October 1-2, 2010
After spending the last part of September in north London, England, Alice and I took a bus from London Victoria Coach Station to the docks in Southampton. The two hour ride was mostly uneventful, with heavy rain most of the way. I did see a field filled with Carrion Crows and Starlings, and there were two Mute Swans swimming in one of the pools of a water treatment plant.
The rain had pretty much stopped by the time we boarded the Queen Mary 2, and there was a flock of Black-headed Gulls fishing in the water next to the docks. As the ship pulled away, the sky was filled with adult and juvenile Herring Gulls, more Black-headed Gulls, and a few Great Black-backed Gulls.
juvenile Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
The weather during our first full day at sea was typical of what we experienced on most of the ocean crossing - overcast skies with occasional rain, strong head winds, and moderately choppy seas. The head wind combined with the ship's speed meant that the winds on the deck were either in our faces or on our backs at about 50 miles per hour, so most of my photos were taken from the rear of the ship, a sheltered spot on the side of the ship, or from the sheltered balcony of our cabin on the port (southern) side of the ship. While at the rear of the ship, I saw a guy looking out to sea with large binoculars, and thought that he might be a birder. He soon left, and came back around the 1/3 mile deck to once again scan the seas. I saw "Av. . ." on his cap, and guessed that the rest of his cap read "Avifauna." Sure enough, he was a birder from Stockholm.
I didn't see too much that morning - thought that I saw a Northern Fulmar and a Manx Shearwater, but the birds were too far away for the photos at 280mm to be conclusive. The shorter lens did make for better light and faster shutter speeds, even though I would have liked to have had my 400mm lens along with me to capture more details.
However, in the afternoon I saw the fourth of my target birds for this trip - an adult and a juvenile Gannet
October 3, 2010
Now that we were in the open sea, birding activity picked up a bit. I saw a few single and pairs of Great Shearwaters, and in the afternoon a pair of Great Skuas flew by our balcony. The ship had a good library with 30 to 40 birding reference books, so I was able to learn quite a bit about the pelagic birds of the north Atlantic Ocean. I hoped to also see Cory's Shearwaters. The Great and Cory's Shearwaters are similar, but the former has a dark bill and the latter has a yellow bill. The belly and undertail of the Cory's are all white; the Great Shearwater has a dark undertail, and often shows a dark belly patch.
October 4, 2010
Pelagic bird activity really picked up today. There were single, pairs, and large flocks of Greater and Cory's Sheatwaters, including mixed pairs and mixed flocks.
Cory's and Great Shearwaters
October 5, 2010
This morning started off with my seeing a small flock of Gannets from my cabin, and after grabbing my camera, I saw that they were following a school of dolphins.
Dolphins and Gannets
October 6, 2010
This was a great morning for watching birds. The wind had shifted, and the ship's speed and wind speed cancelled each other out, and there was virtually no wind on deck. I was able to go to the 12th deck observation platform at the bow of the ship, and saw all kinds of birds. There were more Cory's and Great Shearwaters. I also saw a Northern Fulmar with a Manx Shearwater not far behind it - just as I had seen on day 2. [September 2011 update: Dave S. (VA): Re your 2010 North Atlantic crossing, your bird you have listed as a Manx Shearwater looks to me a better fit for Audubon's Shearwater given the apparently dark undertail coverts and general profile, though I can't be absolutely certain from the photo.]
Manx [Audubon's] Shearwater
A Great Cormorant flew by the ship's bow, and a 2nd winter (American sub-species) Herring Gull made an appearance.
2nd winter (American sub-species) Herring Gull
From the observation deck it looked like a flock of white butterflies flew across the ship's bow - I got one photo showing 10 of them, and I am fairly confident that they were Red Phalaropes. Their small size was quite a constrast compared to the larger pelagic birds.
I also saw three unidentifed small birds that did not look like they belonged in the middle of the ocean. Perhaps they were European or North American stowaways on the ship. I got photos of two of them. One looks like some sort of sparrow, but it was too big for the ones I have seen here in the U.S. The other bird clearly has a dark head, yellow-orange breast, white belly, black tail, and a white wing spot. Any help identifying these two birds would be appreciated.
By shortly after noon, the winds had once again shifted, and when I returned to the observation deck, I could barely keep from being blown overboard.
October 7, 2010
We docked in New York before sunrise, but got an great early morning view of Lady Liberty. Also several Ringed-billed Gulls, a Double-crested Cormorant, and a pair of Canada Geese. We were back in the USA.
Statue of Liberty
Click here to see more bird photos taken on this ocean crossing
From Dave P. (MO): I have taken that same route across the North Atlantic on a cruise from the Mediterranen to New York and saw most of the same species you saw. I'm pretty sure that unknown sparrow-like bird is a Skylark. I've seen many of them in flight and they have that distinctive pattern on their upper wings. The shape of the bird looks "skylark", also. I'm not sure on your second unknown. It has a wagtail look to it but I can't say for sure.
From Rob H. (MD):I was looking at the two mystery birds you photographed. The first one is not a Sky Lark -- their bills are thinner, and they do not have prominent completely dark crown stripes like your bird does. Bobolink seems the best fit to me, based on pattern and structure. You can even see the pointed tail feathers and pointed wings that Bobolink has (and the lark lacks). The buffy coloration of Bobolinks at this time of year is not noticeable, I assume because of lighting conditions.
The other bird looks like an American Redstart, with much of the yellow appearing as white. Grey and Yellow Wagtails have proportionately longer tails, with white on the outer tail feathers even in extent from base to tip. Your bird has only the base of the tail white (should be yellow), with the entire outer portion (just under the outer half) black, just like on an American Redstart. The white wing-bar looks to have the yellow of the redstart washed out. The yellow on the underparts is basically the same extent as what is seen on redstarts, near the wingpits. Yellow Wagtail has uniform yellow underparts, while Grey Wagtail has the yellow strongest near the throat and on the undertail coverts. There are no white/pale markings anywhere on the face like you would see on a wagtail.
Sky Lark and any wagtail would be stunning regional rarities. I don't believe that there are any records of wild Sky Larks from anywhere near where you were on October 6. I believe there are under a half-dozen wagtail records from the same region, perhaps just one or two.