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:
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...