Thursday 10 August 2017

Amid The Hagdowns

Shearwaters are abundant in Newfoundland waters June - October.  They are attracted close to shore during the capelin spawning season that happens during a four week period in summer sometime between late June and mid August.  Shearwater watching is guaranteed spectacular for a period of time on the Avalon Peninsula. The exact location changes from year to year but the birders seek out these locations. The magnitude of the event which also involves many humpback whales and the local breeding puffins, murres, kittiwakes and gannets is nothing short of awe inspiring every year.

Shearwaters are well known to the  fisherman. They are often included in folk songs but are never called shearwater. Hagdown and baulk are the two most regularly used Newfoundland names.

The hagdowns are sometimes close enough to shore to be caught up in the breaking waves. It is common to hear their baby duck quack notes from land.  While it is fantastic to see so many, so well from land with binos, scope and camera there is nothing like getting among the hagdowns and met them eye to eye. 

Getting in a boat among the shearwaters rafts is actually something I had never done. The long time dream was nothing monumental to achieve but it came as a opportunity I could not refuse this month on 3 August.  Ian Jones was taking his spiffy, fiberglass, seaworthy, open 18 foot, very fast boat out for a look.   He was starting at Renews just a short distance north of a known shearwater feeding concentration off Cappahayden . I knew I was guaranteed intimate action.

I charged up two camera batteries and cleared off two 64 Gig memory cards. I was ready.  The lighting was going to be good = high overcast and light winds .

It was Mohammad (from Egypt), Cliff Doran from Cape Race/Trepassey and I with Ian Jones in his boat.  We spent 7 hours in the boat. Over half the time was exploratory looking for seabirds all the way south to Cape Race but thankfully we chose to spend a good bit of time among the 5000 plus shearwaters on the water near shore off Bear Cove and Cappahayden.  I would have been content to spend the entire day with the engine off floating among the shearwaters. The birds you see by the thousands every year become new acquaintances when you can met them eye to eye. I ate up the seconds within the hours soaking in the eye to eye shearwater contacts while snapping off photos seemingly aimlessly in every direction.  

I'll may never get through the 2700 photos taken but here is a sampling.  

Shearwaters resting on the water after a night of feeding on capelin. Cappahayden shows up in the background.

Great and Sooty Shearwaters were numerous on the water.

Sooty Shearwater outnumbered Great Shearwater 4:1.

Enjoyed trying for better Sooty Shearwater flight shots. But because there was little wind the shearwaters were not flying much.  

The camera was more amenable to focusing on the more patterned Great Shearwaters

This Great Shearwater was still in heavy wing moult.

A flock of Sooty Shearwaters lifts off the water.

A leucistic Sooty Shearwater was cooperative in having its condition photographed.  It seemed content among its own kind.

Manx (above)

A small handful of Manx Shearwaters were encountered. 

Manx (below)

A couple of sub-adult Parasitic Jaegers checked out the boat.

It was good trip being in a boat amid the seabirds.  The birds were relaxed and going about their business uninhibited .  Very Relaxed !


  1. Incredible photos of incredible birds Bruce


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