Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A cold front and a Corn Crake

After an unseasonably warm and unbirdy October, the first week of November has seen a bit of a return to normalcy. A short-lived cold front over the weekend delivered a nice hawk flight at Lighthouse Point in New Haven, CT, where we tallied three migrating SHORT-EARED OWLS, an impressive number for sure.

record shot of one of the day's Short-eared Owls

"Rarity Month" is also off to a banging start regionally with this chase-able CORN CRAKE on Long Island...wow.

Corn Crake
The rest of the year will likely be quiet in this space, as work, travel, and the holidays will keep blogging on the back-burner for a bit. I'll have much more to report after the holidays, though, as three weeks in Australia and two in Japan will deserve some attention :)

 - NB

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

I'm still here...

...just waiting for a cold front, thanks.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

October pelagic opportunity

For you pelagic enthusiasts, the Brookline Bird Club (Massachusetts) has scheduled an overnight pelagic to the canyons southeast of Cape Cod for the weekend of October 14-15. This is in response to both the Aug and Sep overnighters being weathered-out.

Deep-water pelagics have never been run to these ridiculously productive waters in October, which is part of what makes the opportunity so exciting. Our route usually takes us over the Nantucket Shoals twice, on our way to and from our main birding area: the edge of the continental shelf.

This is potentially a super exciting time to be out there. We have a shot at (I won't use the word "expect," because you never know with birding...) 5+ species of shearwater, Northern Fulmar, multiple storm-petrel species, a solid jaeger migration, both skuas, and many more. This is a great time of year for Red Phalarope, Sabine's Gull, and Black-legged Kittiwake. Northern Gannets will be on the return south. Alcids are certainly in play come mid-October! Sea ducks should be moving as well (we pass though inshore waters on Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon). This is probably as good a time as any to see a Pterodroma of some kind. (Note that an October trip off New York to waters further west yielded a whopping 10+ Black-capped Petrels). There is no reason to think a lingering White-faced Storm-Petrel (expected IN SOME NUMBERS in these waters Aug-Sep) is not going to be out there. With all this year's tropical activity, perhaps something like a Cape Verde Shearwater is in play. Or how about Zino's Petrel? This is pelagic birding, so we'll be prepared for the unexpected.

These waters are incredibly productive. The track record for the annual late August overnight trip is insane. The August and September trips were both sold out, and weathered-out. Signups for this October trip have been slow to come in; it would be a real shame to not get out there because of lack of signups!

If you're interested in signing up, contact Ida Giriunas at 781-929-8772, ida8 (AT) verizon (dot) net. Act NOW, as I believe the cutoff date to meet signup quota is any day now.

The official description:
"OCTOBER 14, 15 , 2017. This is a transition time of year. If enough people sign up, We will go from Hyannis, MA to the Hydrographer Canyon area. Warm waters are changing to cooler waters. Anything is possible: shearwaters, skuas (the Great Skua would also be possible) , storm petrels (even the white-faced is possible) , Gulls, including Sabines and Kittewakes, phalaropes, sea ducks and of course, the mammals. Excellent Photo ops… Limit: 50 participants
Cost: BBC members $310, non-members $330
We will have master birders Marshal Iliff, Nicholas Bonomo, Peter Flood and Kate Sutherland leading the trip. Our boat is the Helen H. It is a very comfortable, fast, 100-foot fishing boat with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic captain and crew. We use gallons of chum to attract the birds. There is a full galley with excellent food at reasonable prices. Parking is free."

- Nick

Monday, September 25, 2017

Cape Cod -- Aug 19-21, 2017 (Part 2 of 2)

Aug 20:
Our hope on this day was to visit South Monomoy Island, a legendary autumn birding locale situated at the very tip of the "elbow" of Cape Cod. Despite the island's stellar reputation, well-deserved thanks to a long list of vagrants and numbers of migrant passerines, you pretty much never hear anything about it these days. That's simply because the island is difficult to access; it is only reachable by boat.



If you take a look at its position on the map above, you can see why it must be an amazing place right after an autumn cold front.

We would be visiting in mid-August, with no such frontal boundary nearby, so we were not expecting a landbird migration. However South Monomoy can also produce shorebirds, terns, and long-legged waders, and this was a fine time of year for those.

We launched the boat out of Harwich and made our way to the public landing area of this portion of Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. Our hike took us first to the lighthouse, where a few trees and shrubs can hold migrant landbirds during the right conditions. Again, not expecting much on this date and weather pattern, we checked anyway. We had a few warblers, mostly presumed breeders, with one obvious migrant being a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH. Quiet as anticipated, we walked southwest to a tidal pool called the Powder Hole. Here we observed shorebirds and terns of the expected species for the date. Nothing unusual stood out, but we enjoyed picking through the flocks.

Birding the Powder Hole - photo by Julian Hough

Unfortunately the nearby freshwater Station Ponds were full of water thanks to the wet summer we'd experienced (and needed!). We had hoped for muddy edges for shorebirds, or at the very least shallow water for egrets and herons (and storks or spoonbills or whatever...). But we were out of luck.

We gave South Monomoy a good effort. Though our results on this day were underwhelming, I think that each of us are excited to get back there on a future date...perhaps for an autumn landbird flight, one of these years soon.

On our way back to shore we stopped for a quick look from the boat for a Bar-tailed Godwit that had been summering in the area. We didn't find the godwit on the flats, but we would take a dedicated shot at that bird on the next day.

Luke Seitz taking one for the team, scanning from the shallows

We headed back to land, as Julian, Phil, and Dave had to get back to CT for work on Monday.

Aug 21:
With a Small Craft Advisory scheduled for the following day, today was looking like our last shot at using the boat. Peter, Luke and I thought we should check out "Minimoy," a tiny island that lies between South Monomoy and North Monomoy Islands. Our target here was that BAR-TAILED GODWIT that we had briefly looked for the previous afternoon. This time we would land and bird the flats around the island as the tide came up.

It didn't take Luke long to scope the bird from a distance. Eventually the Bar-tailed, accompanied by several MARBLED and HUDSONIAN GODWITS, made their way over to "our" flat as the tide rose. We were treated to point blank views of these birds for some time.

Bar-tailed Godwit with Marbled (left) and Hudsonian (right) Godwits

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit

Hudsonian Godwit

Hudsonian Godwit

Hudsonian Godwits

Marbled Godwit

Barwit & boat

After that show we poked around the area in search of other shorebird roosts but could not find much else. The sands out here are constantly shifting, and the roost locations may vary greatly from year to year.

Unsure of what to do next, Pete suggested that we navigate through the shifting sands and channels to the open ocean side of Chatham, in an effort to find some seabirds. After some discussion, we decided to head offshore a bit. Recent half-day pelagic trips had recorded seabird and whale activity about 10 miles ESE of Chatham Harbor. Seas were calm and we made really good time to that area, where we indeed found what we were looking for. Minke Whales were scattered in all directions, some lunge-feeding on baitfish. We found several groups of shearwaters, and with those we found jaegers. Two PARASITIC JAEGERS were working the shearwaters and gulls, while we had an all-too-brief sighting of a distant skua that we were never able to relocate. The skies dimmed for a while as the solar eclipse (partial here) took place.



Parasitic Jaeger

Parasitic Jaeger

Parasitic Jaeger

Parasitic Jaeger terrorizing a Laughing Gull

Cory's Shearwater
Luke using those Cornell brains of his to safely show us the eclipse in real time!

shearwaters boatside
En route we came across a dark-backed tern perched on some flotsam. Bridled Tern?? Nope, just a juvenile Black Tern. As the boat drifted towards the tern, it eventually gave up its perch, revealing it to be a recently deceased Great Shearwater!

you can't tell from this angle, but that's a dead GRSH and some seaweed it's standing on

Black Tern

We made it back to shore that evening with a bit more effort than we had anticipated. The new channel through the recent breach at South Beach gets quite shallow at low tide, as we found out the hard way. A few times the engine had to come up and the boat was propelled by human strength, at one point dragging it over a sandbar. Worth it, for me...but maybe ask Luke yourself.


No pelagic, no problem! We made up for the lack of offshore canyon birding with plenty of inshore goodness.

 - Nick

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Cape Cod -- Aug 19-21, 2017 (Part 1 of 2)

Cape Cod weekend birding map (courtesy of Julian Hough)

The weekend of Aug 19-20 was supposed to be spent offshore. More specifically, this was the weekend of the uber-successful Brookline Bird Club overnight deepwater pelagic, AKA the 'Extreme Pelagic.' The track record for this late-August trip is unparalleled in the region, so we greatly anticipate it every summer. So, naturally we were bummed to hear that this year's trip would be canceled due to high seas.

In an effort to make the most of the situation, several friends made the journey to Cape Cod anyway for some birding by land and boat. Given the nice inshore forecast I decided to trailer my boat.

Aug 19:
Most of us arrived early on Saturday the 19th with the idea of seabirding from Race Point in Provincetown, having heard recent rumors of shearwaters right along the beach. We did not think they would literally be along the beach, but that is exactly what we found. Thousands of shearwaters of four species (Great, Cory's, Sooty and Manx) were feeding heavily on "peanut bunker" (AKA juvenile menhaden) that had reportedly been pushed to shore by feeding mackerel and other predatory fish. We quite literally had these birds at our feet.

photo by Blair Nikula

photo by Blair Nikula

Great Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

Cory's Shearwater (this showing some white on the underside of the primaries, indicating that this may represent the nominate form, diomedea, called Scopoli's Shearwater)

Cory's Shearwater

Manx Shearwater


"Peanut Bunker" (juvenile menhaden)









Shearwaters weren't the only birds to be seen. Gulls and terns were also getting in on the action. Three Sabine's Gulls (two adults and a juvenile) were a highlight.

adult Sabine's Gull

adult Sabine's Gull

adult Sabine's Gull with juvenile Laughing Gull and immature Herring Gull

juvenile Black Tern

Minds fully blown by this point, we decided to pull ourselves away from the show and make our way down to Chatham to look for the adult LITTLE STINT that had been frequenting the Morris Island area for several days. Lucky for us, the bird was faithful to its favorite patch of mud, and we were able to observe and photograph this mega rarity for a while, before calling it a day.

Little Stint (right) with Semipalmated Sandpipers


no toe webbing there...





The journey would continue via boat on Sunday and Monday...

 - NB