- Research & Education
- Cape Cod
John C. Conlon
These past two weeks have offered a lot of wind and much of it has been out of the western quarter. The number of birdwatchers has dropped as has the number of trips. The latter is a result of both wind and declining numbers of passengers. When the boat does go out in the wind our birdwatchers are a determined group. Birdwatchers scan the water with well trained eyes and binoculars. And those birdwatchers often find and work with other birdwatchers on the boat.
The most auspicious sign of approaching autumn was, coincidentally, on the first of September. Six white-winged scoters crossed our path as we moved along north of Peaked Hill. It was my first sighting of any scoters this year. We very rarely see these ducks during summer months. Most are nesting in central and western Canada and on into interior Alaska. As nesting season ends white-winged scoters migrate toward their Pacific and Atlantic coastal wintering areas. Now is the time to start seeing them here. Offshore we generally find white-wings on the wing. They are really quite easy to spot. They measure some 21 inches in length, 34 inches across the wing, and weigh approximately 3.7 pounds with the males averaging larger than the females. Their brown and black bodies appear black in the bright ocean light. The white wing patch on the end of the secondaries makes them unlikely to be confused with anything else we are likely to see. Look for the delicate white patch beginning below and running aft of the eye.
The added notable sign of fall for that same day was that Peter Trull, the Dolphin Fleet’s other birding guide, decided that the first of September was a good day to wear his stocking hat for the first time this season. We joked about it. While I have been doing the “Birdwatching Notes” Pete has been doing counts for us and posting those counts on www.massbird.org. We will post those counts here on our own website as well. As we work into autumn birders should remember to bring their stocking hat and an extra layer of clothes as the temperature drops into autumn.
Before getting too far from the subject of ducks and early winter arrivals… Look for increasing numbers of common eiders. The half dozens here and there in Provincetown Harbor during the summer are now rafts of 20 to 30 or more. Northern gannets are also more regularly seen. Again, three, five or half a dozen at a time; generally second and third year gannets. Not big numbers, but more steady sightings. We will certainly see many more scoters, eiders and gannets as we move toward October.
The second of September gave us great looks at a pair of parasitic jaegers. They were cruising some 20 feet above the water’s surface just inside Race Point. Another pair of parasitic jaegers on the 16th of September gave similar looks. The behavior of jaegers pirating terns in spectacular chases makes jaegers easy to spot in the distance. Once you get accustomed to their form and flight you more easily spot their dark bodies and tapered wings in the distance. We will also see more jaegers as autumn progresses.
We have seen several aggregations of three to five hundred terns. These “sea swallows” as they were so long-ago called are generally along the bars running between Race Point and Peaked Hill. It is, however, mid September and all our regularly sighted tern species are beginning to aim for their respective wintering grounds. But they are still here and I had some great looks at several roseate terns this afternoon.
Though not a seabird we should keep an eye out for swallows especially as we round Race Point. Tree swallows in particular migrate through this area by the hundreds of thousands in autumn. So not only look for them as the boat rounds Race Point but be especially aware as you drive along Pilgrim Lake outside Provincetown. Indeed be sure to scan the area of Pilgrim Lake anytime you are driving into or out of Provincetown.