Sunday, September 14, 2014

Trip Review - Fall Seabird & Whale Tales Excursion

September 7, 2014 Seabirds and Whale Tails Excursion

A big thanks to Donna Lorello for helping to write this trip report. 
With partly cloudy skies, the trip began by surveying Plymouth Beach taking note of gulls, terns, and cormorants.  Race Point, Peaked Hill Bars, the east side of the Cape and Stellwagen Bank were areas that were visited during the course of the trip.  

Our first stop was the tip of Cape Cod and the beaches along the backside of the Cape, including Race Point Beach. Here a Sabine's gull was sighted in a large grouping of gulls and terns.  Our captain, Capt. Bob English, did a fantastic job maneuvering the boat close to the beach to track down the bird as it flew to shore.  With some effort, this Sabine’s gull was picked up again and all aboard were able to get good looks at it.  It proved to be an adult with full dark hood over the head and was one of the most notable sightings of the day!

Gray seals and cormorants off Race Point Beach.
In this same area, we observed a large aggregation of gray seals that were resting in the shallow water just off the beach. Gray seals are the most common seal in our New England waters and their numbers have been increasing over the past 40 years. As we continued to move southeast along the backside of the Cape, we picked up a trio of parasitic jaegers that were performing some aerial maneuvers together. 

Mix of shearwaters. Photo courtesy of Gerry Mercier.
Several mixed groups of shearwaters were viewed as well as some common loons and a minke whale. We continued east heading towards Highland Light, Truro, and after birding in the area of Peaked Hill Bar, we decided it was time to turn back north and work our way back to Stellwagen Bank.

With a report coming in from another whale watching vessel, we headed to the southeast corner of Stellwagen Bank to share an encounter with the infamous Salt and her new calf, Epsom. Salt is the most famous whale in our waters for she was the first whale to be named in 1975. She was named “Salt” for the extensive white scarring on the top of her dorsal fin as if someone salted it. Salt is a regular in our area and this season, she returned with calf number thirteen by her side. As we drifted in this area, we saw Epsom spending a great deal of time resting at the surface while Salt appeared to be feeding deep. Salt honored us with a beautiful view of her tail flukes each time she dove deep. 

Minke whale
We continued north moving along the eastern edge of the Stellwagen Bank. Few birds and whales were seen so we continued all the way to the northwest corner of the bank, just off Boston MA. Here we picked up two humpback whales that we identified as Shuffleboard and Habanero. Shuffleboard was first seen in 2008 and Habenero was first seen in 2012. This pair was slowly moving across the bank and seemed to be just taking it easy on such a beautiful day.

Follicle fluking out high with Ember in front.
We also picked up some additional whale sightings including a whale named Timberline, a male born in 1990 to a mother named Arc. Then we picked up a small group of humpbacks that included Ember, Gunslinger and Follicle. Ember, a male born in 1982 to a mom named Cardhu, appeared to be very excited for he was flippering (flipper slapping) at the surface. As we held position for this trio, two finback whales surprised us by surfacing off our bow. This pair seemed to be heading leisurely down the bank towards Race Point. Finbacks are nicknamed the "greyhounds of the sea" for they are incredibly fast moving whales. 

Ember flippering with Follicle and Gunslinger by his side.
As we watched our humpback trio, we noticed that when Ember stopped flippering, the group soon broke-up with Follicle joining Bayou, a new whale that moved into the area, while both Gunslinger and Ember headed off on their own. 

As Bayou fluked out, we saw that the right flukes of this whale had been cut off due to a vessel collision.  Bayou has healed from this injury and is doing well, but the damage to this animal’s tail is a stark reminder of the hazards that whales and other marine wildlife face when they feed in our protected waters. 
Finback whale
As we headed back south down the bank, we passed a mother and calf pair that we later identified as Echo and her calf of this year. We also passed a small flock of red-necked phalaropes that were sitting on the surface.
Perseid's calf surfacing off the bow

Pele fluking out with Perseid and calf by his side.
In the middle of the bank, we picked up three more humpback whales that included Pele who was feeding with Perseid and her calf.  Pele is a male that was first seen in 1997 and Perseid was born in 1998 to a mother named Palette.  Both adults were feeding deep while the calf was observed resting at the surface. While the crew worked to retrieve a yellow balloon from the water, the calf spent a lot of time playing at the surface as it rolled and fluked out several times to everyone's joy.
Perseid's calf fluking out.
Stormy weather sometimes blows birds off course and after such storms having passed through the previous few days, a ruby-throated hummingbird passed by as well as an unidentified yellow warbler.  A praying mantis seemed to stow aboard for the trip as well! 

Thanks to NECWA staff member Leah for rescuing this very unusual passenger. As we returned to Plymouth harbor, we slowed down to take a look at Plymouth Beach again and picked up a piping plover feeding along the water line.

Leah communicating with the mantis
Leah communicating with the mantis.
 Praying mantis
Our mascot!
Thanks to Captain Bob English and the crew of the Tails of the Sea for a job well done. Much thanks to Wayne Petersen for once again providing wonderful commentary over the course of the trip. Thanks to Blair and Peter for the seabird and gull overview below. Thanks to Mason Weinrich for help with humpback whale identification.  And much thanks to the staff and interns of NECWA for another wonderful day offshore!  To wrap up, here is a run down of the day's sightings:

Seabirds and Gulls:
  • 1 White-winged Scoter
  • 6 Common Loon
  • 225 Cory's Shearwater (majority off Race Point and Peaked Hill)
  • 100 Great Shearwater
  • 10 Sooty Shearwater
  • 2 Manx Shearwater
  • 2 Wilson's Storm Petrel
  • 10 Northern Gannet
  • 32 Red-necked Phalarope
  • 6 Parasitic Jaeger
  • 1 Jaeger sp.
  • 1 Sabine's Gull
  • 75 Laughing Gull
  • 50 Herring Gull
  • 15 Roseate Tern
  • 1 Piping Plover
  • 2 Black Belly Plovers
  • Ring-billed Gulls (indeterminate number)
  • Great Black-backed Gulls
  • 1 Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • 1 warbler sp. (yellowish)

Marine Mammals: 
  • 19 humpback whales
  • 2 finback whales
  • 6 minke whales
  • 20 - 30 gray seals

Identified Humpback Whales:
·      Salt and Epsom
o   Echo and calf
o   Perseid and calf
o   Habenero
o   Shuffleboard
o   Ember
o   Follicle
o   Bayou
o   Pele
o   Timberline
o   Gunslinger

and one wayward praying mantis!

Thanks again for your support. Tentative trip dates for our 2015 SAWT trips are Sunday, June 7th and Sunday, September 13th. Hope you can join us!