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 flyingfish...it 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.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

August 21 & 22, 2015 by Brian Patteson

It was good to be back out on the big boat with a good number of participants on two consecutive trips.  The weather was quite different each day.  On Friday we had light winds and slight seas for most of the day and on Saturday, it was pretty testy in the hot fast water for the six hours were spent there.   Shearwaters were seen in good numbers each day and recent trends continued.  We had modest numbers of Cory’s Shearwaters (photo by Kate Sutherland, individual pictured is a good candidate for Scopoli's)
and good numbers of Great and Audubon’s Shearwaters.  On Friday morning there was a good flight of shearwaters as we headed out over the continental shelf, but there were also many birds sitting by mid morning.  On Saturday, there were more birds moving over a very broad front for most of the morning.  Storm-petrels were very scarce on Friday and we had our first miss on Band-rumped since May.  We did better with Wilson’s on Saturday, but it took a while to chum up a few Band-rumps.  Black-capped Petrels were very scarce on Friday, but showed up well with the wind on Saturday (photo by Kate Sutherland). 
It was a great day for Black-caps and we had several feeding close in the chum during the early afternoon.  On Friday we had a nice flock of Bridled Terns come in and feed in the slick.  That’s right- we chummed up the terns (photo by Kate Sutherland). 
Sooty Terns were notably absent after being around the last couple of weekends.   We did not find any feeding flocks of seabirds over tuna in the slope waters this weekend despite a bit of looking.   Friday was a good day for phalaropes and we saw a few flocks, but they were all on the move.  I was hoping for some jaegers with the cold front, but our only good look was a Pomarine chasing Audubon’s Shearwaters on Friday.  Mid to late August has historically been a good time to see Trindade Petrels and tropicbirds, but they have not been around much lately.  What have been around though are boobies and we saw two nice ones on Friday: first a flyby Brown spotted by Kate, and then a second summer Masked Booby I picked out of a shearwater flock (photo with Cory's by Kate Sutherland).  
The Brown was our third for the season and it was our second Masked Booby for the year.  I would like to thank Kate Sutherland for doing her usual excellent job leading and this week's guest leaders- Scott Winton (check out his blog post about the trips here) and Natalia Ocampo Penuela- for doing an outstanding job as well.  They were particularly diligent in reporting every bird they saw for the day’s count.  We are running another trip from Hatteras  on Saturday, August 29 and space is available.  We also have space on a small boat trip on Sept. 5.  After that, we don’t have any open trips scheduled for a while, but we are open for charters.  September is a good month for seabirds here- usually all month long.  Thank you to everyone who joined us for these trips!

Trip Lists for Aug 21 / 22
Black-capped Petrel  13 / 38-43
Cory's Shearwater  131 / 154
Great Shearwater  31 / 17
Audubon's Shearwater  67 / 83
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  32 / 76-81
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  0 / 3-5
Oceanodroma sp.  0 / 2
Masked Booby  1 / 0
Brown Booby  1 / 0
Red-necked Phalarope  60 / 0
Bridled Tern  11 / 1
Onychoprion sp.  0 / 1  
Black Tern  32 / 20+
Pomarine Jaeger  1 / 0

Black-capped Petrel showing the white rump and why Steve Howell calls it a flying field mark!  (Kate Sutherland)
We had some white-faced Black-cappeds on Saturday's trip (Kate Sutherland)
A couple of photos to show the conditions on Saturday, and why the Black-cappeds were on the move in their element! (Kate Sutherland)
And a darker Black-capped (Kate Sutherland)
This photo illustrates how cooperative Friday's Masked Booby was! (Brian Patteson)
& in flight (Kate Sutherland)
A couple more Bridled Tern shots from Friday!  First Summer individual (Kate Sutherland)
 Adult (Kate Sutherland)

Monday, August 17, 2015

August 14 & 16, 2015 - Discovery Series by Brian Patteson

We had pleasantly cool conditions for the small boat trips over the weekend.  We went offshore aboard the Skua on Friday and Sunday.  The north wind made for some choppy seas in the blue water but we had good close looks at the summer seabirds.  Some of the Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were almost close enough to touch as they fed busily in the slick.  
Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were present in small numbers and gave us many good views.  A single Leach’s Storm-Petrel with incomplete carpal bars and a narrower than usual rump patch got by me on Friday.  I should have taken a longer look but Kate got some photos. 
There has been some talk about the younger Leach’s looking more like Band-rumps after a Texas pelagic trip earlier this month where they saw some messy looking birds, but had a lot of photos to pour over.  It’s definitely a challenge sometimes and I remember we had a hard time with these birds when they were blown nearshore after hurricanes in years past.  Back then we didn’t have the photos to fall back on either.  Anyhow the times are changing and it’s amazing how you can take a digital photo of a distant tern or jaeger from the boat now, blow it up to full pixels, and see what you couldn’t resolve with the binocular.  I still think storm-petrels are best observed without bins if they are close enough, but there are times when you need to take a long look.

Black-capped Petrels made a good showing on both trips.  We have not had really high numbers lately, but they have feeding pretty well on our chum.  
We saw the usual shearwaters.  We had modest numbers of Cory’s and Greats but not many Audubon’s.  Hopefully we will get another influx of the latter when the wind veers to the south.  We did not see any phalaropes, but between the scattered grass and wind chop that’s not too surprising.  There were a number of Sooty Terns on both days, but we did not see a Bridled Tern well until Sunday. 
It’s amazing how many Bridled Terns we pick up with our chum slick.  There were also a few Black Terns offshore.  Three Pomarine Jaegers followed the boat for a few miles on Friday.  We were hoping for a Trindade Petrel or some other rarity, but had no such luck.  Maybe we will have a showing before the summer is over.  Bottlenose Dolphins on Sunday were the only cetaceans we saw offshore, but they put on a nice show close to the boat.   I would like to thank Kate for her hard work on deck both days and our intrepid participants- especially those who came back after bumpy trip on Friday only to have me take them out to the washing machine on Sunday when most of the birds seemed to be in the hot fast water.

Trip Lists Aug 14 / 16
Black-capped Petrel  32-34 / 45-47
Cory's Shearwater  104-105 / 102
Great Shearwater  15 / 23-25
Audubon's Shearwater  7 / 8
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  143-153 / 150-160
Leach's Storm-Petrel  1 / 0
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  10 / 7-8
Sooty Tern  28 / 3
Bridled Tern  0 / 5
Onchyprion sp.  2 / 0
Pomarine Jaeger  3 / 1
jaeger sp.  0 / 1
Laughing Gull (offshore) 0 / 4
Bottlenose Dolphin  0 / 15-20

Black-capped Petrel (dark faced individual)
 A white faced Black-capped Petrel that we saw on Sunday
Cory's Shearwaters on the water Sunday, illustrating how to ride over a wave in rough seas!
This individual looks like a good candidate for the nominate Cory's, or Scopoli's, Shearwater.
 A Great Shearwater flying over the slick with Wilson's Storm-Petrels.
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
One of the three Pomarine Jaegers that followed us for over an hour on Friday!
 A younger individual

Monday, August 10, 2015

August 7 & 8, 2015

Summer is finally here!  We were lucky with the weather for these two trips since the forecast was for rain all day Friday (we only had rain on our way to the inlet in the morning then on the way back to the dock in the afternoon) and for some gusty north winds on Saturday (the wind did not pick up until after 1pm).  The birds were cooperative and spectacular on both trips and we were able to chalk up 11 species on Friday & 10 on Saturday (plus some other non pelagic species).  The Sooty Terns are here and we encountered multiple "beehives" each day crowned by these powerful aerialists (photo by Peter Flood).
Bridled Terns, though much fewer in number, were also around and we had two come in and feed closely on chum Saturday morning (photo by Brian Patteson).
Red-necked Phalaropes have turned up again and we had approachable individuals on each trip (photo by Peter Flood).
Black-capped Petrels made a nice showing and we had some feeding in the chum behind the boat each day with enough close passes for everyone to see and identify with the naked eye!  Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were also obliging, flying near the stern for excellent views and photo-ops and Wilson's Storm-Petrels made a strong showing on both trips.  The "beehives" we found were mostly composed of Cory's Shearwaters with some Great and Audubon's in there as well.  We had excellent views of all, and were especially excited to have young Audubon's Shearwaters flying closely behind the boat as they fed fearlessly in the slick (photo by Brian Patteson)!
On Saturday we also had a Manx Shearwater fly by the boat medium distance in the afternoon after a less than satisfactory view of one flying away in the morning!  Friday's trip turned up a couple of Pomarine Jaegers, one in with a feeding flock was close enough for some nice views!  The surprise bird was about 1:15 pm on Friday, though.  I was in the wheelhouse talking to Brian when a shout of "BOOBY!" went out on the starboard side of the boat!  Sure enough, an immature Brown Booby flew right in to the boat and circled around for a few minutes before heading away (photo by Peter Flood)!
Summer seabirding is always exciting, and these trips proved just that!  We were very excited to have Kenn Kaufman join us for both trips and would like to thank everyone who came out with us for making the trips possible!  A big thanks also to Jeff Lemons & Peter Flood for helping us lead the trips (and to Peter for allowing us to use his photos here, more can be found in his Flickr album for NC - scroll down for Aug 7 & 8).

Trip Lists August 7 / 8, 2015
Black-capped Petrel  29 / 32
Cory's Shearwater  200 / 203-208
Great Shearwater  14 / 36
Manx Shearwater  0 / 2
Audubon's Shearwater  53 / 42
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  120-135 / 236-246
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  4-6 / 10
Oceanodroma sp.  0 / 3
Brown Booby  1 / 0
Red-necked Phalarope  8 / 17-19
Sooty Tern  33 / 38
Bridled Tern  9 / 5
Onychoprion sp.  3 / 0
Pomarine Jaeger  2 / 0

sandpiper sp  0 / 1
Least Tern  2 / 0
Black Tern  3 / 1
Common Tern  2-3 / 0
Barn Swallow  0 / 1
Spotted Dolphin  10-12 / 0
Bottlenose Dolphin  1 / 0

(All photos below by Peter Flood)
Black-capped Petrel 
 Black-capped Petrel pursuing an Audubon's Shearwater with chum!
Sharp looking Audubon's Shearwater 
Wilson's Storm-Petrel on one of our drifts Saturday 
A couple of Band-rumped Storm-Petrel images from Friday's trip
More shots of Friday's immature Brown Booby 
Red-necked Phalarope in flight 
Juvenile Sooty Tern (top) adult (bottom)
Bridled Terns