Autumn Grand Manan Sep 01—07, 2008

Posted by Barry Zimmer

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Barry Zimmer

Barry Zimmer has been birding since the age of eight. His main areas of expertise lie in North and Central America, but his travels have taken him throughout much of the wo...

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The Bay of Fundy off Grand Manan Island offers what is hands down some of the best pelagic birding anywhere in the country. With both superb quality of species and sheer quantity of birds, every boat trip is a nonstop thrill ride. This was proven once again on our recent Autumn Grand Manan tour. On our full-day boat trip, we tallied a staggering 8,000 Wilson's Storm-Petrels, 2,000 Red Phalarope, 1,500 Red-necked Phalarope, 400 Greater Shearwaters, 200 Atlantic Puffins, 150 Sooty Shearwaters, 75 Razorbills, 50 Black Guillemots, 50 Northern Gannets, 50 Black-legged Kittiwakes, 10 Pomarine Jaegers, 2 Manx Shearwaters, 1 Leach's Storm-Petrel, 1 Parasitic Jaeger, and 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull. Also in the mix were about 10 northern right whales (the rarest whale in the world) and a handful of finback and Minke whales. At times it was hard to know where to look first, as birds swirled around the boat in dizzying fashion. Many of the birds were brought in with chum to within feet of the back of the boat, allowing not only superb studies, but excellent photographic opportunities as well. Other goodies seen from the boat included Red-necked Grebe, Surf and White-winged scoters, Common Eiders, and Great Cormorants. As an added bonus, the seas were as smooth as glass and the weather ideal. It was, simply put, an awesome day. Our half-day boat trip was run under similar conditions and was equally rewarding.

Of course, a September visit to Grand Manan is about more than just seabirds and whales. This is also a great place to observe the spectacle of fall migration in general. Shorebirds put in a good showing this year with 16 species including the likes of Baird's, White-rumped, and Stilt sandpipers. My favorite part, however, was the forest birding on the island which produced flock after flock of landbird migrants. Each group, generally led by chickadees and nuthatches, had a different make-up. Some flocks had but a warbler or two, while one massive flock had 15 species in a matter of minutes. Overall we tallied 21 species of warblers (a tour record) with such gems as Chestnut-sided, Cape May, Black-throated Blue, Blackburnian, Prairie (rare here), Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, and Ovenbird. One day we saw 25 Black-throated Greens in a morning. Red-eyed Vireos were abundant this year with 35 in a day, and Philadelphias were well-represented with at least 7 seen.

Other avian highlights included Hooded Merganser, several Bald Eagles, three Merlins, a Black Tern, stunning views of a juvenile Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Bobolink, and prolonged scope studies of White-winged Crossbills, which were in full invasion mode this year.

In all we tallied 131 species—our second best ever for this tour, marveled at incredible seabird and whale spectacles, and enjoyed the fall migration of many other species. Enjoying lobster and blueberries in some form or the other on a near-nightly basis didn't hurt either!