Sunday 19 October 2014

Gonzalo at Cape Race - A Great Big Sea Show without Birds.

Ian Jones, Jared Clarke and I went to Cape Race to meet Hurricane Gonzalo head on at dawn on Sunday. Our timing was good. Gonzalo could have done us a favour by passing with his eye in sight of Cape Race.  Maybe even then there would have been no special birds to see. The storm passed over nothing but open ocean except for a Bermuda visit.  There are only so many good sub-tropical pelagic seabirds possible between Bermuda and Cape Race in mid October.  But the exceptionally high speed at which the Eye of Gonzo was passing us (57 km/hr) might have been good enough to drop us a gift or two had it come a little closer. 

The backside of the storm hit just as we got to the lighthouse. Very strong NW winds were blowing the tops off the incoming storm swells rolling in from the south east. It created an impressive scene. It was easy to imagine how any seabird would give up hope of fighting the conditions and just try to keep alive by going with the flow of the wind.  Gannets, the biggest and strongest seabirds, were challenged by the winds as they rocketed through the furrows and over the waves on reduced wing surfaces. Kittiwakes had wings curved back like a falcon as they strained to maintain control. The birds were not having a good time.

While the birding was lackluster the wave watching was exhilarating. My rule of never taking scenery shots went right out the window.  There was no containing the urge to capture the incredible scene. I spent more time taking scenics than looking through the scope. [I promise this will not happen again].

Regular Cape Race sea watchers will recognize this view and realize the massive volume of water sent airborne.   This happened a hundred times during our 2 hour watch.

Scopes were abandoned as seabirders (JC left, IJ right) turn into wave watchers.

 Colossal volumes of water were being thrown far out of the sea.  I ran from this one. But there was no need it was just some foolish internal auto survival reaction.

Experienced Cape Racers will recognize this rock to the left of our seawatch location.  Sometimes in the winter it gets topped by a big wave but on Gonzalo Day it was frequently obliterated. See both pictures below.

Two storm chaser personalties from The Weather Network were on the scene and were not disappointed with plenty to film. 

Professional storm chasers and seasoned Cape Race birders watch in awe as series after series of big ones roll in.

View to the west.

A distant headland to the west smashes a big wave to smithereens. 

IJ gets bored and tries a little acting while JC and I take the snaps.

He lived.

A view of Cape Race lighthouse as we drove away in the unseasonably warm humid tropical hurricane air. The only thing missing was a g-o-o-d bird.  

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