Taking a closer look at the northern fulmar


  • <p>JAMES R. HIRTLE PHOTO</p><p>A northern fulmar spotted at Brier Island</p>

On Sept. 10 I set out for Brier Island where I joined a boating excursion to search for pelagic birds.

It was one of the best birding trips that I've experienced in a long time. In the end, our list included 11 mallards, two American black ducks, 14 common eiders, one rock pigeon, one ruddy turnstone, one white-rumped sandpiper, 750 red-necked phalaropes, 1,500 red Phalaropes, 8,000 red-necked/red phalaropes, three south polar skuas, one skua species, two parasitic jaegers, one common murre, four razorbills, three black guillemots, 75 Atlantic puffins, 19 black-legged kittiwates, one ring-billed gull, 250 herring gulls, two lesser black-backed gulls, 50 great black-backed gulls, one arctic tern, three common loons, 11 Wilson's storm petrels, two Leach's storm petrels, three northern fulmars, 351 great shearwaters, seven sooty shearwaters, 233 northern gannets, 175 double-crested cormorants, three great blue herons, one bald eagle, two broad-winged hawks, one merlin, one peregrine falcon, one barn swallow and five American goldfinches.

The northern fulmar is my bird of choice to write about this week.

The northern fulmar nests on isles or islets and rocky cliffs along coasts of the Aleutians, Alaskan Peninsula, the Franklin district of Canada and Greenland and also in Europe. They are found offshore in winter from Labrador to New England and on the Pacific coast south to Baja California.

The northern fulmar is 42.5 to 50 cm long with a wingspread of 105 cm. They are a stocky seabird with a large round head, dark brown eyes, and a short, massive yellow bill with a hooked tip. There are high prominent nasal tubes. They generally have a white head and underparts and a gray back, wings, and tail. They are found along reefs and edges of currents and often follow fishing vessels. The food of the northern fulmar is fish, mollusks and crustaceans.

I birded Digby Neck on the way back home and found very few birds. Probably the least that I've ever seen. Others who stayed on Brier Island saw numbers of warblers, yellow-bellied flycatchers, Mississippi kites, a Baird's sandpiper, a buff-breasted sandpiper and lots of other bird species. Some broad-winged hawks were also moving through.

On Sep. 4, David Watson of East LaHave took a walk and heard a magnolia warbler calling. He also spotted a sharp-shinned hawk on top a dead tree. Within seconds a blue jay showed up and soon there were four more that chased the hawk away. On Sept. 8, Steven Hiltz sighted two killdeer at Wentzell's Lake.

Moira Creighton reported that a merlin came into her garden in Pleasantville and took a mourning dove. On Sept. 9 a large group of warblers came through my yard in LaHave. I did not have a lot of time to see what species were present, but was able to identify a chestnut-sided warbler, a yellow warbler, a magnolia warbler and a black-throated green warbler. I also heard a red-eyed vireo calling.

Christine Welldon reported a belted kingfisher sitting on the wires at the Sawpit Road in Lunenburg. She tells me that one shows up there every year at this time.

On Sept. 11 and 12 there were large numbers of blackbirds moving through. A group of 75 red-winged blackbirds came in off the ocean at Broad Cove on Sept. 11 and I watched 50 common grackles come in off the LaHave River to Lower LaHave on Sept. 12.

Paul MacDonald reported that at this time of year huge numbers of red-winged blackbirds gather at the Belleisle Marsh. Marg Millard of White Point told me about observing a large murmuration of European starlings in Bridgewater. On the way to Port Joli she saw a large gathering of common grackles. At White Point she witnessed birds such as American robins, European starlings, cedar waxwings and blue jays catching flying ants.

Some people are still seeing ruby-throated hummingbirds. On Sept. 12, Andy Moir still had some coming to his feeders at Freeport, Long Island, A mute swan showed up along the Portapique River and Ross and Linda Hall were some of the lucky ones to get to see it.

You may reach me at (902) 693-2174 or email jrhbirder@hotmail.com.

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