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Baltimore by the Sea

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Gulls and Gannets against a bright blue beats yesterday's cold gray sky

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday the air was frigid and the snow was flying. Contrarywise, today was bright and sunny - and I found my parka – on the rental car floor, where it had wickedly disguised itself to look like carpet. Aw shut up - it could have happened to you too if you had a rental car and couldn't figure out how to turn on the knobless interior lights.

It was a different day birdwise too. Whereas yesterday the birds seemed as cold and forlorn as we did, today loads of bird species were out and about, showing off. A huge flock of gulls as we maneuvered out of the harbor hid a Little Gull, a species I’ve only ever seen at the Hudson Bay in Manitoba.

I stared at gulls and gannets, and finally, to make my life easier, I asked a guide to point out a Lesser-blacked Back Gull when one showed up – and happily, one did. The bird didn’t look radically different from other gulls, but I know I’ll always be able to recognize them, at least in winter plumage.

There were also Greater Black-backed Gulls, which I enjoyed getting some decent shots of. These were not lifers but they certainly were handsome, dark mantled gulls.

Greater Black-backed Gull

A second lifer for the day winged its way onto my life list – when a shout went up for a Great Skua, that shot by on the horizon quickly, but not too quickly for me to get in a few 'better-than-a-poke-in-the-eye' shots. Hurrah!

Fast moving Great Skua - LIFER!

We sailed along, enjoying the winging gulls and gannets, and the captain announced we were drawing near the Gulf Stream. I thought he could tell we were near it, based on our distance from the shore or some such. As it turned out, he could see the Gulf Stream - SEE IT! I was flummoxed – off in the distance I could spot the green ocean we sailed over, abruptly changing to a deep blue on the horizon. As the boat shot along, the blue grew closer and closer.

The indigo blue marked the start of the Gulf Stream

50% Gulf Stream and 50% regular green ocean

The Captain said the point of traveling all the way to the warm Gulf Stream was it ran up against the colder ocean water. That results in an upwelling of the cold water and all the nutrients carried within. That reminded of one of the best Pelagic trips I ever made near the Farallon Islands off San Francisco. There was an upwelling of cold water there too, which meant dozens of Humpback and Blue Whales feeding on the up welling of krill, plankton and nutrients.

We were quickly rewarded for the long slodge from shore - tiny little black & white Dovkies, pelagic alcids, smaller than robins, darted up off the water surface as we approached. Yes. A lifer. WHOOO HOOOO!

At last, Dovekies!
A solitary Dovkie flutters along

There were dozens of little Dovkies, in tiny groups of two or three 'working' the zone between the green Atlantic and blue Gulf Stream waters, where food was plentiful. The captain said he saw an Audubon's Shearwater too, but it was so far off in the distance I couldn't even get in a glimpse of it.

There were other surprises too, a sea turtle - and a Manta Ray, that floated just below the surface, like a shadowy ghost.

The underwater specter is a Manta Ray

It seemed we no sooner arrived at the exciting Gulf Stream, than it was time to turn about and head back to shore. I totally wish some sea captain on the Hatteras Coast could be convinced to run overnight birding trips in the manner of the Pacific San Diego's Searcher. How fun would it be to be able to just lob out the chum and relax watching the Gulf waters as dusk approaches? Oh well! Maybe some day such a trip will be offered and I'll have the energy, money and enthusiasam to enjoy it.

Before I knew it, we were headed back into the harbor. Brants, floated about, giving me one last chance for a few crap photos.

Really, I could use another dozen trips off the Hatterass, and hopeful those will happen in the next year or two. Cross my fingers! The day after tomorrow it's back to Sac o' tomatoes. Bugger.

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