This page will hit on a few of the more interesting birds and whales we saw on Sunday past. The whale highlight was the grand old lady of Stellwagen Bank, Salt. She was the first whale ever named and has now been known to have 14 youngsters that have accompanied her, over the years, back north to Cape Cod Bay. She is a grandmother to at least four whales. Pretty cool.
There have been thousands of shearwaters off the Cape this summer. The small fish have been profuse. Most of the fish seem to be young Menhaden (bunker or pogy), an oily forage fish of these waters. The small ones are about two inches long now and must number in the millions; maybe lots more. At one point they were the whole wrack line; no seaweed but tens of thousands of small fish glittering in the August and September sunshine. It was amazing. The edge of the sea had gulls and terns and shearwaters by the thousands. It was a glorious feast.
As we move into fall the older birds have returned to the southern hemisphere to nest (many nest quite close to Antarctica) leaving immature birds here for us to ogle. In many cases the adults simply don’t come here as breeding is a priority and breeding is geographically limited. The adults are probably already five thousand miles south of us. But there were some birds to see.
That may be confusing: the gannets nest in our summer to our north, the Cory’s nest in our summer in the eastern Atlantic. The Great Shearwaters nest on a few islands at the bottom of the earth with eggs being laid in the southern summer (November) and the young fly north starting May (usually).
We also saw a couple of Fulmar, which is a petrel, though in the same larger group as the shearwaters Procellariiformes. These birds live on salt water and eat from salt water and have to get rid of the salt they accumulate. They have glands in the head to remove the salt and small tubes on the bill through which the concentrated salt if removed. This adaptation is found in albatrosses, shearwaters, fulmars, petrels, storm-petrels, and diving-petrels. The highest diversity of this group is found around New Zealand. The northern hemisphere birds of a similar live style (puffins, razorbills, murres, dovekies) are not tubenoses and utilize a different method of avoid salting their metabolism.