August 11th – Chasing Boobies

Durlan Ingersoll, first mate and seabird expert for Seawatch Tours, the whale watching company on Grand Manan Island I like to go offshore with when I’m there (due to Durlan’s expertise), burst out of the wheelhouse: “Rick! We got Brown Booby!!”. And there, about 150 meters ahead of the boat and heading toward distant Whitehead Island was a smallish, dark, gannet-like bird gliding fast before the wind. Although the first impression, using the unaided eye, was of an immature small Northern Gannet, a good look through binoculars showed otherwise.

My first view was of the dorsal or back side. It was entirely dark brown, with no white. It then rolled to show its underside. The bird had a deep chocolate neck with the colour extending well below the neck to the upper breast. The rest of the underside was clear white but there was a pronounced contrast between the neck and the belly – one didn’t merge into the other. There was also a marked contrast on the underside of the wing which was a bright white extending about two thirds of the way up the wing but bordered on three sides by dark brown on the leading edge, secondaries and primaries.

Durlan, who is renowned for taking cutting edge photographs of rare or unusual birds in the area, had his camera on the wrong setting and, by the time he figured this out, was unable to get a shot. But, picture or no picture, this was an adult Brown Booby.

This is a common bird…but only in the Tropics. This was only the second sighting of this species in New Brunswick.

The next day Durlan and I took the free ferry to Whitehead Island to see if we could relocate it and so that he could get a good picture of it (and keep the inevitable skeptics at bay). This species has a penchant for sitting on buoys and pilings. But, alas, we didn’t see it again. And yesterday we went out again on the Days Catch on a “whale-watching” trip. Although many of the customers were bent on seeing Fin Whales and breaching Humpbacks (and they weren’t disappointed), there was a small but dedicated group of pelagic birders in pursuit of this rarity. We even took “chum” – pieces of herring that are thrown into the water to bring gulls. And gulls wheeling around feeding will quickly attract other birds – shearwaters and…..those elusive boobies. But, although we got great looks at a variety of pelagic birds, we never resighted the Brown Booby. Maybe it had realized its mistake and was headed back south. (Or maybe it wasn’t a mistake and the curious bird is still exploring the Bay of Fundy or the coast of Nova Scotia…..)

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