John C. Conlon
Without question the highlight of the past two weeks has been the shearwaters. Hundreds of them on an average day. Thousands on the hot trips! For the second year straight we have an irruption of Cory’s Shearwaters into our area from farther offshore and south. Generally our shearwater sightings are in the waters above steep bottom slopes and upwelling. From Wood End to Race Point Cory’s and Greater work the west facing slope. The outside of the Peaked Hill Bars offer hundreds of Greater and Cory’s with mixed in Sooty. The edges of Stellwagen Bank offer relatively fewer Cory’s but more Greater and more though still proportionately smaller numbers of Sooty. Often times we would even see the shearwaters in the middle of Provincetown Harbor. Dozens of them!!!
Shearwaters are fascinating to watch. Their dynamic soaring mesmerizes the observer. They’ll glide downward in long arcs and as they near the water’s surface they’ll turn sharply back upwind to gain altitude once again for the next downward glide. Pick an individual with your binoculars. They’ll soar on and on into the distance. Others glide inches above the rolling waves crisscrossing each others’ flight path. Shearwaters plunge dive from as much as 30 feet in the air or pursuit dive from the water’s surface as they collectively take hundreds of tons of sand lance from our coastline.
The evening of July 14th was simply breathtaking for the seabird watchers on-board the Dolphin Fleet. Easily over 1000 shearwaters on flat calm water with nothing for waves or wind. Double, triple, and quadruple groups of Humpback Whales worked bubble clouds and bubble rings. The whales pushed sand lance to the surface into mixed flocks of shearwaters along with scattered Laughing, Herring, and Ring-billed Gulls. Thousands and thousands of fish rising to just beneath the surface. Flocks of shearwaters wheeled about on the wing and occasionally dove from the air. Other shearwaters sat on the bubble clouds with their wings partially extended and looked beneath the water’s surface for nearby sand lance. They occasionally grabbed a lance from underwater. Other shearwaters would pursuit dive from the surface. Looking through the flat-calm and clear water we watched the birds use their wings and feet to propel themselves as though flying and swimming simultaneously through the water to snatch fish. They’d drive themselves with stiffened underwater wing beats. Several shearwaters occasionally were hit and knocked upward by Humpback spouts.
Beneath the clouded sky thirty to fifty Greaters along with the mixed in Cory’s and Sootys would take flight simultaneously. We’d hear the steady pattering of wingtips as they slammed their wings down and pushed themselves with their feet to take flight from the surface. In any particular group they’d all fly in the same direction. But from around the boat the resting flocks scattered to all points of the compass. In the evening’s stillness the shearwaters’ monotone squawking sounded like the bleating of lambs against the calm. The more I focused the louder they sounded. I pondered their conversation, if that was what it was, as they fed into the evening.
Lastly, so that everybody knows ahead of time… the Dolphin Fleet is really excited to be collaborating with the Cape Cod Bird Club for a six hour pelagic bird trip on Sunday, September 27th, 2009. Pelagic bird experts Blair Nikula and Peter Trull (who also works as a field guide for our Dolphin Fleet whalewatch trips) will be our guides. We’ll have great opportunities for viewing Greater, Sooty, and Manx Shearwaters, Northern Gannet, Black-legged Kittiwake, and Parasitic and Pomarine Jaegers. Other possibilities include Northern Fulmar, Wilson’s and Leach’s Storm-Petrels, Red-necked and Red Phalaropes, Sabine’s Gull, Long-tailed Jaeger, and Razorbill. Migrating loons and sea ducks as well as Fin and Humpback Whales and Atlantic White-sided Dolphins are possible.
The cost of the trip will be $60.00 for Cape Cod Bird Club members and $75.00 for non-members. The trip is limited to 110 people. For complete details visit www.massbird.org/ccbc . Contact person is Mary Keleher, 508-477-1473 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Please join us!!!