On Saturday, August 24th, we ran our third annual Head Harbor Passage boat trip out of Eastport and again, this is an area that didn’t disappoint. The narrow waterways of Head Harbor Passage pair with extreme tides to create upwellings and the famous “Old Sow” whirlpool that drives food, like krill, to the surface for birds to feed on. Beneath the surface, seals, porpoises, and whales chase after these and larger prey items. We set out at 8AM, hitting the water at an ideal tide to maximize the number of birds feeding and, like past years, the show was phenomenal!
Our big target for this trip is to pick out a Little Gull among the thousands of Bonaparte’s Gulls. During this trip we spotted a stunning juvenile Little Gull in the first flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls we motored to, making us 3 for 3 on finding these rarities on the trip.
We then motored up Head Harbor Passage, to East Quoddy Head at the northern end of Campobello. This is a good spot to find shearwaters or other pelagic species but there appeared to be no bait fish in the area at the time. Harbor Porpoise typically drive bait fish towards the surface here, which attracts the birds to the now easier to catch prey. Instead, a massive flock of gulls (3,000+) feeding on smaller prey items (apparently krill) was forming back down the passage. Captain Butch put is in perfect position to scan down the flocks and we got another rarity for the day: Black-headed Gull!
Back towards the Old Sow, a small (200+) group of gulls were now roosting on the rocks near Deer Island Lighthouse. One of our guides, Chris Bartlett, was able to pick an adult Little Gull from that roost. Can you see it (slightly overexposed) in the photo below?
It became much easier for everyone on board to see when something briefly startled the flock. They flew once around the boat before settling back on the rocks. In flight, adult Little Gulls show black feathers on their underwing:
Sprinkle in other unusual sightings like Lesser Black-backed Gull or Forster’s Tern and we had non-stop excitement through the trip! Mark your calendars for next year (tentatively August 22, 2020).
Below is a complete list of species and an estimate of the total number of each species that were seen.
Common Eider (Somateria mollissima) – 8
Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) – 3
Razorbill (Alca torda) – 1
Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle) – 15
Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) – 65
Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) – 3,600
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) – 1
Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus) – 2
Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) – 1
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) – 2
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) – 450
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) – 2
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus) – 56
Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) – 1
Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) – 15
Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri) – 1
Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) – 1
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) – 3
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) – 208
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) – 2
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) – 7
Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina) – 10+
Gray Seal (Halichoerus grypus) – 8+
Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) – 10+
I want to thank everyone who came on this trip – you are not only supporting Maine Audubon but also an under-birded region of the state that can benefit from ecotourism opportunities like this. Also, to our wonderfully knowledgeable and exceptionally skilled guides, Chris Bartlett and Woody Gillies, for helping get us on such great birds throughout the morning!
We’ve got a few more boat trips coming up in September that shouldn’t be missed. Our annual Pelagic Trip from Bar Harbor is nearly sold out so if you are planning on attending, reserve your spot ASAP. And for the 51st year, our Bald Eagles of Merrymeeting Bay trip will run, on September 21st. No two years are the same as this trip has turned from a tale of survival to a conservation success story. Beyond eagles, we’ll see migrating waterfowl, unique perspectives along the Kennebec, and (my favorite) the possibility of breaching sturgeon!
While we’re talking trips, don’t forget that Maine Audubon is offering a trip to Costa Rica this winter. Last year during the period of this trip, the average daily temperatures in Falmouth were 10ºF. Why don’t you skip that and see 400+ species of birds with us instead. Learn more here: fieldguides.com/cos20p.html Or we’ve also got space on our Arizona trip (my favorite place to bird in the lower 48) in March: fieldguides.com/arw20p.html