Monday, September 24, 2018

Saturday September 22, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

Hurricane Florence has savaged North & South Carolina since our last trip offshore, and while many seabirds turn up inshore with hurricanes, they do not always offer better birding offshore.  That does not mean it can't be interesting as birds return to an area after vacating it due to a huge disturbance, but we were not really expecting to see much more than our usual suspects out there this weekend!  We were not disappointed, though it would have been nice to have a little more wind to carry the scent of our chum and get the birds flying!  There was a nice northeasterly swell that many birds were traveling on, but this also kept them closer to the water.

The shelf break held some sargassum and at least eight Bridled Terns plus Cory's and Great Shearwaters!  This certainly started the day off well!  As we headed offshore we found a nice flock of feeding shearwaters that we were able to approach and spend some time with.  The majority of the birds were Cory's and many of these looked to be the nominate Scopoli's Shearwater (photo by Ed Corey).
There were also some Great and Audubon's mixed in so we had excellent views of all of our shearwaters at the same time!  A couple of Sooty Terns flew by and our first Black-capped Petrel of the day showed up in the slick - not bad for a calm day!  We continued our journey offshore to deeper water and a gorgeous, dark morph Pomarine Jaeger came in to investigate our chum (photo by Kate Sutherland).
We had put out some extra chum to attract the Black-capped Petrels and this jaeger was quite happy to take advantage of that.  As we have learned over the years, Black-cappeds are not fond of these dark individuals, perhaps because they resemble skuas, and one of the Black-cappeds really turned on the speed to buzz the jaeger on the water!  (photo by Kyle Kittelberger)
What a show!

Wilson's Storm-Petrels were quite scarce, as they can be later in the year, but we did have nice views of at least a couple individuals that came in to visit the slick.  The Black-capped Petrels were very obliging and we had some incredible photo opportunities as they sailed by the boat (photo by Ed Corey). 
Just after noontime a Merlin flew over the boat, not missing a beat as we all scrambled to get a look at this uncommon offshore find!  Brian commented that he could not remember the last time we had a Merlin on one of our trips, but it was likely in September!  We had at least four more Pomarine Jaegers come to check us out and we had a Sandwich Tern and a Bridled Tern visit us in the afternoon.  A few pods of offshore Bottlenose Dolphins came in to the boat and we found a few pods of Pilot Whales (probably Short-finned) out there as well that allowed us to approach.  The first group Pilot Whales showed their flukes a few times, not something we always get to see (photo Kate Sutherland)!
Overall it was an incredible day out there, not too hot but sunny, and birds to see in spite of the calm conditions!

A big thank you to Dr. Seabird McKeon of St. Mary's College of Maryland for bringing his Coastal Ecology class out with us, they got to spend the day in the big, blue classroom!  And thank you to everyone who joined us making the trip possible!  Thanks also to Kyle Kittelberger and Ed Corey for helping us lead the trip and contributing their photos for this blog post!  We have four trips next month on the 6(7), 13(14), 19, and 20 - think about joining us!

Species List September 22, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  42-44
Cory's Shearwater  10+
Scopoli's Shearwater  30+
Cory's type  95-96
Great Shearwater  18
Audubon's Shearwater  25
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  3
Red-necked Phalarope  2
Sooty Tern  2
Bridled Tern  9
Sooty/Bridled Tern  1
Black Tern  9
Sandwich Tern  1
Pomarine Jaeger  5
jaeger sp.  1
peep sp.  7
Merlin  1
Pilot Whale (likely Short-finned)  23-28
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin  39-45

Another Black-capped Petrel image showing the white rump that is easily visible from a great distance!  (Ed Corey)
We had a lot of Cory's types out there and many were like this individual that looked small in the field but only had reduced amounts of white in the underprimaries.  It feels like the more we learn the less we know with these subspecies (or to many, species!). (Kate Sutherland)
It was nice to see some Great Shearwaters out there!  They have been a bit scarce this summer, in this image you can see the dark patch on the belly.  (Ed Corey)
Audubon's Shearwaters also were very cooperative and we had a few that allowed close approach!  (Ed Corey)
The dark morph Pomarine Jaeger spent some time sitting on the water and stayed put as we maneuvered for a closer look!  (Kyle Kittelberger)  Until it flushed (Ed Corey), but it stayed with us for quite awhile feeding in the chum.
Kyle captured an image of one of the other Pomarine Jaegers that visited us over the course of the day.
The Pilot Whales came in fairly close to the boat and gave us some good views of their bulbous heads and large dorsal fins!  (Kate Sutherland top, Ed Corey below)
The offshore Bottlenose came right in and rode under the pulpit!  This individual had a mangled dorsal fin!  (Kate Sutherland top, Ed Corey below)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Saturday September 8, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

Late summer can be a good time to get offshore here, and it has certainly been good so far this year!  Diversity was excellent out there today and we ended the day with eleven pelagic species!  Not bad...not bad at all!  Conditions were calm as we headed offshore, but we had a Manx Shearwater fly by before we had even been in the ocean for 30 minutes (photo by Kate Sutherland). 
This, and the presence of Red-necked Phalaropes, Cory's type shearwaters, and Sooty Terns inshore of the shelf break had us wondering what we might turn up in the deeper water offshore.  The water was warm right up to the beach, so we did not see much of a temperature change today, and there was also not much current out there, but the water color varied and we definitely had some different patches of water, some with more life than others.  All of the shearwaters were seen well offshore today, we had nice views of Scopoli's and Atlantic Cory's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters.  Many of the Black-capped Petrels were just sitting around and we had excellent views as they flushed and flew by to check us out!  We had both light and dark faced types out there today (photo of white faced bird by Kate Sutherland). 
Wilson's Storm-Petrels were in short supply, but we did recruit a few to the slick for some close views!  Early in the day a gorgeous, dark Pomarine Jaeger came in to check out what we had to offer, and what some nearby Cory's had to offer, while in the afternoon we had a smaller jaeger fly by that photos (and views) revealed to be a Parasitic.  A small flock of Red-necked Phalaropes feeding in some sargassum sat nicely for us to approach, in contrast to the group that flew quickly past this morning.  Right at noontime we had a tropicbird take off from the water in the distance ahead of the boat.  We gave chase, but as it lifted into the clouds and flew east, it disappeared from view.  Frustrating, but that is how it goes sometimes!  Thankfully we found a group of shearwaters and a couple of Bridled Terns on our way back to the inlet that we slowed to photograph (photo by Kyle Kittelberger). 
As we began to think about picking up speed, I saw a white bird on the water turned out to be a juvenile Red-billed Tropicbird!  Amazing!  We were about nine miles off of Cape Hatteras on the edge of Diamond Shoals in just 66 feet of water.  What an incredible end to the day! (photo by Brian Patteson)

Thank you so much to everyone who joined us out there today!  Also thank you to Kyle Kittelberger for helping to lead the trip and for contributing photos for this post!  Our next trip is September 22(23) and while that is full, we have space on all of our October trips.  They are on the 6(7), 13(14), and the 19 & 20 (two days).

Species List for September 8, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  30
Cory's Shearwater  10+
Scopoli's Shearwater  19+
Cory's type  115
Great Shearwater  4
Manx Shearwater  2
Audubon's Shearwater  35
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  19-20
Red-billed Tropicbird  1
tropicbird species  1
Red-necked Phalarope  30
phalarope species  3
Sooty Tern  6
Bridled Tern  6
Sooty/Bridled  5
Pomarine Jaeger  1
Parasitic Jaeger  1
Greater Yellowlegs  2
Western Sandpiper  1
caught 1 Wahoo & 1 Mahi mahi

A couple more Black-capped Petrel images, we found one individual feeding on something though I did not get close enough images to see what it was!  It was very interesting how approachable they were!  (Kate Sutherland)
One of the Atlantic Cory's grabbed a hold of some albacore belly we were dragging behind the boat!  (Kyle Kittelberger)
The Audubon's were very cooperative (Kyle Kittelberger)
Red-billed Tropicbird taking off (Kate Sutherland)
 Red-necked Phalaropes (Kate Sutherland)
Bridled Tern in the morning taking off from a life vest!  (Kate Sutherland)
Dark Pomarine Jaeger (Kyle Kittelberger)

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Friday August 31, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

Friday's trip was not on our regular schedule because it was a chartered trip for a group from Ohio.  While we did not have the wind shift like we had last weekend, the swell was southeasterly and the winds were light west, was a calm day out there!  This meant we could see for miles, but also meant that birds were sitting around or flying very close to the water.  Fortunately for us the southerly winds of the week preceding the trip brought the tropical terns up this way so we found Sooty and Bridled Terns just inshore of the shelf break feeding with Black and Common Terns.  A few of the Bridled Terns flew right in to check us out, so we got incredible views of an adult accompanied by its begging juvenile (photo by Kate Sutherland)!
Black-capped Petrels were either sitting around or flying low, so they were difficult to get close to, but we had a few fly right by the boat - excellent views!  We had some Cory's and Audubon's Shearwaters, both were near the boat over the course of the day, and while Wilson's were scarce, we did have a few come to feed on the chum also giving us a chance to check out these "water walkers".  There was some flotsam out there as well and with just a small amount of current, we were able to maneuver around to check it all out!  Just after 1, Brian spotted a tree ahead of the we got closer, he saw there was a dark tern on the rightmost branch (photo by Kate Sutherland)!
There were a couple of Bridled Terns perched there as well, but as we slowly approached, it was obvious there was a noddy on the tree!!  It turned out to be a Brown Noddy, too tired to take off even as the tree nudged the stern of our boat as it drifted past!  This floating ecosystem had obviously been in the water for some time as it was populated with barnacles and had some huge tripletail and other fish species swimming below, as far down as we could see!  Not a bad place to perch for a bit!  It was awesome to spend time with this bird, and see all of the detail in the face and feet (photo by Brian Patteson)!
A little under an hour later and three miles inshore, I spotted a flock of terns circling up ahead of us that had a dark bird with it.  Brian got us up into the flock and there was another Brown Noddy feeding with a flock of Sooty and Bridled Terns!  Wow!!  This bird was flying close to the water and soon disappeared from view as we spent time among the terns and shearwaters.  What a show!  We had a Scopoli's Shearwater with two Audubon's feeding directly with the Sooty Terns, it was a great end to our time beyond the shelf break (photo by Kate Sutherland)!
On the ride back inshore, we found a flock of Red-necked Phalaropes on the water right on a color change.  These birds were a bit skittish, but we were able to circle around and get some nice views (photo by Brian Patteson)!
It was an incredible day out there!  Late summer off of Hatteras is always an interesting time!  Our next trip is next Saturday, September 8 (obligatory weather date of the 9th), let us know if you'd like to join us!  My email address is (-Kate)

Species List for August 31, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  29-32
Cory's Shearwater  3
Scopoli's Shearwater  2
Cory's type  12
Audubon's Shearwater  5
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  13
Red-necked Phalarope  22
Brown Noddy  2
Sooty Tern  29
Bridled Tern  21
Black Tern  13
Common Tern  16
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin  30
Hammerhead  2
White Marlin  1
Caught one Wahoo

Another close up view of the Brown Noddy (Kate Sutherland) and those feet!  They look like they should be on a booby!
If you use your imagination, you can see there is a large tripletail just under the water at the bottom of this photo!  There was an amazing collection of fish with this tree!  (Kate Sutherland)
Brian Patteson captured these images of the Bridled Terns that were perched with the noddy on the tree, there was an adult (top) and juvenile (bottom)
The terns took off as we drifted closer to the tree, here is the adult Bridled Tern coming back in and checking out the noddy! (Kate Sutherland)
Some of the Sooty Terns that were with the flock that held the second Brown Noddy (Brian Patteson)
We saw both Atlantic Cory's (top) and Scopoli's Shearwaters (Brian Patteson)
Here is another image of a Scopoli's with Audubon's (these were the birds with the Sooty Terns at the end of the day) (Kate Sutherland)
The water was calm enough to photograph things like this sargassum swimming crab (Portunus sayi) (Kate Sutherland)
We also encountered a pod of offshore Bottlenose Dolphins, this one was playing with some sargassum! (Kate Sutherland)

Sunday, August 26, 2018

August 24 & 25, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

A wind shift mid-week set us up for the best trips of the summer, just in time for the last trips of the summer!  If you have been keeping up with the blog posts, then you know we have had weeks upon weeks of southwest winds and ugly water here off of Hatteras.  The species we expect to see here in the summer have not been around in the numbers we typically encounter.  But as winds shifted around to the north last week, we watched the forecast and waited...and Brian and I were ready to see what we could find out there in the two days we had to do it!  Winds were stiff from the north north east on Friday, then falling out a bit with more of an easterly component on Saturday with little to no current and some gorgeous, blue water.  Who knows what we could have found out there Sunday, but unfortunately there was not enough interest to run that trip.  Mornings were very productive both days with a dark Trindade Petrel right off the bat on Friday, zipping in to check out the slick at a high rate of speed just before 0900!  On Saturday yelling out on deck immediately slowed our offshore progression and a second summer Masked Booby flew right up the wake and by the port side, while we were still on the shelf (photo by Kate Sutherland)!
Not even thirty minutes later there was more shouting, this time a young Red-billed Tropicbird (first summer) was with us!  That sighting coincided with our arrival at the shelf break and we slowed soon after to see what else we could turn up.  There were flocks of mostly Cory's type Shearwaters feeding on fish out there Saturday thanks to the slack current and we were able to run to get among these birds quite easily most of the day.  This worked in our favor since the first flock, indicated to us by the Sooty Terns flying high above, held another Masked Booby, this one looked to be a first summer individual (photo by Brian Patteson).  
As we sorted through the hundreds of shearwaters for something different, another tropicbird flew in to check out the activity!  This one turned out to be a young White-tailed Tropicbird (photo by Kate Sutherland)! 
We stayed with this flock for almost an hour until the birds dispersed and were rewarded with views of the Sooty Terns, including one young bird, plus Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers!  This whole time we were watching Cory's, Scopoli's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters around us feeding and sitting on the water (photo of Cory's Shearwater by Brian Patteson).
A short time after we began heading offshore once again, one of our participants happened to look up and find another White-tailed Tropicbird looking back at her!  This bird looked more adult-like, though it may not have been a full adult quite yet.  It spent a lot of time hovering over the boat and checking out the slick, though it did not splash down for any food.  (photo by Kate Sutherland)  
A short time after this bird disappeared from sight, a tropicbird was spotted on the reveal that it was the same individual we had just seen, not a third individual.

We had excellent views of Black-capped Petrels on both trips, though they were definitely seen in higher numbers on Friday, the windier of the two days.  Cory's type shearwaters dominated on both trips, but we did have good views of both Great and Audubon's on each trip.  Wilson's Storm-Petrels were again around in low numbers, but this is also expected as we move into the late summer and early fall.  We were lucky to get good views of two Band-rumped Storm-Petrels on Saturday, though none were seen on Friday.  Tropical terns were hard to come by on Friday, though we did have excellent views of one Sooty, while Saturday we had nice views of both species and one of our participants even spotted a perched adult Bridled Tern that allowed for close approach (photo by Kate Sutherland).  
Overall a great couple of trips!  While we have had both tropicbirds on trips in the past, and even two White-taileds and a Red-billed on the same day...Brian cannot remember a trip with two individual Masked Boobies, so that was quite a feat!  Our next trip is September 8 (weather date of the 9th), and we should have a chance to see all of these species except for the Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, which become scarce after late August down here.  We have space!  Think about joining us out there...

Thanks to Jeff Lemons and Nick Newberry for helping Brian and I lead the trips this weekend!  

Species List for August 24 / 25
Trindade Petrel  1 / 0
Black-capped Petrel  49-52 / 19
Cory's Shearwater  1 / many seen
Scopoli's Shearwater  11 / many seen
Cory's type  84 / 440* we had hundreds of Cory's in a few flocks, it was impossible to break these down into Atlantic Cory's vs Scopoli's in the field
Great Shearwater  3 / 5
Audubon's Shearwater  16-20 / 13-14
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  20-22 / 23-24
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  0 / 2-3
White-tailed Tropicbird  0 / 2
Red-billed Tropicbird  0 / 1
Masked Booby  0 / 2
Red-necked Phalarope  1 / 0
Sooty Tern  1 / 7
Bridled Tern  0 / 2
Sooty/Bridled  0 / 2
Least Tern  2 / 0
Pomarine Jaeger  0 / 1
Parasitic Jaeger  0 / 1
Semipalmated Sandpiper  0 / 1
Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore population)  11-13 / 0
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  0 / 6

A couple photos of Black-capped Petrels - ventral by Brian Patteson, dorsal by Kate Sutherland
One of the Scopoli's Shearwaters that we saw on Saturday (Brian Patteson)
Audubon's on the water (Brian Patteson) and flying in the rain (Kate Sutherland)
While Wilson's Storm-Petrels were in short supply, they did make some nice passes for photographs!  (Kate Sutherland)
The second White-tailed Tropicbird just after taking off of the water (Brian Patteson)
Record shot of the Red-billed Tropicbird (Kate Sutherland)
Bridled Tern in flight (Brian Patteson) 
& a couple images of the very cooperative Atlantic Spotted Dolphins we had on the way in on Saturday (Kate Sutherland)