Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Turtles and Sharks and Whales, Oh My!

Every summer for the past few years we have been taking at least one but usually more than one trips to see whales and of course sea-birds with Artie Kopelman of CRESLI. He operates his trips out of Montauk on the Viking Fleet. For those that are not so keen on doing pelagics because of a tendency towards the 'technicolor yawn', the boat we go out on is very large and thus very stable.  

In the winter Artie also does seal walks at Cupsogue county park. And no, you do not have to pick up clean up after the seals.

The QCBeasties         photo by Nancy Trogan

A nice group of us got together on what turned out to be a perfect day to be on the ocean. Steve Tanager, Kurt & Stacey Meyer's-Friarbird, Nancy & Lou Trogan, Pelican, Dunlin, yours truly, and a few guests.

The rain of the previous day gave way to a clear sky, modest temperatures, low wind, and flat seas. Stacey was particularly pleased! 

The Kraken attacks!
As usual, the birding as well as the whaling started out slowly, but who doesn’t like a leisurely cruise in the ocean? Of course we had Herring, Great Black-backed and a few immature Laughing Gulls with Common Terns curious about our boat. But it took a while of sailing south west before our first pelagic species showed up.

Wilson’s Storm Petrels were the first to be spotted. They were here and there and as long as one looked through binos, they were everywhere. As we got closer to the immense and numerous schools of Bunker, we caught sight of our first Shearwaters. Cory’s and Great were around first in ones and twos, and then in big groups. The largest was a flock of 100+ or so Greats loafing near a trawler, perhaps resting and digesting. 

Wilson's Storm-Petrel

There were also groups of Corys, and one such group also held two Sooty Shearwaters: one of our target birds! We were hoping to be graced with more rare species like a Manx Shearwater as had been seen on a trip the week before, but we were not as lucky.

Sooty & Cory's Shearwater - Photo by Nancy Trogan
We did see a loggerhead turtle, and numerous sharks. Some of the later were swimming at the surface, but most were thrashing through the schools of bunker.

The first whales we saw were Humpbacks. The ‘blow’ was spotted by Artie and his team of volunteers, and the captain of the boat brought us nearby.  It was wild to see the big tail fluke come out of the water as they began a dive. At one point we were close enough to one of them when the whale exhaled and Artie warned of the impending stench. Yech!  Or at least that’s what he claimed: the stench came from his direction. How ~convenient~ to blame it on the whale...

L > R     Cory's, ??, Cory's, Great
In the photo above I noticed that one of the birds is smaller in structure. Does this mean that one of the birds that have been split off of Cory's Shearwater can be present in our waters? Has anyone ever bothered to look for these very similar looking birds? It was only after reviewing my photos that I noticed the possibility...

" A large shearwater, in general structured like a Cory’s Shearwater with long bowed wings. However, bill, head and body thought to be slimmer than Cory’s in the field.  Photographs prove bill head and body were obviously slimmer than Cory’s. Note that Cory’s averages 46% heavier than Scopoli’s."

Some references:
It would be nice if we could be afforded the time to study these birds that were loafing, but the goal of the cruise was alas, focused on the whales. We cruised around and eventually came across some Fin Whales. Neato! 

Overall, as compared to other trips, there were not as many whales, but the waters were calm and allowed good looks at the ones present. So far, whale wise and bird wise we have not been disappointed, though some were hoping to come across dolphins that we usually have.

At one point a young Brown-headed Cowbird inspected our boat, but due to its being littered with people, it never seemed to find a suitable place to land. Some time later, same thing but this time it was a Yellow Warbler.

As it eventually got towards that time of day, and Artie mentioned that it was time to head back. Pelican and I were scanning the ocean and remarking about the huge schools of bunker when she spotted and called out ‘whale!’ When it resurfaced, it looked quite small to me so I called out dolphin but was corrected by Artie Kopelman who called it a Minke. I thought, who does he think he is, Inspector Clouseau?

But of course he was correct, noting that it was a particularly small individual. We spent a while getting looks at it and returned later than usual to dock because of finding it late in the day.

All in all a fantastic day out on the water. Great conditions, 4 lifers each for Kurt & Stacey, year birds for the rest of us. And no one on this crowded boat got sick except for one poor slob who wretched almost continuously. We took turns trying to identify the internal organs he was expelling;  I saw a kidney for certain... 


Nancy Tognan said...

I should not get the photo credit for the group photo, since I was in the photo. Some unknown person took it after I set it up.
Nice blog post!

Arie said...

Yes Nancy, but it was -your- camera