Thursday, 10 September 2015

21st August - Cape Cod, Massachussets - Day Two

Our cruise today was booked for 9.30 am, which meant an early start again.  It was a different province town we drove into this morning, it had the feel of a "morning after the night before" about it.  We parked in the Quayside car park, and set off to get some breakfast before we had to board the boat.

Despite the rather unfavourable weather forecast it was a lovely morning, sunshine, and still hot and humid.  We got coffee and something to eat at the Lunchbox cafe, we had to, and sat eating it on the bench outside in silence.  From there we made our way back to the quay to wait for the time to board, and head out once again in search of the whales.

As we sat on the boat waiting to leave as well as the Eider we had seen yesterday there were one or two Great Black-backed Gulls



As we made our way out of the harbour we passed the many Double-crested Cormorants on the breakwater.  Before the breakwater was built there were no cormorants present, once the breakwater was built the cormorants turned up, and as you can see there are a lot of them now using the rocks.


We cruised alongside the beach, and there were several Laughing Gulls following the Least and Common Terns.


Common Terns were also coming close to the boat as we headed out to the Gulf of Maine.


Shearwaters were also picked quite early, the commonest being the Cory’s gliding by us on stiff wings in that effortless flight.


It did not take long before we encountered a whale, but rather than the Humpbacks we saw yesterday the first whale was a Finback Whale, in the area I had seen one yesterday.


Finback Whales behaviour is a lot different to that of the Humpbacks, they rarely show the tail fluke when diving, and the hunting behaviour is based on their speed and the ability to lunge into the bait balls. 

The Finback is the second largest whale after the Blue Whale, to which it is closest related.  Adult whales can grow as large as up to 24 metres long.  Finback whales are known as the “Greyhound of the Sea” as they are the fastest swimmers of all the whales, and were rarely caught by whalers because of this.


We watched the Finback for a while then moved on, leaving it lazily moving through the water.  We were accompanied by many Roseate Terns, both adults and juvenile birds, the islands around the Cape being an important breeding area for this endangered sea bird.

Gannets of different ages were also to be seen, this one probably a second year bird.


The shearwaters continued to keep me watching, and in amongst the Cory’s was a Sooty Shearwater, the all dark plumage that gives it the name allowing it to stand out


Then one of the sea birds that always inspires birdwatchers, a skua, or jaeger as they are known in the United States.  This one is a Parasitic Jaeger, or as I prefer, an Arctic Skua.


All these birds about was a good sign, and sure enough further on we came across a group of more whales, first up was another Finback, one of two that were in the area.


The whales were attracting the birds, mainly Shearwaters, these Cory’s and Great, giving the opportunity to show the key identification differences between the two birds.


After the Finbacks, the Humpbacks turned up, showing the tail flukes that everyone on the boat wanted to see.


Further away from the boat we could see the sudden splashes from the lunges of the Finbacks as they raced into the fish, sending a huge amount of the spray into the air, and attracting the birds to the area.


As they surfaced and sent up a blow you could see the size of the animal, and the difference in shape from the Humpbacks, long slim and sleek.


The Humpbacks continuing to dive deep around the Finbacks.


The fish that were the target of the Finbacks, were also bringing in the Humpbacks, and they were adopting the same feeding tactics of the Finbacks, but a different version of the lunging, which involved just lying there.


After the initial lunge with the mouth wide open, the Humpback Whale lays in the water, squeezing the water through the baleen plates, the shearwaters and gulls hanging around to pick up the scraps.


The Humpbacks sinking slowly under the water as it sieved out the catch.


Once again the Humpbacks could be seen while under the water, the pectoral fins showing as a bright turquoise beneath the waves  


The Humpbacks continuing to dive while the Shearwaters cruised above them, and as we watched the action I saw a smaller Minke Whale dive past the bow of the boat, the more sickle shaped dorsal fin diagnostic as it zipped past, taking advantage of the prey available.


Then as quickly as it started, the fishing eased off, and the birds began to disperse, the shearwaters resting on the water, such as this Great Shearwater.


The best was left to last though, this Finback Whale appearing very close to us, and as it broke the surface you could see the white patch that is on the side of the mouth and jaw, but only on the right hand side.


Probably the best portrait of a Finback Whale.

When you watch whales the time can seem to fly by, whilst there was not the spectacular behaviour we saw yesterday, it was engrossing watching the whales feeding behaviour.  It was a shame we didn’t see the Humpbacks bubble feeding, but talking with the naturalist on board this feeding tactic has not been seen from Cape Cod for quite a while.

It was time to head back, and as we left the whales the birds became once again the focus of attention.  This Great Shearwater coming close to the boat, and in sharp focus.


Then the bird I was hoping to see, not the best photograph, but before the picture, I did get good views of this Wilson’s Petrel, weaving in and out of the waves.


The whale encounters though were not over, as we slowed down to watch a young Humpback close to the beach.  You would imagine this close to the beach the water would be deep enough to support diving whales, but we were assured by Dennis the naturalist that here the water is up to 200 feet deep.


There was still time to record yet another shearwater on the trip, this time a Manx Shearwater, could it have been one of those that was in its burrow on Skomer when we were there at the end of May.


We made our way back into the quay, passing more terns on the way.  As was pointed out yesterday at the end of our trip, no whale watch is the same, while this one lacked the spectacular breaches it was nonetheless a very interesting trip, with completely different behaviour and two more whale species, Dolphin Fleet trips never change, they always seem to deliver.

Back in Provincetown, we decided to once again walk down Commercial Street in search of lunch.  The streets maybe not as manic as yesterday.


We had lunch in a wonderful little bar called the Nor’easter.


After lunch we headed back to the hotel, where we spent the afternoon by the pool, a quiet spell in what has been an amazingly busy but thoroughly enjoyable time back here on Cape Cod.

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