Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thursday July 21, 2016 by Kate Sutherland

Today's trip was a private charter for two classes from Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC, located a little bit down the coast from us.  One course focuses on marine mammals and seabirds while the other's focus is primarily sea turtles, four of which we had aboard to release, courtesy of the aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.  The weather was absolutely perfect for a boat mostly full of novices, so with light winds from the north, we headed offshore in calm conditions with the recently full moon setting in the morning sky!
Sargassum (a type of brown algae pictured below) has been noticeably absent on our trips so far this summer, but not today!  There was a nice grassline right off the bat before 1000 and we stopped to sample some finding a few shrimp, some swimming crabs, a filefish, and a sargassum fish (Histrio histrio)!
Just as we finished up with that, a boat ahead of us radioed Brian to tell him they had a tropicbird overhead - we headed that way as some dolphins surfaced behind us.  We decided to come back for the dolphins and see if we could get a look at a tropicbird - and while they did not come close to us, there were THREE White-tailed Tropicbirds flying together ahead!  This is the third out of five trips this month that has found White-tailed Tropicbird - pretty nice ratio to start the summer!  Then back to the dolphins, some offshore Bottlenose, that put on quite a lazy show swimming along beside the boat and under the bow for some time.  There were at least two young ones in this group and one was spyhopping to check us out!
Over the edge of the shelf we released three Loggerheads and a Green Turtle (photo below), it was amazing to see them take to the Gulf Stream and go - each heading its own direction in its own way!
Later in the day Brian spotted a large adult Loggerhead that obligingly swam towards the boat, lifting its head from the water multiple times to our delight!
The birds were no disappointment either with a total of 10 pelagic species for the day.  Due to the light winds, Black-capped Petrels looked a little lazy flying by and no one was really very interested in the chum except a handful of Wilson's Storm-Petrels.  We were able to find a dark morph Pomarine Jaeger near the tropicbirds, possibly explaining why we did not have a close visit from them...and we turned up one Band-rumped Storm-Petrel sitting on the water with some Black-cappeds and a Great Shearwater.  Otherwise the stars of the day, right behind the tropicbirds (& the charismatic megafauna), were a couple of Sooty Terns!  So while it was a little slow at times, as is often the case when the seas are comfortable for humans, it was an amazing day out there!

Trip List July 21, 2016
Black-capped Petrel  12-13
Cory's Shearwater  20
Great Shearwater  2
Audubon's Shearwater  8
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  35
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  1
White-tailed Tropicbird  3
Sooty Tern  2
Bridled Tern  4
Pomarine Jaeger  1

Bottlenose Dolphin (Offshore)  25-30
Loggerhead Turtle  1
small turtle species  3

Cory's Shearwater - candidate for a nominate type?
Audubon's Shearwaters were very cooperative today, allowing close approach when they were sitting on the water!

A couple of Bridled Tern images:
& the Bottlenose Dolphins were so incredible to photograph today!  The calm seas made it easy to follow & capture them when emerging!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday July 16, 2016 by Kate Sutherland

The wind fell out overnight and we headed offshore this morning with light southwest winds (9-10 kts) and some welcome cloud cover!  Like yesterday there was not much to be seen on the way to the shelf break - just some Royal Terns and a Wilson's Storm-Petrel.  Not many birds were flying when we got out there, but shortly after we slowed down and put out some oil a Black-capped Petrel flew by in the distance, working its way in toward the boat.  The calmer conditions allowed us to get out to some deeper water today and that was where most of the birds we saw were found.  Numbers were not as high as yesterday for the Black-cappeds & Band-rumpeds, but we had nice views of both species!  Shearwaters were a little more cooperative today with a gorgeous Great Shearwater flying in to feed a bit in the slick first thing in the morning!
Out in the deep there was some scattered sargassum and there we found a very agreeable Audubon's Shearwater who ignored us as we approached it feeding on the water.
After we passed, it decided that maybe our food was a little easier to it stayed with us in the slick for awhile feeding with Wilson's and making occasional close flights by the stern.  While no Cory's came in to feed in the slick, we did find a small group of birds on the water that we had nice views of!  This group also held a quick glimpse of a Pomarine Jaeger as it beat up on one of the Cory's and then flew directly away.  The highlight of the day, though, was a White-tailed Tropicbird that spotter Sage Church saw in the clouds distant!  We watched this bird through our binoculars as it shot down towards the water then back up into the clouds thinking that was going to be it as it had not shown any interest in us!  Thankfully we were wrong and the bird flew over to check out our tropicbird lure,
flying down and around the boat for a few minutes!  Spectacular is the only word to describe it and it was a thrilling experience for all aboard (including Brian & myself!!)!  Heading back toward the shelf it was clear that we were very lucky to make it out to the deep today as life was scarce on the inshore tack.  However we did see another jaeger on the way back to the inlet, it looked like a Pom, but was too fast for photos or a nice view, and there was an Audubon's Shearwater just a mile or two off the beach!  Thanks to everyone who joined us today and a big thank you also to Sage Church who helped us spot the birds today!

Trip List July 16, 2016
Black-capped Petrel  14
Cory's Shearwater  15
Great Shearwater  3
Audubon's Shearwater  6
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  30
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  6
White-tailed Tropicbird  1
Pomarine Jaeger  1
jaeger sp.  1
skua sp.  1

Royal Tern  1 (offshore)
swallow sp.  1

Another photo of the Audubon's Shearwater that followed us for a bit taking off:
The last Band-rumped Storm-Petrel of the day - they did not come nearly as close to the boat as they did yesterday!  Maybe it was because we didn't have as much wind...or they were not quite as hungry today...
And yes...a few images of the White-tailed Tropicbird!!
While we were out in the deeper water we had a Royal Tern fly in!  This bird has bands on both legs!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday July 15, 2016 by Kate Sutherland

Summer is here and the water offshore is hot!  The satellite image of the sea surface temperatures off of Cape Hatteras is all shades of orange & red...and a deeper red swath of water offshore.  So we were looking for the hotter hot water today!  It was nice to have a breeze accompanying us offshore to get the birds up and moving.  We did not see much on our way to the shelf edge this morning, just some Royal Terns and a handful of Cory's Shearwaters - but our first Black-capped Petrel was right over the break in 100 fathoms!  It was a day of hot water birds - Black-cappeds (top) and Band-rumpeds (bottom).
 Amazingly, the rare and endangered Black-capped Petrel was the most common bird of the day, outnumbering even the Wilson's Storm-Petrels!  And at one point glancing back in the slick, I counted more Band-rumpeds following than Wilson's!  A little after 1130 Brian called a bird flying down the starboard side...a shearwater?  No...wait!  A Brown Booby!!  Even though the bird was not extremely close and flew away from the boat, everyone was still able to see it as the small sulid rose above the horizon multiple times for people to get a fix on it.  Shearwaters were in short supply as there are currently no schools of tuna to hold them here, but we did encounter Cory's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters (pictured below) over the course of the day!
We had a couple of brief encounters with what looked to be Leach's Storm-Petrels, but these birds did not stick around for photos or close study!  It was nice to see some dolphins today with some Atlantic Spotteds coming in to bow ride on our way offshore this morning, followed by a really nice pod of offshore Bottlenose Dolphin who attended the boat for 15 or 20 minutes just after 0930!  Overall it was an awesome day out there with really incredible Black-capped Petrel & Band-rumped Storm-Petrel encounters - there is never a dull moment observing these two species.  Every year we are able to glean more information about the variation that exists through observation and photography.

Thank you to everyone who joined us today!  And thank you also to Nate Swick & Sage Church for helping us lead the trip!  While it was not the best day for photography, I did my best and have included a few images here for the report!  -Kate Sutherland

July 15, 2016 Trip List
Black-capped Petrel  41
Cory's Shearwater  8
Great Shearwater  3
Audubon's Shearwater  6
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  27-32
Leach's Storm-Petrel  2
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  13-17
Brown Booby  1

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  5
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin  40-50
Hammerhead Shark  1

While these are not the best photos, this is one of the first Black-cappeds we saw this morning - it is a fresh white-faced individual!  I just really enjoyed the crispness of the underwings and feathers, most of the Black-cappeds we saw today were in varying stages of molt.
This is one of the last Black-cappeds we saw today - this bird was in just over 300 feet of water feeding in the slick!  It is the same individual pictured above in the trip report - it is a nice dark faced bird!
A Wilson's Storm-Petrel - in short supply today!  But you can see the yellow webbing on its feet in this picture...
& one more Band-rumped Storm-Petrel image...

Friday, July 8, 2016

Spring 2016 by Kate Sutherland - with yes, more photos!

Spring 2016 was unique, as most springs in the Gulf Stream are!  The only constant is the swift, ever changing current...some days close, other days farther offshore...but always out there influencing our weather, seas, and birds.  The proximity of the hot, clear, blue Gulf Stream waters varied from day to day and our weather was generally unsettled giving us some amazingly cool and comfortable days offshore.  On shore meanwhile, Hatteras Island experienced record rainfall thanks to the convergence of systems - and two tropical systems passed by this spring as well!  Weather was only caused us to cancel one trip, May 21, and while we had some rain and wind out there on other days, it was nothing to keep us ashore and we ran a total of 18 trips this spring!  Overall the numbers were a bit low as we never really had any good set up to the south to bring some of the birds moving by offshore to the west, thus sightings of species like Arctic Tern, Long-tailed Jaeger, and South Polar Skua (photo by Chris Gibbins) were sparse.
We made up for this with the gadflies!  Trindade Petrels and Fea's Petrels were as regular as they could be this spring with three trips in a row encountering Fea's (photo by Chris Gibbins)!!
It was nearly a tie with the numbers, but the Trindades pulled ahead on June 5 with 7 individuals, while Feas settled in at 6 for the Blitz.  Tropical Storm Bonnie perhaps deposited the rare treat of a noddy that we encountered briefly on the June 5 trip - while it was likely a Brown Noddy, better views were desired to clinch the id!  We had a subadult Masked Booby on the May 29th trip - a rare spring sighting of a bird that is more expected to appear in the summer months!    Our tropicbirds did not disappoint with one White-tailed (photo by Chris Gibbins) on May 31 and two Red-billed Tropicbirds.
The highlight, though, was a species we have not seen since 2014...European Storm-Petrel!  A photo taken on a trip from Florida on May 29 proved to be the first record of this species for the state, not to mention the first one that has been seen in the Western North Atlantic that was NOT on one of our trips!  This had us wondering where ours was for the year...but June 10 we had one appear in the slick just after we slowed down in the morning that stayed with us for almost four hours!  The best views we have ever had and the latest record (photo by Chloe Walker)!

Non avian species did not disappoint this spring either and we had incredible encounters with a pod of Clymene Dolphins on May 24th and close views of Gervais' Beaked Whales on the 26th!  Our May 28th trip was lucky enough to see a breaching Sperm Whales & Jeff Lemons even captured some photos of this breathtaking event!  An early pod of Pilot Whales showed interest in the humans aboard on the June 11th trip (photo by Laura Frazier) - this is a species that is more easily seen in the summer months off of Hatteras!
We were lucky to find a couple of Leatherbacks, one with an attendant Cobia offshore!  & also documented our first Kemp's Ridley Turtle for the Stormy Petrel II on May 22nd.

Below you will find a list of species with information about how many trips we saw them on, high & low counts, and following...more photos from our participants (& one leader - Chloe!) this spring!  Thank you so much to everyone who joined us, making it possible to get offshore, and also to our leaders from this spring - we always appreciate all of their help!!  This year our leaders were: Peter Flood, Lev Frid, Seabird McKeon, Chloe Walker, Doug Gochfeld, Jeff Lemons, & Nate Swick.  Peter Flood's spring album (we posted many of his photos on the daily blog reports May 20-30) can be found here & more of Chloe Walker's photos can be found here !  Photos are by Christopher Gibbins of Scotland who was with us for four trips this spring, Jeff Lewis of Manteo NC who joined us on June 11, and Laura Frazier of Kearneysville WV who joined us on June 11th as well!

Fea's Petrel  6 individuals seen on 5 trips
Trindade Petrel  7 individuals seen on 4 trips
Black-capped Petrel  they were seen on every trip this spring (18) with a high of 58 on May 27 and a low count of 3 on June 3 - an estimated 395 individuals were encountered
Cory's Shearwater  also seen on every trip this spring (18) with a high of 300 on June 2 and a low count of 5 on May 20 - an estimated 1256 individuals were encountered *we did find a few of the nominate Cory's, or Scopoli's, Shearwaters this spring as well!
Great Shearwater  seen on 13 of 18 trips with a high count of 40 on June 11 - an estimated 99 individuals were encountered, they began to show up towards the end of May as is typically the case with this species
Sooty Shearwater  seen on 7 of 18 trips - 20 individuals were encountered; not as many as we sometimes see in the spring
Manx Shearwater  seen on 5 of 18 trips - 8 individuals
Audubon's Shearwater  they were seen on every trip this spring (18) with a high of 56 on June 11 and a low count of 1 on May 23 & 24 each - and estimated 353 individuals were encountered
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  they were seen on every trip this spring (18) with a high of 260 on May 29 and a low count of 50 on June 3 - an estimated 2209 individuals were encountered
European Storm-Petrel  1 seen well on June 10
Leach's Storm-Petrel  seen on 9 of 18 trips - an estimated 44 individuals were encountered
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel   seen on 14 of 18 trips - an estimated 51 individuals were encountered; as usual, these birds started showing up in the mid 20s of May
White-tailed Tropicbird  1 seen on May 31
Red-billed Tropicbird  seen on 2 of 18 trips - May 24 & June 3
Masked Booby  1 seen on May 29
Northern Gannet  seen on 2 of 18 trips - we sometimes see younger birds in early May, these were on our first two trips
Red-necked Phalarope  seen on 4 of 18 trips - 41 individuals were encountered; these birds were around in early May
noddy sp  1 seen on June 5, likely a Brown Noddy
Bridled Tern  seen on 5 of 18 trips - 11 individuals encountered
Black Tern  seen on 3 of 18 trips - 4 individuals encountered
Common Tern  seen on 9 of 18 trips - 19 individuals encountered
Arctic Tern  seen on 3 of 18 trips - 3 individuals encountered, on the first three trips in May
South Polar Skua  seen on 4 of 18 trips - 5 individuals encountered
Pomarine Jaeger  seen on 13 of 18 trips - 58 individuals encountered
Parasitic Jaeger  seen on 4 of 18 trips - 5 individuals encountered
Long-tailed Jaeger  seen on 2 of 18 trips - 2 individuals encountered

Sperm Whale  1 seen on May 28
Gervais' Beaked Whale  seen on 2 of 18 trips - at least 10 individuals encountered
Pilot Whale (likely short-finned) a pod of 14 encountered on June 11
Clymene Dolphin  a pod of about 25 encountered on May 24
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  seen on 5 of 18 trips - an estimated 30 individuals were encountered
Bottlenose Dolphin  seen on 8 of 18 trips

Loggerhead Turtle  seen on 2 of 18 trips - 2 individuals encountered
Kemp's Ridley Turtle  1 young individual seen on May 22
Leatherback Turtle  seen on 2 of 18 trips - 2 individuals encountered

Fea's Petrel flying over South Polar Skua (Chris Gibbins)
& some Black-capped Petrels!  (Jeff Lewis)
 A couple by Laura Frazier
We had some really checking us out!  (Chloe Walker)
 & a Black-capped doing its best Great Shearwater impression...close in the stern! (Chloe Walker)
A nominate type Cory's - aka Scopoli's Shearwater (Chris Gibbins)
 A more Atlantic looking Cory's (Jeff Lewis)
Great Shearwater showing the nicely mottled underwings and dark belly patch (Chris Gibbins)
 Great Shearwater eating a tasty piece of fish we had at the buffet that day...  (Laura Frazier)
 Our flock of Great Shearwaters in the slick!  (Laura Frazier)
 Great Shearwater (Jeff Lewis)
A nice shot showing the yellow webbing on the Wilson's Storm-Petrels!  Not an easy capture when they are in flight (& not pattering!!)!  (Chloe Walker)
 A fresh Wilson's with a piece of shark liver (Chris Gibbins)
 & a molting Wilson's (Chris Gibbins)
 Feeding Wilson's and you can just see the yellow on this one's feet (Laura Frazier)
A couple of Leach's images (Chloe Walker) - the diagnostic rump patch and buffy carpal bars are easily seen on this one!
 & here, the forked tail!  (Chloe Walker)
A molting Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (Chloe Walker)
Red-necked Phalarope looking quite colorful (Chloe Walker)
One of the few Bridled Terns we saw this spring (Chloe Walker)
 South Polar Skua (Chris Gibbins)
Pomarine Jaeger - we had some excellent views of these birds this spring!! (Chris Gibbins)
 An individual with longer tail feathers (Chris Gibbins)
A dark Pom - Black-capped Petrels really gave these birds a hard time this year!  It was usually the South Polar Skuas, but the dark jaegers also elicited the harassment response!  (Chris Gibbins)
Some Bottlenose Dolphins (Laura Frazier)
Hatteras Village being left behind in the morning sun on June 11 (Laura Frazier)
 & one of our gorgeous sunrises this spring!!  (Laura Frazier)