Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Bullies of the Beach

 While whale watching at St. Vincent's Beach, there was an on-going distraction. Parasitic Jaegers kept appearing.
 They were so aggressive and disruptive it was impossible to ignore them. They pursued the Kittiwakes, Ring-billed Gulls and terns.
 At times they would double team the attack. Yet, for all their hard work they came up empty-handed time and time again. There were some really close calls but no meals during a two-hour stretch.
 There finally comes a moment when it is necessary to pay these birds some deserved attention. There were at least four Jaegers working the air and the beach, at times landing on the beach.
 I say at least four, because there was one other different bird that joined the four for a brief encounter off the inner beach. While watching the four, a darker bird with wider and longer wings zoomed into the group and scattered the Jaegers.
 What was that? It was one of those brief "wow" moments you have to extend the binocular viewing. Sadly, the birds were low over the water with the dark trees in the background. When I lowered the bins and raised my camera, it was impossible to get a focus on any of the five birds. The first bird that came to mind was a South Polar Skua. I looked and looked and could not relocate the mystery bird. The Jaegers scattered like crazy and spread out over the water.
 These photos illustrate the wide variation of the one species of Jaeger. There was one dark morph, one probable adult and two juvenile Parasitic Jaegers. It was a great opportunity to see them well.
 Also seen on the same day was this Harp Seal lounging on the beach in Renews. It popped its head up the minute I closed the car door. It struggled to get back to the water, but didn't travel far before resting. The weight of this creature could be felt and heard as it tried to move across the rocks. This is no doubt my best view of a Harp Seal.
Sadly, there was another encounter in Biscay Bay. This Minki Whale beached a few weeks back. As unpleasant as it was, I was drawn to look at it as I have never really seen this species up close. Its body and shape is very, very different from a Humpback. Obviously, not all whales look alike.

Monday, July 17, 2017

St. Vincent's Beach

 Well, a trip to St. Vincent's yesterday yielded many potential topics for a blog. Catherine Barrett and I had so many uncommon, up-close encounters. The quandary now is which one to share first. Upon reflection, I thought I should go with the one that enthralled me the most.... an astounding whale show.
 The whales were so close to the beach we frequently got misted as they expelled just prior to rising to the surface. We were so close we could look the whales in the eye.
 It is challenging to get any decent pictures when the creatures are so close, so plentiful and so unpredictable. Typically, I watch for the blow as that comes from the top-most point of the head. The first part to surface. Following that, the whale may surface more or just sink back out of sight.
 This shot shows just how close they were. The ripple at the bottom of the photo is the gentle wave rolling right onto the beach. I was told St. Vincent's is one of the best places to view whales, because there is a sudden, deep drop-off very close to shore. They were so close at time I thought they might become beached.
 Pictures aside, what an exhilarating, exciting, marvelous experience. For nearly two hours we watched as the whales worked a steady pattern of feeding from one end of the beach to the other. At times they moved together as though it were some type of feeding strategy. Other times, a single whale would move about. There was at least one small one among the group of about six close to shore and more off shore.
 The whales displayed their fins as they rolled, but didn't go into any near-shore slapping frenzy. I included this shot because it looks like something attached to the fin. Could it be a transmitter?
 The size and thickness of the fins is amazing.
 The markings on the fins are variable, and I suspect they are as unique as the typical identifying fluke pattern.
 There were injured fins, and there were fins encrusted with barnacles. I wondered if the amount of barnacles lent any information to the aging of the animal.
 Sitting on the rocks and enjoying this spectacle, I realized just how little I know about the Humpback Whale. I have seen them for years, both up close and afar. However, never have I seen them this close.

 There were only these three opportunities to capture pics of the whale tale. Whales need to dive more deeply for the tail to surface in this way.
 With the whales in so close, there was no diving. Fortunately, the deep water wasn't that far away. While my 300 mm lens was not the best for the close shots, it served me well to get these.

 With tails, fens and blow holes addressed, I finally get to my favorite shots... the head and mouth. I wondered what the whales were eating. There were no capelin on the beach, and I didn't see any birds with capelin.  It wasn't until I saw this image that I saw the tiny fish the whales were scooping up. They are so tiny. How many thousands of this did they eat during the two-hour frenzy we observed.
 The lower jaw is like a bucket, much larger than the upper jaw. As they skim they work to fill up the bucket with fish. They rose from the cover of the water with a mouth full of the ocean and fish.

 Check out how the portion of the lower jaw is bloated. This is the first time I ever saw this.
 Then, when the whales reach the surface, they expel the water with great force, keeping the fish inside.

 I even got a shot of the tongue. Now that I have seen these images and made some fair observations of their pattern of surfacing. I would love to return to the beach to try again for better shots. I was told the best show happens around 8 p.m. when the Humpbacks stop feeding and begin playing. This includes tail and fin slapping and the most desired photo op of all ..... the full breach.

 At one point, three heads immerged at the same time, but I wasn't quick enough to get them all. In fact after this session, I felt like I had run a race. Who knew being a spectator could require so much engagement?
With one parting shot, I reluctantly turned my attention to the Jaegers which I do not see very often.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Spotted Sandpiper

 At this time of year Spotted Sandpipers are seen everywhere. They are vocal and they are active. There were at least four around the main beach in Cape Broyle.
 Shortly after first seeing this one, it because clear it must have a nest nearby. It went into a distracting dance to protect its young. At the time, no young were seen.
 A quick stop by the beach on a return turn trip yielded one tiny baby already on its legs and scurrying around the backside of the beach. It was interesting to see that even at this young age, it was already bobbing its tail.
Unfortunately, the choice for nest site was not the best. Brush was piled high in the area for a Canada Day bonfire to be held in the evening along with a fireworks display. Hopefully, no one trampled on this one or others that may have been hidden in the tall grass. If they survived that, they would also have to survive the fright of the fireworks.