Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thursday May 26, 2016 by Seabird McKeon

Just off of Hatteras North Carolina runs one of the most powerful of Atlantic currents.  The Gulf Stream runs up much of the coast of North America before angling off towards Europe.  It is a conveyor belt powerful enough to increase the temperature of both continents by brute movement of warm water.  This flowing river of seawater creates an ecosystem that covers a large portion of the Atlantic basin, and is host to a number of unique seabirds, marine mammals, and other marine life.  Due to the proximity of the Gulf Stream to Hatteras, we have unrivaled access to this amazing fauna.  Today was an exploration of some of the specialties of the region, and a thrill for all onboard the Stormy Petrel II.
Dropping from speed into blue water, the Stormy Petrel II had the company of several boats setting up to fish on the shelf-break.  Working clear of the company, we spotted something moving under the water- as it grew closer it became apparent that it was a Cobia swimming immediately above a Leatherback turtle (photo by Peter Flood). 
Almost exclusively feeding on jellyfish, these largest of extant turtles find and exploit areas where currents or wind patterns converge to create dense gatherings of jellies.  After a brief showing, we moved on to find some of the bird species deeper in this oceanic highway. 
Wilson’s Storm-petrels and Cory’s Shearwaters were the first to come into the slick of fish oil and chum, before being interrupted by the avian landlords of this environment:  Black-capped Petrels (photo by Peter Flood). 
With relatively calm conditions and brilliant sunshine on the water, the black-and-white plumage of the petrels was picture perfect- showing every molted feather or subtle differences in facial pattern (white faced individual below - by Peter Flood). 

Offshore bottlenose dolphins, larger than their inshore cousins, joined us in increasing numbers.  First a mother and calf were bow-riding, and then 6 more. Looking up from the spectacle immediately under the rail, we soon realized that we were surrounded by large numbers of these large, acrobatic dolphins (photo by Peter Flood). At the end of the day we estimated to have seen 105-120 individuals.
Pomarine jaegers accompanied the boat for much of the day, providing marine bird photographers with compelling targets at close range (photo by Peter Flood). 
Other highlights included a good-sized Tripletail- an odd fish that is frequently found with floating debris (in this case a bucket, photo by Lev Frid), Band-rumped Storm-petrels, and colorful Man-o-war.


The real find for the day however was a true rarity.  Beaked whales were spotted at some distance away.  This group of whales is very poorly known, with most records coming from skeletons found on remote beaches.  As three individuals got closer we realized that they were Gervais beaked whales (photo by Lev Frid).
The whales moved towards us, lingering at the surface of the water and allowing all onboard to become members of a very exclusive group of people who have seen this animal alive.  Eventually the whales dove, leaving everyone high-fiving and in awe of how much remains to be found so close to home, and yet so far away. 

Trip List for May 26, 2016
Black-capped Petrel  18
Cory's Shearwater  20  *1 nominate Cory's
Audubon's Shearwater  10
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  75-80
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  4
Pomarine Jaeger  6
jaeger sp.  1

Common Tern  3

Gervais Beaked Whale  8-9
beaked whale species  4-5
Bottlenose Dolphin  105-120
Leatherback turtle  1
Cobia  1
Tripletail  1
Man of War  3

Some Cory's Shearwaters show an intermediate amount of white in the under primaries like this bird below (by Peter Flood).
It was nice to see some Band-rumped Storm-Petrels today, like this fresh-winged bird that was photographed on our drift this morning!  Perhaps a younger, winter breeding individual?  (by Peter Flood)
A few photos of the Gervais Beaked Whales:  
Top photo is typical of the marking found on the back of females (by Lev Frid)
Here you can really see the beak - you can also see that there are no teeth, so not a male! (by Peter Flood)
A closer look at the tripletail (by Lev Frid)
& to close the day...an Atlantic Patchwing!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wednesday May 25, 2016 by Kate Sutherland

Today's trip was full, our first fully booked trip for the Blitz - but conditions were such that the boat seemed spacious!  It was our first day that was clear and fairly calm!  The winds were light from the west in the morning becoming south west as the day progressed.  Clear skies also meant we had a nice satellite image of what the Gulf Stream was doing - and the eddy continues...  It looked like we could, however, reach the hot blue water today - though it would mean really getting out there!  There were not many birds moving this morning on the way out like we saw yesterday, but there was a gradual change and we slowed ten minutes after 8.  Before 0900 we had already racked up five pelagic species!  Wilson's Storm-Petrels were slow to join us, but our Black-capped Petrels showed well right off the bat!
These tropical gadflies would pop up in the back of the slick and work their way right in, showing off their manuverability even with the winds blowing less than 10.  A surprise visit by a Pomarine Jaeger was a bonus, and Cory's & Audubon's Shearwaters were around as well.  The nine o'clock hour was also productive with a couple of Sooty Shearwaters coming in to visit the slick, and we finally had a nice look at a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel just after 10!
There was a gradual change as we headed to the east and finally intercepted the hot, fast, Gulf Stream water between 10:30 and 11:00.  The water temperature reached over 80 degrees Farenheit and we were moving at a blazing 4 to 5 knots over the bottom!  At one point, as we idled forward, the boat was actually moving backwards over the bottom with the current.  So we ended up about 41 miles from Hatteras inlet and in some of the deepest water we've been in for quite some time, 1500 fathoms (about 9,000 feet)!  Overall it was an awesome day to see our usual Gulf Stream specialties, Black-cappeds, Band-rumpeds, and Audubon's, well!  There was scattered grass out in the deep and we found cooperative Audubon's,
a huge contrast to the past few days when we have just had a fleeting glimpse of perhaps one individual!

We would like to thank everyone who joined us offshore today - we had a few participants who were visiting the waters offshore of Cape Hatteras for the first time and our ocean showed well for them!  Thank you also to Peter Flood, Lev Frid, Nate Swick, and Seabird McKeon for helping us lead the trip and spot the birds!  A big thanks to Peter also for providing photos for the blog post today!  We are full tomorrow, but still have space on Friday's trip...!

Trip List for May 25, 2016
Black-capped Petrel  20
Cory's Shearwater  47
Sooty Shearwater  2
Audubon's Shearwater  34
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  71-76
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  2
Pomarine Jaeger  1

Common Tern  3

Bottlenose Dolphin  5

It was another perfect day for photographing Black-capped Petrels, like this white-faced individual
Or this dark-faced individual

An Atlantic Cory's (borealis), we did not see any birds that were candidates for the nominate species, Scopoli's, today.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Tuesday May 24, 2016 by Brian Patteson

We had westerly winds again today, which is not ideal for finding a wide variety of seabirds off Cape Hatteras. It’s not a problem for the more numerous species. You just don’t see as many Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (photo by Peter Flood) on a west wind as you would on a northeast wind,
but because there are so many, you still get to see a bunch. The same goes for Cory’s Shearwater, now that they have arrived. Black-capped Petrel is also reliable in these conditions, and we saw them well today in modest numbers (photo by Peter Flood).
We were just seeing these three species as we idled around in the slope waters for the first hour or two, so we decided to drift in hopes of attracting a rare Pterodroma or a different storm-petrel. The water was a nice cooler blend of Gulf Stream and slope water unlike the hot fast water that was here yesterday. As soon as we stopped, I saw people on the bow deck looking upward excitedly. Sure enough, a tropicbird was directly over the boat checking us out (photo by Peter Flood).
It was a subadult Red-billed Tropicbird, and it stayed around for several minutes and gave great photo ops. Kate threw out some squid heads and it did not partake, but a nice bull dolphin (mahi mahi) showed up to scarf them up. But the highlight of the drift for some of us was the appearance of a pod of Clymene Dolphins (photo by Lev Frid).
This is a scarce species that relatively few people have ever seen, and it is a very attractive and acrobatic animal. It is not something that we see every year, so we spent some time with them bow riding until they became disinterested. Farther out the water got even cooler and greener, and we gave up our search for a current edge about 35 miles out. The inshore tack to the shelf was pretty quiet, but when we got to the edge of the Gulf Stream in about 30 fathoms there was a nice color change with dozens of Cory’s Shearwaters (photo by Peter Flood),
and several Red-necked Phalaropes. We got some great photo ops with the phalaropes, which were in high plumage (photo by Lev Frid).
The wind is now southwest as I write this, and that is preferable to west or northwest, so I am looking forward to seeing what we can scrounge up before we get some easterlies again later this week.

Trip List for May 24, 2016
Black-capped Petrel  16
Cory's Shearwater  112
Audubon's Shearwater  1
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  98
Red-billed Tropicbird  1
Red-necked Phalarope  14

Laughing Gull  2
Common Tern  1

Clymene Dolphin  25-30
Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore)  2

A big thank you to Lev Frid & Peter Flood for helping us lead the trips so far this spring & for working so hard to keep us in the photos!  A few more photos from today's trip below...

First, the tropicbird...!  (top photo by Lev Frid, bottom by Peter Flood)
One more photo of the Clymene Dolphins (by Peter Flood)
Our phalaropes in flight (by Peter Flood)
It was a good day for photographing Wilson's Storm-Petrels! (by Peter Flood)
& also for photographing flyingfish - Atlantic Patchwing (by Peter Flood)
This mahi mahi looks like it might be lucky to be alive!  It was one of the group that came in to the boat to feed on some squid (by Peter Flood)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Monday May 23, 2016 by Brian Patteson

A couple of days ago the forecast did not look so good for today, but it turned out to be a nice day. Winds were northwest, so the ride out was easy. Cory’s Shearwaters were even more numerous than yesterday, and we had superb looks close to the boat to start the day (photo by Peter Flood). 
It was also a great day for Black-capped Petrels, with the lots of birds coming close to the boat in nice light (photo by Peter Flood).
Around 0918 I spotted a Fea’s Petrel and it made a nice pass down the port side of the boat. This was our first Fea’s for 2016 (photo by Peter Flood).
We did not find any Trindade Petrels today, but in my experience Fea’s is more likely than Trindade when the wind comes from the northwest.  Westerlies are usually not much good for jaegers, but we did scrap out a few Poms, including one that followed us for hours (photo by Peter Flood). 
Diversity was a bit lower today, but we had some high quality looks at most of what we saw.  I think diversity will pick up again in a couple of days when the winds shift around. Hopefully the southerlies will bring up some more Audubon’s Shearwaters and Bridled Terns, and easterly flow to our south will get some more Sooty Shearwaters and jaegers headed our way.  And if we put our time in hopefully there will be some surprises too. Every year is different and there is a lot more to come this spring. Thanks again to Kate Sutherland, Peter Flood and Lev Frid for leading and spotting birds today.

Trip List for May 23, 2016
Fea's Petrel  1
Black-capped Petrel  26-28
Pterodroma sp  1
Cory's Shearwater  109-119
Sooty Shearwater  2
Audubon's Shearwater  1
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  132-142
Oceanodroma sp.  1
Black Tern  2
Arctic Tern  1
Pomarine Jaeger  4

Common Loon  4
Red-throated Loon  2
Laughing Gull  2
Common Tern  1
Barn Swallow  3

A few more photos of the Fea's Petrel!  It flew by in the glare making it difficult to capture, but Lev Frid (top, dorsal photo) & Peter Flood (bottom two photos) seemed to do quite well!
Cory's Shearwaters were out there in numbers today!  (photo by Peter Flood)
The number of Wilson's, on the other hand, was a bit lower than we have seen on the last two trips (photo by Peter Flood)
A couple more photos of our very attentive Pomarine Jaeger (by Peter Flood)
There were some nice opportunities to photograph flyingfish today as well!  They were really flying!  (Atlantic Patchwing below photographed by Peter Flood)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sunday May 22, 2016 by Brian Patteson

After staying ashore for yesterday’s nasty southeaster, we were eager to get back out to the Gulf Stream and see what had changed with the passage of the low pressure system. It was cool and cloudy, and when we got to the ocean there was about a four foot swell rolling into the inlet. The wind was light from the north. When we got out to the edge of the continental shelf, it was obvious that things had changed. Instead of jaegers we found several Cory’s Shearwaters. We had only seen four Cory’s on our trip two days before, and it was not long before we had four Cory’s in view at the same time (photo below of a nominate Cory's, also known as Scopoli's, by Peter Flood). 
We slowed down and made a slow tack out to the slope waters. There we found good numbers of Black-capped Petrels and our first Band-rumped Storm-Petrel of the season.  There were also good numbers of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and the occasional Audubon’s Shearwater. We did not find much Sargassum, but when we found a faint streak near a diffuse temperature break we slowed down to check it out, hoping to find some flotsam and maybe a Bridled Tern. What we found was a school of Mahi Mahi that came in to feed on our chum (photo by Lev Frid).
We had a box of Spanish Sardines in the cooler and they put on quite a show zipping around and competing for these handouts. While we were feeding these fish, a flock of Bridled Terns came by and made a nice pass by the starboard side (photo by Peter Flood).
These were our first Bridled Terns of the year, and it was good to get them on our second spring trip.  After the terns passed by we spent the next couple of hours zigzagging back and forth between 76 and 79 degree water. There was more wind and current out in the hot water and we did well with Black-capped Petrels and Cory’s coming in to our slick for good views and photo ops (Black-capped photo by Peter Flood).
Shortly after noon while we were in the warmest water, a dark morph Trindade Petrel flew in for good views (photo by Peter Flood).
Following that we made an inshore tack for a while. When we tacked back out to the hot water and rougher seas, we had another dark Trindade fly in and remain in view for a few minutes (photo by Peter Flood).
We also found a Leach’s Storm-Petrel nearby. On our final inshore tack, a Great Shearwater came in for the slick. This was another first for the season (photo by Peter Flood).
Back in close to the beach we saw a single Sooty Shearwater. Two days ago there had been several Sooties around a quite few jaegers, but there were no jaegers for us to today and just the one Sooty. Other highlights of the day included a Kemp’s Ridley, a Leatherback, and a few offshore Bottlenose Dolphin (photo by Lev Frid).
Thanks to Kate Sutherland, Peter Flood, and Lev Frid for leading and spotting today. Things ran like well oiled machine. As a footnote, this was 25 years to the day that Bob Ake led a small group of keen birders from Hatteras on a pelagic trip and Killian Mullarney came back with the first photos of Trindade Petrel off NC. This was the second documented record off the NC coast after Dave Lee’s 1978 specimen. This was an important discovery that got birders out looking more in the deep water and during the spring season off Cape Hatteras.

Trip List May 22, 2016

Trindade Petrel  2
Black-capped Petrel  36-39
Cory's Shearwater  68
Great Shearwater  1
Sooty Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  11
black & white shearwater sp  1
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  190-220
Leach's Storm-Petrel  1
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  1
Red-necked Phalarope  2
Bridled Tern  5
Black Tern  1
Arctic Tern  1
Sterna sp.  1

Common Loon  3
Northern Gannet  2

Bottlenose Dolphin  3
whale sp.  1
Kemp's Ridley Turtle  1
Leatherback  1

Photos below by Peter Flood:
First Trindade Petrel of the day:

Second individual!
& a sharp looking Black Tern!