Seabirds Galore!

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel was the front-runner this week. If you had placed your bets, double or nothing, on this diminutive seabird, you would be cashing in big time. Of the 549 birds we recorded in our 300 meter strip transect, 89% were Wilson’s Storm-Petrels; the majority of these were seen during two days in upwelling zones above the edge of Hudson Canyon and nearby shelf break. It’s interesting to note that on the day where we recorded 173 birds (our highest daily total so far), 89% were also Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, and almost all were seen within a two hour period on the north edge of Hudson Canyon. This species and Leach’s Storm-Petrel were the only species out of a total of 15, that we saw everyday this week. Storm-Petrels include the world’s smallest seabirds, some barely larger than a House Sparrow, that yet manage to eke out an existence where few other birds dare to venture.

Thanks to Desray Reeb, one of the sharp-eyed marine mammal observers, for spotting an unusual seabird while searching for marine mammals with the ship-mounted 25×150 binoculars. It turned out to be one of the few Barolo Shearwaters seen in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. There are a growing number of records of this species off New York, Massachusetts, and far off Nova Scotia. Formerly considered a subspecies of Little Shearwater, and still is by some, it forms part of a confusing complex of small black-and-white shearwaters in the genus Puffinus. Another highlight this week was a White-faced Storm-Petrel about 82 nautical miles south of Nantucket, very close to Veatch Canyon.

Unexpected was a Yellow-headed Blackbird, possibly an immature male, that fluttered past the Henry B. Bigelow about 63 nautical miles south of Nantucket. As the blackbird flies, this isn’t far from where we saw one during AMAPPS 2011. Yellow Headed Blackbirds are a visually striking western North American Passerine which nests in marshes from the Rockies and Great Basin east to the Western Great Lakes. Likely exhausted and thirsty, it settled in for the remainder of the day and, finding the lodgings acceptable, decided to spend the night and all of the following day, taking advantage of fresh water and food scraps provided by its primary care-giver, Nigel, a member of the deck department. Having been refortified, it likely departed the night of its second day, there being no further sightings.

(reported by Michael Force and Nicholas Metheny)

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