50 excited birders departed Hyannis on the aboard the Helen H, bound for a day of pelagic birding. The water was clear and calm, the sun warm, and the wind hardly blowing. It was the perfect day to be on the water. Everyone was crossing their fingers for rarities, though the one we found was totally unexpected! You can click any image to enlarge.
The morning air was cool and crisp. A few stalwart birders stood out on the then windy deck and watched scattered groups of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels flew past. As we moved into the Nantucket Shoals, a few Greater and Cory’s Shearwaters flew by. A Sooty Shearwater made an appearance as well.
As we moved deeper into the shoals, we were greeted by flocks of seabirds and pods of dolphins. We stopped for a bit to enjoy the spectacle. Greater, Cory’s and Sooty Shearwaters were the most prevalent along with Wilson’s Storm-Petrels. Several Manx Shearwaters began to appear along with a few Leach’s Storm-Petrels.
We continued on, the large flocks growing smaller and smaller, the birds becoming more widely spaced. It was my first taste of good pelagic birding. What a treat!
At the beginning, a few birders mentioned heading for Hydrographer’s Canyon. Then I heard some saying Veach’s. It ended up being Veach’s and after enjoying what the Nantucket Shoals had to offer, we headed for Veach’s. Along the way, we were still encountering small groups of seabirds including Manx Shearwaters and Leach’s Storm-Petrels. One Leach’s flew right in front of the boat, offering fantastic looks. It would start a trend as many of the Leach’s we saw came very close, giving great views of their divided rump, forked tail, long wings, and nighthawk-like flight.
After most of the seabirds passed it became quiet. However, as we moved along at high speeds, one of the spotters saw something from the top deck. We turned just in time to catch up and noticed a sea turtle in the water. As we were watching it, trying to ID it to species, a shark materialized. There was a disagreement between the two and as the turtle swam away, we noticed a bite mark on it’s shell.
As we moved into the deep water, a large breaching whale was seen on the horizon. We moved closer getting great looks IDing it as a Sei Whale. We continued on and found a second Sei. However, at the end of the day we decided they were not Sei but actually Blue Whales!!!!!! One is extremely rare for these waters, and two just deepens the pot. The biggest animals on earth gave us great looks as they dove and and reappeared, making a very loud noise as they breathed. One of the two was moving very fast over the water, giving us a challenge to keep up. Incredible!
After the whale, we started chumming and when we got into a good area, slowed down and started to dump suet etc. into the water. While we were starting, someone spotted 2 Risso’s Dolphins off the bow.
Birds soon began to materialize out of nowhere which is characteristic of chumming. The first species were Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and Greater Shearwaters followed by Cory’s Shearwaters and a few Leach’s Storm-Petrels, several of which gave fantastic looks flying very close to the wall of waiting camera lenses.
We were all able to enjoy the antics of the many Greater Shearwaters that followed the boat:
Even though we had thrown in a bucketful of chum, the birds still fought over the best pieces.
Finally, it was time to pick up speed and move out of the Veach’s Canyon. Another one of the many whales of the trip showed it’s black skin and large head. This time, we all agreed on the ID: Sperm Whale.
Our ride continued. As we got closer to the shoals very large pods of Common Dolphins appeared, accompanied by Shearwaters and Storm-Petrels.
Soon it became quiet once again. It was later in the day and many birders retired inside the boat to rest. As we moved into the foggy Nantucket Shoals I dozed off, tired from the great day. JAEGAR!!!!! JAEGAR!!!! In front of the bow!! Without second though I awoke and leaped up from the bench. Inside the boat it seemed like an army base during an air raid, everyone rushing around to grab their weapons (which in this case were binoculars and large lenses). Once outside I noticed a large bird flying fast in from of the bow, almost hawk like in a way. We started to follow it, but it was flying very fast although at one point it circled providing decent looks.
I noted the double white bars under the underwing but couldn’t put a species to it. I IDed it as a subadult but knew it was beyond my ability. I ruled out Long-tailed but didn’t get a good look at the chest. Luckily the more experienced pelagic birders on board IDed it as a Pomarine Jaegar. The chase coupled with the bird made the Pomarine one of my top trip highlights. I was thrilled to have seen this bird.
After the Jaegar, we enjoyed several small groups of Pilot Whales.
It was an amazing trip, one of the most incredible birding experiences of my life.
Click here for a link to many more photos.
Also here’s a map of our route courtesy Steve Mirick:
And trip totals collected by Marshall Iliff:
Greater Shearwater – 459
Cory’s Shearwater – 82 (all seen well consistent with C. d. borealis,
although a couple interesting individuals were photographed with
thinner bills and slightly more white in primaries)
Greater/Cory’s Shearwater – 7
Manx Shearwater – 24 (a high count for this trip; one bird was far offshore
beyond the Continental Shelf–an area we don’t often see this species.)
Sooty Shearwater – 27
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel – 187
Leach’s Storm-Petrel – 137 (perhaps the avian highlight of the trip was the
high number of Leach’s; we had many birds coming in to chum right behind
the boat and eating suet from the surface of the water)
Herring Gull (American) – 2
Great Black-backed Gull – 1
Common Tern – 18 (two birds over deep water)
Pomarine Jaeger – 1 (immature, apparent 1st-summer, bird pursued and seen at
a moderate distance)
Northern Gannet – 7 (all nearshore)
Common Loon – 6 (all near Nantucket)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin – 450 (great groups of several hundred)
Pilot Whale – 17 (one area with several small groups)
BLUE WHALE – 2 (very rare; two young animals seen well and photographed. One
seen was “running” at 16 kts and breaking the surface dramatically with the
large head, almost porpoising!)
Fin Whale – 1
SPERM WHALE – 3 (two distant, but great looks and photos of one cooperative
animal seen by all. A rare and special species for these offshore trips)
Minke Whale – 3
Risso’s Dolphin – 8
GREEN SEA TURTLE – 1 (small individual was attacked by a shark while we
watching and later had a chunk taken out of its shell!)
Half-beak – x (1 school)
Yellowfin Tuna – 4 (2 seen, 2 caught; everyone went home with fresh tuna
Bluefin Tuna – 1 (caught)
Blue Shark – ~8
shark sp. – ~6
Mola mola – 2
Portuguese Man-o-war – 1