Monday, July 10, 2017

Pelagic Flashback: July 20 - by Brian Patteson


If you do enough pelagic trips over the years, one thing that becomes clear is how different things can be from one year to the next. This is pretty easy to see on dates when we run trips nearly every year, such as late May and early June. We run comparatively fewer trips in summer and I thought it would be neat to look at the archives and see what we had seen on a given date in years past. Then I figured it would make more sense to push it up 10 days so that readers might still have time to come down and join a trip on the schedule around that date this year. Today we look back at July 20. As far as I can tell we have only run a couple of trips on that date from Hatteras since we started here back in 1994. 

Our first trip was over 20 years ago on July 20, 1996. Back then, we ran fewer trips in the spring than we do now and the summer dates were often well attended. We did not have our own boat back then and the trips ran a bit differently. One of the main things was we went faster and covered more water, but we did generally did not get as close to the birds and we had not refined our chumming technique. Nevertheless, on July 20, 1996, we had a great trip and we saw over 1000 birds represented by 11 pelagic species.

Here is what we saw: Black-capped Petrel 131, Fea’s Petrel 1 or 2, Cory’s Shearwater 474, Great Shearwater 17, Audubon’s Shearwater 347, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel 63, Band-rumped Storm-Petrel 1, BR/Leach’s 5, Red-necked Phalarope 1, Parasitic Jaeger 1, Bridled Tern 2, Sooty Tern 3, Bridled/Sooty 1.

Apparently we did not run another pelagic trip on July 20 until 2013. This was a trip on our boat, the Stormy Petrel II using our current techniques in the same general area as the 1996 trip. We saw only about 120 birds of seven species in 2013. Does that mean there are far fewer birds almost two decades later? Not necessarily. We had a similar experience play out in reverse in the 20s of May this year. We had low numbers and low diversity for a few days and then we had 15 species and large numbers when environmental conditions changed. 

Anyhow, here’s what we saw on July 20, 2013: Black-capped Petrel 23, Fea’s Petrel 1, Cory’s Shearwater ZERO, Great Shearwater 1, Audubon’s Shearwater 23, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel 45, Band-rumped Storm-Petrel 25, Leach’s Storm-Petrel 2.

What an interesting pair of trips: amazingly we saw Fea’s Petrel on both of them and this is a bird that we do not see on most of our trips in July. And while it’s not unheard of to miss Band-rumped Storm-Petrel at its peak season (we squeaked by in ’96), the trip in 2013 was our first summer trip ever to dip on Cory’s Shearwater. It was an odd time. We only saw about 2 Cory’s the day before and 13 the day after this infamous trip. Anyhow, this just goes to show that “you don’t know until you go.” And it pays to go on multiple trips, although it’s usually not necessary for seeing Cory’s Shearwater. 


What else might we see around this time? There are many possibilities. We have seen Trindade Petrel many times in July over the years. We have seen Bermuda Petrel a few times in July. Manx Shearwater has been seen many times in July. Both Red-billed and White-tailed Tropicbirds have been seen on many July trips. July is peak time for both Brown and Masked Boobies. Both Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaegers, especially younger birds are seen from time to time. South Polar Skua is a reasonable possibility if there are large numbers of shearwaters present. And we can dream about more outlandish finds, such as the Black-bellied Storm-Petrel, we saw on July 16, 2006. And, of course, there are the dolphins, beaked whales, Sperm Whales, sea turtles, flyingfish and other marine life out there that makes every trip to the Gulf Stream unique.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Spring 2017 Report - by Brian Patteson

We had a good run of spring pelagic trips this year, and as usual, it was different from previous years, as a combination of many factors plays on the seabird distribution off Cape Hatteras.  This year we had a hard blow from the west early on that caused us to miss three consecutive days of trips.  Never in two decades of running trips here have we missed three in a row!  The first couple of days back to sea after that blow were pretty slow compared to some of the slowest trips ever, but we ended up with over two dozen species of seabirds for the spring.  We did not miss any more trips on account of weather either.  Overall, westerly winds were the dominant force and on the one day we had light southeast winds we tallied 15 species of pelagic seabirds!

I have compared what we saw this spring to the long term averages for the various seabird species in an effort to show what was "better or worse" than most years.  We also found a nice variety of marine mammals on the trips, with nine species seen altogether.  I would like to thank everyone who came out to Hatteras to go to sea with us and also our trips leaders.  We had a good group of both veteran spotters and some young eyes that included: Ned Brinkley, Dave Shoch, Steve Howell, Lev Frid, Seabird McKeon, Peter Flood, Ed Corey, Chloe Walker, and Sage Church.  We were able to run a total of fifteen trips this spring, click HERE for the trip lists and totals.

Trindade Petrels - were not around - generally we find them with easterlies, which were lacking.  A hard blow from the west in the mid 20s of May and subsequent light westerlies for several days ruined our chances.

Fea's Petrel - fewer than usual - good looks on May 22 and June 2 and possibly seen on May 28 & 30 (aberrant individual)

Black-capped Petrel - westerlies are fine for Black-capped Petrels and we saw numbers exceeding the long term average on several trips - we only saw 17 on May 20 but a cold front that evening brought them to Hatteras - we saw 200 on May 21.  On June 4 the Gulf Stream took a queer turn offshore and numbers dropped considerably for the next three trips.

Cory's Shearwater - low numbers for the most part this spring; they arrived in force following a hard blow from the north for three days prior to the June 9 trip.

Great Shearwater - seen only on four trips before June 9.  They were a bit late arriving this year but exceptional numbers were seen on June 9 with 170 tallied.

Sooty Shearwater - seen on eight of the trips this spring; sometimes when we have more easterly winds we see large numbers of these birds passing by nearshore in the spring.

Manx Shearwater - seen on just four trips - at least five were among the Audubon's Shearwaters on May 30.

Audubon's Shearwater - seen in better than average numbers on the first three trips, they were scarce following the hard westerly blow (along with most seabirds).  On May 30 we found the largest aggregation of Audubon's Shearwaters I have seen since possibly the 1990s with several hundred feeding in the Sargassum on the edge of the Gulf Stream.  Three days later they were quite scarce, as the conditions had changed.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel - generally in low numbers this spring with about 40% of what we would expect over the course of 15 trips.

Leach's Storm-Petrel - seen on just six trips.  This in not surprising considering the lack of easterly wind.  Nevertheless we had some great looks at birds that did come to feed in the chum slick.

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - starting on May 22 seen on all of the trips with the best numbers in early June.  A minority of the birds might have been summer breeders, but we also saw full-winged birds that looked large and stout, suggesting the more common winter-breeders.

European Storm-Petrel - seen well and photographed on May 21 - a bit earlier than most of our records here

Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel - MEGA!!!  We had one visit our slick intermittently for over an hour on June 9.  Seen first at a distance, we eventually got photos and closer looks.  Seen by all aboard the Stormy Petrel II!  Third record for early June and 5th sighting off North Carolina!

Red-billed Tropicbird - We typically see these on about 10% of our spring trips, this year we just saw one on June 1.  The bird was sitting on the water and allowed for a fairly close approach.

Masked Booby - We had distant looks at one on June 9, which was the day with 100s of large shearwaters.

Brown Booby - a quick fly by offshore on June 3.

Red-necked Phalarope - seen only on May 21.  This is a common transient in early to mid May, but generally scarce thereafter.

Brown Noddy - NC rarity - Our first good look with photos aboard the Stormy Petrel II on May 31.

Bridled Tern - seen on most of the trips (9 out of 15), with at least 32 individuals!  This is probably a record for spring.  Usually they are found on less than 40% of the spring trips.

Roseate Tern - We saw one offshore on May 22, a day on which we found an excellent diversity of seabirds.  One of the rarest birds of the spring, they have been seen on less than 10 trips over the years.  We would probably have more records if we ran in early to mid May.

Arctic Tern - seen on just four trips.  Nine was a good count on May 22.  Westerlies are not good for finding this species.

South Polar Skua - we only saw two this spring, which is less than usual

Pomarine Jaeger - 19 or 20 was a good count on May 22 (a day with south east winds) but we only saw singles on three other days this spring.  Usually we see Poms on more than half of the trips.

Parasitic Jaeger - This si the rarest jaeger here in late May and early June and we only saw two on as many trips.

Long-tailed Jaeger - we found them on four trips which is only slightly less than the long term average of 30%, but that's not bad considering the lack of easterlies this year.

"Scopoli's" Shearwater - we saw a small number of birds we identified as this taxon and we found them on most of the trips.  These birds seem to be more faithful to the chum than the Atlantic Cory's, so careful scanning in the wake often pays off.

Below are a few images from the spring, you can also check out Peter Flood's album on his Flickr page, here,  and Chloe Walker's on hers, here!  I hope to have mine up soon as well! -Kate Sutherland

A few images from Dave Shoch:
 A nice comparison of Manx (l) and Audubon's (r) flying together
 Manx Shearwater showing the dark face and white undertail in flight,
 and on the water!
 One of the fresh Band-rumped Storm-Petrels from the spring - a Madeiran type
A molting Band-rumped, one of the more commonly seen Grant's type individuals

On June 1 we had an incredible encounter with a pod of False Killer Whales, or Pseudorcas, and passenger Ed Hickl who was aboard with a group from TX that day, captured these images of one breaching right in front of the boat!!

A few more photos from Kate Sutherland...
A Red-necked Phalarope from a different perspective...!
Black-capped Petrel and Wilson's Storm-Petrel
Bridled Tern
 A first summer Long-tailed Jaeger
and a subadult Long-tailed
 Pomarine Jaeger from the day we had 19 or 20 individuals
A dark Pom
South Polar Skua - a banded individual
 It was pretty exciting to see Risso's Dolphins on a few trips this spring!
 The individual on the left was perhaps a younger one that was still quite dark in color.
This is a more white or gray individual - we usually see more animals like this one when we see Risso's, or Grampus.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Friday June 23, 2017 - by Kate Sutherland

Two weeks is a long time without a seabirding trip and I'm always excited to get back out to the deeper water offshore here!  I rode along on a few fishing trips since our last outing and while it was nice, and we had some shearwaters and a couple of young Long-tailed Jaegers, I always am thinking about what is out past the shelf break, what the Black-capped Petrels are up to, and if the Band-rumpeds are out there like our last trip...  So I was really excited to see our participants Friday morning bright and early, all of us ready to get out there and see what we could find!  There has not been a good temperature map since about June 18th since our weather has been cloudy and unsettled, so we were not sure where the hot water was, but had seen some Sargassum on Thursday's fishing trip, and had an idea that with the southerly winds some of the birds associated with that habitat might show up.  It was just offshore of the shelf break that we found our first nice condition, and turned to follow an edge that had some Sargassum lined up along it...as I stepped in the wheelhouse to check our location and water temp, someone shouted "terns!!  there are some terns back here!"  Sure enough, two adult Bridled Terns had flown right in to the boat and were hovering and making passes near the stern and then around the boat! (photo Kate Sutherland)
A tough act to follow right at the beginning of the day!  But as we worked our way offshore we were treated to close views of Cory's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters plus a few Wilson's Storm-Petrels began to follow in the fish oil slick.  Our first Black-capped Petrel was a distant one and we hoped to have a closer look as the day went on, but they were tough to see today and it was not until the winds picked up in the afternoon that we had some nice looks at these tropical Pterodromas flying by.  They were just not very hungry, so mostly checked out the slick and moved on.  Our shearwaters, on the other hand, were much more attentive in the slick and we had some hungry Great Shearwaters behind the boat for most of the afternoon, (photo Kate Sutherland)
diving and feeding on the fresh frozen fish we had to offer!  Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were not around like they were on our last trip, but at least we had some nice views of a couple that came to check out the slick.  Audubon's were around in good numbers and we had some close views of them foraging in the sargassum. (photo Brian Patteson)
At the end of the day we had two of the nominate type of Cory's, also known as Scopoli's Shearwater, feeding behind the boat.  Everyone was able to get good looks at this slightly smaller type of Cory's, and they were even cooperative in showing us the white in their underprimaries! (photo Kate Sutherland)
While we did not have any close looks at jaegers today, we did have a few distant individuals that flew by, with only one that looked to be identifiable as a Long-tailed.

Thank you so much to everyone who joined us today!  It was a great group and everyone was looking all day, making sure we didn't miss anything!  Our trip for Saturday was weathered out, but our next set of trips will be coming up on July 7 & 8!  Join us!

Trip List June 23, 2017
Black-capped Petrel  7
Cory's Shearwater  31 (2 of these were Scopoli's)
Great Shearwater  43-45
Audubon's Shearwater  40
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  29
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  2-3
Bridled Tern  2
Long-tailed Jaeger  1
jaeger sp.  2

A nice comparison of Cory's and Great Shearwaters head on, you can see the difference in the head color and bill color here (Kate Sutherland)
A few more photos of the Scopoli's Shearwaters from the end of the day, one showed more white in the underprimaries than the other (Kate Sutherland)
The dorsal view of one of these individuals (Kate Sutherland)
Another shot of one of the Bridled Terns (Kate Sutherland)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Saturday June 10, 2017 - by Kate Sutherland

Yesterday the Gulf Stream was off, with downcurrent, blended looking water, and really no current edges or "typical" habitat out there - but we found a Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel and fishing was off the charts for the first time this season - no complaints!  Today the skies were a bit clearer (sunrise by Kate Sutherland) 
and a satellite image of the sea surface temperature showed the hot water about 40 miles offshore, we actually found it a bit inshore of that since it can change rapidly, and it was quite different from Friday!  We had light westerly and southwesterly winds but swell from the southeast, who knew what we might be able to turn up?! The shearwaters were not inshore as they had been, but they are here, and we had awesome views of Cory's, Great, and Audubon's over the course of the day and were treated to up to six or seven young Greats in the slick squabbling and feeding on the chum. Photo by Sea McKeon 
Black-capped Petrels treated us to some incredible views, though we did not see as many as we saw earlier in the spring.  We picked up a few Wilson's Storm-Petrels, with the first Band-rumped winging in a little after 0900! Photo by Kate Sutherland 
They are here!  We had up to four at once feeding in the slick with the Wilson's and a couple that stayed with the boat for hours flying up to the stern of the boat, feeding, then flying out of the slick and to the back of the flock, working their way forward again and again much to the delight of those aboard who wanted a chance to study these dynamic stormies!  Over the two days this weekend we had both the molting Band-rumpeds, the Grant's type, and the smaller, fresh Band-rumpeds that could possibly be the summer breeding Madeiran type.  At one point on Friday one of each was flying together right in front of the boat, passing under the pulpit as Ned Brinkely shouted out to our participants to take note of the size difference.  Just about where we found the blue water edge today, we had the first Leach's Storm-Petrel join the slick and make a quick pass, a new species for the weekend and we saw at least one or two others before the day was over!  Sea McKeon had a kite that young spotter Sage Church had colored to look like a tropicbird - because just maybe...? Photo by Kate Sutherland 
While we were not lucky enough to lure one of those in, it did attract the attention of a young Bridled Tern who came right in to check that kite out about four or five times before heading away! Though we had a lot of eyes scanning, Brian spotted the birds of the day from the wheelhouse!  First the news of a large dark bird, a skua, flying about a mile and a half distant perked us all up around one in the afternoon, pursuit followed since we saw the bird flare up a few times, as if over some shearwaters, then it was gone.  On the water we hoped, and we were right!  There was a flock of shearwaters and storm-petrels on the water where we slowed and just beyond them sat the unmistakable dark form of a skua!  We were able to approach the bird and when it flushed, still a bit ahead of the boat, it came right at us, Photo by Brian Patteson
passing by and checking us out before flying directly to the shearwaters and showing us what they do best (see photos below)!  It was impressive!  Just moments later, Brian shouted out that there was a white bird circling above a ship ahead - as it flew in, excitement soared to find it was a first summer Arctic Tern! Photo by Brian Patteson 
Followed by another!  I put out a little extra chum and one of them flew right overhead to check it out.  Three new species for the weekend today, and we even found a lost Brown Pelican out there 28 miles from the inlet!  That brought us up to fifteen pelagic species for this two day set - pretty lucky for one Big Year birder who happened to be on the boat for both days!!  Good luck Yve Morrell, we enjoyed your company!

Thanks to everyone who joined us for these trips and a big thanks to Ned Brinkley & Sea McKeon for helping to lead both trips along with our young leaders, Chloe Walker and Sage Church!  Everyone worked together to make this an amazing set!  Crazy to think that the Swinhoe's was a bird that three of us aboard had seen before...

Trip List June 10, 2017
Black-capped Petrel  16-17
Cory's Shearwater  62
Great Shearwater  20
Sooty Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  62
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  82-92
Leach's Storm-Petrel  2-3
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  12-14
Arctic Tern  2
South Polar Skua  1

Brown Pelican  1

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  20-22
Bottlenose Dolphin  20+
White Marlin  1

Black-capped Petrel (Kate Sutherland)
A nice dark faced individual (Sea McKeon)
Another nice Great Shearwater capture from the stern (Sea McKeon)
Audubon's Shearwater (Sea McKeon)
A couple photos of Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - molting, probably Grant's type (Kate Sutherland)
The Bridled Tern that was attracted to the tropicbird kite! (Kate Sutherland)
The South Polar Skua (Brian Patteson)
& a few shots of the distant shearwater chase!  top by Sea McKeon and bottom photo of the skua turning back on the Cory's by Kate Sutherland
We also encountered some dolphins today - here an image of a Bottlenose Dolphin by Sea McKeon

Friday, June 9, 2017

June 9, 2017 - Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel!! by Seabird McKeon


Some days, the Gulf Stream runs like a cobalt river through the green Atlantic, with hard edges and defined boundaries.  Other days, the stream is more nebulous, overflowing its banks and mixing into the surrounding waters.  We never found edges today, feeling our way along by water temperature and the instincts of Brian and Kate.  And that strategy paid off.

Dropping to a jog well before the shelf-break, large numbers of Cory’s, Great, and Audubon’s shearwaters were feeding where the fishing fleet had set up shop for the day.  A small pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins confirmed that we were in mixed waters.  As we worked our way through the shearwaters, enjoying the newly abundant Great Shearwaters (photo by Kate Sutherland),
a couple of Bridled terns appeared above the horizon, allowing only brief views.  We worked our way east, started the slick, and started picking up Black-capped Petrels and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels. Kate spotted a Masked Booby flying high above the horizon.

As the day wore on, a few Band-rumped Storm-Petrels joined the mix, with good views of both larger individuals with heavy primary moult, and smaller ones in fresh plumage. (photo of a molting Band-rumped, but without an obvious gap in primaries by Kate Sutherland)
A pair of Offshore Bottlenosed Dolphin came to bow briefly before most people started to eat lunch and reapply sunscreen.  We seemed to be in birds all day, with a constant flow of larger shearwaters, and eventually had a crew of Great and at least one Sooty shearwater following the boat.  A Parasitic Jaeger chased down a Black-capped Petrel alongside the boat, and got people to the handrails, when the call came from the back of the boat “Larger storm-petrel in the Slick”.

Kate came over the radio: “Flying like a Leaches?” I could see the erratic wingbeat of the distinctly larger bird as it went through the Wilson’s, but could also hear the question mark hanging over her statement.  I looked for the chestnut carpal bars of Leaches’ and didn’t find them, they were buffy.  I looked at the rump of the bird as Ned Brinkley shouted “THERE IS NO WHITE!”  The white vanes of the primaries glinted in the afternoon sun.  The boat leapt into action as everyone realized that we were looking at a Swinhoe’s Storm-Petrel, with participants and spotters alike trying to get eyes on the bird. 

Swinhoe’s is primarily a Pacific species, but in recent years a very small colony appears to have established on the Selvagen islands North of the Canaries in the East Atlantic.  This is the 5th record for the US, and for North Carolina. (Record shot by Kate Sutherland)

The bird appeared and disappeared 3 times, returning to feed in the slick by dropping onto the water with the wings raised.  Brian and Kate fought to get the boat, slick, and participants aligned for maximal viewing, resulting in everyone getting to see this Mega. 

Thanks to everyone who joined us today!  It was an amazing bird filled day out there and we found a Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel!!!  What could be better?  Helping us today were Ned Brinkely, Sea McKeon, Chloe Walker, and Sage Church - thank you!  Thanks to Sea for writing the blog and thank you to Brian & Chloe for contributing a few photos!  -Kate Sutherland

Trip List June 9, 2017
Black-capped Petrel  22
Cory's Shearwater  300 (at least a couple of Scopoli's)
Great Shearwater  170
Sooty Shearwater  2-4
Audubon's Shearwater  101-110
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  50-60
Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel  1
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  6-8
Masked Booby  1
Bridled Tern  2
Common Tern  2
Pomarine Jaeger  1
Parasitic Jaeger  1
Barn Swallow  1

Short-finned Pilot Whale  20-25
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  12-14
Bottlenose Dolphin  4

A couple more record shots of the Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel by Kate Sutherland - it was not super close!  But at least we were able to get some photos and more importantly, everyone aboard got it in view!
Black-capped Petrel (Kate Sutherland)
Cory's Shearwater (Chloe Walker)
Cory's & Audubon's Shearwaters flying together (Brian Patteson)
We also saw a gorgeous Portuguese Man-of-War (Chloe Walker)