Sunday, 29 July 2012

Bar Harbor pelagic

Great Shearwaters were a constant presence out on the open ocean.
North-east Maine's inshore waters are rich in food, a resource shared by marine life, birds and humans. Sailing out through the flat calm waters from Bar Harbor, our base here for a few days, it appears that much of it is destined for restaurants and shops - the surface of the ocean is littered with buoys marking the position of lobster pots as far as the eye can see. But get out a few miles further, and seabirds quickly dominate the view.

Petit Manan's lighthouse and buildings loom out of the fog as we approach the island.
I joined a birding and whale-watching trip organised by Bar Harbor Whale Watch, on board a high-speed catamaran heading out to Petit Manan Island, home to thousands of breeding seabirds, and then beyond that to the open ocean, primarily for whales. It's a trip aimed at the interested public, rather than birders and cetacean-watchers specifically, but I was impressed with the level of information given by the on-board naturalist guide, Julie, over the tannoy.

Atlantic Puffin is one of four auk species breeding on the island.
Petit Manan offers an excellent selection of Atlantic auks and large numbers of breeding Common and Arctic Terns, as well as a couple of pairs of Roseates. This last species eluded us and the visit to the island - where landing isn't permitted - was too brief to provide sufficient time to search, but we enjoyed excellent views of Atlantic Puffin, Common Guillemot (Murre) and Black Guillemot, as well as a single Razorbill on our approach.

Hundreds of Wilson's Storm-petrels were present offshore, and occasionally foraged near the boat.
Much more time was spent on the open ocean, where my focus was primarily on seabirds. In this respect the trip excelled, and once well offshore Great Shearwaters were in constant attendance, and Wilson's Storm-petrels almost so (and also quite close to land). My position was on the uppermost of three decks on the left-hand side towards the stern, so better placed for viewing rather than photography, but we were close enough at times that it didn't matter - some of the shearwaters in particular were quite close.

Leach's Storm-petrels breed in numbers on nearby islands: active mainly by night, they can be hard to find at sea.
Among the large numbers of these two species, there were others of interest: I had two Leach's Storm-petrels in among the numerous smaller Wilson's, four Manx and two Sooty Shearwaters, regular Northern Gannets, and Julie called two Arctic Skuas (Parasitic Jaegers) over the boat. A single Minke and at least two Fin Whales headlined the short cetacean list, which was completed by frequent Harbour Porpoise sightings, while two Ocean Sunfish and a Blue Shark were also noteworthy. Back in the harbour area, American Herring, Great Black-backed, Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls and good numbers of Double-crested Cormorant completed the morning's list, which had begun with an adult Peregrine Falcon perching briefly on the top of a mast of a moored yacht prior to departure. All in all, an excellent trip.

An Ocean Sunfish lurks under the surface.
Adult Peregrine Falcon perching on the mast of a yacht moored in Bar Harbor - the perfect look-out point.

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