Wednesday, August 24, 2011

First Pelagics!

A friend of mine decided on her 30th birthday that she would make a list of 30 things to do throughout the year.  One of the items was to go on a whale watch and I very willingly told her I would come along.  Since I began my more serious birding pursuits 2 years ago, I haven't had a chance to get out on the water and so my official list of pelagic birds was at 0.  Yup a big fat goose egg.  Yesterday that all changed when we took a three-hour drive up to Gloucester, MA and boarded the Privateer IV of the 7 Seas Whale Watch

My plan was to study my Sibley guide a bit during the days leading up to the watch.  Also, I wanted to see if I could find a list of species that had been seen by other birders in the area who had recently done some pelagic watches.  Once again life got in the way and so with only one list of birds seen on the 7 Seas trip from last week and a quick glance over of about 5 species we headed out to sea.  Within 20 minutes I felt a bit more secure that I wouldn't miss too many birds as the naturalist mentioned that she would talk about some of the birds we were seeing as well.  She lied.  This is pretty much a whale watch and if you happen to see some birds you are in luck.  The naturalist did mention on the way back in (near the end of the trip) that she had seen 2 species of birds while we were out.

Herring Gull- a sign you're getting close to land

By the shore we had the usual suspects making an appearance, Herring Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, Greater Black-backed Gulls, and a few Laughing Gulls.  Then as we made it out into more open waters the first bird I saw was a Greater Shearwater.  The bird came close enough to positively ID with only my quick study session and I was able to shoot a few pictures to verify later on. 

Greater Shearwater- views of the top and bottom

Greater Shearwater- showing ID marks- black cap, white underside with some buffiness, and dark under tail coverts.

As we got a little further out I started to notice some smaller birds here and there close to the surface.  Robin-sized, dark bird with a white rump patch.....  It must be a Wilson's Storm-petrel.  The naturalist did inform us at one point that this species is the most abundant species in the world but unless you went out on the water (or to their breeding grounds in the "arctic").  You would never know.  By the way, according to Sibley, they breed in the subantarctic. 

Wilson's Storm-Petrel- white rump is a quick way to ID

I did snap a few pictures of these resting Shearwaters as we motored out to the area where whales had been reported.  I tried to get an ID as we zipped by but wasn't able too.  Now that I can look at the images though it's clearly visible that they are Manx Shearwaters.  The white c-shape behind the eye and the white 'butt' clearly separate it out from the other species. 

Resting Manx Shearwaters

Manx Shearwater- note there is no buffiness on the underside

A few more Greater Shearwaters flew by and then I was distracted by the surfacing humpback whales.  We saw a total of 10 humpback whales and 2 minke whales and then we headed back to Gloucester.  On the way back I  did catch a look at this dark Shearwater that the image confirmed was a Sooty Shearwater.  I had thought I had seen some in a group feeding far out earlier on as well. 

Sooty Shearwater

The bird highlighted below was an added bonus.  I totally admit that at the time, I didn't have a clue as to what it was.  We were speeding back toward shore and I was chatting with my friend when something caught my eye.  I left off the conversation mid-sentence and picked up my camera to snap a few shots.  With the speed the boat and the bird were travelling I knew I didn't have a shot at getting an ID on the bird in the field.  I had completely forgotten about it until I was checking out my pictures from the day and I realized I had caught a shot of a Cory's Shearwater. 

Cory's Shearwater- the yellow bill is a give away.

All in all a great day on the water, 4 Shearwater species as life birds and a Wilson's Storm-petrel too.  The water was as smooth as lake water and we barely had a cloud in the sky.  A few random peeps flew toward shore but way to fast to get an identification on and a lone Great-Blue Heron also looked like he was heading toward Cape Cod for a vacation.  I can't wait to have a chance to get out on the water again. 

Northern Gannet- surprisingly only one of a few seen.
If you want to see the whale on the trip, check out my general nature blog....  Daily Dose of Dorkiness.