Thursday, August 18, 2016

Pubnico Pelagic 2016

The yearly Pubnico Pelagic occured on August 13, 2016 this year. See Pubnico Pelagic 2014 and Pubnico Pelagic 2015 for the previous two years' blog posts. I also create a YouTube video for each trip, the 2016 video can be seen below, or follow this link Pubnico Pelagic 2016.

This trip is cause for excitement many months before we actually leave the wharf. It is a chance for those of us who rarely go offshore to get close-up views of many species that are only specs on the horizon when viewed from land. This year I had already seen both species of storm-petrel, a Pomarine Jaeger (eBird Checklist) and the four expected species of shearwater (eBird Checklist) on previous trips. This meant that most species that we would see wouldn't be new ticks for the year for me.

Cory's Shearwater (borealis subspecies) at German Bank, August 13, 2016. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

An Audubon's Shearwater was photographed near Grand Manan on August 11, 2016, and a South Polar Skua was observed on a Brier Island whale trip on August 12, 2016. These two sightings combined with the very warm sea surface temperature maps (20 degrees Celcius just west of NS) seemed to suggest that we had the chance of finding something big.

Ronnie d'Entremont organized the trip again this year and Steven d'Entremont captained the Rebecca Lynn I. The boat left at about 5:30 am from Dennis Point Wharf in Lower West Pubnico. Below is a list of the participants:

Ronnie d'Entremont
Raymond d'Entremont
Paul Gould
Eric Mills
Bruce Stevens
Alan Covert
Ken McKenna
Kevin Lantz
Larry Neily
Mark Dennis
Mike MacDonald
Jane Alexander
Keith Lowe
Reinhard Geisler
Lori Mathis
Jerry Mathis
Graham Williams
Peter Brannon
Diane LeBlanc
Liz Voellinger
Simon d'Entremont
Alix d'Entremont
Peggy Scanlan
Chris Pepper
Angela Granchelli

Some of the crew; left to right: Mark Dennis, Ken McKenna, Liz Voellinger, Chris Pepper, Eric Mills, ?? and Raymond d'Entremont. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

The first interesting observation of the trip were of shearwaters in Lobster Bay, before we even reached the Mud Islands. The Bon Portage crew regularly get good numbers of shearwaters passing by the island, so seeing them in Lobster Bay isn't really unexpected.

We took the opportunity to sail near to Round Island on our way out to sea. Bruce Stevens spotted a Black-crowned Night-Heron as it flew over the island. I am almost convinced that these rare Nova Scotia breeders are nesting on nearby Mud Island. I had one on Round Island in 2012 (eBird) and another three earlier this year (eBird). It has or currently does nest on Seal Island and islands near Cape Sable Island (McLaren 2012). Breeding of this species has been confirmed again this year on Bon Portage Island (eBird), where it has been breeding since 1977 (McLaren 2012).

Once we passed the Mud Islands, a few of us thought we saw a few Manx, but they were too distant to be sure of the identification. A Cory's was also likely seen fairly early, but it too was gone before anyone else got to see it.

We often hear of migrant birds landing on boats that can be many miles offshore. On this trip, we had three species of Passerine that were sighted quite far from land: Barn Swallow, Yellow Warbler and Brown-headed Cowbird. The cowbird flew 3 or 4 circles around the boat as two dozen birders watched it. We assumed it would try to land, but it flew off and returned later to circle the boat again without landing.

Brown-headed Cowbird, hatch-year Barn Swallow and Yellow Warbler, August 13, 2016. Photos by Alix d'Entremont.

My first ever Lesser Black-backed Gull was one seen on the Pubnico Pelagic in 2012. That first bird was an adult while the one seen during this 2016 trip looked like an second-cycle type bird with still juvenile looking inner primaries. It appears to be finishing its second prebasic moult as it is growing the outer primaries and inner secondaries.

Lesser Black-backed Gull at German Bank, August 13, 2016. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

I spotted the only Northern Fulmar during the entire trip when it was a little distance away. It did fly in a bit closer, but only gave us one chance for photos. The Great Shearwaters outnumbered the Sooty Shearwaters with a ratio of ??.

Northern Fulmar at German Bank, August 13, 2016Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

Sooty Shearwater at German Bank, August 13, 2016Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

Great Shearwater at German Bank, August 13, 2016Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

At first, the only storm-petrels that we had were Wilson's, but finally, Mark Dennis yelled out Leach's and we got some great views of both species to compare size, markings and flight style. Ronnie commented that photographing these tiny pelagic birds is similar in difficulty to "trying to eat jello with chopsticks". I agree.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel pitter-pattering on the water's surface at German Bank, August 13, 2016Photo by Alix d'Entremont

Leach's Storm-Petrel at German Bank, August 13, 2016Photo by Alix d'Entremont

The two other expected species of shearwater obligingly showed themselves. The first was a Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedia) spotted by Dr. Eric Mills that gave us adequate underside views to eliminate the C.d. diomedia (Scopoli's) which has yet to be photographically confirmed in Nova Scotia. See the first photo in this blog post for an underside view of this Cory's. A sight record of Scopoli's exists from Sable Island in September 2015 (eBird Checklist) and Mills et al. (2015) summarise the issue in an issue of NS Birds. The British and Dutch authorities have separated the two as distinct species, Calonectris diomedia (Scopoli's) and Calonectris borealis (Cory's), but in North America, they remain as subspecies.

Cory's Shearwater at German Bank, August 13, 2016Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

Rounding off the four expected shearwater species was an extremely confiding Manx Shearwater. These small shearwaters typically only give brief views, and from my experience, aren't attracted to chum as much as the others. This Manx came in to the chum, at one point sitting on the water less than 10 feet from us. We watched as it circled the boat and dove completely in the water for a number of seconds. It was diving underwater when the other larger birds like Herring Gulls would fly in to steal the fish pieces that the Manx was trying to catch - a great technique for evading the bullies.

Manx Shearwater at German Bank, August 13, 2016Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

Manx Shearwater at German Bank, August 13, 2016Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

Manx Shearwater at German Bank, August 13, 2016Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

Manx Shearwater at German Bank, August 13, 2016Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

I thought I had 3 Black-legged Kittiwake recently from Outer Bald Island, but they were a few kilometres away, so I couldn't really rule out Bonaparte's or other small gulls, so didn't add them to my eBird checklist. I needed the species for my year list, so the adult that gave a good show was my first of the year.

Adult Black-legged Kittiwake at German Bank, August 13, 2016Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

A Northern Gannet came in for some chum so we got good fews of hooks with lead weights that were caught in its webbing. It also seemed to have an issue with one of its wings. After having observed the quick and agile Manx Shearwater, this gannet appeared gangly and uncoordinated as it went for the pieces of fish just below the water's surface.

Adult Northern Gannet at German Bank, August 13, 2016Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

Northern Gannet with line, hooks and lead weights caught in its webbing at German Bank, August 13, 2016Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

eBird Checklists:

Leg 1 (5:30-6:30)
Leg 2 (6:30-7:30)
Leg 3 (7:30-8:30)
Leg 4 (8:30-9:30)
Leg 5 (9:30-10:30)
Leg 6 (10:30-11:30)
Leg 7 (11:30-12:30)
Leg 8 (12:30-13:30)
Leg 9 (13:30-14:30)
Leg 10 (14:30-15:30)

Below is a list of all species and total count during all legs of the trip.

Species Name / Species Count
American Black Duck 1
Common Eider 49
Northern Fulmar 1
Cory's Shearwater 2
Great Shearwater 544
Sooty Shearwater 28
Manx Shearwater 1
shearwater sp. 2
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 20
Leach's Storm-Petrel 3
storm-petrel sp. 2
Northern Gannet 65
Great Cormorant 1
Double-crested Cormorant 112
Great Blue Heron 2
Black-crowned Night-Heron 1
Bald Eagle 2
Black-bellied Plover 8
Ruddy Turnstone 4
Least Sandpiper 17
White-rumped Sandpiper 3
Semipalmated Sandpiper 7
peep sp. 31
Short-billed Dowitcher 2
Red-necked Phalarope 79
Red Phalarope 400
Red-necked/Red Phalarope 416
Pomarine Jaeger 1
Razorbill 2
Black Guillemot 275
Atlantic Puffin 110
alcid sp. 2
Black-legged Kittiwake 2
Herring Gull 410
Lesser Black-backed Gull 3
Great Black-backed Gull 280
Common Tern 8
Arctic Tern 2
Common/Arctic Tern 21
American Crow 4
Common Raven 9
Barn Swallow 2
swallow sp. 3
Yellow Warbler 1
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
passerine sp. 1

The hopes of a "mega", a very rare bird, did not materialise. The sea surface temperature as measured by our boats instruments was only about 13 degrees Celcius, much cooler than what was displayed on Rutger's SST maps. It was a very pleasant trip in terms of sea conditions and weather and it was a pleasure to get to see birders that I rarely bump into. I'm looking forward to next year's trip.

McLaren, I.A. 2012. All the Birds of Nova Scotia: status & critical identification. Gaspereau Press Ltd, Kentville, N.S., Canada.

Mills, Eric L., Bruce Stevens & Jim Wilson. 2015. Cory's and Scopoli's Shearwaters - a Challenge for Atlantic Canadian Birders. NS Birds Vol. 57, No. 4. pp. 38-43.

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