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April 10, 2019

VENTFLASH #253: Spotlight on Grand Manan

Dear friends:

Southwest Head at the southern end of Grand Manan © Barry Zimmer

Over a lifetime of travel, I have been to many marvelous places around the world; however, I retain a special feeling for North America, where high-quality birding and scenic splendor go hand in hand. Not surprisingly, I am a big fan of our North American tours. One such tour of which I am especially fond is Autumn Grand Manan, a trip I have co-led with Barry Zimmer on several occasions.   

Although many people are unaware of Grand Manan, it is, in fact, a superb place to experience the thrill of fall migration on the northeast coast. Located in Canada’s Bay of Fundy, picturesque Grand Manan Island features incredible seabird spectacles, marine mammals, and large numbers of migrant landbirds and shorebirds.

Leading this tour is Barry Zimmer, one of our longest-serving leaders and a veteran of many previous Autumn Grand Manan tours. Joining Barry again this year is Brennan Mulrooney, a leader known for his skill as a bird finder and teacher. 

In this issue: 



Great Shearwaters were constant companions on our pelagic trip off Grand Manan © Barry Zimmer

“The best pelagic birding on the East Coast. Superb whale-watching with up to four species possible. Migrant landbirds and shorebirds pouring through coastal New Brunswick. An array of nice resident species. These are just some of the reasons why our Autumn Grand Manan tour is one of my very favorite tours.

The centerpiece of our tour is certainly the all-day, chartered pelagic trip into the Bay of Fundy. I have never been to another area that produces as consistently excellent pelagic birding as do the waters off Grand Manan. Likely possibilities 
include three species of shearwaters (Great, Manx, and Sooty), Northern Fulmar, Leach’s and Wilson’s storm-petrels (with the latter often numbering in the 
thousands), comical Atlantic Puffins, Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Pomarine and Parasitic jaegers, South Polar Skua, Red and Red-necked phalaropes, Northern Gannet, and Arctic Tern. Even the rare Great Skua has been recorded on over a third of recent trips. It is not just the variety of species, but the sheer numbers and incredible views of most that make the boat trip special. We often have Great 
Shearwaters literally at arm’s-length! While many pelagic trips have long stretches without birds, this area offers almost non-stop birding action. The best captain and mate in the business assure a wonderful adventure.

Often a spectacular whale show can outshine the amazing birds. Humpbacks are usually quite common in the Bay of Fundy, and huge Fin Whales are almost equally likely. This area can also host the very rare North Atlantic Right Whale, of which only a little over 400 exist. In recent years this species has been scarce, but we have had incredible right whale displays on some past tours. Minke Whales, White-sided Dolphins, and Mola Mola are among the other possibilities.

Our tour is also timed to coincide with landbird and shorebird migration through the Maritime Provinces. By scouring the spruce forests on the island, we usually tally over 20 species of warblers, many of them with dozens of individuals seen. Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, Black-throated Green, Northern Parula, Canada, Chestnut-sided, Cape May, Black-and-white, American Redstart, and Ovenbird are among the many possibilities. On our 2018 tour, we saw 59 Black-throated Greens and 39 Northern Parulas! Other passerine migrants that we often encounter include Philadelphia and Blue-headed vireos, and Alder and Yellow-bellied flycatchers.

Nelson's Sparrow © Barry Zimmer

Shorebirds also migrate through this area in numbers with 15 or more species possible. White-rumped and Baird’s sandpipers are among the species targeted.In addition to unsurpassed pelagic birding and wonderful migration opportunities, the island hosts a number of highly sought resident birds as well. Nelson’s Sparrows nest in Castalia Marsh and are still present during our stay. Boreal Chickadees, while a low-density species, are resident in the spruce forests on the island. Great Cormorant, Common Eider, and Great Black-backed Gull are found along the rocky coastlines.

Simply put, this tour combines superb pelagic birding and whale-watching with excellent passerine and shorebird migration and northeastern specialty birds, all set among the ambiance and charm of the Maine and New Brunswick coasts. Generally good fall weather is the icing on the cake!”




Autumn Grand Manan, September 2-8, 2019 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $3,595 in double occupancy from Bangor. Limit 12.


I can’t recommend this trip highly enough. In addition to the birding, the weather in September is often the best of the entire year on Grand Manan, with fair, sunny days and calm seas the norm. This trip is only a week long, and a stay here is all the more pleasant due to the charm and atmosphere of the Marathon Inn, a grand old country inn with delicious home-cooking and fine birding right on the grounds. This end-of-summer tour is one of our most popular departures, featuring a wonderful combination of seabirds, warblers, and other land birds. Highlights include a stay at a historic lodge, a boat trip on the Bay of Fundy, and a charming Canadian Maritime setting with the ambiance of Maine of 60 years ago.

The field reports that we receive from Barry following these trips are thoroughly enjoyable to read and offer marvelous insights into the joys of being in nature on a 
VENT tour. Here is a highlight from our 2016 tour:

Razorbills © Barry Zimmer

“With storm-petrels everywhere and dozens of shearwaters following us, we were in pelagic heaven. An early Northern Fulmar joined the crowd. Then, incredibly, another South Polar Skua was spotted. This day was turning out to be one of our best pelagic trips ever off Grand Manan, and yet the biggest surprise was still to come. I heard my co-leader, Brennan (Mulrooney) call out, “Get on this bird at three o’clock.” I turned and quickly saw a large bird with slow wing beats, and I felt my heart skip a beat—a Cory’s Shearwater, a species documented only a few times in New Brunswick and a lifer for me. All in all, we saw over 7,000 seabirds including 9 Razorbills and 60 Atlantic Puffins, as well as 20 Humpback Whales and two North Atlantic Right Whales—one of the rarest whales in the world. On other days we saw 20 species of warblers. The combination of amazing birds, wonderful marine mammals, delicious seafood, and the scenic New Brunswick coast provided us with a magical week.”




I hope you will be able to join Barry and Brennan on our 2019 Autumn Grand Manan tour.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel

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