by the shout of "Sabine's Gulls!" We rushed to the side to see two Parasitic Jaegers harassing two small gulls with striking black-and-white wing patterns. But they were not the hoped-for Sabine's but Black-legged Kittiwakes, a nice if more common species. The jaegers, sleek bullies of the bird world, put on quite a show, chasing down the kittiwakes and attacking a small songbird (which photos showed to be a Song Sparrow) that had ended up over the open water.
|Blurry dark Parasitic Jaeger|
As the water warmed clumps of floating Sargassum seaweed began to appear, and with it came storm-petrels. We searched some larger groups carefully but all seemed to be the expected Wilson's Storm-Petrel. Then someone suggested that they may have seen a White-faced Storm-Petrel in the distance, and we all went on high alert: that rare and charismatic species would be a trip highlight. Not long after there was a cry from the side of the boat: "White-faced Storm-Petrel!!!" I rushed to the rail and got binoculars on the bird, flying away. Unlike all other Atlantic storm-petrels it has a gray back, and as it flew off it extended its long legs and bounced, kangaroo-like, across the tops of the waves: one bounce, two, three, and it vanished into the distance and glare of the sun. What a bird!
Adrenaline already high from that sighting, we were ecstatic when a sea turtle surfaced not far off the port side. Not only was it a sea turtle, it was a Leatherback, prehistoric-looking sea monsters that look like nothing else on earth. It came right up to the boat, giving killer looks to all on board.
|Leatherbacks are the only sea turtles without scute or plates on their shells-- hence the name|
|They also have crazy-looking heads|
While there may not have been many true flying creatures, I was very happy to see a handful of flying fish, most only a few inches long, gliding through the air next to the boat. One glided for a surprising distance, started down, then caught a gust and made it probably 10 feet further: I estimated a total flight distance of around 30 feet, for a fish not much larger than a dragonfly.
As evening approached with still no new avian sightings, we tried "chumming": tossing overboard large amounts of fish guts and fish oil in the hopes of attracting birds. Our chum slight was frequented by dozens of Wilson's Storm-Petrels, but none of the rarer species were in evidence. Around this time we did have a very nice sighting: a small group of Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins, which jumped alongside the boat and put on a good show.
As the sun set we tried another round of chumming, also without much success. As the sun slipped below the horizon many onboard saw the famous "green flash" of light that sometimes accompanies sunset over the ocean, but despite watching the sun I somehow missed it.
|Sunset over the Atlantic|
As night fell, and the moon too set, the horizon disappeared and everything beyond the lights of the boat was blackness. We stayed up for a while watching the crew fishing, and those lights would prove the source of another good sighting. Occasionally, Wilson's Storm-Petrels would swoop by the lights, possibly confused by the brightness, and swoop low over the deck before flying off. This would happen every 10 minutes or so. As one approached, Brendan quickly spotted that it was different: bigger, with longer wings. As it banked and flew over us I got a look at the forked tail: it was a Leach's Storm-Petrel, and a life bird for me! There are a lot of birds that are more often seen or heard in the dark: nightjars, owls, and some herons and rails, but I never expected to get a lifer storm-petrel at night.
But there weren't just small fish. Another shark appeared, either a blue or mako, and we were dazzled when the chum was approched by an adult Mahi Mahi, also known as a Dolphinfish. In the lights from the boat it absolutely glowed blue, yellow, and green. The fishermen were unsucessful in try to nab that fish, but they did hook another impressive one: a Sharksucker, which is a species of remora. Their dorsal fin is highly modified into what is basically a suction cup, which it uses to attach to sharks and other large marine animals. It was also an unusual catch: despite fishing here very regularly, this was the first that they had caught. After we got a good look, they released it back into the ocean.
|The "suction cup" on top of the head can be seen here|
|Check out the salt glands that give the "tubenose" family their name|
|Jacob checking out Storm-Petrel Molt|
|Sunrise over the Atlantic|
|Blue Shark on the line|
They hadn't caught any tuna overnight, but shortly after dawn we spotted a big school of gorgeous yellowfin tuna leaping out of the waves not far away. One cast, and there was a tuna on the boat too. That took a turn for the brutal when its head was bashed in--though I do eat tuna, so I can't claim any moral superiority on that front.
|RIP Tuna :(|
|One of 158 Audubon's|
|Dark Juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger|
Eventually the announcement came that we had to begin the long voyage back towards land. We were sad to leave the warm water with many targets still unseen, but shortly thereafter we were more than consoled with what may have been the highlight of the whole trip.
|The ocean was incredibly still-- even glassy|
|The band of darker water stretching off into the distance is all salps|
|Phalaropes in flight. The right bird in the left clump is a Red Phalarope, the rest are Red-necked Phalarope|
|Land Ho! By the time we saw Nantucket, we had been out of sight of land for more than 24 hours|