Sunday, September 3, 2017

Saturday September 2, 2017 - by Kate Sutherland

Friday night into Saturday morning there was a line of storms that moved east across the state, pushing offshore just around 4 in the morning yesterday.  The rain was light when our participants began to show up behind the boat in the morning, but many of them had travelled through this weather and then had restless nights with the thunderstorms, as did Brian & myself!  You just never know what you will get with the seabirds after an event like this, the birds could be pushed offshore by the storms, or when they are widespread, the birds are spending a lot of time moving around and are hungry, so more responsive to the food we offer them in the chum.  Luckily for us, the latter was the case for yesterday's trip!  We had an excellent showing of Black-capped Petrels
with about sixty individuals over the course of the day, and many of these birds came in to feed in the slick, dropping down to the water to show off their pink and black feet - something not everyone who comes offshore with us gets to see!
We also found a feeding flock offshore early in the the day that, when we relocated it, on the water it held almost twenty Black-cappeds with some shearwaters and Wilson's!  Shearwaters were in attendance with four species feeding behind the boat at one point, though this weekend the Cory's were the dominant species versus Great Shearwaters last weekend.  Again, the majority of the Cory's we had in the slick looked to be the nominate type, or Scopoli's Shearwaters, like we had a few weeks ago.
Great Shearwaters also followed, calling and feeding with the Cory's, and we had a few juvenile Audubon's Shearwaters who followed us for long periods as well.  Around 1230 one of our passengers yelled, "Kate!  What is this?  A Sooty Shearwater??!"
Sure enough, a Sooty Shearwater flew in to our feeding flock and made sure to get some food as well!  This bird stayed with us for awhile and must have been hanging around, because it showed up again when we stopped for a chum drift over an hour later!  Many of the birds were diving completely under the water to feed, including the Wilson's Storm-Petrels!  It was quite a show!  Meanwhile, above, we had a nice flight of Sooty Terns with groups of up to nine flying over at once.
Many of these birds were adult and juvenile pairs.  Bridled Terns were not as easy to come by, though we did turn up one young bird without its attendant parent that flew directly away from us, and another adult individual that flew over us and away down the slick.  Late summer is a good time to see jaegers and I was a little worried we might not cross paths with any in spite of the good shearwater numbers out there.  It wasn't until after 2 that  a Long-tailed Jaeger flew by the boat and into the slick!  As we circled back we saw there were two, a juvenile and a subadult bird.  After we crossed back onto the shelf, we had another group of shearwaters inshore and were treated to nice views of a Pomarine Jaeger, that looked to be a first summer individual!  This bird attacked an Audubon's Shearwater right next to the boat,
but the shearwater outsmarted it, diving underwater and swimming some distance away before surfacing.  A very narrow escape for the little Audubon's, they have to learn quickly out here!

This was our last scheduled trip for the summer and it was an excellent one with good looks at everything (except for the uncooperative Bridled Terns...) and a bonus species in the Sooty Shearwater!  Thank you to everyone who joined us, and thanks to Jeff Lemons for helping Brian and I lead the trip!  All photos today are by me, Kate Sutherland.

September 2, 2017 Trip List
Black-capped Petrel  57-60
Cory's Shearwater  104 *at least 20 or 25 of these were Scopoli's
Great Shearwater  23
Sooty Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  26
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  80-85
Sooty Tern  40-43
Bridled Tern  2
Onychoprion sp.  1
Pomarine Jaeger  1
Long-tailed Jaeger  2
jaeger sp.  1

Black Tern  2
shorebird sp.  3

Bottlenose Dolphin  17-22
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  8-10

Black-capped Petrel flying behind an Audubon's Shearwater in the slick
Dorsal view of a Black-capped Petrel
Black-capped with the dramatic backdrop of a frontal line offshore!  These squalls can provide some nice wind for seabirds!  Black-cappeds especially take advantage of the breeze along these fronts.
Cory's Shearwater - this individual was one of the nominate types, or Scopoli's Shearwater
Great Shearwater
Audubon's Shearwater
Another view of the Sooty Tern showing the dark underprimaries in addition to the reduced white in the forehead.
A couple images of the Pomarine Jaeger, on the water with Cory's Shearwaters, and in flight.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

August 25 & 26, 2017 - by Kate Sutherland

This year has not been the most cooperative in terms of weather, so as we had three trips approaching that were full, Brian and I were following the marine forecast closely.  It was going to be a little atypical for late summer, northeasterly winds, but that was good if it was not going to blow too hard!  Needless to say the forecasters were a little off and what we found on Friday offshore was a bit more wind than they called for, as it was for Saturday, but the birds were flying and we had an awesome showing over the two days we made it out there with a total of 12 pelagic species encountered!
Black-capped Petrels were around in good numbers on both days, but more so on Friday flying right in behind the boat to feed in the slick next to the Great and Cory's Shearwaters!  It was an amazing show, and so nice to see them performing in their element: wind! (photo by Peter Flood)
Everyone aboard had time to study the Cory's and Great Shearwaters flying around the boat and feeding as well, so closely at times that binoculars were not necessary to see the differences in bill color or plumage characteristics.  We did have some of the nominate Cory's, or Scopoli's Shearwaters on both trips, but Saturday's birds were more of the "textbook type" with the nice markings on the underprimaries. (photo by Kyle Kittelberger)
Audubon's Shearwaters were out there but not quite as common as the larger shearwaters, and as is typically the case when we encounter large seas, they can be a little tough to get an eye on!  We did have some come in to the slick each day so everyone had a chance for a nice look at one of these small black and white shearwaters if they were patient! (photo by Lucas Bobay)
I was excited to see how many Wilson's Storm-Petrels we were able to turn up as this is the time of year when they begin to thin out, but when we get the north and easterly winds like this, it can be good for them, and they did not disappoint!  Late August is also when the Band-rumped Storm-Petrel numbers begin to wane.  We only had a glimpse of one on Friday that did not stick around...but Saturday we were treated to some excellent views, including one that showed up in the slick just 15 miles off the beach! (photo by Peter Flood)
Friday we had our first juvenile tropical terns of the season and good looks at some adults as well, both Bridled and Sooty Terns, but for some reason on Saturday we were unable to turn up any close terns. (photo of juvie Sooty Tern by Lucas Bobay, juvie Bridled Tern by Kate Sutherland)
Okay, now for the unexpected visitors!  Friday we had a South Polar Skua fly right in to the boat, (photo by Lucas Bobay)
circle us, and then stay with us for awhile in the slick much to the dismay of our Black-capped Petrels!  It was amazing to watch a Black-capped pursue that skua in an attempt to chase it off!  A little over thirty minutes later a Fea's Petrel appeared in the slick behind us and flew right in, up the port side and then circled back to check out some extra chum I put out for it! (photo by Peter Flood)
 Everyone was able to get on the bird and get some nice views as it flew around with Black-capped Petrels and shearwaters, then it also took on the issue of the South Polar Skua!  Together with a Black-capped, the Fea's was hot on the skua's tail, just in case it had decided it was welcome in the area after the initial escort over 30 minutes earlier! (see last photo in post...!)
Then, on Saturday the shout went out just after 11 - "bird up high!!!" and sure enough, our first White-tailed Tropicbird of the year flew right to the boat, up high, checked us out, and headed on its way! (photo by Peter Flood)
Not before being counted as #700 for one of our salty crew, Gail Morris!  Congrats again Gail!  Overall it was an awesome set of trips, as you can tell, the weather did get us for Sunday, but we will be out there again next weekend for one more trip this summer, September 2, and we have some space left on that trip!
A huge thank you to everyone who joined us for these trips, we couldn't do it without you!  And a huge thank you as well to our leaders who helped Brian and I, Kyle Kittelberger, Peter Flood, and Lucas Bobay - thanks as well to them for sharing their photos for the blog!

Trip Lists August 25 / 26
Fea's Petrel  1 / 0
Black-capped Petrel  47 / 26
Cory's Shearwater  68 / 35 (*at least 5 Scopoli's Shearwaters each day, likely more)
Great Shearwater  100-105 / 74
Audubon's Shearwater  31 / 31
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  150 / 180
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  1 / 3-4
White-tailed Tropicbird  0 / 1
Sooty Tern  4 / 1
Bridled Tern  6 / 0
Onychoprion sp.  3 / 2
South Polar Skua  1 / 0
Long-tailed Jaeger  0 / 1
jaeger sp.  1 / 0

peep sp.  1 / 1

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  0 / 8
Bottlenose Dolphin  12 / 7-10

A couple more photos of the Fea's Petrel top by Kyle Kittelberger, bottom by Peter Flood
Black-capped Petrel by Peter Flood
Another shot of a Scopoli's Shearwater (Peter Flood)
Great Shearwater (Peter Flood)
Another shot of an Audubon's Shearwater (Peter Flood)
Adult Sooty Tern (Peter Flood)
A couple more images of the South Polar Skua!  (top by Kyle Kittelberger, bottom by Peter Flood)
& I almost forgot the South Polar Skua / Fea's Petrel photo!  by Peter Flood.....

Sunday, August 13, 2017

August 11 & 12, 2017 by Kate Sutherland

The weather leading up to Friday's trip looked promising for good seabirding, so we headed offshore hoping to find something different after our unexpected cancellations last weekend (due to an evacuation of visitors to Hatteras Island because of a power outage, not weather!).  Thankfully we were not disappointed and slowed to look at Audubon's Shearwaters and Red-necked Phalaropes in calm seas before 0700!  There was a little bit of rain nearshore that we had to get through before we slowed down at the shelf break, but right off the bat we had some nice birds!  Our first large storm-petrel was a Leach's (photo by Kate Sutherland)
followed soon after by a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel for comparison!  Just before 0930 the bird of the weekend flew right up the slick, a dark Trindade Petrel!!!  It flew by the stern and away, circling back to check out the extra chum I put out for it and making sure that everyone had excellent views of this awesome gadfly petrel! (photo by Brian Patteson)
We ended up with a nice list for the day on Friday and had good views of everything we saw with a couple close passes by some Sooty Terns later in the day.  Then we were able to add a few more species to the list on Saturday's trip!  The weather was a bit more volatile Saturday with more wind in the morning and some more scattered squalls offshore, but the birds were out there and we had some incredible species and close views again!  Both trips offered good looks at Black-capped Petrels (photo by Kate Sutherland)
and our other Gulf Stream specialties like Audubon's Shearwaters and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels.  We also had nice numbers of Cory's and Great Shearwaters feeding in the slick and found some flocks feeding on Saturday's trip with Sooty Terns circling and calling!  Saturday we also turned up a Manx Shearwater that sat patiently on the water for us to show to people before taking off (photo by Kyle Kittelberger)
with an Audubon's, and we had some Bridled Terns fly right in to the boat so that everyone who joined us for both trips was able to get a nice look at both species of tropical tern!  (first summer Bridled Tern below by Kate Sutherland)
A Brown Booby was spotted on Saturday that flew by the boat at a distance, I myself did not get on it, but many people did, and it was a nice species to add to the list for the weekend!!  The highlight for me over the two day set was the nominate Cory's Shearwaters, or Scopoli's, that we had feeding in the chum!  Both days we had a nice following of shearwaters and storm-petrels behind us, but on Saturday we had between 25-35 Cory's following the boat at once!  Looking back and observing these birds, many of them were the smaller, more delicate subspecies Calonectris diomedea diomedea. (photo by Kate Sutherland)
While there is still a lot to be learned about separating the two types of Cory's at sea, it seems that we see the Atlantic type, Calonectris diomedea borealis,  closer to shore and see more of the Mediterranean type out in the Gulf Stream.  It seems the Scopoli's are less wary of boats and come to feed in the chum more readily than other Cory's, but we usually just have a handful of them ever following the boat, so this was quite a spectacle!  We had good numbers of Wilson's Storm-Petrels both days, really nice views of Great Shearwaters, basically just a really good couple of days offshore with 13 pelagic species!
Thanks to everyone who joined us and a big thanks to Kyle Kittelberger, Jeff Lemons, and Ed Corey for helping Brian & I lead the trips!  A big thank you to Kyle for also letting us use some of his photos here!

Trip Lists Aug 11 / 12
Trindade Petrel  1 / 0
Black-capped Petrel  25 / 26-27
Cory's Shearwater  55 / 105-115 *at least 15 nominate Cory's on the 11th & 35 on the 12th
Great Shearwater  38 / 60
Manx Shearwater  0 / 1
Audubon's Shearwater  81 / 68
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  100-125 / 145-175
Leach's Storm-Petrel  1 / 0
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  8-10 / 4
Brown Booby  0 / 1
Red-necked Phalarope  13 / 29
Sooty Tern  7 / 23-24
Bridled Tern  0 / 5

peep sp.  0 / 3

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  7-8 / 4

Ventral shot of the Trindade Petrel by Kyle Kittelberger
Black-capped Petrel by Kyle Kittelberger
A few more images of nominate type Cory's, or Scopoli's Shearwaters, from behind the boat by Kate Sutherland
An Atlantic type of Cory's Shearwater by Kate Sutherland
Great Shearwaters were quite cooperative!  Top photo by Kate Sutherland - bottom two by Kyle Kittelberger
Audubon's Shearwaters on the water by Kyle Kittelberger
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel by Kate Sutherland
Sooty Tern by Kyle Kittelberger
Compare this adult Bridled Tern to the Sooty Tern above, you can see the extensive white in the forehead and also the white in the underprimaries - by Kyle Kittelberger