NH Pelagic

Pelagic trips are few and far between on the north-east coast. In Quebec there don’t seem to be any but it is possible, for the outlay of a chunk of dollars, to take a ferry to Blanc Sablon, seeing seabirds on the way. The coast off New Hampshire gets interesting once you get out to an area called Geoffrey’s Ledge, a drop off on the ocean floor that causes an upswell of water and with it, food. Seabirds gather in these places and birders wanting to see the birds need to get out there and spend a bit of time. The other bonus of spending more than a couple hours out on a Whale watch boat is that you contact more Whales. On September 17th the MV Granite State was our charter vessel and the good folks from the Seacoast Audubon Chapter set everything up, including copious amounts of chum for attracting the birds.

We cast off at 08.00 and cruised out to the open sea, passing Great Cormorant and Peregrine on the way. For a while, the first of around five Lesser Black-backed Gulls followed the boat, often hidden amongst the throng of American Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls in the wake. After a while, Great Shearwaters appeared in small numbers and some stayed with us for the duration of the trip. To some extent seabirds were at a premium, we saw two Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and a single Manx Shearwater. It took a few hours before we found Cory’s Shearwater but, when we did we saw them fairly often.

The most memorable part of the trip was the Whales. Fin Whales were common, their vertical spouts always present on the horizon. Humpback Whales were frequent too, one family coming right alongside, their aromatic blows resonating above the sound of the Granite State’s diesel engines. Suddenly Steve the commentator got animated, we had the unique V-shaped blow of a Northern Right Whale about half a mile ahead. The boat went into overdrive and we tried to narrow the gap to the prescribed legal distance the protected Whales enjoy. The mighty animal went into a dive and the tail fluked as it went, we waited. After ten minutes or so we powered up again just as the Whale broke surface and then went under once again, this time heading strongly away. We left it alone and resumed our birding.

By mid morning the sea had become mill pond calm and we were following up distant blobs in the hope of picking up another shearwater species or an uncommon gull. If Steve’s commentary had been animated over the Northern Right Whale he was apoplectic over the next star turn, a Sperm Whale. What turned out to be only the third ever record for the boat, a veteran of many Whale trips, was bobbing about in the flat sea ahead of us. Naturally it went under so we waited again. Keen eyes scoured the horizon and then there it was. We moved in to view this fantastic animal and it just sat and blew its 45 degree angled blows. We all had great views before it slipped away back into the depths and we all felt privelaged to be there.

Supporting cast for the day included a tremendous Lion’s Mane Jellyfish alongside a few Blue Sharks for the sharp eyed and regular contacts with Atlantic White-sided Dolphins. One little patch of ocean held nine Red-necked Phalaropes that span and fluttered while the boat enjoyed them. Before the trip we were optimistic that there would be a ton of seabirds to see. Some Jaegers would have been nice along with a Sabine’s Gull or two and perhaps Leach’s Storm-Petrel but this time it was not to be. We moored up at 17.30, red as berries after a full day of sunshine and a good day all around. Thanks to the Seacoast Chapter for a very enjoyable trip. Below are an assortment of photos from the trip.

The gillnet fisherman attracted many large gulls and a few Great Shearwaters around them.

Northern Gannets were pretty common over the fish shoals.

Humpback on the way down.

Great Shearwater – common on the trip.

Red-necked Phalaropes.

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish.

The Sperm Whale – then down she goes.

Atlantic White-sided Dolphin.

Exit one Cory’s Shearwater.


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