Tuesday, August 19, 2014

August 15, 16 & 17, 2014 - Discovery Series

Finally we made it three days in a row on the "little boat" for a Discovery Series weekend!  The weather was calm Friday through Sunday and we had a full boat for two of the trips.  This summer has been a little off in terms of what we typically expect, the birds and fish are just not here in the numbers we usually see this time of year.  But the tropical terns are finally here, and we had excellent views of both Sooty and Bridled Terns on all three trips!  While we have yet to encounter a young Sooty Tern, this year's Bridled Terns were seen this weekend begging from their elders!
Black-capped Petrels were out there in low numbers, but without the wind to get them flying they did not come very close to the boat.  Cory's Shearwater was the most common bird of the weekend and we had excellent views of them,
especially on Saturday when we found a few feeding flocks out in the deep.  Great Shearwaters were hard to come by, but we turned up at least one individual each trip and they made nice passes!
The most Audubon's were seen on Friday's trip, but a few young birds investigated the slick and the boat each day, so they were seen well!  Wilson's Storm-Petrels were around, just not very hungry, and while the numbers of Band-rumpeds were low, we had at least one close pass on each trip.
Red-necked Phalaropes are beginning to show up again and we found a few on Friday & Saturday around grasslines.

The weather was typical and atypical for summer.  Typical in the slick calm waters we found over 30 miles offshore with scattered grass, and atypical in the cooler north winds we've been experiencing this summer.  Friday's trip actually had some light north breeze for most of the day!  Saturday was more typical since the wind had shifted to light south early that morning.  Sunday was forecast to be breezy, but there was just a moderate south west wind offshore.  Each day the Gulf Stream was a little different, but there was sargassum way offshore in the deep - usually good conditions for finding a tropicbird or two...though not this time!  We found Sunday's Fea's Petrel around 1230 on a nice edge with an organized grassline way offshore in the deep.  The bird passed a Cory's Shearwater and then continued flying languidly along the line.  We picked up speed and attempted to get closer to it, and though we pursued it at close to 20kts for awhile, it was effortlessly moving too fast for us to catch!

Calm seas are good for cetaceans and these trips were no exception!  Friday we found a Sperm Whale just after noon;  it was a bit far and dove before everyone had a good look at it.  Just moments later, one of our participants spotted another individual much closer to the boat.
Brian maneuvered us closer to the animal and it stayed on the surface for a time before coming closer to check us out, even spyhopping close by and then swimming under us and out of sight!  Saturday we had some sharp eyed brothers aboard who spotted a young Hawksbill Turtle in some sargassum!
This was the first Brian has ever seen, needless to say it was my first as well.  These gorgeously adorned sea turtles are typically found on reefs, but this individual was way offshore in the deep!  We stopped to spend some time taking photos and soon had schools of fish swimming around us and our chum - it was better than dipping sargassum for a quick lesson!  Later that day a Kogia was spotted on the surface.  For those who are not familiar with these animals, there are two species, Pygmy Sperm Whale & Dwarf Sperm Whale, either would be a possibility offshore here.  Notoriously difficult to see, they can be distinguished by the shape of their dorsal fin.  Each species will "log" on the surface and then sink without much provocation - this Pygmy Sperm Whale stayed on the surface for quite a time and then dove giving us enough time to get some identifying photos!

Thanks to everyone who made the trip to Hatteras to go offshore with us this long weekend!  We could not get out there without you and it seemed that everyone who joined us had a great time.  It helped to have nice weather and some cooperative birds in spite of the low numbers!  Trip lists are on our website here A short youtube video of the Hawksbill Turtle is here!  All photos by Brian Patteson & Kate Sutherland

Here you can see how calm it was!
One of our Audubon's in the slick
We found one Bridled Tern on Saturday perched on a well used cushion!
 Bridled Tern in flight - adult
An interesting looking Sooty Tern adult with a few feathers missing!
Micro Tropicbird...we saw Least Terns every day offshore!!
While we only caught one Wahoo over the three days, we did hook a few more fish!  Here is one of the Mahi that we hooked on Saturday.
Pygmy Sperm Whale (Kogia breviceps) diving
 Another view of the same Sperm Whale on Friday's trip
Two more images of the Hawksbill Turtle!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

August 8 & 9, 2014 - by Brian Patteson

After staying in on account of widespread thunderstorms with intense lightning last weekend, it was nice to get out again. We had yet another stalled cold front hanging over us, but not so much rain and no heat! The northeast wind made for a short, choppy sea in the Gulf Stream, but cloudy cool conditions made for good birding throughout the day. On Friday we had nice looks at the key deepwater birds- Black-capped Petrel
and Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
within minutes of putting out a chum slick, and these two species, along with Wilson's Storm-Petrel followed the boat for the duration of our time beyond the shelf break. We saw a modest number of shearwaters, including Great Shearwater, which can be hit or miss in mid to late summer.
The Sargassum community was messy and scattered and we did not see any terns except for a very distant one. Just past the shelf break we found a nice group of offshore Bottlenose Dolphins during the afternoon, with many small calves (photo K. Sutherland).
Right at the shelf break (70 fathoms) we were visited by a Fea's Petrel- quite a rarity here in August (photo Dave Shoch).
It seemed more interested in the trailing slick than the chum close to the boat, but it remained in view for a least a couple of minutes after the first pass. A little closer to shore we saw a few Red-necked Phalaropes along a messy weedline (photo Dave Shoch).
Saturday was similar to Friday in terms of weather, but the Gulf Stream had moved up a bit and we had a big eddy of cooler blended water out over the continental slope. It was productive, with good numbers of tubenoses out there, especially Band-rumped Storm-Petrels. We had them all day long in the deep, with up to six at a time following in the wake. We did not find any marine mammals offshore despite working over some good topography. There was, however, a school of Skipjack Tuna running bait to the surface about 29 miles offshore. Our junior leader Chloe Walker spotted the "beehive" of shearwaters first, and when we got closer, we found the season's first Sooty Terns over the flock, along with a single Bridled Tern (photo Dave Shoch),
which was actually our second for the day. Back in around the shelf break, it was quieter than on Friday, and the only new bird we added was a Black Tern on the ride in. All in all, it was a nice couple of days on the Stormy Petrel II. I would like to thank our leaders- Dave Shoch, Chris Sloan, Jeff Lemons, and Chloe Walker- for keeping a sharp eye out and capturing some nice images for the report.

Brian Patteson 

Trip lists are on our website here

Black-capped Petrel by Dave Shoch
 Cory's Shearwater - top image by Chris Sloan & bottom two by Dave Shoch
Audubon's Shearwater by Chris Sloan
 Two images of Band-rumped Storm-Petrel by Chris Sloan
And another by Dave Shoch

 Wilson's Storm-Petrel by Chris Sloan
Awesome shot of a Sooty Tern and a Sargassum Midget by Chris Sloan
 We had a Yellow Warbler come aboard on Friday!  Here it is perched on Jeff Spaulding's hat - Chris Sloan.
 & a close up by Dave Shoch
a few more images of the Bottlenose Dolphins from Friday by Kate Sutherland
Atlantic Patchwing by Chris Sloan

Saturday, August 2, 2014

August 1, 2014 - Discovery Series

Overcast skies were the backdrop as we departed the marina around 0600 with a full boat (five participants) on the F/V Skua.  Showers and thunderstorms were forecast for the afternoon, but the morning looked good.  The seas were from the southeast making for a choppy ride offshore, but once we slowed down, it was quite comfortable on deck.  A Great Shearwater flew by us near shore and we only found another five over the course of the day.  Sargassum was scattered and not well organized for holding the birds we usually associate with it, so numbers of Audubon's Shearwaters were low, and no Bridled Terns were seen.  As the thunderstorms came on earlier than expected, we were a bit limited in our maneuverability in the deep.  There was not a very strong Gulf Stream current running though, and we still had close, excellent views of the birds we encountered.  Black-capped Petrels, though few in number, came quite close to the boat.  And while we did have a good flock of Wilson's Storm-Petrels, the first storm-petrel of the day was a Band-rumped!  These large storm-petrels stuck around in the slick for most of the day and everyone was excited to have multiple chances to study them with the Wilson's.  Cory's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters also made close passes, so we did not miss any of our expected species!  While passes were close, the light was poor, so we did not take any photos.

Trip List for August 1, 2014
Black-capped Petrel  12
Cory's Shearwater  7
Great Shearwater  6
Audubon's Shearwater  10
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  157-187
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  15-16

shorebird sp.  about a dozen

So, on to the 2nd of August - scheduled to be a trip aboard the Stormy Petrel II...  We ended up canceling because there were lines of lightning filled storms offshore where we need to go and high winds associated with them!  We are scheduled to run again tomorrow on the F/V Skua - so hopefully there will be another trip report from this weekend!

As I usually like to do when we get weathered out, I have a list of species seen in the past on August 2.  We have only run three trips on this date: 1997, 2003, and 2008.  For just three trips, the species list is quite impressive...

Black-capped Petrel
Cory's Shearwater
Great Shearwater
Audubon's Shearwater (359 on the 1997 trip!)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel
Leach's Storm-Petrel
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
White-tailed Tropicbird
Masked Booby
Red-necked Phalarope
Sooty Tern
Bridled Tern
Least Tern
Black Tern
Common Tern
Royal Tern
Pomarine Jaeger
Long-tailed Jaeger

Pilot Whale
Risso's Dolphin
Bottlenose Dolphin
Sperm Whale
Mesoplodon sp.
Cuvier's Beaked Whale
Loggerhead Turtle
Hammerhead Shark

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Stormy Petrel II - July 25 & 26, 2014 by Brian Patteson

The welcome arrival of a cold front here last Thursday night brought pleasant conditions and a cool breeze on Friday morning when we headed out to sea in search of pelagic birds.  Sunrise Friday morning (Jeff Lemons):
There was not much to see in the shelf waters, so we headed out to the deep, where there were large numbers of Wilson's Storm-Petrels that quickly gathered behind the boat (photo by Doug Gochfeld).  
A few Band-rumped Storm-Petrels found our chum slick as well and by back-tracking we got some good looks at them (photo below by Nick Bonomo).
Most days, Band-rumps don't stay in the slick as long as the Wilson's and this was one of those days.  We saw a good number of Black-capped Petrels, with many showing interest in the chum and passing by at close range.  As the morning went on, the activity waned and I slowly continued heading offshore, hoping for a tropicbird, different gadfly petrel, or maybe some Leach's Storm-Petrels.  It paid off for us when a light morph Trindade Petrel came right in to the chum (photo below by Doug Gochfeld).

Otherwise birds were very scarce 34 miles out, so we headed back toward the shelf break.  We saw a few more birds over the slope waters but not much inshore.  There was a lot of Sargasso weed but it was scattered badly - not a good situation for Bridled Terns - which we did not see on Friday.  We did, however, see a lot of flyingfish in the afternoon and these presented a good challenge for photographers (photos below by Tom Johnson & Doug Gochfeld of Sargassum Midgett & Atlantic Patchwing).

There is still a lot to work out when it comes to flyingfish identification, but more and better photos should help.

Saturday July 26 was more typical of a summer trip here.  It was sunny and hot but the Sargasso weed was better organized with some huge patches out past the shelf break.  As one might expect, there were Bridled Terns (photo by Nick Bonomo)
and Audubon's Shearwaters around the weedlines and an abundance of bait fish and invertebrates in the water below.  We found several rafts of Black-capped Petrels, sometimes mixed with Cory's and Audubon's Shearwaters, by carefully scanning with binoculars.  We only saw one Red-necked Phalarope, but we had great looks.  Band-rumped Storm-Petrels put on a better show during the early afternoon and we had good looks at one Leach's Storm-Petrel (photo by Jeff Lemons).  
Calm conditions always improve chances for seeing cetaceans and we got lucky with two beaked whale encounters.  Our first sighting was at a moderate distance but the animals surfaces several times.  The second sighting, just twenty minutes later, was much closer.  Photos and the dark scarring indicated these were Gervais' Beaked Whales, which is a regular but hard to see inhabitant of the deep water here off Cape Hatteras (photo below by Tom Johnson).
Later we saw several Bottlenose Dolphins, which are much easier to see well than the furtive beaked whales.  Again, most of the action was out past the shelf break and the inshore tack was not as interesting as it sometimes is during summer.  Of course all of that can change in a matter of days and it will be interesting to see what is going on after three consecutive days of northeast winds, which should begin this Tuesday.

I would like to thank our leaders, Kate Sutherland, Nick Bonomo, and Tom Johnson for making it an excellent two days on the boat.  We still have space on all of the upcoming trips aboard the Stormy Petrel II:  Aug 2, 8, 9, & 10 plus Sept 13(14).  Here is a link to Nick's post about the trips (8/10/14) 

(Trip Lists are posted on our website, a huge thank you to everyone who joined us and to Nick Bonomo, Tom Johnson, Jeff Lemons, and Doug Gochfeld for letting us use some of their photos from the set!!)
Two images of the Trindade Petrel by Tom Johnson
An awesome angle on a Black-capped Petrel by Nick Bonomo
 One of the few whiter-faced individuals we saw over the two day set by Doug Gochfeld
 & the darkest Black-capped over the two day set by Jeff Lemons
This bird is a candidate for Scopoli's Shearwater (Cory's typically will not show this much white in the underside of p10) but the light makes it tough to see how well marked the underwing is - by Doug Gochfeld
 One of the only four (!) Great Shearwaters seen on this set by Jeff Lemons
A sharp looking Audubon's Shearwater by Tom Johnson, we had close encounters with them each day.
Many were sitting on the water in or near Sargassum like this one photographed by Nick Bonomo.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel in the slick by Doug Gochfeld
 A pair of Bridled Terns by Doug Gochfeld
Another shot of one of the closer Gervais' Beaked Whales by Nick Bonomo
& a couple more flyingfish photos!  This one looks to be another Atlantic Patchwing...tough, but very cool angle by Doug Gochfeld.
 And another Sargassum Midgett by Tom Johnson