Cape Crusaders

From l to r: Ian Davies, Julian Hough, Nick Bonomo, Peter Trimble and Jeremiah Trimble (courtesy of J. Trimble)

Nick had called me last minute and asked if I was free to head up to the Cape for a few days birding and boating. Hell yeah! After a couple of days shorebirding on Monomoy, Thursday 11th saw us weathered out and a good chance to catch up on some rest.  Friday we arranged to meet up with Ian Davies and Jeremiah Trimble to head out off Chatham for some seabirding.

At sunrise on Friday, 12 August 2022 the authors boarded Nick’s 20’ vessel the Ardenna and departed Saquatucket Harbor in Harwich, MA for points east. Skies were overcast and winds were light as we rounded Monomoy Point towards the productive waters east of Chatham. Though not heavily covered by birders, this particular nutrient-rich area between the Gulf of Maine and the Nantucket Shoals always seems to have something to offer.

As we left the dock, we pondered which rarities we would like to see that we probably wouldn’t. Jeremiah said he was throwing Cape Verde Shearwater into the hat. A species we had all been primed and looking for since the only sole documented North American record off Cape Hatteras in 2004.
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I was taken aback by the amount of birds out on the water – shearwaters and Wilson’s Petrels littered the ocean. Great and Cory’s Shearwaters were evident and as we motored through the waters. Single first-year Parasitic and Pomarine Jaegers flashed by. At a second group of birds at 7:20 am, it was only fitting that it was Jeremiah who gestured to get on a small “Cory’s-type” shearwater that was quite close at 11 ‘o clock. At first I skipped over it due to the subtle capped effect, but the paler Cory’s-like upperparts indicated I had the right bird. We all got views with the bins and I think we were all running through the fieldmarks for Cape Verde Shearwater in our minds. Everyone fell quiet and  instinctively reached for their cameras just as the bird took off and flew right across the bow giving fantastic looks. Nick gunned the boat as the bird took off away from us before finally outpacing us.

CVSH_Chatham_Aug12_Julian_Hough

Cape Verde Shearwater, Chatham, Mass., Aug 2022

On the water, notable characteristics were small size (similar to Great), overall dark appearance (especially on the head), and thin dusky bill—quite different from other local Calonectris taxa (Cory’s/Scopoli’s Shearwaters). In flight, the same characteristics were visible, as well as a dark underside to the primaries, long thin wings, long tail, and flight style more similar to Great Shearwater: snappier wingbeats and less ponderous flight than Cory’s. Photo review showed thin white eye arcs that stand out against a rather dark face. This individual was in active prebasic molt with new secondaries and was replacing the inner primaries. Peter Pyle added, “The Massachusetts bird is likely a SY commencing second prebasic molt. The outer primaries and rectrices seem rather worn, pointed, and brownish and the plumage seems rather even in wear, without molt limits.”

Cape Verde Shearwater, Chatham, Mass., Aug 2022
Position of the CVSH (courtesy of Nick Bonomo)

Somewhat stunned that we had just nearly run over North America’s 2nd-ever Cape Verde Shearwater, a quick review of the images and it was pretty much a done deal in an instant and resulted in a boat of incredulous birders. Kudos to Jeremiah for sharply calling out the bird, before and after!

Cape Verde Shearwater breeds on the Cape Verde Islands off Northwest Africa from June through November. Though their movements are not well known, it appears that much of the population migrates south to waters off eastern South America (primarily Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Brazil), occurring there October through March.

A literal boatload of happy birders! (courtesy of Ian Davies)

We searched for a further four hours but failed to refind the bird, reinforcing the fact that while we had been prepared, we were also really lucky! We feel that with increased opportunity, Cape Verde Shearwater might be more regular with non-breeding Cory’s/Scopoli’s Shearwaters that move west into the north Atlantic.

More photos and a write-up by Nick Bonomo can be found here: https://www.shorebirder.com/2022/08/cape-verde-shearwater-off-cape-cod-ma.html

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