September Brings Best-of-the-Year Birding, Many Great Sightings

Sep 3, 2014

Black-capped Petrel
Credit cotinis / flickr

This is the time of year that anyone with an interest in birds on the Cape and Islands has been waiting for. From now through October, not only is the birding the best of the year but pretty much the best of everything occurs - including home-grown vegetables, lots of fresh fish and greatly reduced crowds and traffic. I am already ruing the fact that 3 days are gone in September and the fall is proceeding much too rapidly. That said, the birding, as always happens when Labor Day Weekend occurs, has gotten much better and each day holds great promise.

A dedicated pelagic birding trip left Hyannis 10 days ago with 50 hard-core birders and a group of seabird experts for leaders on a 2-day overnight trip to the edge of the continental shelf south of Nantucket and the submarine canyons that abut the Gulf Stream. This area is hard to get to and represents the “final frontier” in New England ornithology. This area is rarely visited by birders and each trip has tremendous potential to find, rare, unusual or even unknown species.

Despite strong northeast winds and lots of seasickness, they managed to find lots of birds in between the big waves. They had 3 Black-capped Petrels, a species of Pterodroma that loves big winds, waves, and has a rollicking, bounding flight. The windier the better for finding these scarce birds. No other trip has ever recorded more than a single individual in New England water so this was off the charts. An immature Red-billed Tropicbird was discovered sitting on the water and great views and photos were obtained before it was driven off by a Pomarine Jaeger, a powerful, falcon-like seabird. They also managed to find and get good views of a White-faced Storm-petrel a very hard to find species anywhere in the world’s oceans. They also had Band-rumped, Leach’s and Wilson’s Storm-petrels, some came right in to chum slicks created just to attract these vary birds close to the boat.

They also encountered approximately 80 Audubon’s Shearwaters, a small tropical shearwater that wanders north in the Gulf Stream at this season. Normally a half dozen to 10 is considered a big count so the 80 individuals seen over the course of this trip was unprecedented. A South Polar Skua, all 3 jaeger species, lots of pelagic sandpipers called phalaropes and a Whale Shark rounded out their list. Despite the rough seas and getting a bit beat up all participants agreed it was the best sea trip-ever.

Back on shore there has been plenty of action. The rains and wind that hit on the evening of August 31 and the morning of September first forced lots of American Golden Plovers to ground on both Nantucket and the Vineyard. Farm fields on Nantucket were visited by some 48 of these attractive and quite rare plovers while 99 individuals were seen in farm fields in the Katama section of Edgartown. All the birds involved were adults molting from their alternate breeding plumage to their much drabber basic plumage. Later in the month young plovers may put in an appearance.

And like clockwork September hits and birds are seemingly everywhere. An immature Sabine’s Gull, 3 Yellow-crowned Night Herons and Baird’s Sandpiper on Tuckernuck Island on the first and reports from all over the Cape and Islands of fantastic birding. Good, good, good vibrations at the start of September.