Friday, September 11, 2009

September 8 Pelagic Grand Slam

This past Tuesday I participated in a nine hour pelagic birding trip off the New Hampshire coast organized by the Massabesic Audubon Center. It was likely the last pelagic outing I will take in this year, and if that proves to be the case, for myself I cannot possibly imagine this trip being outdone anytime soon. Simply stated last Tuesday was fantastic! The weather and sea conditions were near perfect, and the seabirds and other marine life presented an exciting spectacle.

About 40 or so birders boarded Granite State Whale Watch out of Rye Harbor and headed out past the Isles of Shoals towards Jeffrey's Ledge mostly birding New Hampshire water, more specifically Old Scantum and Jeffrey's Basin, with a couple brief forays into Maine. Spending most of the day chasing down birds and whales, the boat headed back to the Isles of Shoals in late afternoon checking out activity there before returning to port.

The undisputed highlight of the day was sightings of all three jaeger species: Pomerine, Parasitic and Long-tail, constituting for me a life bird hat-trick. This was followed by a sweep of the four shearwaters likely to be encoutered in the Gulf of Maine. In total 21 species of birds was observed. Most notable sightings with estimated counts of each were Cory's Shearwater, 31; Greater Shearwater, 940; Sooty Shearwater, 210; Manx Shearwater, 58; Wilson's Storm-Petrel, 260; Northern Gannet, 17; Great Cormorant, 1; Red-necked Phalarope, 28; Pomerine Jaeger, 1; Parasitic Jaeger, 5; Long-tail Jaeger, 1 juvenile; unidentified jaegers, 5 (likely Parasitic); and Black Guillemot, 1.

Marine mammal diversity (7 species) and numbers were also impressive: Gray Seal, 6 or more; Harbor Seal, several; Atlantic White-sided Dolphin, 150 including calves; Harbor Porpoise, 1; Finback Whale, 20 or more; Minke Whale, 4; and Humpback Whale, 5. And among all these, we also got close-up views of a large Basking Shark; two large, bizarre looking Ocean Sunfish; and several Bluefin Tuna.

Photos of some of our sightings, including jaegers and shearwaters, were taken by Len Medlock and can be viewed at

In closing, I want to thank to Jon Woolf of MAC for coordinating the trip; Steve Mirick for being the trip 'MC' and collating and posting the species counts; Len Medlock for his photographs; Lance Tanino (driver) for getting Cliff Seifer, Phil Brown and me to and back from the coast; and the crew of Granite State Whale Watch.

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