My observations of note over the past fourteen days included the following:
Rare mid-summer SCOTER hat-trick with 4 Black, 2 White-winged, and 1 Surf, Simpson’s Point, Brunswick, 7/3.
4 Greater and 3 Lesser Yellowlegs, Wharton Point, Brunswick, 7/3.
Seawatching from Eastern Point, Gloucester, MA on 7/8 during Tropical Storm Elsa (with family): In about 2 hours where fog lifted enough to see, Great Shearwaters were passing at an average of 199 per 5-minute segment and Sooty Shearwaters were passing at an average of 314 per 5-minute segment. Plus 2 MANX SHEARWATERS, 1 unidentified JAEGER, and 1 Cory’s Shearwater.
Our second “Search for Troppy” tour with our partners the Isle au Haut Boat Services took place on Saturday the 10th. With Tropical Storm Elsa roaring through the day before, building seas to 7-10 feet, we were of course just hoping to run the tour.
But we remained optimistic, and as winds turned to the northwest behind the storm, the surf rapidly got knocked down. With calm winds by dawn, they came down even further. And by our 1:00pm departure on the M.V. Otter, Stonington Harbor was nearly flat calm, the sun was shining, and our offshore reports were positive.
With high hopes, we set off, and pretty soon came across several Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and of course, Black Guillemots. As we cleared the shelter of Isle au Haut, we found more storm-petrels, but we also found leftovers waves from the storm. There were a few pretty big swells remaining, but Captain Tracy handled them with skill and kept us surprisingly comfortable.
Scattered Wilson’s Storm-Petrels gave way to some massive groups loafing on the calm surface. Led by a single group of 91, I tallied a conservative estimate of 210! Unfortunately, the swells were just high enough that we couldn’t safely turn around for the single Sooty Shearwater that we saw bobbing in the waves, or what turned out to be the only Common Murre of the day.
Reaching the lee of Seal Island, the waves disappeared, and we began our slow cruise enjoying the island’s summer denizen. Arctic and Common Terns were in abundance, there were plenty of Black Guillemots, and we checked out a couple of rafts of Atlantic Puffins. Likely due to the post-storm day, puffins were busy and not doing much loafing, so we actually saw relatively few. Unlike our previous tour where we had as many puffins close to the boat as I have ever seen out there, this was about as few as I have ever had. The Pufflings must be hungry!
We finally spotted 2 Razorbills on our way to the bustling Great Cormorant colony, noted a pair of Common Ravens, and spotted a Peregrine Falcon – a rather unwelcome guest out here.
Thanks to the charter, we had plenty of time, and we needed as much patience as possible. I admit I was getting as worried as the guests that Troppy was not home today.
But then, this happened:
It was simply one of best 2 or 3 shows that I have ever had. He made repeated passes right overhead, did a lot of calling and displaying, and then finally sat on the water and took his bath. Captain Tracy did a great job returning us to good lighting, and we cut the engine once again and drifted along with him, enjoying the sights and sounds of the island, and of course, basking in the glory of a successful twitch!
Three Short-billed Dowitchers with three peeps launched from the island; a sign of the season as these are already on their way south. The other island birds including Song and Savannah Sparrows, Spotted Sandpipers, and oodles of Common Eiders were also present and accounted for.
Captain Tracy finally had to pull us away, but we were just getting greedy. It was time to leave Troppy alone to enjoy his afternoon bath in peace. He earned it today.
We made really good time coming back as the waves continued to subside. Unfortunately, it was too rough around Saddleback Ledge to check it carefully, but we did have 4 more Great Cormorants there. To and from the ledge, we encountered plenty of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (although not nearly as many as on the way out) and a couple of Northern Gannets.
Surprisingly, we didn’t have any shearwaters on the way back, but a short distance beyond Saddleback Ledge, we spotted a couple of Razorbills. Then a small raft, and then another. In all, about 40-50 Razorbills – I guess that’s why we didn’t have many at the island; they were all feeding inshore!
A single Atlantic Puffin was with them, and we had several more Razorbills when we checked out a feeding frenzy of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls not far out of the harbor entrance. And of course, a few ledges full of Harbor Seals.
In the end, we saw every possible island summer resident, especially, yeah, THAT one. It was a very good day.
The first of two “Search for Troppy” charters to Seal Island took place on Saturday, June 26th. Departing Stonington at 1pm with the good folks of The Otter from Isle au Haut Boat Services, we would be in prime time for the appearance of Maine’s Red-billed Tropicbird that has called the Gulf of Maine home for the past 17 years. For this first trip of the year, I was joined by Marion Sprague, co-coordinator of the Maine Young Birder’s Club, as my co-leader.
Unfortunately, the weather was not looking good. Dense fog, a moderate southerly breeze, and a forecast for marginal seas made us think twice. At the very least, Captain Garrett gave the talk about seasickness and where to find those handy bags. However, we were also receiving real-time weather data from a lobster boat hauling traps near the island, and we were being assured “it’s not bad out here.” But we were skeptical – Maine fishermen are tough!
Keeping us in the shelter of Isle au Haut for as long as possible, Captain Garrett plotted his course. A Merlin offshore was a little surprise, but otherwise we struggled to pull much out of the dense fog beyond the “big 5:” Herring and Great Black-backed Gull, Common Eider, Black Guillemot, and Double-crested Cormorant. A smattering of Common Terns and several occupied Osprey nests was about it.
As we began the crossing of open water to Seal, we soon became pleasantly surprised by the conditions. It was still foggy, and we had about 20 minutes of fairly rough seas, but the overall wave height was nothing like it was forecast and the winds seemed to be dying. Things were looking up.
We glimpsed a couple of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and a Northern Gannet on the way out and took the time to ease up to an Atlantic Puffin loafing (probably too full to bother flying). We just didn’t want to take anything for granted. But that was about it, until Seal Island materialized from the fog.
As we approached the surprisingly-sheltered shoreline of the island, puffins were everywhere! Fewer birds rest on the rocks in the fog, and so hundreds of birds were loafing on the water. With near-flat conditions in the cove, we just floated up to resting rafts. We got close to a couple of Razorbills too, and sorted through Arctic and Common Terns. Arctic Terns were also especially confiding today, often passing right over the boat and making repeated close passes.
We enjoyed the show of the tern colony and slowly crept along the shoreline. Spotted Sandpipers sounded off and made short flights, Common Eiders ushered their chicks around, and Black Guillemots were all around.
We spotted one Common Murre on the rocks, and with the water much calmer than we expected, we were able to round the southern tip to check out the Great Cormorant colony – the last in Maine. Working our way back towards the cove, we scored a much better view of a Common Murre on the water.
It was one of the best puffin shows I have ever had out here, and with the engine turned off, we just floated up to them while listening to the songs of Savannah and Song Sparrows emanating from the island.
But as joyous as this was, the reality soon became clear: the star of the show was not home today. Troppy disappears for 2-5 day periods and this was one of those periods. We were in the right place, at the right time, and had a couple of hours to search and be patient. But this time, our patience was not rewarded.
It’s always bittersweet when you depart Seal Island without Troppy, but that’s how it goes out here sometime. At least we weren’t miserable while searching! And we saw every other denizen, and wow, that puffin show! If you can’t find joy in that, perhaps birding is not for you.
The fog remained dense on the way back, and only a couple of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and two gannets were spotted. We searched around Saddleback Ledge and a few other outcroppings, turning up only the big 5 and a whole bunch of seals (a few Gray out at Seal Island, but almost all Harbor Seals on the way in). With following seas and diminishing winds, we made great time, and before we knew it, we were at the dock and trying to get our landlegs back.
My observations of note over the past eight days included the following:
1 immature male/ female pair of ORCHARD ORIOLES, Green Point WMA, 6/21 (with Jeannette). Clearly paired up but no breeding behaviors noted.
1 immature male ORCHARD ORIOLE, 1 Yellow-throated Vireo (probably my first here), and 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Fort Foster, Kittery, 6/22.
141 immature Bonaparte’s Gulls, Fort Foster, 6/22. The largest number of Bonies in the summer that I have seen in the south coast in a number of years.
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Seapoint Beach, Kittery, 6/22.
1 continuing SNOWY OWL, 6/25: Observed (with clients from AZ) from the Colony Beach parking lot in Kennebunkport, looking across the river to a house behind Gooch’s Beach, Kennebunk (new location; photos above).
1 out of place male American Kestrel, atop a cell phone tower in downtown Biddeford from Palace Diner, 6/25 (with clients from AZ).
1 continuing proposed TRICOLORED HERON X SNOWY EGRET X LITTLE EGRET HYBRID, Pelreco Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 6/25 (with clients from AZ).
One of the highlights for me this week, however, was non-bird: 20+ Gray Seals feeding very close to Fort Popham in Phippsburg on 6/20 (with client from CT). While Harbor Seals are frequent here in the summer, I don’t recall seeing so many Grays inshore in this or other nearby areas.
My observations of note over the past six days included the following:
1 3rd-cycle LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, French Island Ledge, Casco Bay, 6/6 (with “Birds of Casco Bay” tour group). Photo below.
1 Roseate Tern, The Goslings, Harpswell, 6/6 (with “Birds of Casco Bay” tour group).
1 COMMON MURRE, 4 NORTHERN FULMARS, 5 RED-NECKED PHALAROPES (FOY), 103 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (FOY), 1 Great Shearwater (FOY), etc, Boothbay Mini-Pelagic with Cap’n Fish Whale Watch, 6/7. Full trip list and tour report here.
June is an untraditional month for southern Maine pelagics, but our Boothbay Harbor departures, and a fast, steady boat allow us access to some prime areas. Few people had this in mind however on Monday, when instead, most people were just excited to escape the stifling heat on land!
The seas had died down overnight, and the mere 2 foot swell was often barely noticeable. A cooling breeze over the 56-degree water made us welcome our layers, but not at all miss the sweltering mainland.
There are few guarantees in pelagic birding…well unless you visit a seabird island! So instead of just searching for needles in the offshore haystack, we first headed over to Eastern Egg Rock. We sifted through many hundreds of Common Terns until everyone got good looks at Roseate (20+) and Arctic (20+) Terns. 75-100 Atlantic Puffins, 100+ Black Guillemots, 500+ Laughing Gulls, Common Eiders, a Spotted Sandpiper, Double-crested Cormorants, Herring Gulls, and Great Black-backed Gulls were all observed from the comfort of our limited-capacity boat.
A passerine on our way to Eastern Egg Rock may have been an oriole (awaiting photos to review), but that was our only non-seabird of the day. Kelsey pointed out lighthouses, islands, and other landmarks as we motored from the harbor out past Monhegan Island.
We then traveled over 20 miles to waters over 500 feet deep, and a ledge where the bottom rose steeply to a depth of only 380. On the way out, it was quiet. Really, really quiet. Uh-oh, is this was June pelagic birding is like around here too?
But traveling over fairly flat, often sandy or muddy bottom is not a good sample, and as we hit the deeper water and some topography, we began to see our first tubenoses of the day: Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, which have just arrived from their sub-Antarctic breeding areas.
With Ian chumming, petrels began to come in closer, and the first of our Northern Fulmars arrived to check things out. While we worked the ledge, and then double-backed on our chum slick, the birds kept appearing and Captain Mike did a great job keeping birds in the best lighting possible.
Some of the highlights included the rather late fulmars and an unseasonable offshore Common Murre, but I think the real highlight was how well we saw just about everything! Even two of our Red-necked Phalaropes were close enough to age and sex (they were adult female), and Ian’s chum brought fulmars and storm-petrels in close. While we only had one Great Shearwater on this early date, it too made a close pass, affording good looks for everyone.
The total seabird count away from Eastern Egg Rock (see estimates from there above) was as follows (not including gulls and other nearshore species)
103 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels
13 Northern Gannets
10+ Arctic Terns (out of sight of Eastern Egg)
5 Unidentified phalaropes
5 RED-NECKED PHALAROPES
4 NORTHERN FULMARS
1 Great Shearwater
1 COMMON MURRE
It was not the diversity of later summer and fall, and certainly not the numbers (at least once we left the magic of Eastern Egg), but we had a nice selection of “good” birds, great looks at them, and we did all of this in less than four hours in offshore waters. The convenience of a Boothbay departure, the accessibility of some rich feeding areas without heading too far, the speed and comfort of the boat (especially the grilled cheese sandwiches), and more resulted in another rewarding trip and a sure sign of the potential of these tours.
In fact, our next trip in July (no chumming on this one, unfortunately) with a similar itinerary of starting at Eastern Egg Rock is filling up fast. We’re also now accepting reservations for our October outing, which, based on last year’s results, we are already looking forward too!