Autumn Grand Manan Sep 01—07, 2014

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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It appeared from out of nowhere, as skuas often do. A big, powerful, rich-brown bird with bold white wing patches coming up the wake with purpose. It checked out the chumming scene below, headed quickly past the boat, and then did something very unlike a skua. It banked sharply and came back. Typically, skuas give you the once-over and then, with a look of disdain, head on their way. Efforts to pursue them usually fail, and you are left with brief views, maybe not good enough for specific identification. Apparently this bird had not read the skua handbook. It circled us for a few moments and then plopped itself down on the water behind the boat. For the next ten minutes or so, the skua alternated between feuding with gulls, resting on the water, and circling overhead. The warm cinnamon tone to the plumage, highlights of golden spangles, the brown underwings, and the dark-capped appearance all combined to rule out the more expected, but still rare, South Polar Skua. Indeed this was a Great Skua, a lifer for most of the group, and only the fourth I had ever seen.

The bird of the tour was this incredible Great Skua that came in very close and stayed with the boat for nearly ten minutes.

The bird of the tour was this incredible Great Skua.— Photo: Durlan Ingersoll

This was but one of many highlights on our all-day boat trip into the Bay of Fundy on the Autumn Grand Manan tour. The staggering numbers speak to the non-stop action we experienced throughout the day: Great Shearwater 650, Sooty Shearwater 20, Northern Fulmar 2, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel 1,450, Leach’s Storm-Petrel 8, Northern Gannet 37, Red-necked Phalarope 185, Long-tailed Jaeger 1 (very rare in the province), Black Guillemot 106, Atlantic Puffin 50, Humpback Whale 20, and Fin Whale 8 (with superb views of both whale species). As the day wound down, we were still missing Razorbill, a highly-sought North Atlantic specialty. With less than 15 minutes to go before we reached the dock, we spotted an adult with a fledgling in tow. We enjoyed superb views, as the youngster begged for food from the parent. It was a fitting end to an amazing day.

A nice shot of the fluke of the whale known as

A nice shot of the fluke of the whale known as “Quixote.”— Photo: Erik Bruhnke

All of these highlights were encompassed in just one day of our tour. However, this trip is timed not just for seabirds and whales, but also to coincide with passerine and shorebird migration as well. In the spruce forests of the island, we encountered one mixed species flock after another. Virtually all contained chickadees and nuthatches with a mix of warblers, vireos, and flycatchers thrown in. In all, we tallied 16 species of warblers, including the likes of Blackburnian, Cape May, Prairie (rare here), Chestnut-sided, Northern Parula, Black-throated Green (a total of 68 seen), Ovenbird, and more. Alder Flycatcher; Philadelphia, Blue-headed, and Red-eyed vireos; Bobolink; and Baltimore Oriole were some of the other more noteworthy migrants. Did the highlights stop there? Not by any means. One morning we had jaw-dropping views of Nelson’s Sparrows at Castalia Marsh. An adult Bald Eagle perched atop a spruce no more than 30 yards away on the south end of the island allowing amazing studies. Great Cormorant, Red-necked Grebe, rafts of Common Eiders, 17 species of shorebirds, Lesser Black-backed Gull, a Merlin chasing an Eastern Kingbird, and even a glimpse of a White-winged Crossbill added to the growing list. Combined with the superb food (lobster, scallops, fish, blueberries, etc.) and the beauty of coastal New Brunswick, this tour was a smashing success!