Autumn Grand Manan Aug 31—Sep 06, 2015

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 departed from Seal Cove on our full-day pelagic tour filled with excitement and anticipation of what was to come. Based on my build-up, expectations for a good day were high. Great Black-backed Gulls by the dozens adorned the rocks of the jetty as we pulled out of the harbor, and quickly we began seeing numbers of Black Guillemots foraging in the near shore waters. Fifteen minutes into our journey, the mate spotted an adult Razorbill with a chick in tow. We were able to pull up right next to them and enjoy spectacular views of this North Atlantic specialty. Things were looking good already!

Many of the Great Shearwaters were sailing by the boat at very close range.

Great Shearwater— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Shortly, we passed by Gannet Rock, signaling our entry into the deeper waters of Northeast Banks and the Prong. Chumming commenced, and soon we spotted our first Great Shearwater coming up strong in the wake. In the blink of an eye there were three more. Quickly we had a small procession of gulls and shearwaters following along behind us. A stunning adult Pomarine Jaeger joined the party and sailed with us for over ten minutes. A Sooty Shearwater cruised by, as did a few Northern Gannets. Flock after flock of Red Phalaropes dotted the ocean’s surface. A Northern Fulmar (one of 9 for the day) was spotted in the wake, and it quickly landed right next to us, only to be followed by a Lesser Black-backed Gull. There were so many birds literally all around us now that it was hard to know where to look. Just then, I spotted a huge hulking brown bird with bold white wing patches overtaking us from behind. “Skua,” I screamed, probably causing permanent hearing loss to those around me. This powerful beast flew right over us, allowing superb studies of its smooth brown plumage, paler nape, and dark underwing linings—a South Polar Skua, an excellent rarity!

We were stunned when this Great Skua appeared (just 15 minutes after we had seen two South Polar Skuas!).

Great Skua— Photo: Durlan Ingersoll

Within the next hour we added our first Atlantic Puffins, Wilson’s and Leach’s storm-petrels by the dozens, amazingly another South Polar Skua, Parasitic Jaeger, many more Pomarine Jaegers (including an immature dark morph bird that actually caught hand-tossed chum), and several very close encounters with Humpback Whales and Atlantic White-sided Dolphins. All of that paled in comparison to the third skua of the day. This one was spotted from some distance as it came up the wake. Almost immediately we could see the strong golden spangling throughout the body plumage along with the slight capped appearance and the browner wing linings—a very rare Great Skua! You know you are living right when you see two species of skuas on the same day in North American waters!

The remainder of our day was spent looking at hundreds upon hundreds of Great Shearwaters (many literally within arm’s-reach and one actually landing on the boat), Red-necked Phalaropes everywhere (having replaced the Reds around midday), a single juvenile Arctic Tern, increasing numbers of puffins, 25 Great Cormorants roosting on a sea stack, a close pod of Fin Whales, and more Leach’s Storm-Petrels than I have ever seen in one day! We actually managed to surpass our incredibly high expectations. The Bay of Fundy consistently produces some of the best pelagic birding anywhere! 

A Blue-headed Vireo came in very close to check us out...

Blue-headed Vireo— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Of course, this was but one day of our Autumn Grand Manan tour. Timed to coincide not only with prime time for pelagics, but also landbird migration, our trip was as successful on land as at sea. We tallied an impressive 20 species of warblers, including such gems as Mourning, Blackburnian, Black-throated Blue, Cape May, Chestnut-sided, and Magnolia. Black-throated Greens were our most numerous species with a whopping 44 individuals seen on the trip. Other passerine highlights included Alder and Yellow-bellied flycatchers, four species of vireos (with several excellent studies of Philadelphia), a pair of Boreal Chickadees (always difficult to find), a cooperative Winter Wren, prolonged scope studies of Nelson’s Sparrow, a small flock of Bobolinks, and Baltimore Oriole among others. Shorebirds seemed scarcer than usual this year, but we still managed 13 species (perhaps highlighted by 5 Solitary Sandpipers on one pond). Red-throated Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Common Eiders, Surf and White-winged scoters, Manx Shearwater (our only one of the trip seen on the return ferry ride to the mainland), numerous Bald Eagles and Merlins, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Murre—the list of wonderful birds went on and on.

For the trip, we tallied 139 species of birds (the second highest total ever), enjoyed the spectacle of fall migration, had amazing weather, marveled at the beautiful Maine and New Brunswick scenery, and tasted lobster and blueberries in almost every form imaginable. All in all, an absolutely awesome week!