News & Notes

“SKUA!!” Another great pelagic trip!

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014
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Great Skua

Great Skua

Any pelagic trip that you get to yell “SKUA!!” is a great trip in my book. Skuas are essentially gulls on steroids; large, aggressive and quite often very hard to find. In 2013, it seemed unbelievable when we tallied multiples of both Great and South Polar Skua. Planning the 2014 trip to go in the same area during the same window of time, we crossed our fingers and departed just before sunrise on September 20.

Winds out of the southwest helped put birds in the air: a tight flock of Great Shearwaters crossed our path as soon as we hit deep water. This flock put on a great show and our chumming helped bring in a handful of Pomarine Jaegers, a surprise this early in the trip.

Pomarine Jaeger

Pomarine Jaeger

Then it happened: “SKUA!!” was shouted and the chase was on. What sets apart this pelagic trip from any other I’ve been on is the boat: Bar Harbor Whale Watching Company’s Friendship V is a jet powered catamaran that can do 30 kts with ease, which becomes very useful when you are chasing down skuas. At one point in this first chase we were travelling 32 mph and barely gaining on the bird. Finally getting close enough, we were able to see the overall rich-brown tones, golden flecks on the back and larger heavier bill – all clear field marks for Great Skua.

South Polar Skua

South Polar Skua

Within the next hour and a half, a second skua was spotted. This one eventually settled on the water and our expert chummer was able to bring it in with offerings of deliciously smelly fish. Luckily, this was an adult South Polar Skua, with completing wing molt and showing gray-brown coloration overall.

During the return trip we had to face into the wind (and 6 foot waves) which lowered our detection rate of birds. Many thanks to our great captain for doing an outstanding job maneuvering the Friendship V in those waves.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Here is a complete list of birds (and totals) from the trip:

  • Common Eider (200)
  • White-winged Scoter (3)
  • Black Scoter (9)
  • Common Loon (4)
  • Northern Fulmar (4)
  • Great Shearwater (201)
  • Sooty Shearwater (1)
  • Manx Shearwater (2)
  • Wilson’s Storm-Petrel (18)
  • Leach’s Storm-Petrel (8)
  • storm-petrel sp. (3)
  • Northern Gannet (34)
  • Double-crested Cormorant (17)
  • Bald Eagle (2)
  • Red Phalarope (1)
  • Great Skua (1)
  • South Polar Skua (1)
  • skua sp. (1)
  • Pomarine Jaeger (18)
  • Razorbill (7)
  • large alcid sp. (1)
  • Black Guillemot (2)
  • Atlantic Puffin (16)
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (1)
  • Laughing Gull (1)
  • Ring-billed Gull (7)
  • Herring Gull (442)
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (2)
  • Great Black-backed Gull (569)
  • Common Tern (1)
  • Merlin (1)


  • Atlantic White-sided Dolphin
  • Harbor Porpoise
  • Minke Whale
  • Harbor Seal


Doug Hitchcox Head Shot - please credit  M. Kathleen Kelly (1)Meet Doug Hitchcox, Maine Audubon Staff Naturalist

A Maine native, Doug grew up in Hollis and graduated from the University of Maine in 2011. Throughout college Doug worked at Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center and was hired as Maine Audubon’s staff naturalist in the summer of 2013, a long time “dream job.” In his free time, Doug volunteers as one of Maine’s eBird reviewers, is the owner and moderator of the ‘Maine-birds’ listserv and serves as York County Audubon board member and Secretary of the Maine Bird Records Committee.


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