Autumn Grand Manan Sep 02—08, 2013

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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We had just left behind three Humpback Whales that had put on an amazing show. We first spotted them as they were breaching in the distance and eventually pulled up right beside them to watch a wonderful display of tail lobbing, pectoral fin flapping, and general playing on the surface from close range. But as often happens, we were distracted by a concentration of birds up ahead. Numbers of Great Shearwaters were coming in to chum at the back of the boat. Some were literally at arm’s-length. A few Sooty Shearwaters joined the mix and an adult Pomarine Jaeger sailed by. A Northern Gannet flew low right overhead and small numbers of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels flitted about the water’s surface like swallows. An adorable Atlantic Puffin was spotted on the water and we had wonderful close views.

Besting the South Polar Skua was this Great Skua, an even rarer find! It was only my third one ever and a lifer for everyone in the group.

This Great Skua was only my third one ever and a lifer for everyone in the group.— Photo: Durlan Ingersoll

Then, just as we were starting to pick up speed again, the mate hollered, “Skua!” We quickly got on the hulking brown bird with large white wing patches in the wake, and immediately noticed the strong spangling and streaking on the upperparts. It blasted by the right side of the boat and headed off into the distance. We strongly suspected this was a Great Skua (the rarer of the two possibilities), but in the quick look we had, we couldn’t be certain. A high speed chase ensued, something that is rarely successful in dealing with skuas. Persistence paid off in this case, however, as the bird eventually dropped down onto the water. As we caught up to the area where it had landed, we noticed there were now two skuas on the water. The first one picked up off the surface and showed its brightly spangled upperparts and capped appearance—it was indeed a Great Skua! This was only the third I have ever seen and, I believe, a lifer for everyone in the group.

Now our attention turned to the second bird, which was in heavy molt. It had decidedly drabber and smoother upperparts with no spangling, a paler nape, and no capped appearance—a South Polar Skua! Both birds began circling the boat as we dumped large quantities of chum into the water. For nearly five minutes we had two skua species nearly side by side (some got photos with both species in one picture) circling our boat. It was an amazing and memorable sight.

   
 
The next day we scoured the forests for migrant passerines. In all we tallied 22 species of warblers for the tour with Northern Parula being our third most common species.

We tallied 22 species of warblers with Northern Parula being our third most common species.— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Many more highlights followed from our boat trip, including 5 Northern Fulmars resting on the water right next to us, 9 Leach’s Storm-Petrels for the day, 11 Razorbills (some within thirty feet of the boat), over 50 Black Guillemots, lots of Red and Red-necked phalaropes, a juvenile Arctic Tern, and Great Cormorants resting on rocks. This is always one of the most productive and exciting boat trips that I take.

Of course the Autumn Grand Manan tour is about a lot more than one incredible boat trip. It is also timed to coincide with the passerine and shorebird migration. We had great luck in encountering flock after flock of migrant land birds. In all we tallied 22 species of warblers (and an estimated 244 individuals), which included rarities such as Black-throated Blue and Prairie, and regular stunners like Blackburnian, Black-throated Green (a total of 69 individuals estimated), Chestnut-sided, Northern Parula, and more. Other passerine highlights included 7 Philadelphia Vireos, 8 Blue-headed Vireos, and 61 Red-eyed Vireos. A pair of Nelson’s Sparrows put on a great show at Castalia Marsh. Not to be outdone, we also tallied 14 species of shorebirds including White-rumped Sandpiper and Red Knot.

In all, we recorded 131 species of birds for the tour and enjoyed fantastic lobster dinners and blueberry treats of all varieties—all in a picturesque New Brunswick coast setting. An all-around superb week!