Tag Archives: pelagics

10/11/21 Boothbay Mini-Pelagic with Cap’n Fish’s Cruises.

Well that sure was fun!  What a day!  All the superlatives.

Fall pelagics in the Gulf of Maine are few and far between, especially in October. With whale watches ending early to mid-month each year, opportunities to board vessels to look for seabirds become greatly limited. There’s so much to learn about what is out there at this time of year.

Furthermore, fall weather is temperamental, and planning for a day of deep-sea birding months in advance is a crapshoot. And even when the conditions are great, there are days where there just seems to be no life out there. I’ve certainly been on whale watches in October without a single non-gannet seabird.  Those can be long days, especially in rough seas.

Monday was NOT one of those days. In fact, it was incredible. Following up on our success of last year’s trip on October 12, and several extremely productive whale watches over the years with our partners for this tour, Cap’n Fish’s Cruises, we had high hopes, but reasonable expectations. Because pelagics. In the Gulf of Maine. In October.

The first of our wishes had come true: the boat was going to run!  Although there would be some swell offshore (and there was), there was no concern about getting far offshore today. The winds were light, the air was warm, and it was basically about the nicest day one could hope for in a normal October in Maine.

So that was a good start. But soon, it got even better.  Shockingly so.

Just a few minutes out of the dock, a few folks spotted what they thought was a Red-throated Loon. I took a look, expecting the first Red-throated Loon of the season, but was shocked when I saw the puffy head and bright gray nape of what could only have been a Pacific Loon!  In full breeding plumage!

What the what?

This stunning bird – rare but regular in Maine but extremely rare in such stunning breeding plumage – was with a Common Loon right off our bow. And we had not yet even left the harbor’s no-wake zone.

We were in the boat channel, and luckily, there was no traffic coming or going, so Captain Steve adeptly turned us around and we slowly worked our way closer to the loon, attempting to get the bird in the best light possible for photographs.  And this was no easy feat – we were in a narrow channel and if there were any other boats coming or going, this maneuver might not have even been possible. But alas, luck was with us already, and many folks had a life bird, year-bird, or “life-plumage” before we even left the harbor. I for one was not ready for this…I was still organizing, and we were still plotting a course! And I clearly needed to finish that cup of coffee (words? What are words? And how do I use them again?)

Could this day get any better?  Spoiler alert: it did.

The great thing about our partnership with Cap’n Fish’s is that we have a great, fast, comfortable boat that can cover a lot of ground when we need to. However, there’s something special about this area at this time of year that means we usually don’t have to. In fact, shortly after clearing Damariscove Island, we started picking up Northern Gannets and the first few scattered Great Shearwaters. There just wasn’t a long stretch of “worthless” ground to be transited before we start to see life.  This was even more evident on the way back, as we were tallying seabirds until we were right up to the eastern side of Damariscove.

In between, we covered a fair amount of ground at a steady speed, setting two chum slicks over promising areas. Covering a couple of ledges and a long contour line where we have had great success in the past, there was rarely any lengths of time we didn’t have a pelagic species or two.  We never went further than 20-25 miles offshore, mostly working an area near the Portland ship channel that has been productive for us in the past. At times we were in waters up to 500ft deep but were more interested in places where upwelling might occur – such as near ledges, ridges, or “holes.”

Unfortunately, birds were just not excited about the chum today, so we didn’t have a ton of birds close enough to touch. But, our captain did his best to get us close to the occasional raft of loafing Great Shearwaters for example.  Northern Fulmars seemed to be “sniffing out” our offerings, but excitement never developed. Lots of great, close passes however, with others sitting on the water here and there. I was conservative in my count as I thought 4 birds were making a wide circle around us for a spell, but it’s possible there were a lot more individuals.

Great Shearwaters

I now expect Atlantic Puffins off this boat at this time of year, but we did not expect to tally 32 of them (which seems quite low in hindsight). I was surprised to not see any Razorbills until we were almost back inshore, but then we had some good looks within site of the outer islands.

It took photo review to confirm the two jaegers (including one frustratingly distant one) as the expected species, Pomarine. But still, any day with a jaeger is a good day.

There was a good 2-4 foot swell offshore, but little chop. You could feel the roll though, and a few sharp turns were definitely noticed. It was just enough to limit how quickly we could stop on a dime and go back for a loafing bird, or change course to chase down a jaeger. But overall, it was a decidedly pleasant day on the water!

I think most people would have been satisfied if the only “good” bird was the Pacific Loon, but we had a challenger for best bird of the day. Now, the looks we had and the gorgeous plumage of the loon put it ahead for many, but from a rarely-encountered perspective – along with the fact that this is THE bird(s) we hope for on this trip – the excitement among participants reached its crescendo when I yelled the magic word: “SKUUUUUUUAAAAAAAAA!”

Just about 2/3rds of the way through the trip and about 20miles offshore, a dark, menacing terror of the ocean came roaring towards us and passed in front of the bow. It took a half-hearted swing at a Herring Gull before, unfortunately, continuing on. I spotted it as it was coming towards us at 11:00 (the bow of the boat is 12:00), but most folks got on it only as it came out of the sun glare by 1:00 or so. Therefore, most of our photos are of the bird heading away.

My initial reaction was Great Skua based on my impression of a reddish-tone to the upperparts in particular. I thought I saw a darker crown and I didn’t see a pale blaze on the face. Great Skua is a little more likely in this season, but we are still far from understanding the true ranges of it, and its southern Atlantic counterpart, the South Polar Skua, and especially differences in age classes (and their respective molt patterns).

However, after trying my best to give useful and enunciated directions to all the observers on board, I got back on the bird to study it only as it was going away. I was surprised by the cold, dark brown appearance it now had, as opposed to that first impression.

We threw out some chum to try and stir the pot, but it just kept going. We began a chase, but that did not last long – the skua smoked us!

The first photo I looked on the back of a camera seemed to confirm the reddish tone that would be indicative of Great Skua.

So that temporarily confirmed the call on the field, but as I made clear, I wanted to review as many photos as possible. And as I began to receive them, I could not get over how most of them showed a very dark, cold South Polar-like color impression.

The instant replay was now under review. Some skuas are straightforward, but this was not one of them, in large part because of the distance it passed and the lighting we were able to photograph it in. I have sent photos to several friends more fluent in skua than I, and I awaited their analysis. There are a few things that are just not computing for me, but I – like 99.9% of birders – just don’t have enough experience with skuas, especially in fall when many are a molting mess.

Unfortunately, a head-on or side shot might give us a definitive head pattern, but that is not apparently in existence. The lack of blond streaks on the back is a knock against Great, but some non-adults are really dark and minimally streaked at this season. And no photos show the nape, either.

So this is the best that we have to go on at the moment.  I’ve included a series of photos here, and more can be found on eBird. I will update this blog as I receive more information and continue to study the incoming photos  but I do believe at this time that this is a 1st-year South Polar Skua. That would explain the pattern of molt (similar to what an adult Great Skua should look like now) and those worn outer primaries that gave many folks – myself included – an impression of a paler, warmer brown. Also, those new coverts on the upperparts are so blackish – I can’t seem to find photos of Great Skuas suggesting that kind of deep, dark color. (I will add comments and commentary at the end of this entry as I receive them. I’ll also update the photo suite if I receive anything new and revelatory.)

Anyway, skuas are awesome, even if their identity is often in question  – and realistically, cannot always be answered. But we had _a_ skua, any skua, and that is the apex of a fall pelagic trip, especially the further west and south you get.

(Oh, and since I am thinking of it, here’s a link to the pelagic-by-cruiseship that Jeannette and I investigated a few years back. That was a skua fest and resulted in my first confirmed Great Skua for Maine – which had been a nemesis until then. We were talking about this trip on the boat and wanted to share the link. )

So yeah, a Pacific Loon and a <insert identity> Skua! Lots of puffins, Great Shearwaters, Northern Fulmars (another target of the season), and so much more. And yes, we had a couple of Minke Whales, lots of Harbor Porpoise and Harbor Seals, several schools of Bluefin Tuna, and a really lovely pod of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins. 

The following counts were adjusted to reflect total number of individuals (and not double-counting birds in and around the harbor while traveling to and fro) tallied in separate eBird transects kept by my trusty co-leader, chummer, and list-keeper, Ian Carlsen.

I’ve annotated the checklist with photos from Jeannette and others, as I received them. I’ll add more, especially if any pertinent to the skua ID discussion surface.

  • 500+ Common Eiders
  • 300+ Herring Gulls
  • 173 Great Shearwaters
  • 100+ Double-crested Cormorants
  • 85+ Great Black-backed Gulls
  • 94 Northern Gannets
  • 32 ATLANTIC PUFFINS (high!)
  • 31 Rock Pigeons (dock)
  • 16 Common Loons
  • 15 Black Guillemots
  • 12 NORTHERN FULMARS
  • 8 Razorbills
  • 3 Bald Eagles
  • 2 POMARINE JAEGERS

Bird #1:

Bird #2:

  • 1 Surf Scoter
  • 1 SOUTH POLAR SKUA (*see discussion above)
  • 1 Black-legged Kittiwake (juvenile)
  • 1 PACIFIC LOON (no, seriously!)

Today was a good day!

Skua Identification feedback (coming soon):

  • From Michael O’Brien:

“It’s tough to see much detail on this bird, so hard to be 100% sure about it. Having said that, I think I would lean toward a first year South Polar. It has fresh inner primaries, which fits the molt pattern of an adult Great or first year South Polar. The outer primaries seem quite worn/faded, which is why I’m thinking it’s a first year bird with old juv outer primaries. In terms of color, it seems fairly cold toned, and in particular, what looks like fresh greater coverts seem dark and cold toned vs normally paler, warmer, and more mottled (and contrasting with darker secondaries) on a Great. So that’s my take on it, at the risk of reading too much into some distant photos! “

Additional (non-Sandy Point) Highlights This Week, 10/2-8, Pelagic reminder, and Monhegan trip report.

This Savannah Sparrow contemplated walking across the channel instead of flying over the water during Morning Flight at Sandy Point.

A few observations of note away from the Morning Flight over the past seven days for me included:

  • 1 CLAY-COLORED SPARROW, Wolfe’s Neck Center, Freeport, 10/2 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk).
  • Overall, it was a great week of sparrow migration, with a nice high count on 10/8 from Wolfe’s Neck Center of 125 Song, 100 Savannah, 75 Swamp, 25 White-throated, 2 White-crowned, and 1 Lincoln’s.
  • Sabattus Pond season is underway as well!  On 10/8, I had early-season tallies of 76 Ruddy Ducks (first of fall), 33 Lesser Scaup, 18 Greater Scaup (first of fall), 2 Ring-necked Ducks, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers (first of fall), etc.

Notes:

  • And I’ve finally posted my tour report from Monhegan, 9/24-9/28. The blog includes photos and daily checklists:

Derek’s Birding This 7/3-7/16, 2021.

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.
  • 1 proposed TRICOLORED HERON X SNOWY EGRET X LITTLE EGRET hybrid, Pelreco Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 7/13.
  • 14 Semipalmated Sandpipers (FOF), Pine Point, Scarborough, 7/13.
  • 7 Sanderlings (FOF; a little on the early side), Crescent Beach State Park, Cape Elizabeth, 7/15.

“The Search for Troppy” Trip 1 Report, 6/26/2021

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.

And then we waited. The conditions were prefect, and while the sun was not out, fog did not dampen our spirits, especially after last year’s first tour!

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.

We’ll try it again on July 10th (that trip is sold out, but email us to get on the waiting list), and hope that Troppy is in town that day!

Derek’s Birding This Week (including Boothbay Pelagic results), 6/5-10/2021

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.
  • 1 continuing pair Gadwalls, Pelreco Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 6/8 (with client from California).
  • 3 Olive-sided Flycatchers (FOY), family group of 6 CANADA JAYS, etc, Long Falls Dam Road Area, Somerset County, 6/9 (with client from California).
  • 1 Yellow-billed Cuckoo (FOY), Foothills Land Conservancy, Wilton, 6/9 (with client from California)

Boothbay Harbor Mini-Pelagic with Cap’n Fish’s Cruises, 6/7/2021

Thanks to last fall’s wildly successful half-day pelagic with Cap’n Fish’s Cruises, we partnered up again to offer three outings in 2021.  On Monday, June 7th, the first of three departures took place.

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!

Boothbay Harbor Mini-Pelagic with Cap’n Fish Cruises, 10/12/2020

Leach’s Storm-Petrels were the star of the show today!

We were very excited to kick off a new partnership between Freeport Wild Bird Supply and Cap’n Fish Cruises with a half-day pelagic birding trip out of Boothbay Harbor on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 12th.  We departed the wharf at 9:00am and returned at about 1:45pm.

Cap’n Fish’s Dominique Caverly joined me in narrating the tour, adding additional natural history information. Captain Tabor did an exceptional job keeping the boat as comfortable as possible, finding some interesting underwater topography, trying to position the boat to view birds in the best light, and catching up with those two jaegers!  Ian Carlsen was our chummer extraordinaire, getting fulmars and Great Shearwaters within a few yards of the boat – while simultaneously keeping track of our eBird transects.

With a forecast for 2-3ft seas, we were not all that happy to find them more like 2-4 with the occasional 5-footer, but Captain Tabor did a great job in picking a track that maximized our time with comfortable following seas. There were a few bumps and splashes along the way, but so goes pelagic birding in the fall in the Gulf of Maine.  We were just happy to successfully get offshore!

Heading into deeper waters of the Portland shipping channel about 20 miles offshore, we explored an area where the seafloor rises from 500 feet to 300, before dropping off again to over 600. What’s great about departing from Boothbay – and bodes well for future tours from here – is that we don’t have to travel too far to get to some good deep-water and interesting seabed topography.

Fall pelagics in the Gulf of Maine, especially in southern Maine, are a fickle beast, and can be really hit or miss. In fact, I have been out on whale watches in October that failed to record a single tubenose!  But, having had a significant amount of success with Cap’n Fish’s whale watches during the fall, I was quite excited for the chance to head out on a dedicated bird-finding mission.

And it did take some work to find birds today.  Even Northern Gannets and gulls were in very short supply. However, once we got to that aforementioned ledge, we had a lot of birds all around us. 

Great Shearwaters were the most numerous “tubenose” as expected.

But 3 Leach’s Storm-Petrels were anything but expected!  Even one would have been a headliner, but today we had three – two of which were seen extraordinarily well for prolonged periods of time.  I was hopefully for this species, but they are so hit-or-miss, I only included it on my “possible” list. And then I expected the sighting to be like our first – one zipping by and only seen by a few observers.  Those second two, however: wow, just wow!

Any day with a jaeger is a good day in my book, and we had two good sightings of Pomarine Jaegers today, including one that was around us and reigning terror for a while. I called them both “Poms” in the field, but I looked forward to receiving photos to confirm their identify – no one should be above going to instant replay for jaegers!   In fact, one early photo I received had me rethinking the first bird, but upon receiving a full set, the play was confirmed as called on the field.

Three Atlantic Puffins and 9 Northern Fulmars were more expected, but no less great to see. Unfortunately, the Razorbill was seen in flight by only a few. My tally of 91 Great Shearwaters is likely woefully conservative. When chumming, it became impossible to keep track of how many birds were circling us rather than just passing by for a look (and sniff!).  And while this was indeed a birding-centric tour, we were disappointed to only encounter Harbor Seals and Harbor Porpoises during our travels; yes, this pelagic brakes for whales!

And finally, passerines are always exciting when encountered offshore, and always a challenge. I was a little surprised we didn’t encounter more as there had been a massive flight overnight, but the lack of a westerly component kept those birds from drifting offshore. In fact, both birds we saw were heading southwest, likely “onward” migration rather than compensating for overnight drift.  One was relegated to “passerine species,” but photographs confirmed the other as a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Beginning and ending with Black Guillemots and Common Eiders in the harbor and returning to a lovely warm and calm afternoon in the sheltered town, we can unequivocally call the day’s outing a success…and yes, plans are already in the works for more trips together in 2021! Sat tuned!

Here is the annotated checklist from the day:

Common Eider: 23 beyond mouth of the bay; numerous in harbor.

Surf Scoter: 61

dark-winged scoter sp: 20

Pomarine Jaegers: at least 2 winter adults; possibly a third bird.

#1:

#2:

Razorbill: 1 fly-by spotted by Captain and a few participants.

Black Guillemot: x

ATLANTIC PUFFIN: 3

Ring-billed Gull: 2

Herring Gull: x

Great Black-backed Gull: x

Common Loon: 15

LEACH’S STORM-PETRELS: 3. All photographed. First bird seen only by a few, second two birds seen insanely well and for prolonged periods of time.

#1:

#2:

#3:

Just ridiculously stunning views of this very challenging-to-see species!

Northern Fulmar: 9

Great Shearwater: 91 (very conservative count)

Northern Gannet: 30 (low)

Yellow-rumped Warbler: 1 (about 22 miles from land)

Passerine sp: 1 (probably a warbler but that’s as much as I can say)

Only marine mammals were Harbor Porpoises and Harbor Seals.

Great Shearwaters may have been overshadowed this day, but they too put on a great show!

The Search for Troppy Tour Report, 7/10/2020.

A tropical storm in Maine? Interfering with our first tour since early March? Of course! Because 2020!

But thanks to the flexibility of our partners, the Isle au Haut Boat Services, and the registered participants, we moved up our “Search for Troppy” tour by 24 hours. Not the easiest thing to do within 48 hours of the new departure, but for those who were unable to make the switch, we had an overwhelming response to the few extra spaces we offered up (more on that later).

While we can plan around a tropical storm, you can’t plan around fog in the Gulf of Maine – especially this summer.  With 23 particpants, all of which – along with the guides and crew – wearing masks the whole time (no exceptions) and social distancing as much as possible, we set off from Stonington into the very, very dense fog.
IMG_6465_dense_fog

IMG_6469_masked_birders_on_boat

There wasn’t much to see on the way out, except for the common nearshore species,like Common Eiders.
COEI

And, visibility was close to zero the whole ride out…until Seal Island miraculously appeared. Not clearly, mind you, but it was there.
IMG_6471_Seal_in_Fog

But thanks to the fog, many of the island’s seabirds, especially the Atlantic Puffins, were loafing in the water. And with glass-calm conditions, they were all around us and easy to observe.
ATPU_water

Arctic and Common Terns continuously zipped by as we motored about the island, hoping for Troppy in his usual place, but contenting ourselves with lots of puffins, and the island’s record number of Razorbills this year.
Razorbills

We cruised around the island’s south end, taking in the last remaining Great Cormorant colony in the state…
GRCOs

…And after much searching, finally found a couple of Common Murres including this one (L) standing tall among the puffins and a Razorbill.
COMU,RAZO,ATPU

Considering the trials and tribulations of getting this tour running, we were pretty happy with seeing all of the breeding birds of the island, and the puffins were putting on a particularly good show today.

Of course, however, the star of the show was missing, and my hopes were fading – unlike the fog, which was definitely not at all fading. But then, as visibility lifted just enough to see a little more of the island, the distinctive cackling rattle display call of the world’s most famous Red-billed Tropicbird rang out as he materialized out of the fog and made a close pass of the boat. People were spinning, there was shouting, and there was celebration. But then he disappeared. Was that it? Well, it was good enough to count, but come on, he could do better. So we cut the engine, drifted, and waited.

And several minutes later he was back. Heading right towards us, calling aggressively, seemingly displeased with our intrusion and/or my color commentary over the loudspeakers. He made several passes, some very close, a few right overhead, and he did not stop. We watched him circling around, as per his usual routine, for a good 45 minutes in all. Every time we thought the show was over, and I would start talking about something else, he would reappear. It was truly incredible – one of my top two best performance from him, and definitely my longest duration of observation. He only briefly landed once, but without sun, apparently bathing wasn’t in his plans.
TRoppy1Troppy2Troppy3

In fact, he was still being spotted now and again as we had to depart to head back to the dock. It deal feel weird turning away from one of the most sought-after individual birds in North America, but we did so knowing he had more than earned his peace and quiet today.

This was my 8th visit with Troppy in 9 attempts (third in a row with “The Otter” of the Isle au Haut Boat Services) and my first observation in dense fog. He must have known I was expecting him. I owe him some squid, or whatever it is that he eats (since no one knows!).

Needless to say, there was quite a bit of jubilation on the way back, even if we couldn’t see much (and very little birdlife) until we returned to port.
Stonington

So the spacing worked. Mask use was respected. And Troppy more than cooperated.

And therefore, by popular demand, what do you say we try again?

That’s right, we’re going to make a second run on Saturday, July 25th.  Same time, same price, same social distancing.  Details can be found here.

UPDATE: Despite insanely beautiful weather on the 25th, we did not see Troppy. He just wasn’t home today. It was perfectly calm, warm, and abundantly sunny, so if he was on the island, we would have seen him. Alas. However, it was a most enjoyable day, with great looks at Razorbills, Common Murres, and plenty of Atlantic Puffins. Arctic and Common Terns remain busy, and we had scattered migrant shorebirds. Highlights including 4 Mola Mola and a Cory’s Shearwater just off the eastern shore of Seal.

It was definitely a more photogenic day than our first trip!

Pelagic Birding by Cruiseship: NYC-NS-NB-NYC, Oct 2019.

Skua
Bonxie!
Jeannette and I took round trip a Princess Cruise from New York City October 26 (pm departure) through October 31st (early am arrival). It made ports of call in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Saint John, New Brunswick.  The full-day at seas between NYC and Halifax on 10/27 and from St John to NYC on 10/30 were the draws for us.  Cruise ships offer steady, stable and unreasonably comfortable deep-sea birding opportunities. Paul Lehman helped put the “repositioning cruise” itinerary on the West Coast on the birding radar and he, along with several others around the world, demonstrated the value of these floating behemoths for pelagic birding.
departing NYC
Verrazano

Our transit from NYC to Halifax was our best stretch, with seas a mere 2-3ft, partially cloudy skies, and unseasonably warm temperatures. We awoke to find ourselves at 49.9 nautical miles south-southeast of Nantucket.
Sunrise, 10-27

After a surprisingly slow first 2 hours of the day, the action really got going and remained strong into the early afternoon. The day ended up yielding an impressive 5 Great Skuas and 6 unidentified skuas. A small dark storm-petrel – likely a very late Wilson’s – may have been the one that got away this day as we were unable to photograph it. A Manx Shearwater was well seen, along with 9 Cory’s Shearwaters and many of the expected species. A Song Sparrow arrived on the boat, first seen shortly after sunrise that morning.  A complete list is below, but all of our highlights were in Massachusetts waters.
GRSHGRSH2
Great Shearwaters
COSH
Cory’s Shearwater.

A 27-minute stretch in Maine waters (U.S. territorial waters with the closest point of land being 101nm to Mt Desert Rock) yielded little, and not my most-desired bird of the trip: a Great Skua in Maine waters, a bird that has become an unreasonable nemesis for me.  Nova Scotia waters were very slow, and an area of low pressure caught up to us, with rain becoming steadier and rapidly reducing visibility and light.
NOFU
Northern Fulmar
IMG_1181.PNG

On 10/28, we arrived in Halifax Harbor before sunrise, and our friends Eric and Anne Mills picked us up at the dock for a day of local birding. A continuing Yellow-throated Warbler at Point Pleasant Park and 2 Indigo Buntings at the old city dump were highlights, but like it has been in Maine, landbirds – especially in the woods, but also sparrowy-edges – were sparse.
old_city_dump
Point_Pleasant_Park

leaving_Halifax
The boat pulled away after sunset, but we were pleasantly surprised to awaken on 10/29 with a considerable distance of the Bay of Fundy left to transit. The boat was at a lower speed than usual, as we had to wait for high water in St. John Harbor. Beginning 17.3nm WSW of Brier Island, we enjoyed very productive birding through 11:00am as we were entering St. John Harbor.  Single American Robin, Horned Lark, Dark-eyed Junco, American Pipit, and Savannah Sparrow made morning passes around the boat, but the alcid show we had been waiting for had arrived: 58 Atlantic Puffins, 44 Razorbills, and 12 Common Murres (the majority of all were in New Brunswick waters). We were very excited to see a total of 5 Dovekies – a group of four followed by one lone bird in flight – all on the Nova Scotia side.  This was another one of the “target birds” we had identified for this itinerary.
IMG_1236

We arrived in Saint John at noon, and walked across the city to get to Rockwood Park. There were “no” birds in the woods here, either, so we visited a couple of breweries and had our best meal of the trip at the St. John Alehouse on our way back. It was not until almost midnight that the boat departed as the world’s highest tides had finally filled back in.
RockwoodPark1RockwoodPark2
St_John_dusk
Gulls commuting back from Rockwood Park with us.

The morning of October 30th has been circled on the proverbial calendar for a while, but there was quite a bit of apprehension about where we would find ourselves at dawn. I had my eyes on Maine waters – especially for my state Great Skua! – but also out of my own general birding interests of course.
Sunrise,10-30

Rolling over in bed at 5:30 EDT, I pulled up the Navionics Boating app and found our position to be 64.8nm ESE of Mt. Desert Rock, well within Maine-countable waters and with a current track that would keep us in these waters for some time. Breakfast was consumed rapidly, and we were on deck at 6:45, with just enough light to start looking for birds. Seas were still 2-3ft, with very light chop, and a little breeze. Skies were partly to mostly cloudy all morning. Conditions were once again unreasonably perfect.
me_sunrise

Great Shearwaters and Northern Fulmars were soon visible, and we picked up our first Red Phalaropes of the journey. Since Jeannette and I were the only birders on board, not surprisingly, we had been taking turns looking for passerines on the open decks and going on coffee and restroom runs. At about 8:00 or so, Jeannette went to the upper decks and returned about 30 minutes later to find me writing furiously. At 8:21EDT, I had a good bird, and I think it was a very, very good bird. Of course, she wasn’t there to see it, but as importantly for the task at hand, she was not there to try and document it while I studied it for as long as I can.

After watching it in the scope for a minute or two, I made the decision to go for the camera, despite the extreme distance of the bird. I paused for a moment at the idea of attempting a phone-scoping session, but I realized the unlikelihood of that being successful. I snapped a couple of pictures, realizing they were unlikely to be anywhere within the realm of realistically seeing “something” and went back to following the bird in the scope, hoping for it to turn or land, or at least stick around long enough for Jeannette to return.

I have seen a lot of Manx Shearwaters, and ample numbers of Audubon’s Shearwaters. Instantaneously, it was obvious this was not a Manx, so I started scribbling notes. I had a feeling based on my studying before the trip, that I was looking at a Barolo’s Shearwater, a bird not yet recorded in Maine (but on my long list of likely new additions).

Here are my transcribed field notes, lightly edited only for decipherability (comments added later):

  • Coordinates: 42(d) 35.966”N, 67 (d) 56.02’W
  • small seabird spotted distance while J was on coffee/passerine run.
  • Blackish back and white undersides but extremely stiff and very shallow wingbeats noticed immediately.
  • Thought alcid, but wings too narrow and relatively long (compared to size of body)
  • (First) observed at approx 60-degree angle as it was angling slightly towards the bow, but rapidly getting further away.
  • White underwing clean and appeared to go right out to wingtips.
  • White face – could possibly make out eye – rose well up towards narrow-appearing crown. Even compensating for morning light, face was far too white and clean for Manx Shearwater, more like Audubon’s, but with even more white than that
  • Could not see undertail coverts (specifically), but white did appear to “continue” towards rear.
  • Small bill, almost imperceptible at distance.
  • No shearwatering, stayed level (low over water) with shallow, stiff wingbeats/
  • Did not see “saddlebags” or not (too far for such fine detail).
  • No molt visible.
  • Dwarfed by passing Great Shearwater
  • Flight considerably different from Manx, plus extensive white on face and extensively white and clean underwings. Very short wings, relatively.
  • White as “far as I could see to” wingtips and undertail.
  • Need to get out field guides to compare Barolo’s vs Audubon, but this looked smaller, pudgier body, whiter underneath, and wingbeats so stiff and shallow.
  • Cannot reconcile wingbeats/flight and extensive white face, undertail, (underwing), with anything but Barolo’s Shearwater.
  • (wishing I went for the camera sooner!)

As I was scribbling away, Jeannette returned, I took one sip of coffee, and went back to my notes. Shortly thereafter, she yelled “BONX-IIIIEEEEEE!”  And finally, at 8:37am, 82.2nm southeast of Matincus Rock, and only about 6-10nm closes than any point on Cape Cod, I had my Maine state Great Skua. Finally. Mission accomplished.
IMG_1292

But then, it was back to the shearwater. Plans were made to celebrate later (wait, why can’t I get a drink delivered to me outside?). I added to my notes, still before checking any references, summarizing my observation:

  • Manx quickly eliminated by short wings, very small size, and bright white face. Flight style quite different. This was closer to an alcid with super-shallow wingbeats.
  • Single bird, all alone, picked up in straight, powered flight.
  • Distance could have obscured internal underwing markings, but none noticed
  • White rose up face – even if compensating (for) sun “overexposure,” so high that when going away, appeared to have a very narrow dark crown. (I made an exceedingly poor drawing of the impression. It is not worth sharing).

I had Howell and Zufelt’s Oceanic Birds of the World and the Nat Geo field guide with me, so I consulted them, along with an online image search. I revisited those resources and looked longer online when we returned to our cabin later. After that, I added the following:

– (my bird) looked “normally” tapered/pointed wing(tip) and not at all rounded like Audubon’s.
– did not appear particularly long-tailed
– short bill; Audubon’s looks longer-billed.
– cold/cool water environs. No water temperature measurement on board boat, but well within Gulf of Maine at 689ft depth. No “warm water species” seen on entire trip.
– too small for Manx, as a Great Shearwater crossed in front of it (while I was viewing through the scope). 3-5 had been circling the ship (consistently).
IMG_1358

Oh, and my desperate attempt at a photograph I alluded to? Well, I think it was one of the Great Shearwaters (is that a hind collar behind a dark cap?), but it could also be a giant piece of sushi. I whiffed. And that does not make me happy, as even a crappy photo might have had some value.

Looking at those resources, photos online, and more resources upon our return home, I concluded that this bird was indeed a Barolo’s Shearwater. Whether “sight records” are “good enough” for First State Records, well, that’s a debate for another day…

But yeah, we had other birds that day too, with Great Shearwaters and Northern Fulmars leading the way, and lots of dolphins, including several small close pods of Short-beaked Common Dolphin.  We also had another skua in Massachussets waters that suggested South Polar to me, but it was just too far, and Jeannette was unable to get on it in the camera for closer study.
COSHandGRSH
Cory’s Shearwater with Great Shearwaters.
GRSHandGBBG
Great Shearwaters with Great Black-backed Gull

At 4:15, with nearly-lifeless waters – the same early morning dull stretch from day 1 that got us worried about whether this entire trip was a good idea or not, we called it quits and went inside. A beer and a top-deck jacuzzi were in order. Come dawn, we’d be back in port in Brooklyn, so maybe we’ll even have a second drink tonight!
J-Mo_on_deck

Yeah, this cruise ship pelagic birding has its perks! And you can expect us to offer this as a tour in the near future. Unfortunately, a change in ships on this route next year may hamper the birding access, so we’re going to figure this out before we promote the tour and the future of birding possibilities on this intriguing cruise route.

Here’s the breakdown of the birdlist:

10/27.
-On deck 6:30 EDT. Mostly cloudy, lt-mod SE, light-moderate chop and 1-1.5m swell.  49.9 nm SSE of Nantucket.

1) Massachusetts waters:
GREAT SKUA: 5 total (coordinates recorded for each).
UNIDENTIFIED SKUA: 6 (coordinates recorded for each)
Parasitic Jaeger: 4
Unidentified Jaeger: 9
Black-legged Kittiwake: 4
Herring Gull: x
Lesser Black-backed Gull: 1
Great Black-backed Gull: x
Northern Fulmar: 3
Cory’s Shearwater: 9
Great Shearwater: 259
Manx Shearwater: 1
UNIDENTIFIED STORM-PETREL – 1, Wilson’s-type most likely.
Northern Gannet: 186
Song Sparrow – 1 found on Lido Deck

Atlantic White-sided Dolphin pods: 1

2) Maine: 27 minutes.
Herring Gull: 1
Great Black-backed Gull: 1
Northern Fulmar: 2
Great Shearwater: 1
Northern Gannet: 1

3) Nova Scotia waters.
Black-legged Kittiwake: 1
Herring Gull: x
Great Black-backed Gull: x
Northern Fulmar: 2
Great Shearwater: 2
Mourning Dove: 1 – 81.4 nm SW of Seal Island. Reappeared and was stooped upon by PEFA.
Peregrine Falcon: 1- 83.8nm SW of Seal Island

Pilot Whales: 4-6
PEFA1PEFA2

10/29: Bay of Fundy.

  • On deck 7:54 ADT. 7.5nm W of Boar’s Head, Briar Island, NS..
  • Nova Scotia waters through about 9:30am EDT:

Common Eider: 13
White-winged Scoter: 2
DOVEKIE: 5
Razorbill: 3
Atlantic Puffin: 15
Pomarine Jaeger: 6
Unidentified jaeger: 3
Black-legged Kittiwake: 59
Herring Gull: x
Great Black-backed Gull: x
Red-throated Loon: 2
Northern Fulmar: 7
Sooty Shearwater: 2
Northern Gannet: 24
American Robin: 1 at dawn, flying parallel to boat.
Horned Lark: 1 flying with DEJU 9.4nm W of Centreville Harbor
American Pipit: 1
Savannah Sparrow: 1
Song Sparrow: continues on deck.
Dark-eyed Junco: 1 flying with HOLA 9.4nm W of Centreville Harbor
AMRO

New Brunswick waters (after about 9:30 EDT):
Common Eider: 186
Common Murre: 12
Razorbill: 41
Atlantic Puffin: 43
Large alcids sp: 9
Pomarine Jaeger: 1
Black-legged Kittiwake: 49
Herring Gull: x
Great Black-backed Gull: x
Northern Fulmar: 1
Northern Gannet: 8
Red-throated Loon: 14

Minke Whale: 1
Harbor Porpoise: x

10/30.
– On deck 6:45 EDT. Maine waters, 64.8nm ESE of Mount Desert Rock and 60nm W of Seal Island, NS, but in US territorial waters.  Seas 2-3ft, light chop, increasing breeze.

1) Maine Waters:
GREAT SKUA: 1 – 42  31.291’N, 67  58.735’W
Pomarine Jaeger: 1
Red Phalarope: 16
Atlantic Puffin: 1
Black-legged Kittiwake: 7
Herring Gull: x
Great Black-backed Gull: x
Northern Fulmar: 76
Great Shearwater: 74
BAROLO’S SHEARWATER: 1, See Above. (42.35988’N, -67.5602’W)
Northern Gannet: 1

  • Massachusetts waters:

Unidentified phalarope: 30
UNIDENTIFIED SKUA: 1 (probable South Polar)
Pomarine Jaeger: 2
Parasitic Jaeger: 2
Unidentified Jaeger: 4
Black-legged Kittiwake: 14
Herring Gull: x
Lesser Black-backed Gull: 1
Great Black-backed Gull: x
Northern Fulmar: 158
Cory’s Shearwater: 6
Sooty Shearwater: 1
Great Shearwater: 233
Northern Gannet: 77

Atlantic White-sided Dolphin pods: 3+
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Ponds: 3+
Unidentified dolphin pods: 4+

Common_Dolphin
Common_Dolphin2
Short-beaked Common Dolphin.

2016 Birding By Schooner Trip Report

My 7th (now annual) Birding By Schooner aboard the Lewis R. French tour got underway on Monday morning from Camden Harbor with sunny skies and a light breeze perfect for a little sailing. Black Guillemots, Common Eiders, and Laughing, Herring, and Great Black-backed Gulls escorted us out of the harbor, as Ospreys kept a close eye on the proceedings.
1. Camden Harbor Departure_edited-1
3. map session_edited-1

Out in the bay, Harbor Porpoise were soon spotted (they were very plentiful on this trip) and plenty of Harbor Seals. Merlin, Bonaparte’s Gulls, and Common Loons were quickly added to the list. Sailing towards the Fox Islands Thorofare, we picked up an unexpected inshore Great Cormorant, an immature hanging out with Double-cresteds on Scraggy Island. Burnt Cove Harbor on Swan’s Island was our destination for the evening.
2. Entering Fox Islands Thorofare_edited-1

In the morning, we took a walk onshore, birding and naturalizing our way to the lighthouse. A Red Crossbill flew over calling as we landed at the dock, my 132nd all time Birding-by-Schooner species! The walk sampled the common denizens of the Red Spruce-dominated Acadian habitat of the region, with numerous Black-throated Green Warblers and many others. A White-tailed Deer crossed our path, and we spent some time learning the local trees.
5. Burnt Coat Harbor 2_edited-1
As we checked out the feeding station at this house, we couldn’t help but feel as if we were being watched…and we were!  I remember being creeped out by this doll when we last landed here a few years ago.
6. Burnt Coat Harbor 3_edited-1
7. Burnt Coat Harbor 4_edited-1
8. DEJU1C_edited-1

9. Burnt Coat Harbor -later_edited-1
10. Burnt Coat Harbor-departing_edited-1

Back on board, the fog had lifted, and we sailed through Blue Hill Bay, arriving at tiny Babson Island for the evening. Usually, the famous lobster bake is the finale of the trip, but this tour’s focus is having the chance to get out to Seal Island – far offshore and needing a narrow suite of conditions to make it possible (or, at least comfortable). Therefore, Captain Garth decided to mix things up a bit and take advantage of a pleasant evening and a lovely little beach. Much food was consumed. Several more Bald Eagles were noted.
11. Babson Island1_edited-1
12. Babson Island 2_edited-1
13
Tobias, visiting us from Sweden, shares the story – and flavors – of Skane aquavit, while Dan shares stories of Garth as a young mate.
14
15. Lobster Bake 3_edited-1
16. crew at lobsterbake_edited-1
The crew.

17. post Lobster Bake1
18. post Lobster bake2

Once again, Garth nailed the window, and conditions were absolutely perfect for a trip out to Seal Island, part of the Maine Coastal Island National Wildlife Refuge.  We passed between Stonington and Isle Au Haut, and cruised by Saddleback Ledge and into open water. I became more vigilant.
19. Babson Island am_edited-1
20. Saddleback Ledge_edited-1
Saddleback Ledge

One of the reasons I most look forward to the annual trip is for the chance to visit Seal Island. Our goal is to head out there every year and spend a night anchored offshore. It’s a very unique and special opportunity, and of course a chance at some great birding. Not the least of which is the chance to see “Troppy,” the Red-billed Tropicbird that has come to the island for the past 10 summers (and 11th year in the area overall). But this year, my anticipation about a visit was stoked even more with a spate of other rarities recently, including a Royal Tern, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and – two days prior to our departure, an inconceivable 1st Western Atlantic seaboard record of a Great Knot! A bird that breeds in Siberia and winters mostly in Southeast Asia and Australia, this is truly an incredible record.  Needless to say, it was not on my annual list of Next 25 Birds for Maine! I was showing symptoms of rarity fever.

Also, needless to say, I couldn’t wait to get out there!  But, at the mercy of the wind (or often, lack thereof), I had little say in whether or not we’d have a chance to look for it (although I really had zero expectations of it sticking around), Troppy, other rarities, or simply enjoy puffins, Common Murres, Razorbills, and calling Leach’s Storm-Petrels through the night.

With Seal Island on the horizon, we scanned the open waters, which we found to be unusually quiet. Commuting Common Terns and several Arctic Terns (who recently regained the crown of longest-distance migrants in the world: up to 55,000 miles a year!) began to appear, a sign that we were getting close. Under full sail (we often have to motor-sail to get this far out on a nice enough day), we spotted a lone Northern Gannet, and as we neared the island, numerous Atlantic Puffins became visible.
21. juvARTE1_edited-1
Juvenile Arctic Tern
22. Seal Island approach_edited-1

We slowly plied the waters off the islands southwest side, enjoying close up puffins, practicing our tern identification, watching Great Cormorants, and keeping an eye out for…

Troppy!  Just a few minutes ahead of schedule at 4:17pm, the famous Red-billed Tropicbird appeared. I was able to spot him as he was flying low, and dropped in for his usual (as long as it is sunny!) afternoon bath. Captain Garth and 1st mate/co-Captain Dan adeptly positioned the boat to slowly approach him on the water, without flushing him. We got incredibly close and cameras clicked away (my photos are a little distant as I decided to try for video this year when we were making our closest approach). Soon, he relocated to his more-usual bathing location closer to the island.
23. Troppy1
24. Troppy8_edited-1

Success!  And with happy birders and a Captain basking in his glory of once again perfectly timing our arrival to once again put us in perfect position for an enjoyable view, we sailed over to the Eastern Bight and dropped anchor for the evening. Besides our incredible success rate of seeing Troppy (5 out of 6 visits to Seal now, a great batting average), this tour also – again, conditions permitting – affords the unique opportunity to spend a night off of this incredible and remote island.

As per tradition, we invited the Seal Island crew of Puffin Project biologists aboard for dinner (thanks to the talents and perfect planning of our cook, Carla and her Mess Mate, Genevieve) and a visit, giving the crew and participants a chance to pepper them with all sorts of questions. We all kept an eye out for shorebirds passing or rounding the island, and Keenan and crew took the opportunity to survey the growing contingent of Laughing Gulls that have been congregating on the island. The sunset was particularly spectacular this evening as well.
25. Seal Crew visits2_edited-125. Seal Crew visits_edited-1
25B. L1060029_edited-1
26. Seal Sunset 2_edited-1

But we weren’t done with the “unique experiences” yet!  In addition to the remoteness of our anchorage, spending the night at Seal also gives us a chance to listen (and perhaps even see) Leach’s Storm-Petrels, vocalizing as they return to their nesting burrows under the cover of darkness.

While staying up a little later, or getting up a little earlier, would likely yield some calling birds, I don’t want to just hear them; I want to experience the cacophony to its fullest extent. Therefore, I suggest people wake up in the middle of the night for a listen. This year, I proposed waking up at 3:00am, and since several folks wanted to also see them, staying up through the twilight until sunrise.

As I stumbled to the deck at 3, I was pleasantly surprised to see seven people had joined me in the insanity. And, with a light fog rolling in (perfect!), the birds were calling a lot – and some giving their almost-sinister, cackling chatter very close to the boat.  Five of us stayed up right through daybreak, and although we didn’t actual spot a Leach’s (although Dan glimpsed a shadow of what was undoubtedly one), we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Adding to the mystique was the low fog, and the low, deep moans and groans of baying Gray Seals.
27. Seal sunrise_edited-1

We were, however, anxiously anticipating the arrival of morning coffee and muffins!

A Savannah Sparrow briefly alighted on the boat before returning to the island, puffins and guillemots were abundant, and terns were busy, heading to and fro. We only saw one Razorbill on the water, and no Common Murres on this visit, and sorted through the handfuls of shorebirds that were around (migrants, mostly Semipalmated Sandpipers and a smattering of others, along with local and vocal family groups of Spotted Sandpipers).

The skies cleared after breakfast and with a light south-southwest wind, we decided to head out for a little offshore sailing. We passed along Seal, hoping for another visit from Troppy, but then turn around the north end of the island and tacked our way offshore. Dan, Garth, and the sailing fans were having fun, while the birding fans enjoyed the numerous commuting puffins. We also spotted a few good pelagics: led by a Cory’s Shearwater, my first ever from the windjammer, soon followed by a second sighting. A single Great Shearwater passed close by, shortly before encountering a more-distant raft of 36.  There were painfully few Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, but we did have a Minke Whale, and moments after I said we “could use a Manx Shearwater now” a Manx Shearwater passed by!
28. Seal Day 2_edited-1<

We had hopes of sailing around Matinicus Rock, but time and wind suggested it was time to head inshore. We rounded Wooden Ball Island, still under full sail, but then the wind ran out. Drifting mostly with the incoming tide, and soon into dense fog our progress was slow. But napping was in order, and this was the perfect opportunity.

We needed our yawl boat to push our way past Vinalhaven and into the Fox Island Thorofare where the fog finally lifted. Anchoring between the village on North Haven and a dock on Vinalhaven, our day came to a close. Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day for an evening walk.
29. Fox Islands Thorofare 1_edited-1
30. OSPR1_edited-1
31. Galley1_edited-1
32. Green flash_edited-1
Look? We saw “the green flash” at sunset!

50. breakfast of champions_edited-1
Tobias’s breakfast of champions.
It was a lovely, albeit humid and rapidly warming, morning, which began with a pair of vocal Merlins from the boat. Making up for lost time, we hopped to shore, and I lead a walk in the North Perry Creek Preserve on Vinalhaven. Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and many others were added to our triplist, but most birds were Black-capped Chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Black-throated Green Warblers, or Red-breasted Nuthatches. Twelve-spotted Skimmer (a dragonfly), Smooth Green Snake, Wood Frog, and a spiffy diurnal moth, the Virginia Ctenucha were also observed.
51. North Perry Creek Preserve_edited-1
52. North Perry Creek Preserve 2_edited-1

We extended our loop a bit, but our selected return trail turned out to be more rugged than expected, so we made it back just in time for lunch. After another scrumptious, and this time well-earned, meal, we pushed to the east, then set sail and turned north into East Penobscot Bay.

While the occasional Razorbill is regular in the bay, small groups are often found after storms, and at this time of year fathers leading flightless juveniles are regularly encountered. But earlier in the season, Garth had started noticing 30-40 regularly in a particular area, roughly between Eagle, Butter, and Bradbury Islands. Seeing them often enough, it was more than a random occurrence.

Needless to say, I was intrigued (and a little bit proud, I must say!), and since we only had one distant Razorbill out at Seal, it seemed like a good plan to check it out today. As we approached the area, I spotted one Razorbill in flight, then a group of 5 passed by. Black Guillemots were even more numerous than usual, and gulls (including several Bonaparte’s) were more common than elsewhere in the bay. But no rafts of Razorbills.
53. BLGU2_edited-1
54. BLGU5_edited-1
56. BLGU12_edited-156. BLGU9_edited-1
I kept scanning, but noticed Garth was looking a little disappointed. Then I asked Dan to check out what appeared to be a large raft of birds. I immediately thought Razorbills, but the group was so big, I doubted myself. It was way more than 30-40. Were they just eiders distorted by distance and heat shimmer, or were we about to see something really, really exceptional?

We’re going to go with the latter. But no, there were not 30-40 Razorbills anymore. There were now 252. And while there were a few fathers escorting kiddos, the majority of the group were adults. I need to do some research, but this is probably an unprecedented number for inshore waters, and perhaps even a summertime record for Maine? Regardless of the statistics, it was amazing, and as we simply drifted among them, many photographs were taken, and we were even able to hear many of them growling, and one of the juveniles piping.
65. RAZO1_edited-1
66. RAZO8_edited-1
67. RAZO12_edited-1
68. best1-RAZO13_edited-1
70. RAZO15_edited-1
71. RAZO_juv1_edited-1
72. RAZO-juv4_edited-1
73. RAZO30_edited-1
74. RAZO33_edited-1
75. RAZO38_edited-1
I also spotted a spec in the distance, which I photographed for later analysis. Blowing it up on the computer, I can confirm the 134th species to be seen from the Lewis R. French during the Birding By Schooner Tour: Red-throated Loon (a rare but regular summertime lingerer that I have been expecting to spot at some point).

But, did I mention all the Razorbills!?

59. Garth and Dan_edited-1
With another extraordinary experience under our belts, we pulled into Gilkey Harbor on Islesboro for the night.
57. roast beef_edited-157. Carla Cooking1_edited-1

Carla at work. 
60. dinner line_edited-1\
61. last sunset_edited-1
62. last sunset3_edited-1
63. last piping_edited-1
64. cannon2_edited-1

I was up early the final morning, hoping to add a few more singing birds from the mainland to what was a paltry total triplist. But once again, the dawn chorus was nearly non-existent, and for the first time, species such as Swainson’s Thrush and Winter Wren went undetected during our tour. Was it just because of our few-days-later-than-usual outing? Did the drought lower productivity and birds have already cleared out? Or, was it an early and successful breeding season and birds have already finished doing everything other than secretively undergo molt?
33. last morning1_edited-1

While we did have 1 or 2 fewer walks than usual, we had a better seabird tally than in most years. But no migrant swallows? And a low diversity of migrant shorebirds.  So our total checklist was well below average, so I was working hard to pad the list: American Black Duck and Belted Kingfisher in the harbor, and as we slowly sailed back to Camden: Turkey Vulture and Red-tailed Hawk over the Camden Hills.

Of course, no one would have traded Troppy, three shearwaters, countless calling Leach’s Storm-Petrels, or an unprecedented aggregation of Razorbills for a few more total ticks!

As Ospreys called around us as we entered Camden Harbor – the same ones that announced our departure, and the trip came to a close, another successful, unique, and bird-tastic Birding By Schooner tour was in the books.
34. entering Camden1_edited-133A. entering Camden2_edited-1
35. COLO11_edited-1
One of the first birds we saw was also the last, this Common Loon, apparently with a broken lower mandible, sneaking away from our docking boat.

Here’s our complete list from the trip:

  1. Mallard
  2. Canada Goose
  3. Osprey
  4. American Goldfinch
  5. Yellow Warbler
  6. Rock Pigeon
  7. European Starling
  8. Cedar Waxwing
  9. American Robin
  10. Song Sparrow
  11. Chimney Swift
  12. Double-crested Cormorant
  13. Herring Gull
  14. Great Black-backed Gull
  15. Black Guillemot
  16. Laughing Gull
  17. Common Loon
  18. Ring-billed Gull
  19. Bonaparte’s Gull
  20. Merlin
  21. GREAT CORMORANT
  22. Bald Eagle
  23. American Crow
  24. Mourning Dove
  25. Killdeer
  26. RED CROSSBILL
  27. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  28. Purple Finch
  29. White-throated Sparrow
  30. Black-capped Chickadee
  31. Gray Catbird
  32. Dark-eyed Junco
  33. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  34. Black-throated Green Warbler
  35. Common Yellowthroat
  36. Savannah Sparrow
  37. Broad-winged Hawk
  38. Hermit Thrush
  39. Eastern Phoebe
  40. Great Blue Heron
  41. Spotted Sandpiper
  42. ARCTIC TERN
  43. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  44. Northern Gannet
  45. ATLANTIC PUFFIN
  46. RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD
  47. Greater Yellowlegs
  48. Semipalmated Plover
  49. Ruddy Turnstone
  50. LEACH’S STORM-PETREL
  51. RAZORBILL
  52. CORY’S SHEARWATER
  53. Great Shearwater
  54. Wilson’s Storm-petrel
  55. MANX SHEARWATER
  56. Common Raven
  57. Blue Jay
  58. Downy Woodpecker
  59. Northern Parula
  60. Black-and-white Warbler
  61. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  62. Northern Flicker
  63. Chipping Sparrow
  64. RED-THROATED LOON
  65. American Black Duck
  66. Belted Kingfisher
  67. Turkey Vulture
  68. Red-tailed Hawk

And the list of mammals, and a selection of other critters:

  1. Harbor Seal
  2. Harbor Porpoise
  3. Red Squirrel
  4. White-tailed Deer
  5. Orange Sulphur
  6. Gray Seal
  7. Minke Whale
  8. Wood Frog
  9. Twelve-spotted Skimmer
  10. Smooth Green Snake
  11. Virginia Ctenucha
  12. Great Spangled Fritillary
  13. Red Admiral

Since every year’s tour is so different, if you would like to look back on previous trips and their respective birdlists, please click on the links below. Furthermore, for more (and better!) photographs of the birds we see, check out the tours (2015 + 2013) that Jeannette was on!

2015

2014

2013

Hope to see you aboard next year!