Down East at the Autumnal Equinox

We took a few days off from our work with the Massachusetts White Shark Research team to travel to Down East Maine and embrace the onset of Autumn in the New England north country. We were eager to explore a new destination in the mid coast region well known to birders especially in the fall migration. Our target was Monhegan Island , a tiny wooded rock pile about ten miles off the Maine coast. The island is well visited in the fall as it is a famous stop-over for southbound migrants that get blown off the coast in certain weather conditions. Among these visitors are various warblers, other song birds and the raptors who feast on them in these confined island habitats. The island was settled some 400 years ago by English colonists and has been home to fishing families ever since. In the early Twentieth Century a private land trust was set up by a generous benefactor to set aside most of the island as natural woodlands with maintained trails. The result is a beautifully wooded natural preserve of conifers and deciduous trees which at the fall time can harbor some exotic migrant birds who found there way to Monhegan as the last refuge before getting blown out over the Atlantic Ocean. While we were on the island we observed Merlins and Peregrine Falcons constantly in pursuit of the visiting song birds. Warbler highlights included a Cape May warbler, Nashville warbler, Black throated Green warbler, Black throated Blue warbler and many Myrtles. Pam spotted a Scarlet Tanager male and the star bird of the few days was a Yellow headed Blackbird that was way out of its range usually seen west of the Rockies… Pretty amazing sight, though no photos were acquired of this bird.

Meanwhile the islanders were busy getting lobster traps rigged for the big October 1st opening. They were very friendly and knowledgeable about the birding that was going on all around them. We were privileged to join a group of experienced birders which included ornithologist Dr. Trevor Lloyd-Evans from the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. The weather was magnificent and Monhegan is truly a magical place at this time of year and we look forward to returning!

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Nashville Warbler Fall 2014

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Raven in the lower foreground

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Monhegan Harbormaster – Shermie Stanley receives his surprise gift. The photograph is of a school of Blue-fin tuna “Giants” taken by legendary spotter pilot and photographer Wayne Davis in celebration of their time fishing together years ago.

Read more.. Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Chasing the Last Dragons

White Shark Chex off N Chatham Inlet

A large male tagged earlier in the season is called Chex (nicknamed Darth Vader by the DMF Team). He is riddled with battle scars indicating that he is likely the dominant male white shark in the Chatham/Orleans habitat this summer season. The tag is visible in this image behind the dorsal fin.

Read a recent article in National Geographic Traveler about cage diving with white sharks in the Neptune Islands in South Australia. Local eco-tour operator Andrew Fox describes the experience his guests enjoy as “Chasing the Earth’s Last Dragons”. The phrase resonated with my own feelings of awe for these ocean voyagers.

Experienced naturalists and field biologists are a joy to be with. They can truly ignite a moment in the field with insight into animal behavior by orienting field companions to the possibilities while calibrating expectations with “what to look for…and what to avoid.. A passion for the wild world just pours from these companions on hikes or longer expeditions into the wild and it can be the difference between an average experience and a special one. We have learned that there is absolutely no substitute for an experienced guide who is familiar with the area your are exploring.. And most if not all of these guides will tell you…that the odds of witnessing a truly magical experiences improve significantly the more time you spend in the field. Seem obvious? Easier said than done. A lesson learned often the hard way. Time in the Field. “You can’t see them if you are not out there among them”… and conditions are not always ideal when the magic happens. Invariably, the fellow traveler who decides to sleep in and not take the early sunrise hike usually misses the one sighting that they had placed the most value on in planning their trip.

Time in the Field! Persistence paid off for us recently. After more than four seasons of scouring the outer Cape on our boat from Nantucket to Truro with binoculars, using various strategies to solicit the presence of a white shark and observe their hunting prowess we were finally rewarded with a magnificent white shark predation on a small grey seal in real time near the North Chatham Inlet here on Cape Cod. A  true lesson in natural history and a reminder of the majesty of this predator in our midst.

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A truly amazing spectacle that took less than 1 minute to complete. When the shark appeared finished we deplyed our decoy seal (made from pieces of synthetic carpet). A well placed toss and a splash solicted a return visit from the shark. NOTE: the shark is a male about 13 feet long tagged previously…nicknamed “Salty”.

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Salty sniffed this decoy and instantly realized that he had been duped. With a magnificent thrash of his tail he whacked the imposter hard and swam away.

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Outer Cape with WD

Shot acquired while flying with spotter pilot Wayne Davis on one of our days off the water. Note: This is a favorite surfers break off of Wellfleet

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This haul out of grey seals off of Pilgrim Heights is presently the largest gathering of seals on the Outer Cape this summer.

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Dr. Greg Skomal tags his 10th white shark off of Monomoy this week, a 14 footer nick named “Surf Hunter”.

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Working off NAuset Beach

Here is what they see from the beach on most days we are out.

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A Surfer trying his luck close to the beach

Read more.. Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Monomoy NWR

Hard to believe that the dog days of August have come and gone here on Cape Cod and we are welcoming that wonderful time of year known around here as “Septober – Sixty-one Days of Heaven”. As many of you who follow this blog are aware our summer has been dominated by the support we are providing to the Massachusetts Shark Research Program led by Dr. Greg Skomal and John Chisholm of the Department of Marine Fisheries here. That said we did manage a visit into the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge recently to check up on the south – bound shorebirds that frequent our outer beaches at this time of year. Our target area was the southern end of the South Island of Monomoy, an area known to locals as “Powder Hole” a favorite spot especially for birders in New England during the fall.

Monomoy looking north with Shark Cove visible in its entirety

South Monomoy looking north. Powder Hole is the area of ponds in the center.Shark Cove is visible in upper right

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Grey seals congregate around this estuary running out the Powder Hole.

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A rare sighting of a Marbled Godwit passing through on its way south

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Dunlin in non breeding plumage

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Bank swallow feeding over saltwater pan

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Possible Raccoon tracks

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Monomoy Lighthouse now restored by USFWS but not in service for navigation.

And for those of you who are following the white shark research activity when the weather permits us to get a plane in the air and work close to shore the action is strong. We see on average 5 – 7 different white sharks on every trip. Here is a special image taken by Wayne David our spotter pilot. Notice a grey seal on the surf line and a white shark in the lower left part of the frame. This shark was eventually photographed, cataloged and tagged on this day enabling researchers to follow its movement habits into the future for up to five years.

A recent article describing the work of Greg Skomal and our team is here. http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140827/NEWS/408270304/0/SEARCH

Shark at the surface

A very rare look at a white shark at the surface

AD on South Beach

Photo Courtesy of Wayne Davis

Below is the fourth in a series of Field Reports of the White Shark research going on this summer in Cape Cod waters. We are proud to be supporting this work funded by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.

 

Read more.. Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Summer

The summer is now more than half over and the various activities in the wild world here on Cape Cod have been both numerous and exciting to witness. As readers of this blog are aware, we have been supporting the White Shark Population Study field work under the direction of Dr. Greg Skomal through our involvement with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy since the study initiated in June. This has us out on the waters of the outer Cape two to three times a week on the Aleutian Dream with a dedicated team of researchers and volunteers. The work is hugely rewarding .

We have managed a few days off the water to check-in on the beginnings of the fall shorebird migration which has migrants continuing to pass through the outer Cape barrier beaches to refuel on their southerly journey. Other species are finally fledging their young and preparing to leave in the coming weeks. We  are posting a few images gathered over the past week including another wonderful visit to Sandy Neck in Barnstable.

And don’t miss the latest Field Report video with an update on the  White Shark Research below.

Super Moon

Supermoon rise over North Beach Island, Chatham

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A curious mola mola spotted near the North Chatham inlet

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Semipalimated sandpipers momentarily scared up by a passing Peregrine Falcon. Sandy Neck, Barnstable

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Newly fledged Piping Plover

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An incredible gathering of more than 500 Tree Swallows near the great salt marsh on Sandy Neck, Barnstable

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This osprey was returning to a nest with a newly fledged youngster waiting for a chat with Mom (or dad)

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On patrol at the white shark cafe off South Beach, Chatham

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Photo courtesy of Wayne Davis

Read more.. Monday, August 18th, 2014

Wild Times with White Sharks

Like a moth to a flame……it is exactly a year since Shark Week 2013 kicked off and since we are off the water today took some time to reflect on the adventures with these magnificent creatures during the past year. Here are some of the highlights….

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Seal Island, South Africa

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Seal Island, South Africa

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Off Chatham Inlet, Cape Cod

Guadeloupe Best

Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

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Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

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Seal Island, South Africa

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Seal Island, South Africa

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Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

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Blue Shark, Near Block Island, Rhode Island

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Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

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Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

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Seal Island, South Africa

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Blue Shark, Near Block Island, Rhode Island

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Predation event on a seal , Monomoy NWR, Cape Cod

 

 

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Out of the cage, Seal Island, South Africa

Blue Shark with Joe & Brian

Blue Shark, Near Block Island, Rhode Island

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Picture of the Year 2013 made the cover of TIME Magazine – Seal Island, South Africa

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Seal Island, South Africa

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Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

Blue Shark off Rhode Island

Blue Shark, Near Block Island, Rhode Island

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Free diving with Black tip sharks, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

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Photo courtesy Wayne Davis : Working a white shark off Nauset Beach, Orleans, Massachusetts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more.. Sunday, August 10th, 2014

British Columbia: The Rugged Coast

We are overdue in reporting on some of the details behind our recent journey to the Pacific Northwest. As mentioned in a previous post, our goal was to restock our freezers with a stock of salmon, halibut, ling cod and hopefully have a chance to record some of the truly wonderful wildlife that is resident at this time of year there. Our trip took us north by plane to Bella Bella, a village on the coast well north in BC on the famous cruising grounds known as the Inside Passage. Bella Bella is primarily a First Nations community depending on  commercial fishing as a primary livelihood for residents. From there we caught a ride by water about 20 miles to the south and west to a mobile fish camp anchored in a protected cove for the summer sport fishing season. The camp caters to return visitors who have frequented the beautiful Hakai Pass recreational area before and are comfortable getting around safely in their 17 ft custom fit out for fishing Boston whalers. Accompanied by son Spencer we were eager to get fishing as soon as we arrived. Our perseverance paid off over the 4 days we were on the grounds and managed to return with more than 100 lbs of frozen fish filets to restock our larders. Also sent a few choice pieces to the Smoke house as well. Following are few of the memories. We had a couple of days of dense fog which made it a challenge to get around but when it did clear is was beautiful. And the prize of the trip was a great one hour encounter with a small pod of Transient killer whales.

 

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Black turnstones join a small flock of Surfbirds

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Gulls and auk-lets intensely feed on a herring bait ball

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Female matriarch of the pod…did this surface “spy – hop likely to check us out.

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A young member of the pod did a complete breach just before this frame was taken

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This male had a very distinctly deformed dorsal fin. Likely son of the female above

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Hakai Orca

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Rhinoceros auk-let

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Ceremonial native canoes from as far away as Alaska and Washington State were visiting

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Pacific oystercatchers

 

 

Read more.. Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: White Shark Research

Summer has now commenced in full swing here on Cape Cod and many summer visitors have arrived to enjoy all that a warm and sunny Cape Cod has to offer. Our attention has turned to supporting a research project that is being conducted in Cape Cod waters and when completed will answer the question most people ask about Atlantic white sharks. How many are out there? This work is being funded by donations of time equipment and $ from the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in cooperation with the Massachusetts department of Marine Fisheries Shark Research Program led by Dr. Greg Skomal. The research is being conducted on the outer Cape operating out of our home port, Chatham and since Greg has been interested in working from a smaller boat platform to see if photographing and tagging white sharks is possible, we offered the use of ours – the 24 foot Aleutian Dream. Over the last couple of years we have made some modifications to this fishing boat to enhance our ability to follow and photograph wildlife in the ocean and with the addition of a bow pulpit the boat seemed ideally suited for the challenge to follow white sharks. And because the region’s seals are so spread out, the only truly efficacious way to find these visiting apex predators is to use a spotter plane. Veteran fish spotter pilot Wayne Davis was recruited for this purpose and after a couple of weeks we have worked most of the kinks out our process.

Please consider supporting this important work by donating  here http://www.atlanticwhiteshark.org/donate/

and BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE VIDEO BELOW!!

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The research protocol calls for the team to be on the water at least two days a week scanning from the boat and working with the plane along the areas barrier beaches looking mainly at the grey seal haulouts for signs of shark predation attempts and any other observations. We have been blessed with some excellent conditions to work in and were rewarded on Saturday June 28 when Wayne spotted 14 – 15 foot white shark about 1/4 mile off of Nauset Beach and we were able to follow her with underwater pole cameras for nearly an hour.

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Read more.. Friday, July 4th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Offshore with Blues

Summer brings with it many changes to the marine environment in and around Cape Cod and surrounding islands. As the ocean currents slowly bring warmer currents from the south the water temperatures rise and some of our migrating fishes return to New England waters along with seabirds who also feast on the bounty that the ocean yields at this time of year. We have longed to hook up with shark conservation legend and filmmaker Joe Romeiro to go offshore to find and swim with Blue sharks in their natural wide open ocean hopefully in clear green and blue water. There is also a chance that a mako shark might bolt into the situation just to liven things up. To accomplish this goal we ventured to Rhode Island to Point Judith for an early departure on board with Pelagic Expeditions, an adventure shark diving operation run by Joe and Brian Raymond. These guys really know their stuff and even though we set out to find clear water in dense fog this Sunday morning – their confidence and experience paid off as we finally broke out of the fog to a sunny flat calm day in the Atlantic ocean. Humpback whales and Minke whales surfaced lazily around us and we waited while our chum slick sent out a call to the ocean scavengers that might be within a few miles of our position. We were also blessed with some close up views of the Wilson Storm Petrel another ocean voyager that makes it’s way to our waters seasonally from deep in the Southern Atlantic, some 9000 miles away. Here are a few shots that tell some of the tale of the day. In case you are wondering we had an absolute blast doing this. Check out Pelagic Expeditions in Rhode Island for more information on how to get in on this local action.

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https://www.facebook.com/PelagicExpeditions

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Wilson’s Storm Petrel gets in on the feeding

Read more.. Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

AWSC Reports Results with Gills Club

We are very proud to be supporting this worthwhile education initiative for girls to inspire future stewards of our oceans! Wonderful work by the AWSC team and many other volunteers. See testimony below. If you know of young girls who might have this interest please hook them up through the links below.

Parents See Interest in Science Increase and Grades Improve

The Gills Club Meets the National STEM Crisis Head On with Support and Encouragement for Girls’ Science Education

Shark facts - Photo by Cynthia Wigren

Orleans, MA - The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy’s (AWSC) signature education initiative, the Gills Club was set up with the intention of jump starting girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by connecting girls with an interest in sharks to female shark researchers and their work. Little did AWSC’s President Cynthia Wigren know that this free club, which has met a handful of times over its first six months, would have such an immediate and dramatic impact on students’ grades.

Marianne Long, AWSC Education Director, recently began receiving praise from parents that gave incredible details about the profound impact this small organization has already had on Cape Cod kids. Bob Fiske, father of West Yarmouth Middle School student Paige Fiske is one of those grateful parents. Fiske recounts how 6th grade teacher Amy Ferreira suggested that his daughter Paige join the Gills Club after she struggled to get a C during her first term at a new school. Fiske conveyed his immense pride upon reviewing Paige’s second term report card: “Membership and participation in the Gills Club empowered my daughter to transform a “C” in 6th grade science on her first term report card into an “A-” for the second term. The Gills Club expanded her knowledge and passion for all things shark, introducing her to many other young female shark enthusiasts and scientists. Paige demonstrated the courage, curiosity, confidence and commitment to improve her grade.”

Cherie Stulsky from Cotuit said, “My daughter has been more interested in other aspects of marine biology since joining the Gills Club. She also shares information about sharks with her friends and her class at school.”

Gills Club co-founder, Cynthia Wigren, said, “According to the US Department of Commerce, women represent about half of the workforce but only 24 percent of the STEM workforce. Women earn on average 33 percent more when they work in STEM. Additionally the National Math + Science initiative warns that less than 20 percent of students of either gender choose a STEM path and that the US may be short of as many as three million high-skilled workers by 2018. We are seeing what some have called a national STEM crisis, and I am thrilled that the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy can help make a difference in addressing this negative trend on a local level.”

Wigren is anticipating a fun-filled fall for the Gills Club, which offers free membership to girls of any age and has over 30 female scientists from around the world participating in the program. In addition to a monthly newsletter and Facebook group page, The Gills Club offers hands-on learning opportunities through its partnerships with the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster, MA and Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, FL.

You can find out more information and how to join here: http://www.gillsclub.org. The Gills Club is an education initiative of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. AWSC supports scientific research, improves public safety, and promotes shark education. Find out more here: http://www.atlanticwhiteshark.org

Gills Club at the CCMNH - Photo by Cynthia Wigren

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Read more.. Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Monomoy’s Future at a Crossroads

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Call to Action!

Friends, especially those who are living on Cape Cod, calling upon you to make your voices heard to appeal to the USFWS to grant a 6 month extension of time (to December 31, 2014) to allow citizens affected to thoughtfully respond to the recently released Monomoy NW Refuge Management Plan (Draft). The document is here: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Monomoy/what_we_do/conservation.html

This beautiful wild area near Chatham has been in the care of local residents and inhabitants for more than 1000 years. It has been a model of how human beings and wildlife can co-exist sustainably to the benefit of all. As a designated Wilderness area Monomoy does present an unusual opportunity for the USFWS to work creatively with our local population to explore this model together before final decisions are made. Thanks to the Cape Cod Fisherman’s Alliance and a group of local concerned citizens there are some simple things you can do to affect the request to extend the comment period.

Make several 5 minute phone calls to our Washington DC  Representatives. Here are the numbers

Congressman William Keating: 508-771-0666

Senator Elizabeth Warren: 617-565-3170

Senator Ed Markey; 617 565-8519

Talking Points for these calls-

1) I live in Chatham and have concerns with the new draft management plan for the Monomoy National Wildlife refuge.

2) This area is vital to our community for a number of reasons, including centuries-long tradition of recreational and commercial harvest of our natural resources.

3) The draft plan proposes some very serious changes to how we define and manage this area and what activities are allowed, our community needs time to understand and respond to these proposals.

4) The USFWS took many years to develop this plan and we need the 6 month extension to properly understand the draft plan implications and respond with thoughtful comments.

5) I am asking the Senator/Congressman’s help in getting a six month extension to the comment period (to December 31, 2014).

Read more.. Saturday, June 7th, 2014