Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bermuda 1993 - by Brian Patteson

Kate Sutherland, myself, and several others spent a week and a half in Bermuda earlier this month for the purpose of observing and photographing their endemic seabird, Pterodroma cahow the Bermuda Petrel as we know it, or the Cahow as it is called by Bermudians. We had a very successful trip and saw a great many Cahows, both at sea and ashore at their colonies. We saw more Cahows in an afternoon than we have seen at sea off North Carolina in the last decade, and far more than I saw on my first trip to Bermuda in 1993.

The 1993 expedition to study Cahows was the result of two sightings of Bermuda Petrels off the U.S. southeast coast on July 31, 1993. Ned Brinkley and I saw one off Oregon Inlet that day and Todd Hass and Joe Poston saw one over 200 miles off Charleston the same day. Ned and Todd and I spent a lot of time at sea together in those days. Todd was working on a PhD at UNC and he was on almost all of the pelagic bird watching trips in NC at the time, gathering data for his dissertation. We all wanted to know how better to identify these petrels at sea, and at the time, information was scant. In stark contrast to today, there were almost no photos or good illustrations of live Cahows. Comparative morphometric data was also lacking. We had an idea how the species differed from Black-capped Petrel, but just how much smaller it was and how much darker was not something you could find in print, which was the media of bird identification at the time.

Ned began corresponding with David Wingate in Bermuda and before long, we had plans to visit Bermuda and study Cahows. Things were a bit different back then. There were only 40 or so pairs and Wingate, who had brought them back from near extinction, did not band or regularly handle the birds. We did get to see an adult in a burrow during a nest check with him, but he did not extract it. We also made history with the first daytime sighting of a Cahow in recent history during a boat trip off the east end of Bermuda on Nov. 13, 1993. It was much harder to get photos of flying seabirds back then (manual focus and film days) and we did not get a record shot. For our ID studies, we photographed all of the specimens at the museum.  We also made a nighttime trip to Horn Rock where we had birds whizzing overhead and we recorded their calls. Upon return to the States, we began working on an ID article for Birding magazine. Wingate supplied a few recent photos of live birds in hand and as luck would have it, we found another Bermuda Petrel off Hatteras in May 1996 and I got some photos of that one good enough to publish (they suck by today’s standards, but they were the first of the species at sea.) The article was finally published in the Feb. 1998 issue of Birding, and naturally in spring 1998, I got better photos.

Things have changed a lot since that first trip. There are now over 100 pairs of Cahows and they now nest on Nonsuch Island where we stayed with Wingate in 1993. Jeremy Madeiros, who took over Wingate’s work after his retirement several years ago, now bands the birds and has also done tracking studies, which explain why they are seldom seen here with the Black-capped Petrels off Hatteras. But it is easier than ever to see Cahows in Bermudian waters as a large troop of sub adults spend weeks courting and prospecting for nests during fall and winter. They can be seen from Cooper’s Point, which was formerly a restricted area, but they are better seen from a boat just a few miles offshore.

Our 1993 trip was important for number of reasons. It helped us work out the field ID of the species and disseminate that information. It got Wingate and other Bermudians out looking for Cahows at sea during the breeding season. It inspired Brinkley to return several times with birding tour groups, thus getting more birders interested in the petrel and the place. And most importantly, it was on that trip that got to know and spend a lot of time with David Wingate, and then that we first met Jeremy Madeiros, who has taken charge of the Cahow program in the 21st century and is not only continuing Wingate's work, but helping us learn more about the secret life of these special seabirds.

by, Brian Patteson - 22 November 2015 (all photos copyright Brian Patteson)

On the porch at Nonsuch: David Wingate (left), Todd Hass (right)

Ned Brinkley & David Wingate

Boat trip on November 13, 1993: David Wingate explains the game plan

Ned contemplates the trip ahead of us.

Todd looks like he is ready for some water to cross the deck

No pics of the Cahow we saw, but a late tropicbird came by within camera range

Wingate moors his Boston Whaler at Nonsuch

Checking Cahow nests for activity on Horn Rock

Not enough light to see the adult Cahow inside

Cahow nests on Horn Rock

Entrances to Cahow burrows

Looking over to Cooper's Point, which was off limits at the time.  It is now a great vantage point for seeing Cahows in late afternoon during the breeding season.

Adult and young Cahow specimens

Studying the dorsal aspect of the Cahow and its gray-tipped upper tail coverts (white in Black-capped Petrel)

Studying the ventral aspect of the Cahow and its cowled appearance

No place now for live Cahows on mainland Bermuda

Carnage from the Snowy Owl that visited in 1987

Pelagic trip!  Setting out in a leaky Boston Whaler

Leach's Storm-Petrel as seen from Wingate's Boston Whaler.  We also saw Cuvier's Beaked Whales!

Birding ashore: I think these flamingos were are Spittle Pond

Sandhill Crane at the dairy

Looking out from the porch at Nonsuch

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Saturday October 10, 2015 - by Brian Patteson

It was good to be back offshore with a birding trip after a rainy and windy two weeks here at Cape Hatteras. Dr. Fred Alsop brought his Coastal Ecology Class to the Outer Banks for a field trip that has been a tradition for 35 years. We’ve been taking Fred’s group on pelagic trips since 1994 when I started organizing trips in Hatteras. We also had a handful of other birders along, including stalwart regulars and new participants.

The forecast called for a rainy day, but it turned out not to be the case, as the rain came much later than predicted, beginning soon after we returned to the dock. The morning was beautiful with light westerly winds and smooth seas. We left the dock at first light and enjoyed an easy ride to the Gulf Stream, which we found near the shelf break about 23 miles out. There was a distinct color change where the clear blue water met the rather murky inshore water. This is not always the case in October, but we’ve had so much rain and wind that I expect it will take a while for the shelf water to clear up. We did not find much bird activity near this color change, but we did have a quick look at a Leatherback Turtle which we startled as we arrived at the edge.

I figured there would be at least a few Black-capped Petrels out in the deeper water, so we eased out toward the slope waters right away. Approaching 200 fathoms we saw a distant Black-cap and we increased our chumming effort by melting a homemade chum block. Within minutes we had Black-caps close at hand and a Northern Fulmar also came in and gave us good looks (photo by Brian Patteson).
There has been a strong showing of fulmars in New England already, so it was not a big surprise, but we usually don’t get them quite so early here. We continued to work offshore, but all we came up with were a few Cory’s and Audubon’s Shearwaters. There was not much Sargassum, so it’s not surprising that Audubon’s were hard to find, but Cory’s were remarkably scarce for a fall day.

After a while, it seemed like most of the Black-capped Petrels were fading behind us, so we backtracked inshore. The wind also freshened and we soon had quite a following of Black-caps, with up to 20 in view.
They followed us in close to the edge of the Gulf Stream, which was in about 75 fathoms when we crossed in the afternoon. But before we left the blue water we stopped to sample the Sargassum with a dip net. Compared to late summer, the “Gulf Weed” was in short supply. We did not get any fish in our sample, but we had the usual shrimp and crabs. The highlight, however, were some Sargassum Nudibranchs- little gastropods that look just like the habitat they live in.
A Great Shearwater came by for a close pass, as we were getting ready to head back to shore. The ride back in the dirty water was uneventful as expected, but the trip to the Gulf Stream had been well worth it and hopefully it will inspire some of its first time visitors to return there someday.

I would like to thank all of our participants,-especially Fred for bring his class, and our leaders- Kate Sutherland, Jeff Lemons, and Kyle Kittelberger for making this a successful trip.

Trip List:
Common Loon  2
Northern Fulmar  1
Black-capped Petrel  50-70
Cory's Shearwater  16
Great Shearwater  2
Audubon's Shearwater  5
jaeger sp.  2-3

Great Blue Heron  1
Blue-winged Teal  13
American Pipit  1

Leatherback Turtle  1
Inshore Bottlenose Dolphin  30-40
marlin sp.  1

A few more images of the ever impressive Black-capped Petrel:
top photo by Brian Patteson
A Scopoli's Shearwater (nominate Cory's):
A photo of the Great Blue Heron, zoomed in!
& one more of the Sargassum Nudibrachs, such cool little creatures!
 A couple of ships we crossed paths with over the course of the day...

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Sunday September 6, 2015

We had scheduled a couple of trips on the F/V Skua for this past weekend, but in keeping with weather patterns of late, we had northeast winds predicted for both Saturday & Sunday.  Saturday morning the weather buoy at Diamond Shoals showed the wind blowing strongly and steadily from the northeast with very steep waves, a bit too much for the biggest little boat in the harbor!  Brian met our participants at the dock to fill them in and let them know that Sunday would hopefully go, as it was forecast to be a bit calmer.  Luckily it was, and I headed out with Capt. Will Whitley and a full boat at 0617 on the 6th.  Brian had a conflict with a fishing trip scheduled on the Stormy Petrel II, so he did not join us.  It was strange to see her behind us in the morning as the sun rose (she's on the left)!
The ocean was much calmer than anticipated, though we knew it was windier offshore, and that in the Gulf Stream current the wind would make our ride a little wilder!  Just after 0830 we slowed down for a group of Red-necked Phalaropes concentrated by a nice line of sargassum
and also saw some Audubon's & Cory's Shearwaters there.  Will spotted a current edge up ahead and when we reached it, the temperature went up 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit, with the Gulf Stream moving at about 1.2 knots on the far side.  I knew we were in a good place when we saw a jaeger ahead chasing some Bridled Terns - a Long-tailed I thought just from watching its behavior and taking note of its size and shape.  The photos I snapped were not the best, but it was identifiable as a juvenile individual.
This was a nice place to spend some time, so before we headed offshore to deeper water, we cruised along the sargassum and found some more Bridled Terns, adults with their attendant young.  There were two perched on a piece of flotsam, the adult paying little attention to its very vocal companion!
Wilson's Storm-Petrels were slow to gather in the slick when we put out our oil slick around 100 fathoms.  Their numbers begin to thin out in late August and September, so I was glad to see as many as we did!  And while Band-rumpeds are not unheard of in September, careful examination and scanning did not reveal any on Sunday.  Our first close shearwater was a Sooty that ignored our chum and continued by to the southeast, but, as if to make up for it, we had two very cooperative Great Shearwaters come right in to the stern where they spent time feeding and diving!  Out over the edge of the shelf we finally picked up our first Black-capped Petrel just before 1130 and we had excellent views of this amazing seabird in the slick for most of the afternoon.  
Audubon's Shearwaters were by far the most abundant shearwater of the day and we were able to approach them on the water, and they us in flight.  We had a young Herring Gull that came in shortly after 1100 staying with us in the slick for the rest of the day, and even following for awhile after we picked up for the run back to the inlet!  Two second summer Pomarine Jaegers visited the slick, one just after 1130 and the other closer to 1400, a nice treat after the quick glimpse of the first jaeger in the morning!
Overall it was an awesome day out there, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the wind and the Gulf Stream current!  Thanks to everyone who joined us offshore, and a big thank you also to Capt. Will Whitley for doing an excellent job piloting the boat all day!  - Kate Sutherland

Trip List
Black-capped Petrel  13-16
Cory's Shearwater  26
Great Shearwater  9
Sooty Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  59
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  40-50
Red-necked Phalarope  28
Bridled Tern  10
Black Tern  40
Pomarine Jaeger  2
Long-tailed Jaeger  1

Herring Gull  1
Sandwich Tern  1

Flyingfish seen: Atlantic Patchwing, Atlantic Necromancer, Oddspot Midget, Sargassum Midget, & possibly some Purple Bandwings

Cory's Shearwater (all photos today by Kate Sutherland!)
Great Shearwater
 Wilson's Storm-Petrel
One of the young Bridled Terns seen in the morning
& another take on one of the youngsters

Monday, August 31, 2015

Saturday August 29, 2015

We had originally planned a set of trips from Oregon Inlet to the north this past weekend, but bookings lagged behind as the date approached and we switched to a single trip from Hatteras.  Winds blew briskly from the northeast most of the week, including Friday and Saturday, so perhaps it was best that we ran from Hatteras Inlet that faces south!  Skies were overcast as we headed offshore and we examined our first shearwaters of the day in the rain, but we had excellent looks at Cory's, Great, & Audubon's Shearwaters, Wilson's Storm-Petrels, Bridled Terns, and Red-necked Phalaropes, all before we slowed down and started chumming at 0945.  The small flock of shearwaters we found were feeding over a huge hammerhead shark, we glimpsed a few Atlantic Spotted Dolphins on the way out, plus there were was shaping up to be a great day offshore in spite of the rain!  We have had some spectacular moonlit nights recently so I was not sure how the birds, especially the Black-capped Petrels, would respond to the chum if they had been feeding overnight...but our slick was well attended all day (photo by Kate Sutherland)!
A young Long-tailed Jaeger appeared way back in the slick a little after 11, making its way toward the boat, but not making a very close pass until its second appearance. Band-rumped Storm-Petrels are nearing the end of their season with us, so we were very pleased to have at least two individuals show up with the Wilson's and make a few nice passes so that everyone aboard had a chance to see them.  The highlight for me, though, was a Black-capped Petrel that followed us in the slick for almost an hour feeding the entire time.  We see birds exhibit this behavior from time to time, but photos revealed this to be a white-faced individual in juvenal plumage (photo by Kate Sutherland)!
Spectacular find since young birds are rarely seen offshore here, at least we don't find many on our trips!  Then, another dark-faced bird came in to feed on the chum as well, and the size difference was noticeable with the naked eye - it was an excellent end to the day!  Right before we pulled up the chum, Brian stopped and we put out the rest of the shark liver...some Cory's flew in to join the Wilson's and Black-cappeds and a first summer Pomarine Jaeger followed giving us a nice show!
Overall it was a spectacular day out there!  On the way back to the dock we spotted a Manatee that I later found out has been seen around in the Pamlico Sound for the last month, a first for me!

Thank you to everyone who joined us and a big thanks to Jeff Lemons & Lev Frid for helping us lead the trip!  Also thanks to Amanda Guercio for allowing us to use some of her images here!

Trip List
Black-capped Petrel  47
Cory's Shearwater  67
Great Shearwater  8
Audubon's Shearwater  43
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  82-97
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  2
Oceanodroma sp.  1
Red-necked Phalarope  3+
Bridled Tern  6
Black Tern  1
Long-tailed Jaeger  1
Pomarine Jaeger  1

Osprey  1
Northern Waterthrush  1
Bottlenose Dolphin  9
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  3
Manatee!  1

Black-capped Petrel (Amanda Guercio)
A few images of the young Black-capped Petrel (Kate Sutherland)
A couple images of the two Black-cappeds feeding in the slick together (Kate Sutherland)
Wilson's Storm-Petrels in the slick (Amanda Guercio)
We had nice numbers of Wilson's for late August! (Kate Sutherland)
Ventral view of the first summer Pomarine Jaeger (Kate Sutherland)
& the Athens Highway...(Kate Sutherland)  We often see these car carriers offshore, and this one was headed from Baltimore, MD to Charleston, SC.