Monday, September 1, 2014

Pubnico Pelagic 2014

There are many species of bird that are rarely seen from land. The best way to see these seabirds up close is by going on a pelagic bird cruise. My first trip was on August 25, 2012 where we traveled 50 km south of Pubnico to the Southeast Bank on a lobster boat called the Mercedes Elizabeth. Once we reached a point where there was enough bird life around we started chumming. Chumming is the practice of luring birds to a ship by throwing fish parts and liquids into the water. You can view the Nova Scotia Rare Bird Alert posting here. I had also created a YouTube Video for the trip.

I've been anticipating this year's pelagic for quite some time. Ronnie d'Entremont organized the trip and recruited Rodney d'Entremont to command the Captain Derek, a 55 foot long lobster boat belonging to my cousin Roddy d'Eon.

The following is a list of the participants:

Ronnie d'Entremont
Sharron Marlor
Alix d'Entremont
Paul Gould
Raymond d'Entremont
Ted d'Eon
Gisele d'Entremont
Judy O'Brien
Bruce Stevens
Richard Stern
Kevin Lantz
David Currie
Eric Mills
Graham Williams
Jane Alexander
Larry Neily
Fulton Lavender
Keith Lowe
Richard Stern
Lou-Anne Bidal
Ken McKenna

Most of the group met up at Dave Currie's trailer at Dennis Point Wharf the night before the trip. It is always great to chat with people that I usually only interact with online through the Nova Scotia Rare Bird Alert (NS-RBA) or Nova Scotia Bird Society Facebook page. Below is a photo of me holding Bruce Steven's 500 mm prime lens on a Canon Body and a homemade boot complete with both autofocus and shutter triggers (photo by Ronnie d'Entremont).

Me with Bruce's camera setup - photo by Ronnie d'Entremont

My father (Arthur d'Entremont) and uncle (Ellis d'Entremont) both fish herring on the Lady Melissa. They had been fishing around German Bank lately and had reported hundreds of Great Shearwater in the area. The warm southern waters were too far from shore for a day trip so it was decided to head for German Bank.

The Captain Derek left the northern most wharf at Dennis Point in Pubnico at 5:30 am on Saturday, August 16. The skies were mostly clear, there was no fog and the winds were light. On our way offshore we navigated past Round Island and observed a large number of Black Guillemots surrounding the island. We also spotted a few Great Cormorants flying by. Soon enough we were near German Bank and had observed few dozen Great Shearwater. At 8:06 am, a small and quick-flapping shearwater approached the boat from the north. I focused my binoculars onto the bird just as someone yelled out "Manx Shearwater!". This bird was a lifer for me and many others on the boat. The Manx Shearwater nests mainly on cliffs around Ireland and Great Britain and breeding has been confirmed sparsely on the Atlantic coast of North America. Below is a photo of my lifer caught by Ronnie d'Entremont.

Manx Shearwater - Photo by Ronnie d'Entremont

Northern Gannet at German Bank - August 16, 2014 - Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

We started throwing out herring pieces and by 8:45 am we had a small group of Great Shearwaters following our boat. These shearwaters were soon joined by a nice adult Northern Gannet. At this point the variably cloudy skies were fully cloudy making for very softly lit photos. Below is a photo of Dave Currie tossing herring overboard when the clouds had moved on.

David Currie throwing herring - Photo by Ronnie d'Entremont

Groups of Atlantic Puffins passed the boat along with flocks of Least Sandpipers, we observed a moth and a few pods of Harbour Porpoises. The next interesting sighting was a juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake.

Juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake at German Bank - August 16, 2014 - Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

A few Sooty Shearwaters were flying around but never approached the boat as often as did the Great Shearwaters. We got to see the diving abilities of the Sooty Shearwater. It would land among the Great Shearwaters and then disappear under the water for some time and appear again in a different location. The best shot that I was able to get of a Sooty was the one below of an individual taking flight.

Sooty Shearwater at German Bank - August 16, 2014 - Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

The Great Shearwaters allowed much better photography and were at some point a mere 10 feet from us. Their scaly upperpart plumage is very nice at close range.

Great Shearwater at German Bank - August 16, 2014 - Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

Great Shearwater at German Bank - August 16, 2014 - Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

We were very pleased to find both Red and Red-necked Phalaropes and both regular Storm-Petrels. Nearby Bon Portage Island (a.k.a. Outer Island) hosts a colony of up to 50,000 pairs of Leach's Storm-Petrel. The Wilson's Storm-Petrel is a southern bird that spends its winters (our summer) in the Northern Hemisphere.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel at German Bank - August 16, 2014 - Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

The highlight of any pelagic trip out of eastern North America is the sighting of a Skua. The most likely Skuas offshore in Nova Scotia are the Great Skua and the South Polar Skua. Binoculars and cameras were quickly brought up to the eyes when Fulton Lavender called out "Skua!". This bruiser of a bird gave us spectacular views and almost passed right over our heads. This bird was identified as the European nesting Great Skua.

Great Skua at German Bank - August 16, 2014 - Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

My favourite experience of the entire trip was when a Northern Fulmar was very close to the stern of the boat allowing me to get some close up photos. I hung off the stern to get as low as I could so that I was closer to the water for a better point of view. During the 2012 trip I was in the ship's wheelhouse when a fulmar landed near to the boat so I was very happy that I hadn't missed this opportunity.

Northern Fulmar at German Bank - August 16, 2014 - Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

Paul Gould and me looking at my photos - Photo by Ronnie d'Entremont

Another Great Skua was sighted a bit later but didn't allow us to approach for any good observations. I did manage to get a few shots of this second sighting. Photos of both Skuas were analyzed by Eric Mills and it was concluded that they were different individuals based on differing stages of molt between the two birds. Flight feather and covert wear is different between the two birds. The skua shown below (2nd bird) has much fresher primaries than the previous individual.

2nd Great Skua on German Bank - August 16, 2014 - Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

We got distant views of 3 Humpback Whales breaching on the horizon as well as Harbour Porpoises, a Minke Whale and a Grey Seal.

Minke Whale on German Bank - August 16, 2014 - Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

Grey Seal on German Bank - August 16, 2014 - Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

One of the most popular online venues to submit bird sightings is eBird. Graham Williams has submitted a report for this trip on eBird and has shared it with the other eBird users. The entire trip was split into 10 legs and GPS coordinates was acquired for each leg. Each sighting was assigned to one of the 10 legs and 10 seperate checklists were submitted. Below is a list provided to me by Graham Williams of all individuals observed during the trip.

Canada Goose: 15
Common Eider: 20
Common Loon: 4
Northern Fulmar: 1
Great Shearwater: 1033
Sooty Shearwater: 12
Manx Shearwater: 2
Cory’s Shearwater: 2 (Possible, ID unconfirmed)
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel: 15
Leach’s Storm-Petrel: 3
Northern Gannet: 69
Double-crested Cormorant: 90
Great Cormorant: 2
Black-bellied Plover: 3
Semi-palmated Plover: 1
Spotted Sandpiper: 2
Least Sandpiper: 12
Semi-palmated Sandpiper: 9
Peep sp.: 10
Red-necked Phalarope: 10
Red Phalarope: 58
Phalarope sp.: 115 (i.e. Red/Red-necked Phalarope but too far to ID with certainty)
Great Skua: 2
Jaeger sp.: 1 (Probably Parasitic)
Black Guillemot: 99
Atlantic Puffin: 37
Black-legged Kittiwake: 4
Herring Gull: 574 (most at or near wharf)
Great Black-backed Gull: 804 (most at or near wharf)
Gull sp.: 25
Common Tern: 9
Common/Arctic Tern: 1
Common Raven: 2

Links to ebird checklists of each trip leg are found here (from Graham Williams):

Below is a map showing our route along with the GPS points collected by Graham Williams. I've annotated where some of the more interesting species were seen.

Route for the trip on August 16, 2014.


  1. Fantastic account, Alix. Don't let that fancy Canon setup seduce you to the dark-side! ;)

    1. I dunno, my setup looked pretty good in your capable hands... great photos and post, Alix.

  2. Thanks guys. It was a pleasure seeing you all again. Peter, I'll be seeing you soon I'm sure.

  3. Wow, now I see why Keith was anticipating this particular birding event for so long! Great pics as well.

  4. Replies
    1. This was a private trip with limited spaces. Ronnie d'Entremont organized the event and invited the participants. He does plan on having another one next year. If you are interested in attending I suggest you get in contact with Ronnie. I've sent you an e-mail with his contact info.

  5. Alix, you are getting so smooth with these blogs and photos. The go to spot ! The trip was great and you captured it,

    1. Thanks Jane. It was a wonderful trip with great people. I hope we get to do it again next year.