Autumn Grand Manan Aug 29—Sep 04, 2011
Once again, our boat trip on the Autumn Grand Manan tour was absolutely amazing. I don't think any one-day pelagic trip in North America can top the combination of variety, sheer numbers of birds, close-viewing, specialty birds, and marine mammals that the Bay of Fundy has to offer.
On near glass-like seas, we ventured out from Seal Cove on a nine-hour day-trip to such areas as Gannet Rock, Bulkhead Rip, Old Proprietor's Shoal, and The Basin. Activity throughout the day was almost constant. Black Guillemots dotted the water's surface as we journeyed through nearshore waters, and the occasional Northern Gannet flew overhead. As soon as we hit deeper water, we were immediately accompanied by Great Shearwaters—at first just a few, and some distance out. Then, with the help of some chum, we had dozens of them right next to the boat. For the day we would tally an estimated 1,800 Great Shearwaters (at times hundreds were in view at once), many of which were literally within a few feet. Joining them were smaller numbers of Sooty Shearwaters. Wilson's Storm-Petrels began appearing, dancing about on the water like frenetic ballerinas. A slick of fish oil brought them in closer, and eventually some Leach's Storm-Petrels joined in. An astounding final day count of 8,000+ storm-petrels was estimated.
Flock after flock of phalaropes came and went, both Red and Red-necked, offering great comparisons. Atlantic Puffins buzzed by with regularity, and on occasion we would get one close on the water. Pomarine Jaegers, both light and dark morph birds, joined the mix, as did a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls (among the abundant Great Black-backed Gulls). Then a super rarity, a South Polar Skua, landed right next to the boat! We enjoyed superb, close studies of the skua on the water and flying around overhead for about five minutes. There are only a handful of documented provincial records for this species. We had a nice group of white-sided dolphins at one point, and a short while later, a great study of a bizarre ocean sunfish, or mola mola.
The Bay of Fundy is the place to see northern right whale, the rarest whale in the world, and this trip did not disappoint. We followed two for about 30 minutes as they performed on the surface. We also had finback and humpback whale for the day. While watching the right whales, the mate spotted a Manx Shearwater on the water just ahead of the boat. This highly sought species is always uncommon and in low numbers here, but we had great views. On the way back in, a swing by a rocky outcrop yielded wonderful studies of Great Cormorants, another northeastern specialty. The only bird we had missed for the day was Razorbill, and the captain said they had been unusually scarce the past few weeks. It was hard to be disappointed with the incredible day we had, but Razorbill was a bird we did not want to miss. However, late in the afternoon and less than 15 minutes from Seal Cove, a lone Razorbill was spotted on the water. Although he was a little skittish, everyone obtained good views. A true last minute find!
Of course, Grand Manan is about so much more than just pelagic birding and marine mammals. This trip is timed to coincide with landbird and shorebird migration as well. The day after our boat trip, there was a fantastic fallout of migrants as favorable conditions for moving existed. Scouring the spruce forests, we checked flock after flock of migrants. In all we had 18 species of warblers including such gems as Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, and Canada. Our most common warbler for the trip was Black-throated Green with an impressive 75 individuals seen. Northern Parula was second with 36. Other nice finds included Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Philadelphia and Blue-headed vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (rare here), Mourning Warbler, Lark Sparrow (very rare), and Orchard Oriole (also very rare here). A Boreal Chickadee gave great views near Dark Harbor, as did two Nelson's Sparrows in Castalia Marsh.
Shorebirds were not to be outdone. A rare Baird's Sandpiper allowed us to study it from 20 feet away. After some searching, we finally got White-rumped as well. In one spot, we had 143 Black-bellied Plovers in view at once, and with some searching found a few Red Knots mixed in. In all we tallied 16 species of shorebirds.
Other highlights included large creches of Common Eiders, a close pair of Red-necked Grebes, good studies of Merlin and Broad-winged Hawk, and a wonderful pair of Pileated Woodpeckers. Oh, and I failed to mention the fantastic lobster and blueberries that were near daily offerings in one form or the other, the perfect weather, and the scenic beauty and ambiance of coastal Maine and New Brunswick. I can't think of a better way to spend a week in early September!