ROCKPORT, MASSACHUSETTS

                                         published Oct. 2001

                                                              Richard S. Heil

    That “other” Massachusetts cape, Cape Ann, is a rocky headland located between Boston and the New Hampshire border that juts out some eight to ten miles east into the  North Atlantic. This “at sea” location relative to the adjacent coastline, plus Cape Ann’s proximity to two inshore fishing banks, Jeffreys Ledge to the northeast and Stellwagen Bank to the southeast (both of which are areas rich in plankton due to the upwelling of nutrients, and thus also rich in fish, cetaceans, and seabirds), conspire geographically to make it an excellent area for observing migrating coastal seabirds, particularly in the fall, and storm-driven pelagic seabirds year-round.

     Andrew’s Point is a rocky ledge ideally situated at the northeast corner of Cape Ann. There are two public ‘rights of ways’ between the several homes there. Viewing can also be easily accomplished from the adjacent road that runs parallel to the ocean. These sites are between 5 and 10 meters above sea level, beyond the ‘spray zone’, and fortunately lack the sandblasting one receives during storms at traditional Cape Cod seawatching sites. Andrew’s Point affords a magnificent unobstructed view of the sea looking NW to E. On a clear day the Isle of Shoals archipelago off the New Hampshire coast (20 miles distant) is visible and Mt. Agamenticus in southern Maine, about 38 miles away, looms on the northern horizon. During the fall, migrating seabirds such as loons, gannets, seaducks, and gulls, following the New England coastline south, are forced to turn east at Ipswich Bay upon approaching Cape Ann, and in doing so pass by in very close proximity to Andrew’s Point as they skirt around the cape.

      Indeed there are few, if any, better places on the East Coast of the United States, in regard to ease of viewing, where such a variety and magnitude of seabirds regularly pass by so close to shore. Without question autumn is the best season at Andrew’s Point and the majority of migrating seabirds, largely loons, gannets, seaducks, and kittiwakes,  perform the bulk of their passage during a rather contracted period of 4-6 weeks.  During the period from early October to mid-November it is not extraordinary to witness 10,000 to 15,000 seabirds pass by the point in a single day, and I have experienced several days, days when storms have coincided with the peak of migration, where single-day tallies have exceeded 30,000 seabirds.

     Since 1975 I have conducted 110 seawatches of  2.5 hours’ of duration or longer (most were 5-8 hours). These have been conducted in every month, although predominantly during the fall migration period of October through December. The monthly breakdown is as follows: Jan(6), Feb(7), Mar(7), Apr(5), May(3), Jun(5), Jul(2), Aug(8), Sep(9), Oct(20), Nov(22), Dec(16). In the course of these seawatches, which entailed essentially non-stop viewing with binoculars and telescope from a stationary position, all birds were identified to species whenever possible, or to group(e.g., large alcid, tubenose sp.), and numbers were either counted (small flocks) or carefully estimated(larger flocks) and immediately recorded on paper. Of course, the numbers of seabirds I have observed on these comparatively limited number of counts, during any given month or season, are only a small fraction of the actual total number of what must be several hundred thousand seabirds that pass by Andrew’s Point each fall.

    Andrew’s Point and Cape Ann have a rich ornithological history and their seabirds have been the object of study and enumeration for more than a century by many observers both past and present. Among those in the former category are Ludlow Griscom, John Kieran, and Dorothy Snyder.  In this account I summarize only my own observations over the past 26 years with a few exceptions, such as when an historical understanding or a remarkable contemporaneous observation is especially relevant or insightful.  In such cases other observers are cited.


    It is on those clear, crisp, bright-blue-sky October days following the passage of a cold front, when gusty north and northwest winds blow down from the coast of southern Maine, floating on the distant horizon, when the great flocks of scoters appear. For sure, loons, gannets, scoters, and other seaducks are the staple of seabird migration at Andrew’s Point, and a storm is not a prerequisite to observing them in large numbers in passage at the appropriate season. Virtually any day with a W - NW - N airflow from late September to early December can produce a moderate flight. Following the New England coastline south during their fall migration, this seemingly incessant stream of migrants, upon entering Ipswich Bay, abruptly encounters Cape Ann, which protrudes some eight to ten miles seaward from the adjacent coastline into the Gulf of Maine. With the exception of Double-crested Cormorants, whose flocks largely over-fly the base of Cape Ann, most all other seabirds are forced to turn east to round Cape Ann, passing very close to Andrew’s Point, before again turning south and on their way. In season, even calm days or days with winds non-conducive to migration can have flights, though generally of much lower magnitude.

   However, the really major flights of seabirds, bringing together the usual coastal migrants with the more pelagic seabirds, occur when a northeast storm coincides with the peak of coastal seabird migration, generally between mid-October and early November. During these extraordinary flights large detached flocks of loons and masses of seaducks may be joined by hundreds or even thousands of Greater Shearwaters, Northern Gannets, and Black-legged Kittiwakes, along with smaller numbers of Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers, and arriving Razorbills. These storms form when large low-pressure systems move up the east coast or develop offshore, often just east or southeast of Cape Cod. If such a low stalls in the Gulf of Maine, we may expect several days of gale-force east or northeast winds, which tends to drive the more pelagic species inshore.  It is often the latter day(s) of these extended storms that produce numbers of Northern Fulmars, Leach’s Storm-Petrels, Red Phalaropes, or more rarely, a Great Skua, all presumably from areas far offshore. Particularly heavy flurries of seabirds, including tubenoses, jaegers, and kittiwakes, and other fast-flying species, will often appear just in advance of approaching squall lines of downpours and intensified wind gusts contained in the spiral bands of a passing low. As the low moves away and the front passes, winds shift, at varying rates, to the N and finally NW, and skies clear, ushering in yet another batch of loons and scoters.

   Without dispute, storms bearing E or NE winds are consistently the most productive for viewing pelagic seabirds at Andrew’s Point. However, it has become evident to me in recent years that when winds are very strong (40+ mph), pelagic birds will often be present regardless of wind direction. Also, I have recently discovered that during strong southerly winds pelagic species such as shearwaters, storm-petrels, gannets, kittiwakes, and jaegers, along with gulls and terns, perhaps driven from Stellwagen Bank or other offshore areas, will seek shelter in the relative calm of Ipswich Bay, in the lee of the wind. Under these conditions it is possible some birds may circle repeatedly in the bay counterclockwise until the winds subside, and one is obviously confronted with the possibility of duplicating counts. At least a portion of these birds are viewable from Andrew’s Point. When the winds finally subside, birds will exit the bay past the point en masse to return to the open sea or offshore banks. Sometimes this exodus can be spectacular, albeit brief.  An analogous situation occurs in Cape Cod Bay, where birds will repeatedly circle in the bay during the course of the storm and where potential duplication of counts at coastal vantage points has always been an issue.


    The morning, without question, is when seabird flights at Andrew’s Point are at their greatest intensity. Generally speaking, this is usually true regardless of the precise timing of the storm and the arrival of the strongest winds! Often the show is essentially over sometime between 1100 and 1200 hours. However, very early morning, depending upon season but roughly between sunrise and 0800, is often not the best. My experience here has been that the greatest seabird movements, during both storms and migration, occurs between 0800 and 1100 hours, usually dropping off sharply sometime around mid-day.  Intensity often picks up again late in the afternoon, although it typically does not reach the level of the morning flight.



                                         SEAWATCHING TECHNIQUES

     Seawatching, like hawk-watching but I think even more so, is an art, and requires a level of experience to perfect. The novice is often frustrated by an inability to identify or even see passing birds due to distance, poor visibility, rainy or fogged lenses, or shaky images due to the wind. Certainly seawatching during inclement weather can be uncomfortable. The intrepid observer often must contend with gale-force winds, rain or snow, and freezing temperatures, or all of the above at once, depending on the season (and that‘s just getting there in your vehicle!). Some of these hindrances can be mitigated if a sheltered observation spot can be located in the lee of the wind. I prefer the drier and more stable view from the relative calm and comfort of a vehicle, angled to avoid rain in the face (not always successfully), and accompanied by a hot coffee and a muffin.


   Sea conditions are also a factor. Skittering Dovekies and scaling shearwaters alike can easily disappear in the troughs behind ten or twenty-foot swells, sometimes, apparently, never to emerge! It is a combination of practiced skill and a measure of luck to envision where a bird will reappear and have your scope moving at the same rate and in the same direction as the now missing seabird, hoping for its’ reappearance somewhere in your field of view. Even during calm weather, glare, or that winter nemesis “sea smoke,” produced when very cold air temperatures occur over warmer seawater, can hinder viewing.

    One simple key to successful seabird watching is to maintain a constant vigil. Rest your eyes for just a few minutes and you could miss the bird of the day, or during intense movements, literally hundreds of seabirds could fly past unnoticed. The window of opportunity to locate, focus, zoom in on, identify, and count or estimate, may be ten seconds to several minutes depending upon the distance, flight speed, and behavior of the passing bird or flock.


   Another important practice is to regularly scan all proportions of your view. Think and bird three-dimensionally. One must monitor the seascape in close as well as far out, and regularly alternate between the two. Dovekies and Thick-billed Murres, for instance, will sometimes fly by very close, just beyond the rocks, and will be missed if you are only scoping the depths. Alternatively, if one fails to regularly scan far offshore to the horizon, you will miss many birds, particularly shearwaters and jaegers, which less frequently come very close to the point. Additionally, all of the commoner seabirds flying past at close to mid-range are usually also parading by farther out, so your counts will be higher if you attempt to census all ranges, even if many can’t be identified beyond the family level.

   While the majority of the passing seabirds routinely fly within fifty or so feet of the sea surface, many species are occasional to frequent high fliers and will pass by undetected if you fail to look up. Good peripheral vision and an awareness of what’s happening outside your scope field while scoping are important. I think an angled scope eyepiece is a definite disadvantage unless birds happen to be passing between your nose and your feet. Members of the high flying club are the loons (often in sizeable loose flocks), Northern Gannets, White-winged Scoters,  jaegers, gulls, and terns.

   Since most seabirds seen at Andrew’s during the fall migration and during storms year-round will be flying NW to SE, to detect the greatest percentage of the flight, at all ranges of distance, one must view predominantly perpendicular to the flight path direction, that is, to the northeast. About one-half mile to the north-northwest of Andrew’s Point is a large green ‘can’ buoy. It is the practice of many local birders during storms to train their scope on this buoy and observe what passes by. Although this is indeed a good method to ‘get quickly on to’ some of the closer-approaching seabirds early and ensure a lengthy view as they round adjacent Halibut Point, particularly seaducks and the closer alcids, many other birds, passing by farther off to the northeast and east, will be missed entirely.


   Concentrate and be proactive. If it is early November and an intense nor’easter is ensuing and you’re not seeing Greater Shearwaters, then perhaps you’re not trying hard enough. This tubenose, like the much more irregular Northern Fulmar, during some flights is only visible rather far out and to the east of the point. If you scan only to mid-range, or only to the north-northwest or even northeast, you may miss the bulk of the flight of these birds. Not all seabirds are as obvious as a large flock of Surf Scoters or Common Eiders winging past the rocks. I sometimes find it helpful to envision or imagine the presence of certain difficult-to-detect species like the diminutive storm-petrels before I actually see them! Concentrating in such a manner, with the appearance and behavior, i.e., ‘jizz,’ of a particular bird in mind, I find to be a real aid in its’ actual detection.  Of course this doesn’t always work, even given appropriate season and conditions. Be flexible in your viewing techniques, altering them as conditions demand, but also according to which species or group you place your emphasis. Be aware of and cue into any ornithological phenomenon going on at the time, such as flights of a particular species or group that may be occurring on that particular day and milk it to the full extent.

   Finally and critically, realize that not every passing bird will be able to be identified and that many individuals flying past, never to be seen again, must be left as jaeger species or large alcid species, for example. This is especially important at seawatches, where fleeting or obscured views are often the norm rather than the exception.    

                               ANNOTATED LIST OF SELECTED SPECIES


   The following annotated list of selected seabird species is essentially a summary of  sightings by the author during the course of  past twenty-six years. I have omitted a few omnipresent common species such as Herring and Great Black-backed Gull, as well as certain other species that do occur but are either not generally regarded as seabirds, occur in inconsequential numbers, or whose occurrence was judged “less interesting” than other species; e.g., Black Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, and Purple Sandpiper. A wide range of non-seabird species are also regularly observed coming in off the sea and migrating past or over Andrew’s Point, including Great Blue Herons, many hawks, shorebirds, swifts, swallows, warblers, and sparrows. Here I present the seabirds.  



                                LOONS AND GREBES

Red-throated Loon   Gavia stellata

   Very common fall migrant, more numerous than the Common Loon. The peak time frame for migrants is from mid-October to early December, when large, loose flocks can often be observed winging closely past. The four highest counts, two of which concurred with a NNW wind, are all from November, and are 520 on 8 Nov. 1977, 756 on 26 Nov. 1999, 870 on 1 Nov. 1997, and 1350 on 22 Nov. 1997. The number of migrants drops off sharply as December progresses and 152 counted on 15 Dec. 1999 was rather many for that late date. Red-throated Loons are generally quite uncommon here throughout the winter and any spring migration that might exist has gone virtually undetected to date(max., 14 on 30 Mar. 2001). In summer, it is unrecorded on fifteen seawatches from June to August. The earliest fall arrival is of nine on 23 Sep. 1994.

Pacific Loon   Gavia pacifica

   Three records, all of individuals flying past the point at close range. The first was a bird in or near breeding plumage on 9 October 1998. A second sighting, almost exactly one year later, on 4 October 1999, was again of a bird in partial breeding plumage which flew in and landed on the water. The most recent sighting was of a basic-plumaged individual, in which the dark vent strap, among other features, was clearly noted, as it flew past on 6 June 2000. These, among many other sight records from elsewhere along the coast of Massachusetts, have amply demonstrated the status of pacifica as a rare but regular migrant and winterer in our region.

Common Loon   Gavia immer

   Many migrant Common Loons in Massachusetts don’t follow the coast, they migrate on a broad front overland. Of those that do follow the coast in the fall, many, unlike the more strictly coastal (in Massachusetts) Red-throated Loon, fly due south high up over the base of Cape Ann and are not seen at Andrew’s Point. Flocks of Commons often fly very high, pass directly overhead, and will be missed if you are only scanning the tops of the waves. The autumn flight of Common Loon is more protracted than that of the Red-throated, and single-day tallies of 100+ migrants can occur anytime from early September to mid-December, with peak numbers usually occurring a bit earlier than Red-throated, during October or early November. High counts include 125 on 9 Sept. 1987, 227 on 11 Oct. 1998, 340 on 5 Nov. 1983, 240 on 8 Nov. 1977, and 118 on 15 Dec. 1999. Small numbers spend the winter while scarcely any migration has yet to be detected here in the spring. A few first-summer birds are usually present in the vicinity during the breeding season.

Horned Grebe   Podiceps auritus

   Although a very common bird along the coast in winter, particularly to our south, this grebe is very rarely seen migrating past Andrew’s Point. This leads to the conclusion that most individuals must arrive at the New England coast in the fall directly overland from points west, and that relatively few must move down the coast from the north, or if they do, they must do so nocturnally. Of course, all grebes’ overland flights are in fact performed at night, but Horned Grebes also appear reluctant to move along the coast during the day as well, at least in our region. While 100+ can sometimes be counted along the sandy beaches at nearby Crane Reservation and Plum Island, the high count here is only of 13 on 7 March 2001.

Red-necked Grebe   Podiceps grisegena

   This species has a breeding range very similar to that of the Horned Grebe, yet unlike that species, Red-necked Grebe is frequently seen migrating past Andrew’s Point in small numbers both spring and fall, and a few are also seen throughout the course of the winter. It has been noted on 77% (60/78) of the seawatches between October and March. The earliest arrivals have been in mid-September, although early October is more typical. The highest counts of birds flying SE in the fall include 34 on 7 Nov. 1997, 30 on 15 Dec. 1999, and 20 on 16 Dec. 2000. “Spring” migrants noted moving NW during February and March include 14 on 5 Feb. 1999, and 19 on 7 Mar. 2001. It has not been recorded from May to August.      




Northern Fulmar   Fulmarus glacialis


   Considered very rare in Massachusetts as recently as fifty years ago. Following the dramatic increase around the British Isles and the colonization of Newfoundland by the nominate glacialis, it now regularly appears in numbers at Andrew’s Point but usually only following rather intense, and in particular, long-duration storms that apparently drive birds from far offshore to the coast. Unlike the appearance of virtually all other seabirds here, the largest numbers are often seen in the afternoon rather than in the morning. Fulmars seem to occur here during two main periods, in the fall from mid-September through mid-December, during which it has been recorded on 16 of 67 seawatches (24%), with the high being 225 on 1 Nov. 1997, and in the spring from early February to early April (8 of 17 seawatches, 47%) when the high count is of 273 on 22 Mar. 2001. Several counts in excess of 75 birds between mid February and late March, including 237 on 24 Feb. 1998, may indicate that this is when the peak of northbound migrants occurs offshore. Fulmars are unrecorded on six January seawatches, perhaps indicating that flocks are either farther south or farther offshore during mid-winter. Light morph birds overwhelmingly predominate at all times, dark morphs generally comprising only 2-5% of birds, although during February of 1998 an unusually high percentage of the more northerly breeding dark morph appeared, including 16 of 78 (20.5%) on 2/18, and 24 of 237 (10%) on 2/20.

Cory’s Shearwater   Calonectris diomedea 

    Rare to very uncommon and irregular in late summer and fall when water temperatures reach their maximum warmth.  Records range from 13 August to 19 October, though no doubt it occurs both earlier and later than indicated by the rather small number of sightings. The biggest incursion I’ve witnessed here took place in 1997 when 36 were counted passing the point on 21 August. Most birds seen here during the summer are in heavy wing molt.

Greater Shearwater   Puffinus gravis

     Often very common, even abundant, during northeast storms from July through November when it has been seen on 56%(34/61) of the seawatches. The three highest counts, however, have all occurred during the first week of November: 2380 on 5 Nov. 1983, 2130 on 1 Nov. 1997, and an impressive 6150+ were counted passing the point and exiting Ipswich Bay the morning of 3 Nov. 1999, after having apparently sought shelter there, in the lee of Cape Ann, following a period of strong(30-50 mph) south winds that had blown all night. At times during the peak of this exodus, between 0800-0900 hours,  birds were passing at a rate of more than 100 per minute. By noon time the flight was completely over, and no shearwaters were in view. The highest percentage of observations, although in smaller numbers than later in the season, actually comes from July and August when it has been recorded on 80% (8/10) of the seawatches.  Sometimes too, small numbers can be seen unrelated to weather, either foraging off the point, following passing fishing boats, or just moving past, on any day from July to November. The two earliest records are of individuals observed on 9 Jun. 1999 and on 26 May 1979. In recent years it has been demonstrated that this shearwater persists in local waters well into December, including counts here of 15 on the last day of November 2000, nine on 12 Dec.2000, and of two on 15 Dec. 1999.

Sooty Shearwater   Puffinus griseus

     Uncommon but somewhat routinely encountered between June and September when it has been recorded on 15 of 24 seawatches (62.5%). The high counts include 38 on 9 June 1999, 31 on 12 Aug. 1998, and 29 on 6 June 2000. A rather early arrival, especially for waters north of Cape Cod(where several late April records exist, suggesting a regular arrival there at that time) was of one passing closely by the point, 26 April 2000. Although unrecorded on the meager three May watches it is certainly to be expected during the latter half of that month. Also, curiously it has not been seen on any of the twenty October seawatches but has been noted three times out of twenty-two November watches: one on 11/14/81, two on 11/1/97, and one on 11/7/97.  

Manx Shearwater   Puffinus puffinus 

   This small shearwater has occurred here more frequently than the Sooty, on 17 of 24 seawatches (70%) between June and September, and with higher maximum counts, including 64 on 12 Aug. 1998, 52 on 21 Aug. 1997, and 29 on 9 June 1999. In addition, there are three October records (maximum: five, 4 Oct. 1999) and three early November records, the latest of an individual on 5 Nov. 1983. Like the Sooty Shearwater, a few Manx can often be seen passing close to shore under placid or at least non-inclement conditions. On several occasions I have witnessed apparent evening “flights” of Manx Shearwaters(including the 29 on 9 June 1999), most just before dusk, flying WNW past the point into Ipswich Bay. Whether these birds are migrating or heading towards some nocturnal foraging or roosting area, is open to speculation. The consistent presence of so many birds throughout June ( 23 on 27 June 1998, 26 on 6 June 2000) also makes speculation about possible nesting on one of Rockport’s uninhabited and under-surveyed offshore islands not outrageous.    

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel   Oceanites oceanicus

   Careful scoping off the point on almost any day during the summer might reveal a few Wilson’s Storm-Petrels. Despite this species’ abundance on the offshore fishing banks, the appearance of large numbers during storms at the point, has been much less regular. There have been only three counts greater than one hundred, including 140 on 27 July 2000, 355 on 6 June 2000, and 1050 on 15 August 1999. Thus far it is unrecorded in May although there are several good counts in early June. The latest definite record of Wilson’s is of seven on 25 Sept. 1977, and any storm-petrel after late September is more likely to be a Leach’s.

Leach’s Storm-Petrel   Oceanodroma leucorhoa

   This storm-petrel has thus far been rarely observed on my seawatches here, and no large numbers have appeared during storms such as has occurred repeatedly at Cape Cod. Seven out of the slim total of eleven seawatches that Leach’s has been observed on have occurred during a narrow three-week period from mid-October to early November. The earliest record is of seven on 6 June 2000. Other “maxima” include seven on 21 Oct. 1996 and seven on 7 Nov. 1997, which also is the latest observation to date.

   Of interest was the presence of an “apparent Leach’s” with an all dark rump among the birds on 6 June 2000. This bird was also seen independently the following day by J. Paluzzi. Although the extent of white on the rump of Leach’s varies considerably, the dark-rumped form of Leach’s has never been documented in the Atlantic, and the possibility of Swinhoe’s Storm-Petrel (O. monorhis) appearing in Massachusetts is not beyond the pale. It has recently been documented in North Carolina waters and there are now numerous records for the eastern Atlantic north to Ireland where two were trapped at Leach’s colonies during the summer of 2000. Most sightings of dark-rumped storm-petrels in Europe are now presumed to be Swinhoe’s (O’Brien    



Northern Gannet   Morus bassanus

   Regardless of the season, it is a rare seawatch here that misses Northern Gannet. It is the most numerous, and perhaps the most symbolic of Andrew‘s Point seabirds. Whether it be the sight of individuals streaming closely past the rocks as they emerge from the fog and mist of a raging storm, or of foraging masses on the horizon performing spectacular high-diving plunges into the sea on a clear October day, observations of this bird are always a thrill. Gannets have been recorded on 92% (101/110) of all seawatches, year-round, being missed only nine times in 26 years. It is well known that young birds migrate earlier and winter farther south, revealed here by counts in late August composed overwhelmingly of juveniles and other immatures, including 200 on 21 Aug. 1997, and 690 on 15 Aug. 1999. The bulk of the fall migration, involving all ages, occurs from late September to mid-December, although the peak period of abundance is during October and the first half of November, when the maxima include 7200 on 27 Oct. 1997, 3700 on 4 Oct. 1999, and 8600 on 3 Nov. 1999. Counts progressively diminish during December, and involve primarily adult birds, as do most records throughout the winter. By February Gannets become scarce, though regular, when the average number seen on six counts is only six individuals. Unimpressive tallies of spring migrants have been detected during late March and April, nearly all of adult birds, including 214 on 22 Mar. 2001, and 124 on 26 Apr. 2000. In summer, varying numbers of non-breeding sub-adults can frequently be seen, and storms have produced some good counts for that season (e.g., 223 on 9 June 1999, and 171 on 6 June 2000).

                                     Northern Gannet - High Count by Month_

                         Jan            Feb           Mar           Apr          May           Jun     

                          74              16            214           124           48             223    

                       1/4/92        2/5/01      3/22/01      4/26/00  5/10/98      6/9/99

                         Jul            Aug           Sep            Oct          Nov           Dec

                         18             690          1230           7200        8600          550

                     7/27/00      8/15/99      9/30/99     10/27/97    11/3/99    12/11/92

Great Cormorant   Phalacrocorax carbo

   Fairly common migrant and nearly omnipresent winter resident from mid-September through March, during which time it has been noted on 92% (80/87) of the seawatches. The high count of birds flying past is only of thirty, on 1 Nov. 1997, although several hundred can easily be tallied on a winter circuit around Cape Ann (e.g., 415 on 23 Jan. 2001). First arrivals in September (earliest, one, on 6 Sep. 1999) are invariably juveniles. The latest record is of four on 18 April 2001, although this date should not be too difficult to extend.

Double-crested Cormorant   Phalacrocorax auritus

   Andrew’s Point is well to the east of the main migratory path of this species in Massachusetts, and consequently comparatively small flocks are observed here. In Essex County most flocks in both spring and fall follow a route that takes them from the coast in the Newburyport- Plum Island area SSW overland to the Peabody-Lynn area and straight on towards Boston Harbor (incidentally, from here most flocks also bypass the southeastern part of Massachusetts, and continue inland on a SW bearing to Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island). Smaller numbers do parallel the coast but also generally bypass the outer portion of Cape Ann and follow the Annisquam River. Of those flocks that do stray farther east, the high count is of 490 on 9 October 2000. This species breeds commonly on the islands and rocky ledges around Cape Ann; records at Andrew’s Point range from late March to late November.



Green-winged Teal   Anas crecca

   Certainly not usually thought of as a sea duck; however, this little duck is frequently observed migrating with flocks of scoters in the fall, when the largest tally is of 194 on 4 October 1999, although 1-5 birds per day is more typical. This phenomenon (of dabbling ducks migrating with scoters) is not completely exclusive to Green-winged Teal, though they are definitely the most common to do so. I have also recorded each of the following species migrating past Andrew’s Point within scoter flocks in the fall: Wood Duck, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Am. Black Duck, Mallard, Northern Pintail, and Canvasback.

Greater Scaup   Aythya marila

   An uncommon fall migrant, primarily during October and November, when it has been seen on 50% of the seawatches. High counts are of 160 on 27 October 1997, 65 on 1 November 1997, and of 45 on 16 November 1983. It becomes very scarce in December (four records, maximum of three individuals), and is thus far unrecorded during January and February. There are only a few spring records, during March and April, on the very limited number of seawatches conducted at that time. A rather early arrival was of two birds migrating past on 29 August 1998.

King Eider   Somateria spectabilis

   Rare but regular migrant and winter resident. Most winters at least one is usually resident somewhere along the north shore of Cape Ann, sometimes in the vicinity of Andrew’s Point. I have observed it on nine seawatches between 27 October and 30 March (in addition to recording it on several other visits); however, all but two records are of individuals on the water with flocks of Common Eider. Most all of the sightings pertain to either first-winter males, or females. On 17 December 2000, an adult male flew past to the SE with a small flock of Common Eiders.

Common Eider   Somateria mollissima

   Along with the Northern Gannet, this seaduck, a common breeding species just to our north, is one of  the most emblematic birds of Andrew’s Point. Indeed, it has been missed here only fifteen times on 110 year-round seawatches since 1976. The really big flights typically occur from early October through November, occasionally to mid-December. In 1997, a total of 10,061 eiders were counted in passage on just nine, less than full day, seawatches from October to December. Reasonably, a full-time, seven day a week seawatch might be expected to record 250,000+ passing by Andrew’s Point during this period. Several of the highest tallies are 4210 on 9 Oct. 2000, 6360 on 26 Oct. 1990, 4650 on 7 Nov. 1997, and 3100 on 11 Dec. 1992. After mid-December, standard counts are normally in the 50-100 range, more rarely to two hundred. A slight peak has been detected in late March and April, of apparent spring migrants, including 295 on 22 March 2001, 210 on 1 Apr. 1993, and 270 on 19 Apr. 1997. Usually a few non-breeding birds summer in the vicinity  (max. 14 on 26 July 2000), as they do elsewhere on Cape Ann.

Harlequin Duck   Histrionicus histrionicus

   This colorful little duck is presently a fairly common but local winter resident along the rocky coast in the vicinity of Andrew’s Point from late October at least through March. It underwent a rather pronounced increase over the last ten years (with maximum counts roughly tripling), and currently between forty and ninety birds now winter each year in this part of Cape Ann alone. A flock of seven were still present as late as 18 April 2001.

Surf Scoter   Melanitta perspicillata

   The commonest scoter here during migration; in fact the two highest single-day counts of any seabird species at Andrew’s Point are both of Surf Scoters, of 13,830 winging past on 27 October 1997, and of 12,050 counted on 5 November 1983. The vast majority of migrant Surf Scoters pass by during a narrow 4-6 week period from early October to mid-November. A few very early arrivals often begin to show up on August seawatches(7 on 21 Aug. 1997, 3 on 12 Aug. 1998, 8 on 21 Aug. 1999), although the main vanguard of the fall passage usually begins to appear in the latter half of September(14 on 18 Sep. 1996, and 52 on 23 Sep. 1994). By December the species usually becomes quite scarce, with only a small number remaining in the area during the course of the winter. In spring comparatively very small numbers of migrants are observed from March to early May, including 76 on 19 Apr. 1997, 232 on 26 Apr. 2000, and 27 on 10 May 1998. They are normally rare in summer; unusual were 26 seen on 11 June 1977.

White-winged Scoter   Melanitta fusca

   This species and the Black Scoter are about equally numerous (White-winged statistically slightly more numerous) here during the fall migration. Like with the other scoters, October to mid-November is the peak fall migration period; however, this species occurs in larger numbers than the others during December (e.g., 110 on 15 Dec. 1999), and remains fairly common throughout the entire winter. The first autumn migrants are typically detected as early as the latter half of August (13 on 15 Aug. 1998, and 13 on 29 Aug. 1999), although significant numbers don’t begin to arrive until late September. High counts include 1120 on 4 Oct. 1999, 1150 on 11 Oct. 1997, and 765 on 5 Nov. 1983. Some flocks routinely migrate much higher above the sea surface than do other scoters. No large flocks have yet been perceived in the spring, when the greatest count is only of 50 on 1 April 1993. Rare but regular summering individuals are noted from May through July.

Black Scoter   Melanitta nigra

   Common fall migrant during October and early November. Like with the other scoter species, a few individuals begin to appear in late August, and larger flocks of this species have been noted in late September than either of the other two scoter species, perhaps suggesting a slightly earlier arrival timetable, including 210 on 25 Sep. 1977, and 200 on 19 Sep. 1987. High counts are of 1950 on 4 Oct. 1999, 1800 on 11 Oct. 1997, and 980 on 7 Nov. 1997. Like the Surf it is rather uncommon here during the winter, but small flocks of migrants have been observed in the spring, primarily during April, including 110 on 19 Apr. 1997, and 130 on 26 Apr. 2000. Rare in summer.

Oldsquaw   Clangula hyemalis

   In comparison to all three scoters, the Oldsquaw migration occurs noticeably later in the fall, generally from mid-October through December, when it is at times abundant, particularly when storms coincide with the peak of migration. High counts are of 2170 on 27 Oct. 1997, 5900 on 5 Nov. 1983, and 1560 on 22 Nov. 1997. Considerable numbers of migrants continue to be noted throughout December such as the 590 passing by on 15 Dec. 1999. It is, so far, unrecorded on 27 seawatches from May through September (although hundreds are usually present at a staging area around the mouth of the nearby Merrimack River throughout much of May), and the earliest fall arrival is of six on 4 Oct. 1999. Unlike most other seaducks, substantial migration has been documented here in the spring, mostly during April, including 925 on 19 Apr. 1997, 224 on 12 Apr. 2001, and 357 on 18 Apr. 2001.

Red-breasted Merganser   Mergus serrator

   Common fall migrant from mid-October to early December. A tremendous, but so far anomalous flight, transpired during a nor’easter on 5 November 1983 when 8570 were counted moving past along with a huge Surf Scoter and Oldsquaw flight the same day. No counts since have come close to this magnitude, with the next three highest counts being 880 on 21 Oct. 1996, 1950 on 27 Oct. 1997, and 1170 on 8 Nov. 1977. It is generally uncommon here throughout the winter, and rare in summer. Small numbers have been observed in the spring, primarily in April.



Red-necked Phalarope   Phalaropus lobatus

   Although seventeen seawatches have been conducted during the primary migratory period of August and September, mostly during storms, I have identified only a single definite Red-necked Phalarope (on 18 Sep. 1999) here in 26 years. There are several sizeable counts as recently as the1960’s from Rockport (e.g.,1500+, 6 Aug. 1968, C. Leahy), and one can’t help but speculate that the status of this bird has changed rather dramatically since that time. A few other sightings of unidentified phalaropes in September probably refer to this species.

Red Phalarope   Phalaropus fulicaria

   I have observed this species here five times, always during storms, and all records fall in a very narrow range of dates: 350 on 13 Nov. 1982, 17 on 5 Nov. 1983, six on 11 Dec. 1992, five on 7 Nov. 1997, and 11 on 30 Nov. 2000. Historically, spectacular flights once occurred here with some regularity during storms, the greatest being 7500 on 10 Nov. 1962 (Drury), and 25,000 on 15 Nov. 1957 (Burnett).


                              SKUAS AND JAEGERS

Great Skua   Stercorarius skua

    Rare. Four records exist totaling five individuals between late October and late February, all during easterly or northeasterly gales(32+ mph). Numbers of Northern Fulmars occurred simultaneously on three of these dates, suggesting that it is precisely these intense, long duration-storms that tend to drive fulmars to the coast, that also, though more rarely, may produce a skua. In my view, the concept of a “good day” at Andrew’s Point, can be defined solely by the sight of a skua. The four records are of singles on 4 Jan. 1992, 1 Nov. 1997, and 25 Feb. 1999, and of two birds, flying past an hour apart, on 27 Oct. 1997.  

Skua sp.  Stercorarius (maccormicki ?)

   A most surprising sighting was the fly-by of a skua on the afternoon of 6 September 1999 during nearly placid conditions, but following a period of dense fog earlier in the day.  Observed in a direct NW to SE flight at a fair distance (approx. 1/2 mile), this bird projected a typical skua image in terms of size, structure, flight style, and bold white wing patches, but appeared uniformly colored, somewhat paler grayish-brown, not blackish, and lacked any rufous tones. No pale collar was noticed. Although precise plumage and structural details could not be discerned with certainty due to the distance involved, both the date and those plumage details that were noted, strongly suggests South Polar Skua (S. maccormicki).

Pomarine Jaeger   Stercorarius pomarinus

   This jaeger is a fairly regular feature here during storms from late September to mid-December, sometimes occurring in moderate numbers. All age classes of the pale morph have been noted, while the dark morph (which comprises 5-15% of the N. Atlantic population) has been at best scarce, in fact no certain adults have been observed. The maximum counts have been from the last week of October through November (seen on 7 of 22 November seawatches = 32%), and include 20 on 27 Oct. 1997, 61 on 3 Nov. 1999, 22 on 7 Nov. 1997, and 44 on 30 Nov. 2000. The earliest sightings are of singles on 12 Aug. 1998, and 21 Aug. 1997. Pomarine has actually been most regular during December (6 of 16 = 37.5%), although most records then are of singles, the latest to 17 Dec. 2000. Four individuals flying past on 12 Dec. 2000, during strong SSW winds (to 40 mph), may have been deflected from Stellwagen Bank and had sought shelter in the lee of Cape Ann. Pomarine Jaeger has yet to be recorded in the spring.

 Parasitic Jaeger   Stercorarius parasiticus

   Uncommon but probably regular early and mid-fall migrant, although it has not been seen here in numbers equivalent to the Pomarine later in the season. Most birds have been noted during August when it has been identified on 50%(4/8) of the seawatches, and the high counts are of five on both 21 Aug. 1998 and on 15 Aug. 1999. There is a scattering of records through September and October, and Parasitic has been identified four times in early November, the latest to 7 Nov. 1997. It is certainly possible that a few other Parasitics have occurred in the large flights of Pomarines in late October and November, although there seems little doubt that ‘Poms’ overwhelmingly predominate at that time.

   In addition to the above accounts, there have been nine dates between 12 August and 13 November when counts of 1-7 unidentified, mostly distant, jaegers have been observed.      


                                  GULLS AND TERNS

Laughing Gull   Larus atricilla

   Uncommon, generally from early August to early November, representing either birds engaged in post-breeding dispersal from colonies on Cape Cod, or farther south, or migrants from the several colonies in the Gulf of Maine to the north. It is most frequent during October, being recorded on 60% (12/20) of the seawatches then. There are only five records before August, the earliest of a single on 18 April 2001, including two birds on 26 April 2000, and three on 6 June 2000. The very modest high counts are of 27 on 9 Oct. 2000, 14 on 4 Oct. 1999, and 13 on 21 Aug. 1999. The latest record is of a single bird on 27 Nov. 1999.

Little Gull   Larus minutus

   Three records, all of adults. The first two records were of individuals in the company of migrating Bonaparte’s Gulls. The first was on 11 Nov. 1979, while the second occurred during the huge flight of more than 30,000 seabirds on 27 Oct. 1997. The most recent record, of an early spring migrant, was with a small group of kittiwakes, during a storm on 22 March 2001.

Black-headed Gull   Larus ridibundus

   One first-winter bird lingering with a foraging flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes off the point, was observed on three dates between 16 and 30 December 2000.

Bonaparte’s Gull   Larus philadelphia

   This very social gull usually appears in large, tight flocks, so “flights” can begin and end rather quickly. Bonaparte’s flocks often appear towards the end of ocean storms, once winds either diminish or shift NW, so presumably these birds are making an exodus from Ipswich Bay once conditions begin to ameliorate. They are a fairly common fall migrant from August through January, although the largest numbers pass by during November and December, when representative high counts include 155 on 27 Oct. 1997, 290 on 7 Nov. 1997, 340 on 26 Nov. 1999, and a noteworthy 1630 on 15 Dec. 1999. The seasonal (Jul-Dec) high total of 2127, not surprisingly, also occurred in 1999. Bonies become rare later in the winter (there are only three Feb. records of single individuals) and it has likewise been rather scarcely encountered in spring when the high counts are of a paltry 21 on 26 April 2000 and 27 on 18 April 2001.. Additional watches during April, however, might reveal a greater presence at that time, since flocks are known to stage at Newburyport, just to the north.

Iceland Gull   Larus glaucoides kumlieni

   This gull has dramatically declined at Cape Ann since the late 70’s and early 80’s when counts of 50-100 a day in late winter were possible in the vicinity of Eastern Point in Gloucester. At Andrew’s Point it is now infrequently noted between 21 October and 7 March (16 of 78 seawatches, Oct-Mar., = 20.5%), when the high count is of five on 14 Jan. 1999.  

Lesser Black-backed Gull   Larus fuscus graellsii

   Two records: a second-winter on 23 September 1994 and a third-summer on 10 May 1998. Given the dramatic increase around Cape Cod over the past several years, many more are expected here in the near future.

Glaucous Gull   Larus hyperboreus


   Although rare but regular around Cape Ann, I have recorded this species only twice at Andrew’s Point, both first-winter birds, on 23 November 1997, and 14 January 1999.

Black-legged Kittiwake   Rissa trydactyla

   This attractive small gull, a frequent victim of attacks by jaegers, is often one of the commonest seabirds encountered here during its peak period from mid-October through February, being seen on 89%(63/71) of the seawatches during that period. The peak of the somewhat protracted fall migration occurs from late October to mid-November while the number of kittiwakes present in winter appears to be highly variable from year to year. These large October and November flights are often composed of 40% to as high as 70% first-year birds, but adults tend to predominate later, in December and January, probably indicating that most young birds winter farther south than the adults. I have recorded kittiwakes during every month except July. The earliest arriving juvenile was noted on 21 August 1999.

                   Kittiwake-High Counts and Ages by Month During Peak Period 

              Sep.           Oct.           Nov.          Dec.          Jan.          Feb.           Mar. 

               15            4260           4300         1320           742         1200           248

            (2 juvs)   (70%-1W)   (55%-1W)  (5%-1W)   (3-1W)    (17-1W)   (65%-1W)

            9/25/77     10/21/96     11/3/99     12/11/92     1/4/92      2/5/98       3/22/01

An intense but very compressed flight took place on 21 Oct. 1996. As winds diminished on the second day of a very strong nor’easter (gusts to 60 mph), compact flocks of 100-200 birds at a time,  totaling 4260 birds, were counted as they exited Ipswich Bay past the point. Certainly, the largest numbers always occur during storms, but at least a few can usually be noted foraging offshore, or passing by, during more than six months out of the year.

Sabine’s Gull   Xema sabini

   Despite being a rare but regular fall migrant to the adjacent offshore areas, particularly at Stellwagen Bank to the SE of Andrew’s Point, I have recorded this bird only once, a winter-plumaged adult passing by during a storm on 19 October 1997.

Ivory Gull   Pagophila eburnea


   A first-winter bird, present along the northern shore of Gloucester and Rockport from 10 December 1976 to 10 January 1977, was photographed in flight at Andrew’s Point by the author, on 8 January.

Caspian Tern   Sterna caspia


   One record, of an adult flying SE past the point on 4 October 1999.

Roseate Tern   Sterna dougallii

   Rare spring migrant during late May and June, although additional seawatches may reveal that it occurs more frequently. It is more regular in the fall, particularly during August, when counts include 15 on 7 Aug.1976 and seven on 15 Aug.1999. Similarly, more surveys in late summer would probably reveal it to be a regular migrant in small numbers.

Common Tern   Sterna hirundo

   Most migrant Common terns in the fall probably follow the Annisquam River south to bypass the tip of Cape Ann and so, comparatively speaking, it is an uncommon bird at Andrew’s Point. The largest numbers of migrants are seen from August to mid-October when high counts include 136 on 12 Aug. 1998, 115 on 21 Aug. 1999, and 320 on 15 Sep. 2000. The latest is of one on 14 November 1981.

Forster’s Tern   Sterna fosteri

   Four records to date, all of single birds: 21 August 1999, 15 September 2000, 4 October 1999, and 5 November 1983.

Black Tern   Chlidonias niger

   Rather pelagic in its distribution during fall migration in New England, Black Terns are somewhat rarely seen at Andrew’s Point, although they are probably quite regular during August and September when the high counts are of six on 13 August 1997, and of nine on 15 September 2000. The only spring record is of two in breeding plumage, on 6 June 2000.



    Alcids are a particular specialty of Andrew’s Point. As a family they make their appearance primarily from late October through March, and are the delight and focus of many visiting birdwatchers. Indeed, all six North Atlantic species are of regular occurrence, although Common Murre and Atlantic Puffin are rather scarce while Dovekie and to a lesser degree, Thick-billed Murre, are irregular and irruptive, both decidedly subject to southward incursions. Gull predation, particularly from Great Black-backed Gulls, takes its’ toll during these sporadic irruptions. I have witnessed these gulls swallow Dovekies and, remarkably, Thick-billed Murre(once) whole, having attacked them from the air when they surface from dives.

    Although it is true that nor’easters have produced some of the higher counts and greatest diversity of alcids on any given day, it has also been demostrated that weather, or at least storms, is not a necessary factor in the appearance of these birds. Major flights of Razorbills, Thick-billed Murres, and Dovekies have occurred during uneventful or even calm weather. It seems likely then that food shortages or food abundance is a more probable factor in the appearance and movements of these birds in local waters, although storms certainly do play a role in pushing offshore flocks into more viewable coastal vantages.

Dovekie    Alle alle


   An irregular and incursive species, present some years while absent or nearly so in others. Unfortunately for the birder, though not necessarily for the birds themselves, the great November Cape Ann Dovekie flights, or “wrecks”, appear to be a thing of the past. As recently as the 1950’s major flights involving 10,000 or more birds per day occurred, including a remarkable one in 1957 when 18,000 Dovekies were counted passing adjacent Halibut Point in only two hours on 30 November (Kieran). Much smaller incursions persisted into the early 1970’s. Since that time comparatively very small flights have occurred, mostly from late October(78 on 22 Oct. 1988) throughout November and December(maxima: 140, 24 Dec.1976 and 62, 17 Dec.2000). Usually quite scarce after December, though small numbers have appeared again during February and may represent northbound migrants, e.g., six, 5 Feb.1998 and 20, 5 Feb.1999. Unrecorded between March and September.    



Common Murre     Uria aalge

   Perhaps the rarest of the alcids here, vying with Atlantic Puffin for the rarest of the regularly occurring Atlantic alcids in Massachusetts inshore waters, but like puffin, apparently increasing. Usually seen singly, sometimes alone but often in the company of Thick-billed Murres. Records range from 7 November to 7 March. It has been recorded on 12 of 58 seawatches(21%) between November and March, with the total monthly breakdown of individuals as follows: Nov(2), Dec(10), Jan(0), Feb(7), Mar(7). The high count is of six, flying past singly on 6 February 2001. A recent unusual summer record was of two birds together in breeding plumage passing the point on 6 June 2000.


Thick-billed Murre     Uria lomvia

     Generally uncommon and typically arriving much later than the much more numerous Razorbill. One to three or so birds may be observed flying past at a time, even during uneventful weather, though storms tend to produce the highest counts. Birds in flight are readily identified even at great distances in winter by their extensively dark head and neck. Foraging individuals are frequently encountered on the water during the winter, sometimes quite close to shore. Largest numbers are normally recorded from late December to mid-March(14 on 12 March 1999, and 14 on 22 March 2001). During “flight years“ a few may linger even into early April, the latest being three on 12 Apr. 2001. In December 1976 and January 1977 an unprecedented flight appeared in Massachusetts coastal waters. During this flight R. Veit observed a minimum of 2300 Thick-billed Murres on the morning of 17 December(see Veit & Petersen, 1993, for a more detailed account of this incursion). One week later, on 24 December, I recorded 400 birds moving  past the point. More recently, at the tail end of an intense three day nor’easter on 7 March 2001, 485 birds were counted passing closely in loose flocks over a seven hour period. No other counts even approaching this magnitude had been witnessed previously, apart from the 1976-77 irruption. The fact that this flight occurred at the end of a long duration storm, and consisted of birds apparently exiting Ipswich Bay and heading back to sea, demonstrates this species’ more pelagic distribution versus the more coastally oriented Razorbill. More typical high counts include the following: 23 on 5 Jan.1980, 63 on 5 Feb.1998, and 36 on 14 Jan 1999.  


Razorbill      Alca torda

   Fairly common to abundant, this is “the” alcid in local waters. Large flocks can appear under any weather conditions although most of the maxima have been recorded during storms. At least a few birds can usually be seen either foraging offshore or flying past on virtually any day between 15 October and 15 March.  During this period it has been observed on 82.5%(52 of 63) of the seawatches. The earliest arrival was of six on 4 October 1999, although the second week of October is more typical. The latest record is of 10 on 18 April 2001. An earlier and much larger flight, probably of deflected spring migrants, occurred on 22 March 2001, when 1210(including many in breeding plumage), along with nearly 900 unidentified large alcids, were counted during a strong nor’easter. It is likely that the current late date could easily be extended given the paucity of seawatches conducted during April. I have yet to record this species between May and September.

                              Razorbill - High Counts by Month During Peak Period 

          Oct.            Nov.            Dec.             Jan.            Feb.            Mar.          Apr.    

           20              157              2920            820             236           1210           114

      10/15/77      11/27/99      12/15/99       1/4/92          2/5/98       3/22/01      4/12/01

    Occasionally feeding frenzies will develop off the point , apparently in response to dense schools of baitfish, when scores or even a few hundred Razorbills in tight flocks on the water can be viewed energetically diving for food. Accompanying them on these occasions may be masses of Northern Gannets, plunge diving from great heights, joined by whirling associations of Black-legged Kittiwakes, picking frenetically from near or just below the waters surface while in flight, along with the tern-like Bonaparte’s Gulls and a few big gulls. Occasionally a passing Pomarine or Parasitic Jaeger will pause long enough to engage a kittiwake or other gull in aerial piracy, usually with success. The Razorbills may arrive in flocks of ten or twenty slamming into the mass of seabirds, often diving directly from the air to below the waters surface without hesitation in pursuit of their prey. These ethereal feeding assemblages can dissolve and disappear in moments, only to reincarnate themselves with the same renewed intensity several hundred yards away just minutes later.

Black Guillemot     Cepphus grylle

    Fairly common migrant and winter resident from November to early April, although it does not gather into large flocks like other alcid species so it is never recorded in large numbers like them. One to three can frequently be found swimming and diving close to the rocky shoreline throughout the winter. This little alcid breeds at sites within view(on a clear day) of Andrew’s Point at the Isle of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire and southern Maine, and the repeated appearance of birds in breeding plumage here during May, June, and July has led to continued speculation concerning the possibility of local Cape Ann nesting. Some late spring and summer records, all of birds in breeding plumage, include four on 9 June 1999, three on 6 June 2000, and two on 26 July 2000. Guillemots have been noted here during every month except September. Although unrecorded on all but one of twenty October seawatches, one of the high counts, of  24 during a period of moderate S-SW winds, comes only three days later, on 3 November 1999. Additional counts of migrants and/or storm driven birds are of 24, 11 December 1992, 22, 7 March 2001, and 17, 16 December 2000.

Ancient Murrelet     Synthliboramphus antiquus 


    Two out of the three Massachusetts records for this Pacific alcid come from Andrew’s Point, though not from one of my seawatches (yet). Ancient Murrelet is a known vagrant to the interior of North America, and there are now over twenty records from the east. The first Massachusetts record was of a bird well seen and described at Andrew’s Point by a party of observers, 29 November 1992 (L. Brinker, J. Askildsen, T. Burke, R. Kurtz et. al.). Another sight record, also well described and sketched, was made here by R. Frechette on 5 February 1999. Although neither bird was photographed, the reports were convincing, and both were accepted by the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee.  

Atlantic Puffin     Fratercula arctica

   Rare but regular and apparently increasing visitor. All but two of the 16 sightings, representing 15% of all seawatches, have occurred since 1997. The records to date seem to be falling into three main periods, June to August(4 records, totaling 10 individuals), October to December (9 records, 12 individuals), and February(3 records, 6 individuals). Presumably this local increase is linked to the continued success of the restoration efforts at proximate breeding sites farther north in the Gulf of Maine, at Eastern Egg Rock (22 pairs in 1997) and at Seal Island (58 pairs in1997). The two highest counts are both from August, of four on 12 Aug. 1998 and three on 15 Aug. 1999, and probably represent post-breeding dispersal from these Gulf of Maine sites. Observers should be aware that a puffin in flight at a distance, especially a first-winter bird, with their small size relative to the larger murres and Razorbill, and their darkish underwings, can appear remarkably similar to a Dovekie at first glance.  



Finch, D. W., Russell, W. C., and E. V. Thompson. 1978. Pelagic Birds in the Gulf of

      Maine.  American Birds  32: 140-155, and 32: 281-294.

Griscom, L. and D. Snyder.  1955.  The Birds of Massachusetts.  Salem, MA: Peabody


Harrison, P.  1983.  Seabirds: An Identification Guide.  Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin


O’Brien, M., Patteson, J. B., Armistead, G. L., and G. B. Pearce. 1999.  Swinhoe’s Storm

      Petrel.  North American Birds 53: 6-10.

Olsen, K. M., and H. Larsson.  1997.  Skuas and Jaegers: A Guide to the Skuas and    

      Jaegers of the World.  New Haven: Yale University Press.


Powers, K. D.  1983.  Pelagic Distribution of Marine Birds Off Northeastern United                        

      States. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-F/NEC-27. Woods Hole, MA: NOAA.

Veit, R.R. and W.R.Petersen.  1993.  Birds of Massachusetts.  Lincoln, MA:    

      Massachusetts Audubon Society.

                                                        Richard S. Heil

                                                        20 MacArthur Circle,

                                                        Peabody. MA 01960.





  12 May 2001

Web published March 23, 2011 by Thomas Robben (, with permission of Richard Heil.