Saturday, June 24, 2017

Friday June 23, 2017 - by Kate Sutherland

Two weeks is a long time without a seabirding trip and I'm always excited to get back out to the deeper water offshore here!  I rode along on a few fishing trips since our last outing and while it was nice, and we had some shearwaters and a couple of young Long-tailed Jaegers, I always am thinking about what is out past the shelf break, what the Black-capped Petrels are up to, and if the Band-rumpeds are out there like our last trip...  So I was really excited to see our participants Friday morning bright and early, all of us ready to get out there and see what we could find!  There has not been a good temperature map since about June 18th since our weather has been cloudy and unsettled, so we were not sure where the hot water was, but had seen some Sargassum on Thursday's fishing trip, and had an idea that with the southerly winds some of the birds associated with that habitat might show up.  It was just offshore of the shelf break that we found our first nice condition, and turned to follow an edge that had some Sargassum lined up along I stepped in the wheelhouse to check our location and water temp, someone shouted "terns!!  there are some terns back here!"  Sure enough, two adult Bridled Terns had flown right in to the boat and were hovering and making passes near the stern and then around the boat! (photo Kate Sutherland)
A tough act to follow right at the beginning of the day!  But as we worked our way offshore we were treated to close views of Cory's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters plus a few Wilson's Storm-Petrels began to follow in the fish oil slick.  Our first Black-capped Petrel was a distant one and we hoped to have a closer look as the day went on, but they were tough to see today and it was not until the winds picked up in the afternoon that we had some nice looks at these tropical Pterodromas flying by.  They were just not very hungry, so mostly checked out the slick and moved on.  Our shearwaters, on the other hand, were much more attentive in the slick and we had some hungry Great Shearwaters behind the boat for most of the afternoon, (photo Kate Sutherland)
diving and feeding on the fresh frozen fish we had to offer!  Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were not around like they were on our last trip, but at least we had some nice views of a couple that came to check out the slick.  Audubon's were around in good numbers and we had some close views of them foraging in the sargassum. (photo Brian Patteson)
At the end of the day we had two of the nominate type of Cory's, also known as Scopoli's Shearwater, feeding behind the boat.  Everyone was able to get good looks at this slightly smaller type of Cory's, and they were even cooperative in showing us the white in their underprimaries! (photo Kate Sutherland)
While we did not have any close looks at jaegers today, we did have a few distant individuals that flew by, with only one that looked to be identifiable as a Long-tailed.

Thank you so much to everyone who joined us today!  It was a great group and everyone was looking all day, making sure we didn't miss anything!  Our trip for Saturday was weathered out, but our next set of trips will be coming up on July 7 & 8!  Join us!

Trip List June 23, 2017
Black-capped Petrel  7
Cory's Shearwater  31 (2 of these were Scopoli's)
Great Shearwater  43-45
Audubon's Shearwater  40
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  29
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  2-3
Bridled Tern  2
Long-tailed Jaeger  1
jaeger sp.  2

A nice comparison of Cory's and Great Shearwaters head on, you can see the difference in the head color and bill color here (Kate Sutherland)
A few more photos of the Scopoli's Shearwaters from the end of the day, one showed more white in the underprimaries than the other (Kate Sutherland)
The dorsal view of one of these individuals (Kate Sutherland)
Another shot of one of the Bridled Terns (Kate Sutherland)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Saturday June 10, 2017 - by Kate Sutherland

Yesterday the Gulf Stream was off, with downcurrent, blended looking water, and really no current edges or "typical" habitat out there - but we found a Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel and fishing was off the charts for the first time this season - no complaints!  Today the skies were a bit clearer (sunrise by Kate Sutherland) 
and a satellite image of the sea surface temperature showed the hot water about 40 miles offshore, we actually found it a bit inshore of that since it can change rapidly, and it was quite different from Friday!  We had light westerly and southwesterly winds but swell from the southeast, who knew what we might be able to turn up?! The shearwaters were not inshore as they had been, but they are here, and we had awesome views of Cory's, Great, and Audubon's over the course of the day and were treated to up to six or seven young Greats in the slick squabbling and feeding on the chum. Photo by Sea McKeon 
Black-capped Petrels treated us to some incredible views, though we did not see as many as we saw earlier in the spring.  We picked up a few Wilson's Storm-Petrels, with the first Band-rumped winging in a little after 0900! Photo by Kate Sutherland 
They are here!  We had up to four at once feeding in the slick with the Wilson's and a couple that stayed with the boat for hours flying up to the stern of the boat, feeding, then flying out of the slick and to the back of the flock, working their way forward again and again much to the delight of those aboard who wanted a chance to study these dynamic stormies!  Over the two days this weekend we had both the molting Band-rumpeds, the Grant's type, and the smaller, fresh Band-rumpeds that could possibly be the summer breeding Madeiran type.  At one point on Friday one of each was flying together right in front of the boat, passing under the pulpit as Ned Brinkely shouted out to our participants to take note of the size difference.  Just about where we found the blue water edge today, we had the first Leach's Storm-Petrel join the slick and make a quick pass, a new species for the weekend and we saw at least one or two others before the day was over!  Sea McKeon had a kite that young spotter Sage Church had colored to look like a tropicbird - because just maybe...? Photo by Kate Sutherland 
While we were not lucky enough to lure one of those in, it did attract the attention of a young Bridled Tern who came right in to check that kite out about four or five times before heading away! Though we had a lot of eyes scanning, Brian spotted the birds of the day from the wheelhouse!  First the news of a large dark bird, a skua, flying about a mile and a half distant perked us all up around one in the afternoon, pursuit followed since we saw the bird flare up a few times, as if over some shearwaters, then it was gone.  On the water we hoped, and we were right!  There was a flock of shearwaters and storm-petrels on the water where we slowed and just beyond them sat the unmistakable dark form of a skua!  We were able to approach the bird and when it flushed, still a bit ahead of the boat, it came right at us, Photo by Brian Patteson
passing by and checking us out before flying directly to the shearwaters and showing us what they do best (see photos below)!  It was impressive!  Just moments later, Brian shouted out that there was a white bird circling above a ship ahead - as it flew in, excitement soared to find it was a first summer Arctic Tern! Photo by Brian Patteson 
Followed by another!  I put out a little extra chum and one of them flew right overhead to check it out.  Three new species for the weekend today, and we even found a lost Brown Pelican out there 28 miles from the inlet!  That brought us up to fifteen pelagic species for this two day set - pretty lucky for one Big Year birder who happened to be on the boat for both days!!  Good luck Yve Morrell, we enjoyed your company!

Thanks to everyone who joined us for these trips and a big thanks to Ned Brinkley & Sea McKeon for helping to lead both trips along with our young leaders, Chloe Walker and Sage Church!  Everyone worked together to make this an amazing set!  Crazy to think that the Swinhoe's was a bird that three of us aboard had seen before...

Trip List June 10, 2017
Black-capped Petrel  16-17
Cory's Shearwater  62
Great Shearwater  20
Sooty Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  62
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  82-92
Leach's Storm-Petrel  2-3
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  12-14
Arctic Tern  2
South Polar Skua  1

Brown Pelican  1

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  20-22
Bottlenose Dolphin  20+
White Marlin  1

Black-capped Petrel (Kate Sutherland)
A nice dark faced individual (Sea McKeon)
Another nice Great Shearwater capture from the stern (Sea McKeon)
Audubon's Shearwater (Sea McKeon)
A couple photos of Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - molting, probably Grant's type (Kate Sutherland)
The Bridled Tern that was attracted to the tropicbird kite! (Kate Sutherland)
The South Polar Skua (Brian Patteson)
& a few shots of the distant shearwater chase!  top by Sea McKeon and bottom photo of the skua turning back on the Cory's by Kate Sutherland
We also encountered some dolphins today - here an image of a Bottlenose Dolphin by Sea McKeon

Friday, June 9, 2017

June 9, 2017 - Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel!! by Seabird McKeon

Some days, the Gulf Stream runs like a cobalt river through the green Atlantic, with hard edges and defined boundaries.  Other days, the stream is more nebulous, overflowing its banks and mixing into the surrounding waters.  We never found edges today, feeling our way along by water temperature and the instincts of Brian and Kate.  And that strategy paid off.

Dropping to a jog well before the shelf-break, large numbers of Cory’s, Great, and Audubon’s shearwaters were feeding where the fishing fleet had set up shop for the day.  A small pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins confirmed that we were in mixed waters.  As we worked our way through the shearwaters, enjoying the newly abundant Great Shearwaters (photo by Kate Sutherland),
a couple of Bridled terns appeared above the horizon, allowing only brief views.  We worked our way east, started the slick, and started picking up Black-capped Petrels and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels. Kate spotted a Masked Booby flying high above the horizon.

As the day wore on, a few Band-rumped Storm-Petrels joined the mix, with good views of both larger individuals with heavy primary moult, and smaller ones in fresh plumage. (photo of a molting Band-rumped, but without an obvious gap in primaries by Kate Sutherland)
A pair of Offshore Bottlenosed Dolphin came to bow briefly before most people started to eat lunch and reapply sunscreen.  We seemed to be in birds all day, with a constant flow of larger shearwaters, and eventually had a crew of Great and at least one Sooty shearwater following the boat.  A Parasitic Jaeger chased down a Black-capped Petrel alongside the boat, and got people to the handrails, when the call came from the back of the boat “Larger storm-petrel in the Slick”.

Kate came over the radio: “Flying like a Leaches?” I could see the erratic wingbeat of the distinctly larger bird as it went through the Wilson’s, but could also hear the question mark hanging over her statement.  I looked for the chestnut carpal bars of Leaches’ and didn’t find them, they were buffy.  I looked at the rump of the bird as Ned Brinkley shouted “THERE IS NO WHITE!”  The white vanes of the primaries glinted in the afternoon sun.  The boat leapt into action as everyone realized that we were looking at a Swinhoe’s Storm-Petrel, with participants and spotters alike trying to get eyes on the bird. 

Swinhoe’s is primarily a Pacific species, but in recent years a very small colony appears to have established on the Selvagen islands North of the Canaries in the East Atlantic.  This is the 5th record for the US, and for North Carolina. (Record shot by Kate Sutherland)

The bird appeared and disappeared 3 times, returning to feed in the slick by dropping onto the water with the wings raised.  Brian and Kate fought to get the boat, slick, and participants aligned for maximal viewing, resulting in everyone getting to see this Mega. 

Thanks to everyone who joined us today!  It was an amazing bird filled day out there and we found a Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel!!!  What could be better?  Helping us today were Ned Brinkely, Sea McKeon, Chloe Walker, and Sage Church - thank you!  Thanks to Sea for writing the blog and thank you to Brian & Chloe for contributing a few photos!  -Kate Sutherland

Trip List June 9, 2017
Black-capped Petrel  22
Cory's Shearwater  300 (at least a couple of Scopoli's)
Great Shearwater  170
Sooty Shearwater  2-4
Audubon's Shearwater  101-110
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  50-60
Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel  1
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  6-8
Masked Booby  1
Bridled Tern  2
Common Tern  2
Pomarine Jaeger  1
Parasitic Jaeger  1
Barn Swallow  1

Short-finned Pilot Whale  20-25
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  12-14
Bottlenose Dolphin  4

A couple more record shots of the Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel by Kate Sutherland - it was not super close!  But at least we were able to get some photos and more importantly, everyone aboard got it in view!
Black-capped Petrel (Kate Sutherland)
Cory's Shearwater (Chloe Walker)
Cory's & Audubon's Shearwaters flying together (Brian Patteson)
We also saw a gorgeous Portuguese Man-of-War (Chloe Walker)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Pesky Pterodroma(s) from May 28 & 30, 2017 - by Brian Patteson

Gadfly petrels are some of the most variable looking birds you will encounter.  Look at a couple of dozen Black-capped Petrels and you will quickly see what I am talking about.  Late in the day on May 28 on our pelagic trip from Hatteras we encountered an odd looking bird.  It did not look quite right for a Black-capped Petrel, but it did not really fit well for Bermuda Petrel either.  It stayed in the chum slick long enough for most folks to see it and several photos were obtained. Following photos by Peter Flood
At the time, we tentatively identified it as an odd Black-capped Petrel because seen in direct comparison to Black-capped Petrels it did not seem much smaller.  Bermuda Petrels are generally noticeably smaller than Black-caps, and, while this bird had a hooded appearance beyond the smudging of most darker Black-caps, the tail looked too extensively pale to be a Cahow.  Photo by Peter Flood
The underwing was more like that of a Cahow, but looked even more extensively dark than any Cahows we have observed including dozens of live birds in Bermuda.  Photo by Steve Howell  
The tail was odd.  At a distance it looked mostly white, as in Black-capped Petrel, but inspection of photos revealed a gray tail like a Fea's Petrel.  Photo by Steve Howell 
The bill looked a bit heavy, but probably not too heavy for a big, male Cahow.  We subsequently encountered either the same bird or an identical looking individual about 10 miles away two days later, but the observation was brief and we only have a single photo for comparison.  Photo by Steve Howell  
Again the Fea's-like tail is striking, but the bird had a Cahow-like underwing.  The molt of the bird is not unlike that of a few Cahows that we have seen off Hatteras over the years, and the coloration could be the result of a bleaching by the sunlight like you see in first summer gulls.  But it's not a slam dunk Bermuda Petrel, and the fact that vagrant Cahows and vagrant Fea's have been captured in the Azores makes you wonder what is possible.
-Brian Patteson

 The Cahow Collection - Brian Patteson
all photos by Brian Patteson - 1998 & 2000 slides / 2014 digital
This May 1998 Cahow shows similar molt stage with extensively pale uppertail:
The same individual shows similar molt and gray looking hood:
Final photo of the May 1998 Cahow showing blacker looking hood and molt not unlike the mystery petrel:
Another Cahow from May 2000 with similar molt and pale uppertail:
The same May 2000 bird showing heavy looking bill:
Another Cahow from August 2014 showing a gray looking hood:
The same individual showing brownish upperparts: