Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Mammals and Fish Highlight Boat Trips
July  23, 2011
By Steve Grinley

     First, a reminder to think of the birds during this heat wave and help them keep cool by keeping you bird baths clean and full. Now might be a good time to add another water source, or add some movement to the existing water with misters, drippers, water “wigglers”, or waterfall rocks.

     One way for you to keep cool is to head out over the water looking for birds and whales. The seabirds have been around in low numbers with shearwaters and storm-petrels in offshore waters, but the fish and mammal shows have been spectacular. We went a whale watch on the Seven Seas boat out of Gloucester last weekend to beat the heat. The bird numbers were low, but the whale show was the most exciting that I have ever experienced. Numerous minke whales were present off Stellwagen Bank, but it was the humpback whales that really put on a show. A mother and calf were continuously doing tail slapping, fin slapping and numerous full breaches, jumping entirely out of the water as if they were putting on a show at Sea World! It was amazing to watch.

     Also last weekend, The Brookline Bird Club ran a full-day pelagic trip out of Hyannis to the offshore canyons of the Continental Shelf off Massachusetts. Though we didn’t go on this trip, I thought I would pass along comments from one of the leaders, Marshall Illif:

     “The birds were excellent, with great looks at the three most expected shearwaters … nice experiences with both Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaegers, and stellar looks at good numbers of Leach’s Storm-Petrels visiting our chum slick… It was the non-bird fauna that was probably the highlight, with four species of sharks(!), Loggerhead Sea Turtle, two dolphins, and numerous Fin Whales…

     “A few Portuguese Man O’War (jellyfish) made for nice sightings, but the trip highlight was yet to come. As we were motoring slowly east, a large 4-5 ft scimitar-shaped fin broke the surface. None of us immediately knew what we were looking at, and Capt. Joe and the leaders were all struggling to identify what we had just seen as we steered the boat towards the odd fin. Standing in front, Jeremiah Trimble and I noticed a large dorsal fin break the surface, which reminded us of the Basking Shark from earlier, only different. Maybe even larger.

     “As we watched with binoculars and drew ever closer, suddenly we started to see pale spots on the fin. Almost in unison, we started shouting WHALE SHARK, at which point Steve Mirick excitedly started announcing it over the microphone…For those of us on the trip, his stream of ecstatic narration will never be forgotten…Suffice it to say that Steve never expected to see a Whale Shark on these trips (it represented one of just a handful of records in New England, and Captain Joe, who has spent countless hours at sea in these waters, had seen just one before). The animal actually approached the boat while we were standing still and sort of kissed our port side beam as it swam away, we could see flecks of blue paint on its snout, presumably from its sandpaper-like skin rubbing paint from the boat. It looped away from the boat and then made a second pass back under the bow, affording more incredible looks and giving Steve cause to continue his stream of excitement. For almost everyone aboard, this was the moment of the trip and we all felt really lucky to have seen such a rare fish.

     “The great fish for the trip continued a short while later, as we chummed up a flock of several hundred storm-petrels (including multiple Leach’s). After 10-15 minutes of chumming, a fin broke the surface back in the wake and we all watching as a large Tiger Shark popped its snout out of the water repeatedly and chowed down on the beef suet that we had tossed overboard to attract seabirds. It ate its way up to our stern…

     “As we continued eastward we had other great sightings: a couple of Atlantic Manta Rays (the brown form), a Loggerhead Sea Turtle which gave great views next to the boat, numerous Risso’s Dolphins, and an energetic solo Bottlenosed Dolphin that played on our bow and in our wake… The trip back in was marked by two first-summer Long-tailed Jaegers that Captain Joe pursued for great looks, along with another Basking Shark and a Mola Mola.”

     Can’t promise as much excitement, but you might try the Newburyport Whale Watch to cool off this weekend and who knows what you might find! If you go Saturday morning 8:30-12:30, Dave Larson of Mass Audubon Joppa Flats will be on board to help spot and identify seabirds as part of their Seabirds and Whales Program. If you miss that one, Dave’s next Program trip is Monday, August 8, 10am-3pm.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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4 years of service to the birding community! 
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