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BIRD SIGHTINGS FOR 28 SEPT. – 3 OCT. 2007
This has been an exciting week as we are into migration time for many pelagic bird species.
Among species of pelagic birds that spend significant portions of their year here during our summer are greater shearwaters. They are again regularly sighted though not as broad summertime feeding aggregations but rather as smaller tighter groups of 10 to 25 birds. Soon they will be gone for their austral nesting season in the south central Atlantic. Manx shearwaters by comparison are now a rare sight. Most of this week’s shearwater sightings are in the area southeast of the southeast corner of Stellwagen Bank.
Between Wood End and Race Point scattered flocks of 50 to over 100 common terns forage for the sand lance that are the terns’ major food source. Similar and larger sized flocks were also seen late last week between Peaked Hill and the same area southeast of Stellwagen Bank.
Two types of jaegers are among the species passing through the area during the autumn. On any given day 15 to 30 jaegers (mostly parasitic jaegers) can be seen pirating terns between Wood End and Race Point. It is not uncommon to see 3 or 4 parasitic jaegers cruising low above the water’s surface and then arching upward into hovering terns. One day, though, I watched a tern chasing a jaeger. Outside Race Point there are a few larger, stockier-built pomerine jaegers chasing terns.
Also on the list of “just passing through” are the red and red-necked phalaropes. I’ve seen them in groups of 4 to 12 individuals. When in nonbreeding plumage the reds are slightly larger, slightly lighter (grey versus brownish) and slightly heavier billed than the red-neckeds. When set on the water the red-neckeds’ tail is more raised. And here is a hint: if the boat is sitting still listen for the high “piik” calls. Dishinguishing these two species will be a challege to pelagic birders.
Arriving in the autumn to spend their winter farther offshore are northern fulmars. When late September and early October combine with easterly winds fulmars come into our sighting range. This week they showed up en masse. They are similar in size to the greater shearwaters but they are more stocky, thicker headed, stouter billed and straighter winged than the greater shearwaters. Their wide variation in light and dark as well as solid to mildly mottled plumages is sure to be a treat though you will have to be vigilant as fulmars are more often seen as singles and pairs. One particularly interesting sight was of a humpback surfacing behind a fulmar sitting on the water’s surface. As the humpback spouted the fulmar was startled and jumped slightly from the surface.
A few common loons have been seen north of Race Point. Bands of 4 to 6 second and third year gannets and an occasional immature black-legged kittiwake have been seen inside Race Point.