And so it came to pass that, after a run of 39 out of 42 foggy days locally, the weather produced its usual fare for the Pubnico Pelagic, perfect weather! We wanted northerlies, we got them, we wanted clear seas, got those too. We also wanted White-faced Storm-Petrel, and, well, two out of three isn’t bad. So just after 5am on 11-August 2018 we eased off the jetty at Dennis Point, fish oil drip bottle still there on the quay, and headed out once more into the briny. The Pubnico Pelagic is eagerly anticipated because it brings us terrestrially bound birders into contact with oceanic wanderers one again. No long grass to skulk in, no leafy canopy in which to hide, you either see a species or you don’t and you try to ignore very distant blobs that always tend to look on the rare side.
Twenty four pairs of optically enhanced eyes would be scanning hard for the next 10 hours or so, breaking only to dine, drink or divest themselves of the results of the dining and drinking and we were all filled with the hope, if not expectation, that this year the big one would pay us a visit. The chum was ready, the conditions were nigh on perfect, now all we had to do was work the ocean and dig out the birds. This might sound very easy, you can see a long way (approximately 6 km for someone on a Lobster Boat deck and of average male height) and the birds tend to be bigger than say a Song Sparrow (mostly), but for the rarities it really it is like looking for a poppy seed in a parking lot (of average size and empty save the seed). The chum helps greatly in drawing in the commoner sea birds and the commotion caused by the chum attendees is what draws the attention of other birds passing either within olfactory or visible range.
The first part of the trip was sedate as we passed through rather barren inshore waters, paused at Round Island and Flat Island to add a few trip birds then we pushed out towards German Bank, roughly south-west of Pubnico a few hours past Round Island. The birding then picked up, especially when we caught up with a Scallop Dragger although the birds were barely feeding and were probably stuffed with bycatch. Further on we hit a couple of patches of birds, mostly Great Shearwaters, oddly the commonest Storm Petrel throughout was Leach’s. Phalaropes littered the ocean in various places, mostly Red, I saw only about 10 Red-necked. We also had the pleasure of a couple of Manx Shearwaters, a relaxed Sooty Shearwater on the way in and the odd Barn Swallow escort.
Perhaps one highlight was an Ocean Sunfish which Captain Chris got carefully alongside and so we all had our best views of this weird but compelling denizen of the (mostly) tropics. A second highlight, well for me at least, was a Canada Warbler that came and went for a while, almost alighting on the boat but not quite having the nerve. When you add a few Northern Fulmars and a selection of alcids to the trip list we didn’t do too bad at all but the elusive White-faced Storm-Petrel never showed up, nor did Red-billed Tropicbird, Black-browed Albatross, Yellow-nosed Albatross, Audubon’s nor Baroli Shearwater, Sabine’s Gull, Long-tailed Jaeger nor Band-rumped Petrel but they might have and that is precisely why we do it again and again.
Many thanks are due to Ronnie d’Entremont for organising the trip and to our patient Skipper Stephen d’Entremont, for happily filling his boat with nutcase birders once a year. Those reading this who did not go, should understand that room aboard is scarce and the birder limit soon reached, a number limited for both safety and comfort. This trip is a private arrangement, not something that is publically available and not something you can just put your name down for. Those wanting the chance to observe sea birds in Nova Scotia should take the opportunity to do whale watching trips in Fundy in season and you can even set up your own pelagic charter with them if you wish, you’d have no problems filling the boat, just post the details on the Nova Scotia Bird Society Facebook page and it will draw birders every bit as effectively as chopped Herring draws shearwaters!
Here are a few shots from the day.
Northern Fulmar, always great to see.
We had the pleasure of a couple of Manx Shearwaters.
Leach’s Storm-Petrel, always bigger than you think.
The fin of the Sun Fish.
My crappy Canada Warbler shot.
Sooty Shearwater not flying off like its ass is on fire for a change.
For those interested, I added a page (tab at the top) documenting the creation of our garden pond, a great addition to the yard and part of a cunning plan to attract a Black Rail to the yard! A tab for Australia has also appeared – mysterious.