Sunday, July 26, 2015

July 24 & 25, 2015

Last week leading up to Friday's trip, the weather forecast was awesome for the weekend: light winds from the east or southeast...but then by Thursday, it had all changed, as it often does here in Hatteras! A low pressure system was moving in and would bring us some storms and rain plus a shift to some strong, northeasterly winds.  Passengers boarded Friday morning after a nice rain storm and as Brian gave the pre departure briefing the rain began again.  This rain, and the clouds that held it, obscured the little bit of early morning light and we were forced to wait until we could safely maneuver in the channel before heading out!  We headed offshore in some howling winds as one by one the boats out fishing began heading home since the seas made it difficult for fishing and for the humans aboard!  We, on the other hand, were excited to have a good stiff wind to get the birds up and moving!  Our course and depth were dictated by the sea and weather conditions, but the birds came in well to the chum and we had awesome views of all of our visitors.  This photo of a Black-capped Petrel on Friday by Doug Gochfeld illustrates their dynamic flight style quite well:
Flyingfish were also getting some air on Friday and we saw at least five identifiable species over the course of the day.  One unlucky Sargassum Midget (photo by Doug Gochfeld) ended up aboard the Stormy Petrel II and did not make it back into the ocean:
We also saw Atlantic Patchwing, Rosy-veined Clearwing, Oddspot Midget, Atlantic Necromancer, and at least one Yellowtail Flyingfish!

Saturday the wind persisted, though more from the east, but was not nearly as strong and we made it farther offshore before slowing down.  No rain, few clouds, less wind, and lots of sun made it quite a different experience in the Gulf Stream, though we did find the same species of birds out there!  The Black-capped Petrel was definitely the star of both trips, they came in well to the chum and on Saturday we even had them feeding on shark liver right next to the boat like storm-petrels (photo by Tom Johnson) for almost 30 minutes!
Band-rumped Storm-Petrels also made some close passes by the stern (photo by Tom Johnson)
and we had some Leach's visit us in the slick each day, though numbers of Wilson's were a bit low.  Shearwaters were around each day, though they were easier to see on Friday! Running in on Saturday, Doug Gochfeld spotted a beehive not too far off so we ran over to check it out...and were rewarded with an immature Brown Booby in this feeding flock of about 85 shearwaters!  It was easy to pick out this sulid as it flew with the shearwaters, as can be seen in this photo by Doug Gochfeld:
The afternoon light was harsh, but Brian was able to maneuver the boat around as the booby sat on the water with an Audubon's Shearwater peering under mats of sargassum (photo by Doug Gochfeld, Great Shearwater is in the foreground). 
Overall a great couple of days offshore from Hatteras!  Thank you to everyone who joined us and to George Armistead, Bob Fogg, Tom Johnson, and Doug Gochfeld for helping us lead these trips and for contributing photos for this post!

Trip Lists July 24, 25
Black-capped Petrel  26, 30
Cory's Shearwater  41, 100
Great Shearwater  51-56, 24
Audubon's Shearwater  13, 7-8
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  43-48, 75-90
Leach's Storm-Petrel  2-3, 4
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  6, 17
Brown Booby  0, 1
Bottlenose Dolphin  0, 6-10
Spotted Dolphin  0, 3

Black-capped Petrel (Tom Johnson)
Black-capped Petrels - top photo from 7/24, bottom 7/25 (Doug Gochfeld)
Nice candidate for Scopoli's Shearwater (nominate Cory's) from Saturday's trip (Doug Gochfeld)
An Audubon's Shearwater from Friday's trip (Doug Gochfeld)
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (Tom Johnson)
 Different individual (Doug Gochfeld)
& yes, some Brown Booby shots!  Here seen flying ahead of a Great Shearwater
& sitting on the water (both by Doug Gochfeld)
a nice ventral view
 & side view on the water (both by Tom Johnson)
Oddspot Midgets were seen each day in fairly large numbers! (Doug Gochfeld)
Atlantic Patchwings were also quite numerous on both trips, though photos may have been easier to take on Saturday! (Doug Gochfeld)
& finally, two of our handsome leaders hard at work on Friday morning - thanks for the photo Doug! George Armistead (l) & Tom Johnson (r)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Saturday July 11, 2015 - Discovery Series

Saturday's weather was perfect for running the trip on the "little boat", our 31' BHM the F/V Skua!  There was enough southeasterly wind to get the birds moving and to keep us fairly cool on a hot, sunny day in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.  We had a nice ride offshore to the shelf edge with some Atlantic Patchwings to keep us company, but not many birds.  Earlier in the week the fast moving Gulf Stream current was pushed close inshore...for today's trip it had moved back off a bit, giving us a better condition for seabirding.  We slowed along a sargassum line that a few boats were fishing to search for a Bridled Tern or some Audubon's Shearwaters, and while tropical terns did not show, the Audubon's certainly did!  We checked out a handful here and then moved on to the deeper waters at the edge of the Continental Shelf in search of our specialty bird, the Black-capped Petrel, and its' seasonal warm water companion, the Band-rumped Storm-Petrel.
Slowing down a little after 0830 we began to gather some Wilson's Storm-Petrels in the slick and had some closer looks at Cory's & Audubon's Shearwaters.  Black-capped Petrels (photo above by Brian Patteson) followed shortly after, and they came in quite well to the boat.  Most of the individuals seen were the dark-faced type, but we did have at least one white-faced bird visit over the course of the day.  Band-rumped Storm-Petrels began to appear in the slick around the same time, and for the rest of the day we had at least one following us most of the time!  (photo by Kate Sutherland)
I love how these birds behave and enjoy watching them in the slick with the Wilson's, I love it even more when we have a keen group of birders who enjoy it as much as I do! Time was invested watching the Band-rumpeds in the distance on the slick with binoculars and then switching to the naked eye (and camera) as they darted around the Wilson's close to the stern!

1200 found us near some birds feeding over Skipjack Tuna and we spent over an hour following this small flock around, watching in amazement as small tunas leaped out of the water and Audubon's Shearwaters caught Sargassum Midgets in midair!  Sargassum was everywhere and the flock we found consisted mostly of Audubon's Shearwaters! This was where we finally had close views of Great Shearwater (two pictured below with an Audubon's - Kate Sutherland) and the Cory's (both types), plus a Black-capped Petrel or two put in an appearance!
But the Audubon's were the stars of the show - they were calling and diving to feed on small fish pushed towards the surface by the tuna in addition to having their usual buffet in the sargassum (photo below by Kate Sutherland).
I imagine that there was just too little wind for some of the larger shearwaters to find and easily fly in to feed with this group.  It was overall an amazing and bird filled day! Thanks to Emmanuel, Jeff, Mike, & Wendy for joining us and making the trip possible!

Black-capped Petrel  22
Cory's Shearwater  89
Great Shearwater  7
Manx Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  54-59
small black & white shearwater  1
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  80-120
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  10
Oceanodroma sp  3

Cory's Shearwater taking off (KS)
A nice size comparison!  Audubon's Shearwater (L) & Cory's Shearwater behind some Skipjacks (KS)
Audubon's Shearwater - we saw some of the birds that fledged this year! (KS)
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (KS)
 A Band-rumped Storm-Petrel feeding in the slick - you can see this bird is growing p9 and that p10 is old (likely a Grant's, as were most individuals seen) (BP)
 Wilson's Storm-Petrel (L) and Band-rumped together in the slick (KS)
& a couple images of our best customers, the Wilson's Storm-Petrel (BP)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Friday June 26, 2015 - Discovery Series

Brian made the decision to switch this weekend's trips to the "big" boat (Stormy Petrel II) midweek, yes, the forecast was that bad!  But we were able to add a couple more participants to our Discovery trip group from Michigan, so it worked out well!  Friday morning there was a line of storms to the north of us that looked quite menacing and seemed to be moving to the south.  After a short delay to check the radar and talk to some other captains, Brian decided to head out there and we left the dock right around 0600.  There was rain, wind, and lightning, but the first Black-capped Petrel of the day flew by the boat before we had a close look at a Cory's Shearwater, and in only 150 feet of water!  We ran out a little farther before slowing around 0900.  The wind was brisk from the north east and a few Black-capped Petrels looked hungry in the slick, so we decided to drift a bit (photo by Brian Patteson).
The "confused" sea (meaning the waves were from multiple directions) made it a little uncomfortable on the drift, but the birds were amazing!  We had our first Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
come in fairly close on the slick with the Wilson's (BRSP on the right, photo by Kate Sutherland), and even a Leach's Storm-Petrel showed up!  The Black-cappeds were joined by some Great Shearwaters feeding on chum and a Cory's Shearwater flew closely by the stern.  A Manx Shearwater was glimpsed flying ahead of the boat, but did not return for a close pass, the conditions did not make it easy to get on birds zipping by with the wind.  Fortunately all of our visitors to the slick made nice close passes so everyone could see them well, even without binoculars! (Cory's Shearwater by Kate Sutherland)
The wind combined with the chum made a very productive and busy slick for most of the day and we had excellent views of the Mediterranean Cory's, also known as Scopoli's Shearwater, plus the Band-rumped Storm-Petrels came in right behind the boat!  Audubon's Shearwaters were not present in large numbers, but we had some nice looks at them flying by - not the best day for spotting them on the water!  The bird of the day was a sharp looking Sooty Tern that flew right to the boat and around before moving on.  This was the first Sooty Tern of the year for us, summer is almost here offshore!

Thanks to everyone who came out with us and made the trip possible, we had another trip scheduled for Saturday, but thunderstorms offshore right where we needed to go caused us to cancel it, even for the "big" boat!

Black-capped Petrel  37
Cory's Shearwater  36
Great Shearwater  26-27
Manx Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  8
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  130-150
Leach's Storm-Petrel  3
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  8
Oceanodroma sp.  1
Sooty Tern  1

Royal Tern  2
Common Tern  1

Black-capped Petrel (Brian Patteson)
Cory's Shearwaters (Kate Sutherland)
Great Shearwaters (Brian Patteson)
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel with a Great Shearwater in the background (Kate Sutherland)
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - most of the individuals we saw were the "Grant's" type pictured here (Kate Sutherland)

Monday, June 15, 2015

June 12 & 13, 2015

Weather this spring has been quite variable and unexpected, bringing in a nice diversity of birds for the Spring Blitz and following trips.  The forecast for Friday & Saturday included wind, lots of it on Saturday, from the west south west.  Usually these winds are excellent for Black-capped Petrels so we were anticipating some amazing encounters with our "signature species" on these trips.  Most of our participants were unfamiliar with the species offshore here, so while the sought after rarities (many times people forget that Black-cappeds are rare themselves!) were no shows, the expected species turned out well with a few surprises!  And the sunrises were spectacular!

Friday morning the first arrivals at the boat were five unpaid passengers.  They would not be returning to the dock since we planned to throw them overboard, and they were less than a year old!!  The Lohmanns, professors at UNC Chapel Hill, brought satellite tagged Loggerhead Turtles to release in the Gulf Stream!  Monster & Mushu were two turtles we released for them last year, but no one from the lab was able to accompany them on their journey offshore so we released them, taking data about the release to send to the lab.  This was the first time the Lohmanns (seen here photographing & releasing one of the turtles)
had ever encountered the Gulf Stream, and they were fascinated to see where their turtles, raised in captivity, would spend the next phase of their lives.  These small turtles will be reporting their location via the transmitters affixed to their shells for up to about 150 days each time they surface!  The Lohmanns promise to share their findings when they have them, we promise to keep you posted on the Lohmann Turtle Project, you can also check out their website here!  Click here to see a short video of Monster's release last summer.

Moonlight was scarce out there this past weekend, so we had a pretty good idea that the Black-capped Petrels would respond well to the chum.  They did not disappoint!  Here is a Black-capped by Brian Patteson getting ready to drop down to the water to feed on some shark liver:
And here you can see a fresh (possible juvenile) white-faced type Black-capped Petrel (center) feeding in the slick with Wilson's Storm-Petrels, Cory's (right), and Great (left) Shearwaters (photo by Kate Sutherland).
Friday we were thrilled to see a few Leach's Storm-Petrels!  They came in close to feed in the chum, as did Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, which were seen very well each day, though numbers were not what we had last weekend.  Pictured here is one of the typical "Grant's" type birds in primary molt (photo by Kate Sutherland).  This time of year while it's obvious that the molting birds we see are likely the "Grant's" type, fresh individuals of this type are also possible.
Cory's Shearwaters were seen well each day and we had a Scopoli's Shearwater stay with us in the slick on Friday for an extended period of time!  Great Shearwaters were also obliging, diving and eating right behind the boat.  Cory's pictured here in the front with a Great behind (photo by Kate Sutherland).
Our bonus species were a Pomarine Jaeger on Saturday that flew up the slick, and a South Polar Skua (a juvenile, upon inspection!) that I spotted about a mile ahead of the boat on a grassline beating up on some shearwaters.  Brian chased the skua and we found it right were he predicted, sitting on the water!  (photo by Jeff Lemons)
Overall it was an awesome, breezy two days offshore!  We would like to thank everyone who joined us and especially thank Jeff Lemons & Nate Swick for helping to lead the trip.  Thanks to Jeff for also contributing photos.

Trip Lists (June 12, 13):
Black-capped Petrel  13-14, 25
Cory's Shearwater  53, 11
Great Shearwater  14, 5-6
Audubon's Shearwater  27, 13
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  95, 140
Leach's Storm-Petrel  3-4, 0
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  7-8, 5-7
Pomarine Jaeger  0, 1
South Polar Skua  0, 1
Spotted Dolphin  3, 0

Black-capped Petrel (Brian Patteson)
 White-faced Black-capped Petrel (Kate Sutherland)
 Molting & fresh individuals (Kate Sutherland)
 Black-capped (Jeff Lemons)
Cory's Shearwater (Jeff Lemons)
 Cory's Shearwaters (Kate Sutherland)
Great Shearwater & Wilson's Storm-Petrel (Jeff Lemons)
Fresh Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (Kate Sutherland)  
 Molting Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (Kate Sutherland)
Pomarine Jaeger from Saturday on the water in the slick (Kate Sutherland)
 & in flight (Jeff Lemons)