Sunday, September 11, 2022

Shelf Birding - 3 & 4 September 2022 by Kate Sutherland

Easterly winds were with us on both trips this weekend with a bit of north added to the mix on Sunday. This can be good for birds on the shelf as we head to the deep in search of Black-caps and storm-petrels! This set once again proved that late summer can be a good time to find nice feeding flocks on the shelf and less than 30 minutes from Hatteras Inlet on Saturday we had excellent views of a young Long-tailed Jaeger and another jaeger that looked to be a Parasitic! Another 30 minutes and we were showing everyone five species of shearwater in a nice flock, Manx was a nice treat plus we had good views of both Scopoli's, Cory's, Great, and Audubon's. Common and Black Terns were feeding over this group and we also had some Red-necked Phalaropes on the water in this area as well (Kate Sutherland).
A couple of Sooty and Bridled Terns rounded out the shelf list for Saturday morning. 

Once we reached the Gulf Stream birds were a bit more scarce, but we found our first Black-capped Petrels and Wilson's Storm-Petrels as we continued into deeper water, plus we saw more of the species we had earlier in the day. Interestingly just after noontime we saw a Bridled Tern perched on something odd looking...as we got closer we saw it was a dead Blue-winged Teal! (Kate Sutherland) 
A species that we do see way offshore at this time of year, but it was the first time we'd ever seen a dead one used as a perch by a tern! As we approached the shelf again in the afternoon a Sabine's Gull flew up behind us and overhead, continuing on away from us ahead of the boat - WOW - two weekends in a row and three sightings. Not bad for this species here offshore from Hatteras! (Record shot by Kate Sutherland) 
Sunday morning we found that the hot, fast waters of the Gulf Stream had pushed in overnight and were up on the shelf. This can be a difficult condition for everything, tough for fishing and tough for birding, even on an easterly wind. But before we reached the current we had some nice feeding flocks right in with the fishing fleet and got some good views of Cory's / Scopoli's, Atlantic Cory's, and Great Shearwaters plus Common and Black Terns (Ed Corey)
- and we even had a nice look at a Pomarine Jaeger! A pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins were feeding under the shearwaters and terns and a few of these came in to check us out under the bow pulpit. We continued offshore into the river moving northeast and slowly turned up more of our target species like Bridled Tern, Black-capped Petrel, and Wilson's Storm-Petrel. Some of the awesome things we found out in the deep were a Long-tailed Jaeger sitting near a float that gave us all good views (Kate Sutherland),
and a flock of 11 Black-capped Petrels on the water that allowed us to approach them closely, for Black-caps, that is! (Kate Sutherland) 
This was the largest group of Black-cappeds we found over the two day set. A couple of Sooty Terns and a dark Pomarine Jaeger rounded out our time offshore and we picked up to head to the north where some boats were reporting birds along a rip. This was near the Diamond Shoals Light Tower, decommissioned but still standing, and we found a beautiful color change where the warmer water butted up against some cooler water forming a nice condition for some food to aggregate...meaning also a good place for some hungry birds to aggregate! Red-necked Phalaropes were in the area in addition to a number of Sooty and Bridled Terns. The only Audubon's Shearwaters we found were also along this rip. (Ed Corey) 
Overall we had a very successful couple of trips! I wish we could have had more people join us out there, but we thank those who did and also thank our leaders, Ed Corey and Jacob Farmer, for helping everyone get on the birds we did see! We had to cancel our September 10 (11) trip due to swell from Hurricane Earl, but we'll be back at it on the 24th of the month. Hope to see some of you then :)

Species List for 3 / 4 September 2022

Pelagic Species: 
Black-capped Petrel - 7 to 8 / 27
Scopoli's Shearwater - 8 / 7
Atlantic Cory's Shearwater - 7 / 4
Cory's / Scopoli's - 38 to 39 / 102 to 103
Great Shearwater - 48 / 75
Manx Shearwater - 2 / 0
Audubon's Shearwater - 11 to 14 / 18 to 20
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 17 to 18 / 16 to 17
Red-necked Phalarope - 26 / 42
Red Red-necked Phalarope - 0 / 1
Sabine's Gull - 1 / 0
Sooty Tern - 5 / 15
Bridled Tern - 8 to 9 / 13
Sooty / Bridled Tern - 5 / 0
Pomarine Jaeger - 0 / 2
Long-tailed Jaeger - 1 / 1
jaeger species - 1 likely Parasitic Jaeger / 0

Other Species:
Laughing Gull - 0 / 1
Common Tern - 268 / 171
Sterna species - 0 / 1 possible Roseate Tern
Black Tern - 14 / 83
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins - 0 / 12 to 15
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin - 14 to 17 / 0
Loggerhead Turtle - 0 / 1

And as usual a few more images from the weekend!
Black-capped Petrel from Saturday - at least one made a nice pass! (Kate Sutherland)
Another shot of the birds that we found on the water taking off on Sunday (Kate Sutherland)
Saturday morning we had some really nice feeding behavior! Following are a few images from that. First one that shows the Common Terns above with a Cory's (left) and Scopoli's (right) feeding, followed by one with some Great Shearwaters with food. (Kate Sutherland). 
Awesome capture of one of the Common Terns (Ed Corey)
We had good views of Scopoli's (2), Greats (also 2 images), and Audubon's here as well as the phalaropes pictured above in the blog! (Kate Sutherland)
Wilson's Storm-Petrels were a challenge, but I did manage to capture at least one on Saturday! (Kate Sutherland)
In contrast to some other weekends, Bridled Terns were much more obliging and even more numerous for this set. Like this juvenile bird by Ed Corey, followed by another one by Kate Sutherland.
We also had some nice encounters with adults, like the one perched on the teal, and this one perched on some flotsam. (Kate Sutherland)
Or this one with some food for its chick! (Kate Sutherland)
A couple images of the Long-tailed Jaeger on Sunday (Kate Sutherland)
Plus a Cory's / Scopoli's with the Diamond Shoals Light Tower in the background from Sunday (Kate Sutherland)
One of the offshore, or pelagic, Bottlenose Dolphins we saw on Saturday by Ed Corey
A cool look at a Tripletail next to a float we found on Sunday! (Kate Sutherland)
And to wrap it up a couple of flyingfish images - one of what we call "grasshoppers" or "Sargassum flyingfish" (likely juveniles of known species) and some Sailfin Flyingfish - also known as Odd Spot Midgets (SNGH). (both by Kate Sutherland)

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Summer Seabirds - 26, 27, 28 August by Kate Sutherland

Our last three day set of the season went off without a hitch! It was nice to run our summer trips without interruption this year and while last weekend we had some abnormal conditions, this weekend had closer to normal Gulf Stream current on all three trips and we finally saw some nice conditions with Sargassum...which also means flotsam for Bridled Terns to use for perching! 
And food for many of the seabirds we find offshore, notably the Audubon's is a Sargassum specialist, but these Cory's / Scopoli's Shearwaters were pretty excited about it as well! 
While I never glimpsed any of the prey items they were feeding on, we did have a number of opportunities to see the aerialist pursuits of the Sooty and Bridled Terns. Small, cryptically colored fishes were under a number of dense Sargassum patches we passed on a beautiful line on Sunday. Here is a series showing how the tern picked up more than it bargained for and then drops everything to swoop back down and grab just the fish! 
Unfortunately for this individual, it was not quite quick enough to recapture its prey and the fish went back to hiding in the Sargassum! While Sooty Terns were around with their young last weekend, Bridled Terns were a bit harder to come by due to the lack of Sargassum and flotsam. Young Sooty Terns will sit on the water to be fed by their parents, while the young Bridled Terns need a perch. This weekend was certainly the best we've had for viewing and photographing Bridled Terns this year! Like this juvenile that flushed from a piece of plywood where it had been perched with a parent.
Or this year old individual that was very curious about our vessel and spent some time chasing a Wilson's Storm-Petrel in the slick that had some food!
Sooty Terns were also super cooperative over the three day set and we had wonderful opportunities to photograph both adults and their attending young.
The bird that stole the show this weekend, however, was not a tubenose or a tern, but a gull! This gorgeous adult Sabine's Gull came in high in the glare over the bow on Saturday where leader Sarah Toner got on it right away and put out the shout! Everyone had a chance to see it fairly close to the boat before a Black-capped Petrel escorted it away. Who knows what bugged the Black-cap about this bird, it was small and definitely not a threat...though it did land in the slick for a few minutes and may have been eating some food the petrel didn't approve of!
On Sunday we had another sighting with a flock of Sooty Terns, this one was a bit more distant, but it was also an adult Sabine's Gull that was seen by everyone aboard, albeit briefly. 
Jaegers were also a treat over the weekend with Long-tailed Jaeger seen on all three trips, juvenile birds on Friday and Saturday then a nice one year old bird on Sunday who put on a nice show chasing Sooty Terns and Audubon's Shearwaters! 
Friday's trip found all three species, with really nice views of young Parasitic and Long-tailed Jaegers. The Pomarine was one of the first birds of the day in the morning rain. 
Black-capped Petrels were seen well on Friday and Saturday with Sunday finding just nine individuals, though easterly winds are not always the best for finding our Gulf Stream specialty. We were excited to have really nice examples of both white-faced and black-faced birds over the weekend, as the images below illustrate! 
The expected summer shearwater species were out there in good numbers and we had a Manx zip across the bow Friday morning then a Sooty Shearwater fly by at a distance on Sunday. Otherwise, as you can see from the images below, we had both Cory's and Scopoli's, cooperative Greats, and some really cooperative (and numerous) Audubon's! 
August is when our storm-petrels get a bit scarce. We consider ourselves very lucky to see Band-rumped Storm-Petrels after about the 25th of August so we were in luck to get two on the 26th and one on the 27th! Sunday we didn't find any at all... One of the birds we saw Friday plopped down on the water just ahead of the boat and we were able to get everyone positioned on that side in time to see it on the water and to see it take off! What a treat!! 
Wilson's are beginning to slow down as well and while we had over 30 on Friday's trip, thee next two days found less than 20 each day. They did come by for us to get photos, however, so honestly? No complaints! 
As we move into the fall Red-necked Phalaropes are beginning to show up and Sunday we tallied almost 100 individuals in the shelf waters! I only captured some record shots, but maybe we'll have better luck this coming weekend if the conditions are right!

Thank you so much to everyone who joined us and made these trips some of the best attended of the summer! While we were sorry that George Armistead and Liam Heart of Hillstar Nature Tours couldn't join us to help lead the trips (due to illness), we are incredibly thankful to Daniel Irons, Sarah Toner, and Paul Laurent for being willing to help out on short notice! All of the photos for the post this time are mine, scroll down for a few more images from the three day set. 
~Kate Sutherland

Species List for 26 / 27 / 28 August 2022
Pelagic Species: 
Black-capped Petrel - 40 / 53 to 58 / 9
Scopoli's Shearwater - 8 / 6 / 17
Atlantic Cory's Shearwater - 10 / 5 / 1
Cory's / Scopoli's - 59 to 67 / 37 / 130
Great Shearwater - 32 to 35 / 11 / 15 to 16
Sooty Shearwater - 0 / 0 / 1
Manx Shearwater - 1 / 0 / 0
Audubon's Shearwater - 18 / 10 / 53 to 55
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 31 to 32 / 17 to 18 / 13 to 15
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 2 / 1 / 0
Red-necked Phalarope - 0 / 4 / 99
Sabine's Gull - 0 / 1 adult / 1 adult
Sooty Tern - 104 / 26 / 56
Bridled Tern - 8 / 4 / 24
Sooty / Bridled Tern - 2 / 9 / 9
Pomarine Jaeger - 1 / 0 / 0
Parasitic Jaeger - 1 / 0 / 0
Long-tailed Jaeger - 1 / 1 / 1
Other Species:
Blue-winged Teal - 0 / 0 / 2
Laughing Gull - 0 / 0 / 2
Royal Tern - 3 / 3 / 0
Common Tern - 19 / 41 / 19
Sterna species - 0 / 6 / 0
Black Tern - 4 / 14 / 14
Semipalmated Plover - 2 / 0 / 0
Least Sandpiper - 1 / 0 / 0
Semipalmated Sandpiper - 0 / 2 / 0
peep species - 1 / 0 / 1
shorebird species - 0 / 1 / 0
Prothonotary Warbler - 2 / 0 / 0
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin - 10 / 0 / 20 to 22
Coastal Bottlenose Dolphin - 2 / 0 / 0 
sea turtle species - 1 / 0 / 0
Scalloped or Carolina Hammerhead - 1 / 1 / 0
Sailfish - 0 / 3 seen / 0
Wahoo - 1 caught / 1 caught / 1 caught
Monarch - 0 / 1 / 0
A number of small moths / butterflies were also seen offshore

One more of the Black-capped Petrel & the Sabine's Gull from Saturday's trip!
When I went through my photos I saw that we had a sea turtle, likely a young Loggerhead, near the board that was a perch for a young Bridled Tern and its parent on Friday! You can see the back of it here to the left of the board and the tip of a flipper, then a shot showing gorgeous detail on the adult as it took off with the out of focus flipper (easily identified as a sea turtle!) nearby!
Another nice image of a Bridled Tern looking inquisitively at us and then taking off!
Black-capped Petrels put on a nice show for us all weekend, but especially on Friday & Saturday's trips when they came in well to feed!
Another white-faced individual from Friday.
Contrasting with the darker cap of this individual which is more typical of the birds we see at this time of year.
Some of the Scopoli's that we saw over the set
And Atlantic Cory's (borealis)
Another image of our Long-tailed Jaeger from Sunday's trip