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, Nashville, Black throated Green, Black throated Blue 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 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!

Monhegan Is (24)

Monhegan Is (19)

Down East Maine Fall 2014 (11)

Down East Maine Fall 2014 (5)

Down East Maine Fall 2014 (13)

Monhegan Is#2 (13)

Monhegan Is#2 (14)

Monhegan Is#2 (15)

Monhegan Is#2 (16)

Down East Maine Fall 2014 (3)

Down East Maine Fall 2014 (8)

Down East Maine Fall 2014 (7)

Down East Maine Fall 2014 (1)

Monhegan Is#2 (6)

Nashville Warbler Fall 2014

Monhegan Is#2 (5)

Monhegan Is#2 (10)

Monhegan Is#2 (12)

Down East Maine Fall 2014 (22)

Monhegan Is#2 (16)

Monhegan Is (4)

Monhegan Is (23)

Monhegan Is (20)

Monhegan Is (17)

Monhegan Is (21)

Monhegan Is (22)

Monhegan Is (10)

Monhegan Is#2 (2)

Monhegan Is#2 (1)

Monhegan Is#2 (3)

Monhegan Is#2 (4)

Monhegan Is#2

Monhegan Is#2 (7)

Raven in the lower foreground

Monhegan Is#2 (9)

Monhegan Is#2 (11)

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 for the fellow traveler who decides to sleep in and not take the early sunrise hike 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.

Predation #1

Predation #2

Predation #4

White shark 9.4.14 (1)

 

White shark 9.4.14

AWSC Trip 9.4.2014 (1)

AWSC Trip 9.4.2014

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”.

White shark 9.4.14 (2)

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.

White shark 9.4.14 (3)

AWSC Trip 9.15.14  67666

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

Seals in Truro 9.2014

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

White shark 9.17.14 (1)

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

White shark 9.17.14

Working off NAuset Beach

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

Working off NAuset Beach (1)

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

Powder Hole (19)

Powserhole (10)

Powserhole (1)

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

Powder Hole (10)

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

Powder Hole (1)

Dunlin in non breeding plumage

Powserhole (7)

Bank swallow feeding over saltwater pan

Powserhole (3)

Powder Hole (17)

Powder Hole (14)

Possible Raccoon tracks

Powder Hole (15)

Powserhole (11)

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: 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!!

Shark study seals (7)

Shark study seals (2)

Shark study seals (1)

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.

Shark study seals

Shark study seals (3)

Shark study seals (6)

Read more.. Friday, July 4th, 2014

Swimming with the Great Whales

DCIM103GOPRO
Links below to two new videos we have just posted to provide some more “color” on these experiences. One compiled from our expedition to Dominica in February 2014 followed by another compiled from footage shot during one incredible day on the Silver Bank – 80 miles north of the Dominican Republic in early March. Please check them both out below.

Sperm Whale Heaven

Sanctuary

DCIM104GOPRO

_JJK9330

DCIM100GOPRO

Spotted Dolphins off the bow. Amazing!

JJK_1441

Young male sperm whale checks us out with a close approach to our boat

_JJK1063

_JJK1271

Estela – our fellow adventurer on the Silver Bank who inspired the vid “Sanctuary” in this post

Read more.. Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Cetaceans on the Outer Cape

The month of May is fast moving to a close and the spring migration continues to be an adventure. Launching our boat , Aleutian Dream into the water this past weekend finally enabled us to get out in the Atlantic and off shore to investigate reports of massive schools of sand eels and voraciously feeding Humpback Whales. We were joined by friend Ted Cheeseman a Conservation Biologist and whale naturalist visiting from California and scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute who were all “off duty” and keen to see some cetacean action. And action we found!

Leaving Chatham Harbor in the slate grey of a cool spring morning to calm seas we ventured south a few miles to examine the condition of the South Beach cuts of 2013 & 2014 and to assess the haulouts of Gray seals gathered along the Monomoy side of these inlets. An ocean swell from the previous days Northeast winds was causing a significant line of breakers across both inlets even at high tide. This does not bode well for navigating this short cut to Nantucket Sound for mariners this summer season. We observed seals well off the beach about a mile and in numbers suggesting that as yet the apex predator white sharks may not yet have arrived. We understand that the listening buoys are to be deployed in the next days so real data may soon be available on the presence of white sharks.

But since our target for the day was whales we quickly assessed that there were no Humpbacks feeding in the immediate Chatham Harbor area out 3 miles so we decided to head north to check out the action reported heavily in the vicinity of Race Point near Provincetown. We were rewarded for the long run up from Chatham with confirmed sightings of four different cetaceans!Stellwagen (35)

A Fin Whale feeding off of Race Point

Stellwagen (50)

Common dolphins

Stellwagen (36)

Minke Whale feeding on Stellwagen

Stellwagen (47)

The spectacular behavior of Humpbacks known as Bubble netting is one of the most amazing sights to witness in natural history among whales. This is cooperative feeding among 1 – many whales working together to efficiently feed. Here are a few images we made.

Stellwagen (11)

Whale watchers look on in amazement.

Stellwagen (39)Stellwagen (16)Stellwagen (34)Stellwagen (17)Stellwagen (13)Stellwagen (3)

Ventesca by Tim Vorheis3

Photo by Tim Vorheis – Humpback “Ventesca” bubble netting (taken offshore about 2005)

Bubble netting as mentioned is very special to see. Thanks very much to Tuna spotter pilot and photographer Tim Vorheis who nailed this image some years ago so you can see what is happening…and this is just one whale working. A helpful article describing this feeding behavior is here.  http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/news/press/2013/pr092613.html

A few other shots of “bubble netting taken off of Chatham last November.

Humpbacks off ChathamHumpbacks off Chatham (1)Humpbacks off Chatham (2)Humpbacks off Chatham (3)

Read more.. Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Spring

We have been back home on Cape Cod for three weeks  and enjoying the onset of the late maritime spring here. This is the first of two posts we will make. May has been a month to witness and follow the arrival of many species of migrants who make chance refueling stops here on the their northerly annual migration. From tiny shorebirds and song birds like the many and varied warblers to larger birds like raptors such as Broad winged hawks and Turkey Vultures. Ospreys actually nest here and are highly visible in their courtship and nesting during the spring. When wind and weather conditions are right these birds can be found in the forested areas all over the Cape. One just has to look for them. As reported in several previous posts, including last year at this time, one of Cape Cod’s most unique wild spots is the incredible Sandy Neck in Barnstable. When our good friend Jose Schmidt visited us recently from Costa Rica we took the opportunity to show him a closer look at wild Cape Cod in spring with a walk down Sandy Neck. Here are some of the highlights of the walk, which Jose calculated was more than 20 kilometers and took the full day.

Sandy neck (8)

Sandy neck (3)

Sandy Neck

 

The shorebird migration is gaining momentum with many birds touching down on Cape Cod to refuel on their way north to Arctic tundra. Some like this American Oystercatcher will stay and likely nest the barrier beaches like Sandy Neck here on Cape Cod. A beautiful sight to see and hear them return.

Oystercatcher Sandy Neck

The majestic osprey are back too nesting on the great marsh here on Sandy Neck.

Chatham in Spring (2)

Tree swallow - Sandy Neck

Tree Swallows are back and nesting in boxes long provided.

Great horned owl - Sandy Neck

Great Horned Owl under siege from a mob of American Crows but unfazed

Sandy Neck May 2014 (7)

Our good friend Jose Schmidt is visiting from Costa Rica and was keen to see the wilder parts of Cape Cod.

Dunlin Sandy Neck

Migrating Dunlin in breeding plumage

Lesser Yellowlegs - Sandy Neck (1)

Lesser yellow legs on the Great Marsh

Merlin - Sandy Neck (1)

Merlin in flight and calling

Diamondback terrapins are among the most variable turtle species in North America and no two individuals are exactly alike in coloration and pattern. The feet are strongly webbed; the hind feet are especially large and flat. These large webbed feet and muscular legs enable terrapins to be strong swimmers, an ability needed when living in an environment with daily tidal changes and strong currents. Mating takes place in the early spring, with nesting extending through mid-summer. Females lay two to three clutches of eggs annually. Clutch size ranges from four to 23 eggs, and varies throughout the terrapin’s range. This little fella might be just hours old! We found him walking own the path looking to get to salt water where we ended up placing him not far away.

Terrapin - Sandy NeckTerrapin - Sandy Neck (1)

Terrapin - Sandy Neck (3)

Backyard birding (3) copy

Hunting Red Tailed Hawk

Otter tracks Sandy Neck

River Otter Tracks

Pine warbler Sandy Neck

Pine Warbler in the forest

Sandy Neck (2)

We noted the Eastern coyote tracks or “coywolf” that some naturalist have come to refer to the coyotes in our area. This track was placed on top of our own tracks from earlier in the day indicating that the coyotes were very close by as we passed but we did not see them. The critters are about the size of a German Shepard dog and weigh 50 – 60 lbs. Very successful scavengers. See below image taken at a different time and place (Chatham) so you can see them.

coyote

Sandy neck (2)Sandy neck

A beautiful female Merlin was hunting as we trekked by the scrub pines.

Sandy neck (7)

After 10 hours and more than 20 kilometers we finally reached the last resting spot …a rock which I had pointed out at the beginning of the hike. A beautiful day in wild Cape Cod. Love the spring here!

Sandy Neck May 2014 (13)

Read more.. Saturday, May 24th, 2014

Pacific Northwest Signs of Spring

Our time in the Pacific Northwest has been heavy with family and the brand new babies as our previous posts will attest. However we have managed an outing with our old friend and fellow birder Paula Johnson who lives in the area. Paula was kind enough to guide us to a couple of birding hotspots in the region one day this past week. They are the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in southern Washington near the Columbia River and also the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge near Olympia.

We got on the road long before dawn, were blessed with some decent spring weather (read no rain) and were rewarded with some excellent sightings of the areas wildlife feeling the urgings of spring.

Nisqually

Nisqually NWR

Nisqually 2

Bald Eagle

 

Blog Bird PNW15

Tree Swallows were in abundance on their way north to breed

Blog Bird PNW12

Nisqually NWR

Blog Bird PNW11

A pair of river otters frolic

Blog Bird PNW10

A Pair of Cinnamon Teals

Blog Bird PNW9

Newly fledged Bald Eagle watching

Blog Bird PNW8

Hooded Merganser pair

Blog Bird PNW7

Hooded Merganser pair

Blog Bird PNW6

A family of raccoons

Dowitchers yellowlegs

Blog Bird PNW4

A pair of Wood Ducks

Blog Bird PNW3

A Yellow -rumped warbler migrant just showing up at NIsqually NWR on its way north

Blog Bird PNW2

Cinnamon Teal Drake preening

Blog Bird PNW1

Red winged Blackbird displaying his colors proudly hoping to attract a mate

Blog Bird PNW

A pair of Northern Shovelers

Blog Bird PNW5

Read more.. Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Polar Migrations

The Barents Sea region well north of the Arctic Circle encompasses territory from Russia, Norway, Sweden and Finland. The area is uniquely wild and is home to one of the last truly nomadic herding cultures on earth, the reindeer herding Sami people.

We had an opportunity to travel to the Norwegian region of Finnmark in Norway’s far north to observe this remarkable landscape first hand in the waning days of winter. Gearing up for an expedition like this meant shifting to our cold weather kit. After three weeks in the Caribbean swimming with whales this presented some challenges.  The temperatures were cold with averages during the day of – 10 degrees C and as low as -30 degrees C at night. One of the most beautiful spectacles in nature, the aurora borealis or “northern lights”, are often visible at this latitude on cold clear evenings. We ventured out a few evenings and braved the cold to witness this. During this expedition we also explored the rocky, treeless coast and ventured far into the frozen river system that separates Norway from Russia in the land of brown bear and wolverine. We traveled by snowshoe, snow mobile and dog sled into the birch forest areas where reindeer graze for the winter before they make a spring migration back to the coast – a trip they have been making for thousands of years with the indigenous Sami people. The people were warm and welcoming and the landscapes were dramatic as you can see. In another post we will report more about the region’s political organization formerly known as Lapland and now known as Samiland.

Here are a few images recorded along the way. We have included a few examples of artwork by indigenous artists we found in special places on our journey to help tell the story. Huge thanks go to Kevin Clement of Zegrahm Expeditions who lead our trip and also to Kaare Tannvik, our mentor and guide for this journey. They lead us back in time into places that most people will never see. And our traveling companions from South Africa and the USA were wonderful to be with for this extraordinary adventure.

JJK_3194

Steller’s Eider Drake

JJK_3456

Long tailed duck drake

JJK_3401

Magnificent King Eiders in flight

IMG_2595

A Painting by Nils-Aslak Valkeapaa

JJK_3508 JJK_3013JJK_3620IMG_2430JJK_3072JJK_2918JJK_3603JJK_3955IMG_2337JJK_3540JJK_3353IMG_2577JJK_3947IMG_2466JJK_4037JJK_3728JJK_3314_JJK1299JJK_3262Samiland 2014 (7)JJK_4040JJK_3818JJK_3875JJK_3506 JJK_3688IMG_2522JJK_3559IMG_2408 JJK_4260

Read more.. Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Sperm Whale Heaven

_JJK0003Once again we were fortunate to travel to the island of Dominica to observe the population of sperm whales that inhabit the waters surrounding the island. This expedition was organized by Ted Cheeseman of Cheeseman’s Ecological Safaris and was conducted under a special permit from the Dominican government. Over the nine days we spent on the island we were extremely fortunate to witness some incredible interactions with these whales including the seldom seen entry of a large bull sperm whale into the area which made for some terrific observations of social behavior among the females. We were also treated to sightings of Spotted dolphins and Fraser’s dolphins and many seabirds._JJK0062_JJK0011_JJK9401_JJK9648_JJK9750_JJK9899_JJK9910JJK_1093JJK_1479

Read more.. Thursday, February 27th, 2014