Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tuesday May 26, 2015 by Seabird McKeon

The Stormy Petrel II had another fantastic adventure on 26 May, 2015. Departing the docks at a sharp 5:30, Cpt. Brian Patteson made his way around the tail end of Hatteras Island and headed for open water. Conditions were clear but a little rough, which made for slow going. We were joined by a group of young Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, who were playing in the waves that we found challenging. Dropping from running speed at about 8:30, the first bird for most aboard was a South Polar skua! The bird flew steadily out of sight, allowing for brief, but clear views. It was quickly replaced by a white-faced Black Capped Petrel sitting on the water, which allowed for a close approach before taking flight. This pattern, of small numbers of a diverse selection of birds, would hold throughout the day.
Wilson’s storm petrels slowly gathered in the fish oil slick that Kate purposefully dripped from the stern. They were joined by four species of shearwater - the lacksidasical flight of Cory’s contrasting with the more purposeful Sooty and Great shearwaters, and the manic little Audubon’s shearwater that would pass by all day at high speed. The erratic, bounding flight of Leach’s storm petrel separated it easily from the smaller Wilson’s storm petrel, when one of the participants noticed a whale blow.
“Sperm Whale!” was the shout from Brian’s wheelhouse as the lopsided spout puffed to one side. The whale spent nearly 10 minutes at the surface with us before raising it’s squared off flukes into the sky and sounding. We were above a marine canyon- deep water that would harbor the squid that these whales feed upon. They weren’t the only squid hunters in the area, and several Pilot whales were seen nearby, with Common Terns above. Some of the dorsal fins didn’t seem quite right though, and Steve Howell was the first to put the pieces together as he ID’d the species: “Rough-toothed Dolphin.” Tight groups of these odd looking, rare dolphins, slowly showed the field marks: a distinctive angular dorsal fin, a ‘reptilian’ head shape without a break between the ‘beak’ and the ‘melon’, white/pink lips, and a dark ‘cape’ marking along the back. Seen rarely in these waters, even Brian and Kate have only seen this species a handful of times. A little later in the day, offshore Bottlenose dolphins would allow for comparison, rounding out an amazing day of cetacean sightings.
The roll-out of species would continue, with shearwaters, petrels, and storm petrels all visiting the slick as we traveled north with the Gulfstream. Bob Fogg and I were discussing Tropicbirds on the bow, when one appeared as if by invitation. The White-tailed tropicbird dropped from above amidships, and proceeded to circle the Stormy Petrel II for more than 5 minutes, allowing everyone onboard great views of this sought-after species. Re-energized by the tropicbird encounter, the whole boat settled into finding Band-Rumped Storm Petrels, with Nate Swick leading the search among the Wilson’s and distinguishing Band-Rumps from Leaches. This activity was interrupted only by a

challenging young jaeger, identified with photos as a Parasitic.
Working our way back inshore, we stopped to watch three Arctic Terns working a minor windline of Sargassum, their crisp wingbeats and long-tails distinctive over the blue water. Several adult Pomerine jaegers finished the day, spoon shaped tail feathers visible even from a distance. Coming back into the sound, everyone onboard was happy with another productive Spring Blitz trip to the Gulf Stream.
Thanks again to Brian, Kate, and the expert spotters Steve Howell, Bob Fogg, and Nate Swick for getting everyone on good birds safely. 

Black-capped Petrel  10
Cory's Shearwater  17
Great Shearwater  9
Sooty Shearwater  13-15
Audubon's Shearwater  22
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  170-200
Leach's Storm-Petrel  7-8
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  4
White-tailed Tropicbird  1
Common Tern  1
Arctic Tern  3
Sterna sp  2
South Polar Skua  1
Pomarine Jaeger  3
Parasitic Jaeger  1
Long-tailed Jaeger  1
jaeger sp  2

Pilot Whale (prob Short-finned)  12+
Spotted Dolphin  5
Rough-toothed Dolphin  7
Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore)  2
Sperm Whale  1

Black-capped Petrels (Steve Howell)
Great Shearwater 2nd Cycle (Steve Howell)
Juvie Sooty Shearwater, Wilson's Storm-Petrel, and Great Shearwater in the background!  (Steve Howell)
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel on the water (Bob Fogg)
White-tailed Tropicbird (Bob Fogg)
 White-tailed Tropicbird (Steve Howell)
Pilot Whale (Steve Howell)
Rough-toothed Dolphin (Steno bredanensis) by Bob Fogg, second photo by Steve Howell
Sperm Whale (Steve Howell)

& fluke by Bob Fogg!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Monday May 25, 2015 by Brian Patteson

After five excellent days since we embarked on the 2015 spring blitz, I figured we were due for a duller day. Kate assured me that would not be the case. After all we had pretty blue water and light southeasterly wind. Sure enough we were greeted with Sooty Shearwaters in Hatteras Inlet. Soon thereafter a South Polar Skua crossed our wake a just a few miles out. Next a couple of Long-tailed Jaegers flew over the bow. Out at the shelf break there was not much activity, but a charter boat reported some shearwaters just a couple of miles offshore so we slowed down and started looking. We jogged out past 100 fathoms with no chum, and when we got to 150 fathoms, Kate alerted me about a small petrel headed our way in the sun glare. I slowed the boat and it sailed right in- BERMUDA PETREL! It was only 8:25. Ten minutes later were were still watching it! Black-capped Petrel was our second gadfly petrel of the day. As we worked out to deeper water, we added Leach's and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels to the day's list. Out on the horizon, I spotted a few tubenoses circling. We jogged out there and took a look. To our amazement we found a Bermuda Petrel among shearwaters and Black-caps. It looked identical to the first bird seen an hour before, and it was in no hurry to leave the area. By mid morning there wasn't much flying, so we scanned the water hard for flocks. Bob Fogg spotted a flock of four birds in the distance. As we approached, it looked like four Black- caps, but when they flushed (not close) a Fea's/Zino's Petrel revealed itself. It sailed off to the horizon. All the time we were looking we were dragging a flock of storm-petrels and shearwaters with our chum slick. The activity attracted a South Polar Skua, which came in and joined the group. Working back in toward the shelf, we found some patches of Sargasso Weed and we stopped to net some and show the passengers. It turned out to be a good place to be when a Fea's Petrel came zipping by the bow. This bird was much closer, but it did not linger. After that, it was time to head back toward the inlet. It was a nice ride in and we found an Arctic Tern and a few more shearwaters and jaegers. We even saw a Leach's Storm-Petrel five miles off the beach. I would like to thank all our our top notch leaders for their hard work- Kate Sutherland, Steve Howell, David Shoch, and Bob Fogg- all working together like a well oiled machine. I'm looking forward to tomorrow!  (Photos today are by Brian Patteson, Steve Howell, Dave Shoch, & Bob Fogg - thanks guys!!  Captions & list by Kate)

Bermuda Petrel  1
Fea's Petrel  1
Fea's/Zino's Petrel  1
Black-capped Petrel  25-30
Cory's Shearwater  50+
Great Shearwater  8-9
Sooty Shearwater  25
Audubon's Shearwater  30
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  150
Leach's Storm-Petrel  8
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  5-6
Arctic Tern  1
Sterna sp.  2
Long-tailed Jaeger  5
jaeger sp.  2
South Polar Skua  2

OK, let's just get this out of the way first.  Here on the left is the interesting petrel, possibly a Zino's Petrel.  These birds were not extremely close to the boat, and the bird in question flew directly away from us.  Bob Fogg was able to get this photo.
And a few pictures of the Cahow!  First up, Brian Patteson:
& a very cool angle from Steve showing Brian taking one of these photos:
Dave Shoch:
Bob Fogg's Photos, first one shows the wing dragging the surface!
Black-capped Petrels (Steve Howell)
Cory's Shearwater (Bob Fogg)
 Cory's & Audubon's Shearwaters (Steve Howell)
Great Shearwater (Steve Howell)
Audubon's Shearwater (Steve Howell)
 Molting Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (Grant's) by Bob Fogg
South Polar Skua, it was very cooperative for over an hour!  (Bob Fogg)
 by Steve Howell
Atlantic Necromancer (Steve Howell)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday May 24, 2015

North-easterly winds last evening and easterlies predicted for today gave us high hopes, and we were not disappointed.  The Gulf Stream is quite narrow right now and the eastern wall is just 50 or so miles offshore.  Brian was vacillating as to whether we should just head for that since it was rumored to be productive, or stop as usual and see how the day would unfold.  He decided on the latter and it was the right choice!  I spotted some cetaceans off the bow just after 0930 and we were treated to almost 20 minutes of five Gervais' Beaked Whales!  These seemed to be mostly females with some younger individuals surfacing right next to the boat.  This is the species we see here most often, but little is known about them, so any encounter is to be cherished and appreciated.  A little after 1000 a Pomarine Jaeger flew in to the slick and I put out a fresh chum block and some shark liver to entice it to come in a bit closer.  Just a moment later Dave Shoch yelled "Trindade Petrel!!!  Right here!  In the stern!"  Word got out and the bird made the closest and best passes of any we have had yet this spring!  Excellent beginning to the day!  We went on to have good looks at the expected species including Cory's, Great, Sooty, and Audubon's Shearwaters.  Wilson's Storm-Petrels were very attentive in the slick and we had close views of Band-rumped and Leach's Storm-Petrels!  Three species of jaeger were encountered today - Pomarine Jaegers were easily seen following behind the boat, a Long-tailed Jaeger came into the slick just after 1:30, adding one more species to the Blitz list, and we had a first summer Parasitic Jaeger that sat down on the water and we approached it closely before it took off.  Black-capped Petrels were not quite as active as they have been on the last few trips, but they were seen and a few flew right in to the boat.

Thanks to everyone who joined us today, we had many new participants with us.  Also thanks to Dave Shoch & Bob Fogg for helping lead the trip and for contributing photos for this post!

Trindade Petrel  1
Black-capped Petrel  28
Cory's Shearwater  23
Great Shearwater  8
Sooty Shearwater  14-17
Audubon's Shearwater  7
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  170-200
Leach's Storm-Petrel  3
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  6-8
Red-necked Phalarope  2
Pomarine Jaeger  3
Parasitic Jaeger  1
Long-tailed Jaeger  1

Common Loon  2
Common Tern  4

Gervais' Beaked Whale  5
Loggerhead Turtle  1
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark  1

Trindade Petrel (Bob Fogg)
Trindade Petrel (Dave Shoch)
Great Shearwater (Dave Shoch)
Audubon's Shearwater (Bob Fogg)
Interesting Wilson's Storm-Petrel (Bob Fogg)  This bird was with us for hours.
Molting Band-rumped Storm-Petrels (both by Dave Shoch)
Pomarine Jaeger (both by Bob Fogg)
Parasitic Jaeger, first summer individual (Dave Shoch)
Long-tailed Jaeger (Bob Fogg)
Common Tern (Dave Shoch)
Gervais' Beaked Whale Mesoplodon europaeus (Dave Shoch)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday May 23, 2015 by, David Shoch

“What’s this?!!”
was the shout from the wheelhouse, only minutes after our arrival to the deep.
When Brian Patteson calls out “what’s this?”, you better pay attention. Odds are it’s something good.
You can also expect it to be a rhetorical question, and Brian quickly followed with
“Fea’s Petrel!! 11 o’clock coming in to the boat with a Great Shearwater!”
That was our wake-up call this morning.
On the way out over the shelf we’d already logged northbound Common Loons, an Arctic Tern, two Pomarine Jaegers and a Sooty Shearwater. So we were already plenty awake. The Fea’s Petrel just wired us up to a higher level of alertness that carried on through the day.
Warm water has crept well over the shelf this season, and well ahead of schedule we were seeing scattered sargassum, flying fish and a solitary man-o-war. Out in the deep, we quickly pulled in Mother Kate’s chickens, aka Wilson’s Storm-petrels, beckoned by our drifting slick of menhaden oil. And it wasn’t long before the Wilson’s were joined by a few other larger, longer-winged storm-petrels with bounding nighthawk-like flight – Leach’s! Later in the morning the call of “Band-rumped!!” went out, and into the afternoon we were treated by repeat visits of Band-rumped Storm-petrels to the slick, mostly adult “Grant’s” well into primary molt, but also a fresh-looking candidate for a juvenile “Grant’s.”
It was a good day for Black-capped Petrels – we tallied around 70 birds by the end of the day. A few birds even broke from their mid-day siesta time to pay visits to the boat. It’s always remarkable to see this rocketing gadfly in its element, to see that instant of motionless at the top of its arc, before it sets its wings to come back hurtling downward. Despite the numbers of this species we see in the Gulf Stream, we can’t forget the daunting conservation challenges it faces on its breeding grounds in Hispaniola (and elsewhere in the Caribbean??).

We ended our day in the deep accompanied by a nice looking adult dark Pomarine Jaeger, which tailed the boat among the un-concerned storm-petrels in the slick for over an hour, offering excellent opportunities to the photographers (and even iPhone videographers) onboard.

Thanks to everyone who joined us offshore today!  We had a very keen group and a wonderful day offshore!  A big thanks to Michael Lanzone, today was his last day helping us lead trips before heading home to Pennsylvania.  Big thanks as well to Dave Shoch & Bob Fogg who started with us today leading trips - they both contributed photos, and Dave did me a huge favor and took care of today's trip report!  (Kate)

Fea's Petrel  1
Black-capped Petrel  70
Cory's Shearwater  23
Great Shearwater  5
Sooty Shearwater  7
Audubon's Shearwater  9
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  200-250
Leach's Storm-Petrel  4
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  4
Red-necked Phalarope  1
Arctic Tern  3
Pomarine Jaeger  4
Parasitic Jaeger  1
jaeger sp.  2

Common Loon  about 30
yellowlegs  1
shorebird sp.  5

Pilot Whale  3
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin  5

Fea's Petrel dorsal view (Bob Fogg)
 Fea's Petrel vent (David Shoch)
Black-capped Petrel (Bob Fogg)
Great Shearwater - two images by David Shoch
Leach's Storm-Petrel (Bob Fogg)
 Our fresh looking candidate for a juvie "Grant's" (David Shoch)
Pomarine Jaeger & Wilson's Storm-Petrel (Bob Fogg)
 Dark Pomarine Jaeger (David Shoch)