Monday, August 25, 2014

Just Announced! Sept 27 & 28 Overnight Pelagic out of Cape Cod!

This trip was just announced by the Brookline Bird Club, right on the heels of another fantastic overnight August pelagic:

The same overnight trip that has become so reliable for White-faced Storm-Petrel and has produced so many rarities including Barolo Shearwater is being offered for a second time this year...on the weekend of Sept 27 & 28.

See the below message from organizer Ida Giriunas. Note that the date to reach our minimum signup number is Sept 6th. Usually the annual August overnighter sells out faster than a Britney Spears concert circa 2001, with a long waiting list, but this might be a different story since it is being announced relatively last-minute as far as these things go.

"Greetings:

We have an opportunity to rerun the recent very successful Extreme August Pelagic trip at the end of September. The birds seen in August were the White-faced Storm-petrel, Black-capped Petrel, Red-billed Tropicbird, dozens of Audubon's shearwaters, a few Band-rumped storm-petrels, a few Leach's Storm-petrels and a SOUTH POLAR SKUA as well as our common shearwaters, jaegers and phalaropes. Also seen was a WHALE SHARK and a TIGER SHARK.. We have Master birders such as Jeremiah Trimble, Marshall Iliff, Nicholas Bonomo, Mark Faherty, Luke Seitz, etc. leading our trips.
Our boat, the HELEN H, 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 are 38 bunks aboard which will be available to the first 38 who sign up. There is a full galley with excellent food at reasonable prices.
Parking is free.

Please let us know if you would be interested. We need enough people registered by 9/6 to plan to do so. So, if you want to join us, contact Ida Giriunas at ida8@verizon.net
(781-929-8772) for further information and waiver forms.

September 27,28, 2014 Hyannis to Hydrographer, Veaches, Atlantis Canyon area:

5:30 AM Saturday - 6PM Sunday

for WHITE-FACED STORM PETREL, Band-Rumped and Leach's Storm-Petrel, 5 Shearwater species (including possible BAROLO), 3 Jaeger species, terns, gulls and sea ducks, possible Tropicbird, bridled tern, other rarities.

Cost: $295 BBC Members, $310 non-members.

Ida Giriunas

For the Brookline Bird Club"

 - NB

Aug 23 & 24 - BBC Extreme Pelagic (WFSP, RBTR, BCPEs, SPSK, Whale Shark)

A borderline weather forecast almost kept us from leaving the dock this weekend, but the end result was another spectacularly successful Brookline Bird Club overnight pelagic. We've been waiting two years for another overnight trip. Our most recent overnighter (in 2012) was amazing, and last year's trip was canceled due to high seas. So we were really itching to get back out there!

Here are some highlights from the weekend with a few pics. I know that several folks got some killer photos, so keep an eye out for those. Marshall Iliff and Jeremiah Trimble are preparing the full trip report and eBird checklists.

In short, we had (among other things!) three BLACK-CAPPED PETRELS (the two seen well enough were white-faced types), five shearwater species, four storm-petrel species including WHITE-FACED and BAND-RUMPED, an immature RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD, Red and Red-necked Phalaropes, SOUTH POLAR SKUA, all three jaegers...and a WHALE SHARK right next to the boat.

Our route, with a few of the many highlights marked
Red-billed Tropicbird

Red-billed Tropicbird

Red-billed Tropicbird being pursued by a Pomarine Jaeger

Red-billed Tropicbird

White-faced Storm-Petrel

White-faced Storm-Petrel

Black-capped Petrel (the second of three seen)

Black-capped Petrel (the second of three seen)

Black-capped Petrel (the first of three seen)

Black-capped Petrel (the first of three seen)

Whale Shark

Parasitic Jaeger


Audubon's Shearwater

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

Sooty Shearwater in a raft of Great Shearwaters

juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger

juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger

Another amazing overnight trip is in the books. It's no wonder this annual event sells out months in advance. The biggest thanks go to Ida Giriunas and Naeem Yusuff for their hard work to make these trips possible. Here's hoping to another opportunity to get out there, sooner than later.

 - Nick

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Milford Point (Golden-Plover, Western Willet, Red Knots)

Shorebird diversity is beginning to pick up at Milford Point (CT) as the season rolls on. Among the regulars today we had an adult AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER, a juvenile "WESTERN" WILLET, and three adult RED KNOTS. Among the flocks today were my first juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipers (a handful) and Semipalmated Plovers (two) of the fall among the throngs of adults.

After going a while without a point-and-shoot camera for digiscoping (after my Canon A590 finally crapped out), I picked up a cheap used one from eBay (same model). There are just too many situations in which digiscoping still yields better results than my 400mm dSLR lens when I'm dealing with distant birds. So lucky you, blog reader, as you'll again be seeing more crummy digiscoped photos here, just like the old days!

American Golden-Plover (adult, center of image). From a distance with Black-bellied Plovers, note the smaller size especially head/bill, white supercilium set off by a dark cap, and rich brown back.

American Golden-Plover (adult, second from right)

"Western" Willet (juvenile, center of image with bill tucked). Also note the fading alternate plumaged Red Knot along the shore to the right.

 - NB

Monday, August 11, 2014

July road trip

One of the reasons why I can't help but love my current job is the schedule attached to it. Without getting into too much detail, every five weeks or so I work for a long stretch that is followed by extended time off. After working a lot in early-mid July I had quite a bit of time off towards the end of the month. I participated in pelagic trips on consecutive weekends, off Massachusetts on July 19th and off North Carolina on July 25th & 26th, with no work commitments in between. Also on both sets of pelagic trips were friends (and killer birders!) Tom Johnson and Doug Gochfeld. The three of us decided to take a road trip from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras (and back north to our homes) to pass the time between pelagics. Along the way we hit lots of good habitat and saw many, many birds. Yep, we had a blast. Here are some highlights from the week on the road...

As we were still aboard the "Helen H," approaching Hyannis after a super successful pelagic on July 19th, our cell phones lit up with email and text alerts that had stacked up throughout the day while we were at sea. Among those emails was one from New Jersey with news of a European Golden Plover that had been identified just that day. Doug had prior family obligations in Massachusetts for the 20th, so he was unable to chase the bird. But Tom and I were ready to drop everything and run. The only problem was...we were so wrecked and sleep deprived that there was no way we could safely reach anywhere near New Jersey without first catching some sleep. As Tom suggested, "We ride at dawn."

And that's what we did...or maybe a bit after dawn. Either way, we heard that the bird was still there on the 20th but had flown around 9am. Still, our hopes were cautiously high that it could be relocated, especially since it had flown in the same direction the day before only to reappear at the original location early this morning. And yet we arrived to a line of birders looking at an empty field. We spent a good few hours branching out in all directions, hoping to refind the bird in a different field. We searched long and hard til dark, intermittently returning to the group of birders at the original location, without luck. Our only consolation prize was this large Imperial Moth.

Imperial Moth

We thought it was worth another shot on the morning of the 21st, so we arrived at the field pretty darn early and waited for a couple more hours. After nearly 24 hours since the last sighting we chose to throw in the towel and return to Connecticut to reconvene with Doug and officially start our trip south. (FYI, the plover was never seen again).

Later that day the three of us met Julian Hough at Milford Point in Milford, CT, where Semipalmated Sandpipers had arrived in force. Here we had a conservative count of 2,500 birds and were able to scour most of them unsuccessfully for any Old World relatives. This site has three accepted records of Red-necked Stint, last in 2006, so I figured the place was due for another...but not on this day.

We crashed in Brooklyn that night and planned on shorebirding Long Island on the 22nd. We focused our efforts during the first part of the day on Cupsogue Beach County Park & vicinity, where we tallied a nice list of shorebirds including a few "Western" Willets, a Whimbrel, and a sweet adult Western Sandpiper. Terns were a bit less diverse than they often are here, but still included a Royal Tern despite the complete lack of Roseates.

Short-billed Dowitchers in flight, including a presumed first-summer individual at right

Black Skimmer

We ended the day with a visit to the East Pond at Jamaica Bay, a shorebird mecca with a fantastic track record of rarities. However, the water levels were just beginning to drop and very little mud likely kept shorebirds from settling at that location. We had nothing of note and very few individuals to look at. It pretty much sucked. Doug was devastated. Night in Brooklyn.

Our plan for the 23rd was to drive to Bombay Hook in Delaware and continue birding the refuges southward from there with no firm schedule. I had only birded Bombay Hook once before, and never during peak shorebird season, so I was looking forward to this place. It did not disappoint. The muddy pools were covered in migrant shorebirds. Some of our counts included 290 American Avocet, 22 Stilt Sandpiper, over 3000 Short-billed Dowitchers and four Long-billed Dowitchers.

Prime Hook was slow so we didn't spend much time here and proceeded south to Figgs Landing in Maryland. Here were two roadside pools with lots of potential for drawing in migrant shorebirds, waders, and terns. A flyby flock of 9 Whimbrel was a highlight here.

For our last stop of the day we set up an evening watch at nearby Truitts Landing, also in Maryland. We spent two hours standing around and counting birds migrating and heading to roost. Among other things we had our first Solitary and Pectoral Sandpipers of the week, a flyby calling Long-billed Dowitcher, 1,090 Laughing Gulls, and 14 Seaside Sparrows. Night somewhere nearby.

Tom scans for birds at Truitts Landing while Doug checks his phone for nearby Tinder matches...

The only thing we had to worry about on the 24th was arriving in Hatteras, NC at a reasonable time in the evening. So we planned on hitting Chincoteague NWR and Pea Island NWR en route.

We ended up running into some dodgy weather at Chincoteague so our birding here was cut short a bit, but we still managed to sample the best spots. Here we enjoyed six heron/egret species, many Marbled Godwits and "Western" Willets, and eight species of tern/skimmer. Check out our eBird checklist if you'd like.

Before we reached the Outer Banks, Tom had keyed into a very cool nesting event that we were interested in checking out - breeding Anhingas in Chesapeake County, Virginia. Not far off our track, we found the spot quite easily and immediately got on the birds. There is one known active nest, but the presence of a second female bird raises the possibility there may be other nests there or nearby.

female Anhinga on the nest (we saw one small chick poking its head around for a short time)

a different female Anhinga

The numbers and variety at Pea Island were not exceptional, and we arrived in the Hatteras area earlier than expected for a good night's sleep.

Doug scans the ocean from an OBX dune

The 25th and 26th were spent offshore with great success - see the blog post for details and photos!

When we woke up in Hatteras on the 27th our road trip was just about over, but we still had the drive back home! Actually, Brian had hoped to run a third consecutive pelagic on the 27th, but lack of subscription kept us from going out. Since we had an extra day on land to play with, we split our return drive into two days, retracing our steps.

As we headed back up the Outer Banks we ticked Eurasian Collared Dove. Pea Island was again underwhelming so we continued to Chincoteague, where we finally found something rare on land! A solitary WHITE-FACED IBIS was the only Plegadis ibis in sight.

White-faced Ibis

White-faced Ibis

Retracing our steps, we stopped again at Figgs Landing and again were impressed with the place, where we tallied 31 Stilt Sandpipers. We ended the day at a spot we had not yet visited - Ocean City, Maryland where we scoped a Skimmer Island from Route 50 at sunset. The volume of birds at this tiny piece of habitat was impressive! See our eBird checklist for details. Night near Rehoboth Beach, Delaware after a cold beer at Dogfish Head Brewery.

Our last day, the 28th, was spent revisiting the Delaware hotspots. Our highlight at Prime Hook was a photo session with several Seaside Sparrows, mostly juvs.

juvenile Seaside Sparrow

juvenile Seaside Sparrow

Bombay Hook again impressed with sheer numbers alone. For example, 339 Avocet, 525 Semipalmated Plover, 350 Lesser Yellowlegs, 70 Stilt Sandpiper, 8,000 Semipalmated Sandpiper, 4,000 Short-billed Dowitcher, and a few less common species such as four more Long-billed Dowitchers and a Pectoral Sandpiper.

From there we all went our separate ways, concluding a great week of birding. This was exactly what I needed to get back into the local birding scene, from which I had been slowly drifting away for the past couple of years. It felt great to shake off some rust and spend a week birding the East Coast with these awesome guys and birders!

 - NB

Sunday, August 10, 2014

July 25 & 26 - Hatteras, NC pelagics (Trindade Petrel +)

I always jump at the chance to get offshore, especially to the Gulf Stream off Hatteras, NC with Brian Patteson and his world class operation run by him and Kate Sutherland. Regrettably I missed their Spring Blitz this year but was able to get down there for one weekend this summer (hopefully not my last visit of the season!). We had a fantastic two days on the water. See below for trip numbers (courtesy of Kate Sutherland) and photo highlights.

Now for the plug...these are hands down the best pelagic trips off the East Coast of North America. They offer numbers and variety of Gulf Stream specialties and cooler water species along with a killer track record of rarities. If you're interested in taking a pelagic (and I HIGHLY recommend that you do), visit http://www.patteson.com/ for more information.

July 25

TRINDADE PETREL (light) 1
Black-capped Petrel  60-61 (only one or two white-faced birds, the rest dark-faced or intermediate)
Cory’s Shearwater  51
Great Shearwater  3
Audubon’s Shearwater  14
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel  388-408
Leach’s Storm-Petrel  1
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  14
Red-necked Phalarope  1
Black-Tern  6
Least Sandpiper  3
Pectoral Sandpiper  1
Mourning Dove  1
Purple Martin  1
Bank Swallow  1
Barn Swallow  1
Bottlenose Dolphin  4

Trindade Petrel (light morph)

Black-capped Petrel (dark-faced type)

Black-capped Petrel (dark-faced type)

Black-capped Petrel (dark-faced type)

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

Cory's Shearwater (borealis)

July 26

Black-capped Petrel  76 (only one or two white-faced birds, the rest dark-faced or intermediate)
Cory’s Shearwater  27
Great Shearwater  1
Audubon’s Shearwater  46
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel  95-100
Leach’s Storm-Petrel  1
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  11
Red-necked Phalarope  1
Bridled Tern  8
Killdeer  1
Least Sandpiper  3
Pectoral Sandpiper  2
GERVAIS' BEAKED WHALE  2-4
Bottlenose Dolphin  20-25

Gervais' Beaked Whale

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

Black-capped Petrel (dark-faced type)

Black-capped Petrel (dark-faced type)

Bridled Tern

Bridled Terns

Audubon's Shearwater

Audubon's Shearwater
  - NB

July 19 - BBC Pelagic from Hyannis, MA (White-faced Storm-Petrel +)

Each summer the Brookline Bird Club runs two deep-water pelagic trips out of Hyannis, MA: a single-day trip in July and the now famous two-day trip in August. The August trip's track record speaks for itself and sells out quickly, and now the July trip is gaining a reputation for delivering some great birds as well.

For the full trip report from Jeremiah Trimble, click HERE.

Below are some photos and notes from the day.


Sunrise over the hazy Nantucket Shoals

A Fin Whale was spotted on our way out.

Fin Whale

The bird of the day, the highly sought-after WHITE-FACED STORM-PETREL, was spotted early by Mark Faherty along the east wall of Hydrographer Canyon. Capt. Joe was able to pursue the bird long enough for everyone on board to enjoy.

White-faced Storm-Petrel

White-faced Storm-Petrel

Numbers of Wilson's Storm-Petrels increased as we worked out way down the canyon.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel

Several flyingfish were seen throughout the day, including this medium-sized species, Black-winged Flyingfish.

Black-winged Flyingfish

same fish as above

Several Leach's Storm-Petrels were seen, some in cool Shoals water and some in the warm deep stuff.

Leach's Storm-Petrel

Leach's Storm-Petrel

Leach's Storm-Petrel - the pale upperwing carpal bars on this species can look like headlights on a bird coming at you, which can help separate this species from the superficially similar Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

Our fourth and final storm-petrel species for this trip, BAND-RUMPED STORM-PETREL, was seen strictly at or beyond the edge of the continental shelf in varying water temperatures, though most of the 8+ birds we saw were in the warmest of waters.

In recent years it has come to our attention that the birds we currently call "Band-rumped Storm-Petrels" that breed in the eastern North Atlantic consist of multiple (probably four) species. Field identification of these forms is not currently possible with 100% certainty, though progress is being made in our knowledge base. Flight feather molt is one of the key features that may someday help us more confidently identify these birds away from their breeding islands.

Of the few Band-rumps I saw and/or photographed well, I did not notice any fresh non-molting birds. A couple of individuals appeared fresh at first, but photographs revealed that p10 was still growing on those birds.

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

One particular Band-rump stood out from the rest: p1-5 are fresh, p6 is growing, p7 may not be visible, and p8-10 are retained. This bird is significantly behind schedule with its primary molt, looking more like the birds we see off NC in late spring rather than mid-summer.

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

same bird as above

same bird as above

While out in the deep water someone spotted a distant pod of dolphins, which Tom Johnson  suspected would be worth pursuing. Tom's suspicions proved correct as we approached them; he not-so-calmly announced that they were STRIPED DOLPHINS, a life mammal for most (all?) on board. We had some really nice looks at these charismatic animals, something you probably can't tell from my photos! Definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

Striped Dolphin

Striped Dolphin

Striped Dolphin

We had the five expected species of shearwater: the four commonly seen inshore (Great, Cory's, Sooty and Manx) plus the warm water-loving Audubon's Shearwater. We also had a couple nice examples of the nominate "Scopoli's" form of Cory's Shearwater, but I failed to get any decent shots of them.

Cory's Shearwater (borealis)

Cory's Shearwater (borealis)

Cory's Shearwater (borealis)

Manx Shearwater (right) with Great Shearwaters

Sooty Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

Audubon's Shearwaters in the warm, blue water where we usually find them

Manx Shearwater over the cooler, greener water of the Nantucket Shoals

Manx Shearwater

Manx Shearwater with Wilson's Storm-Petrel

As the day was winding down and we were running back north over the Nantucket Shoals, some of the trip participants began calling out "JAEGERS!!" Capt. Joe quickly locked onto the birds, which turned out to be two immature LONG-TAILED JAEGERS, one light morph and one dark/intermediate morph. All adult Long-tails are of a single light morph, but this species is quite variable in plumage when young.

Long-tailed Jaeger (light first summer)

Long-tailed Jaeger (light first summer)

Long-tailed Jaeger (dark/intermediate first summer)

Yet another incredibly successful BBC Pelagic trip is in the books. Stay tuned for August's overnight trip, as long as the weather cooperates this year!

 - Nick