Monday, October 15, 2018

Saturday October 13, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

Tropical Storm Michael brought some soundside flooding to the northern sections of Hatteras Island on Thursday night, but the winds had subsided and our channel to the ocean was still intact for our trip out on Saturday!  The winds were westerly in the morning and this gave us a steady procession of warblers for most of the day with at least six species identified offshore.  We were not sure how this would shape up for seabirding, but we need not have worried because we still encountered some nice groups of feeding shearwaters and the Black-capped Petrels were out there in force!  Brian had checked the sea surface temperature map before we left the dock and the hot water was to the south of us, heading offshore to the east.  This prompted us take a more southerly route in the morning from the inlet, but we found the nice, blue water of the Gulf Stream and had nice numbers of Audubon's Shearwaters before we even reached the shelf break! (photo of two Audubon's by Kate Sutherland)
Black-capped Petrels were in their element with the increasing winds throughout the day and a few times my scans turned up 45 to 50 individuals stretched back in the chum slick!  They were attentive to the chum like last weekend, and we had many incredible passes as these dynamic flyers came to feed behind the boat!  A young Herring Gull flew up the slick and for the first time I saw some Black-cappeds harassing this species, they did not bother a young Great Black-backed Gull that came in a bit later. (photo of Herring Gull, Cory's, and Black-capped Petrels behind the boat by Kyle Kittelberger)
There was also some activity at one point up ahead of the boat and a couple of Black-cappeds were chasing one another around, and though the reason was never apparent to us, the moniker "gadfly" made so much sense!  It was a very bizarre display.  Other individuals were cruising up high, at times there were up to ten sailing in the clouds before they would dive back down to sea level and begin a more typical, arcing flight.  They stole the show again this weekend, and while the light was at times harsh, the photo ops were seemingly endless (Kyle Kittelberger).
Heading back toward the shelf break just after noontime, our large shearwaters finally turned up!  We had a handful of Cory's in the morning, but were glad to finally encounter some feeding flocks that allowed everyone to have much closer views of both types of Cory's and some Great Shearwaters...all the while Black-capped Petrels were keeping up with us in the slick!  While we had a nice flight of Audubon's in the morning, there were not many in with these afternoon groups.  A couple of Wilson's Storm-Petrels came in to visit the chum slick and came close enough for some nice looks!  This time of year they can be hit or miss, so it was nice to see them.
Just over the shelf break, Brian spotted a huge Leatherback Turtle that stayed on the surface right next to the boat, taking a few breaths before sounding (Kyle Kittelberger).
This was the best view of a Leatherback we have ever had, and the churning water was impressive as its powerful flippers readied it to dive!  Dr. Fred Alsop of East Tennessee State University had his Coastal Studies class with us on Saturday, so this was the first sea turtle many of them had ever seen!  It was another incredible fall day out there!  Thanks to everyone who joined us for the trip, and a big thank you to Dr. Alsop for joining us with his class!  Thank you also to Kyle Kittelberger who helped Brian and I lead the trip and contributed photos for this post!

Species List for October 13, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  150-162
Atlantic Cory's  at least 4
Scopoli's Shearwater  at least 10
Cory's type  140-170
Great Shearwater  12-13
Audubon's Shearwater  76
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  2-3
Red-necked Phalarope  2
Herring Gull  1-2
Great Black-backed Gull  1
Common Tern  2

White-rumped Sandpiper  1
Wilson's Snipe  1
Tennessee Warbler  3
Cape May Warbler  9
Northern Parula  1
Chestnut-sided Warbler  1
Bay-breasted Warbler  2
Black-throated Blue Warbler  4
warbler sp.  39

Leatherback Turtle  2
Bottlenose Dolphins (offshore type)  4

Yes, a few more Black-capped Petrel photos, top two by Kate Sutherland, and you can see we had some in the green water in the bottom photo by Kyle Kittelberger!
This bird looked to be an Atlantic Cory's (Kate Sutherland)
We only saw two Red-necked Phalaropes all day, but it was a little choppy for spotting them on the water!  (Kate Sutherland)
Kyle also captured this image of some of the many warblers we had offshore!  (from L to R: Northern Parula (1st year), Cape May Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler (male), and another Cape May Warbler)
Another image of the Leatherback showing how it almost seemed to make a dent in the water before sounding!  (Kate Sutherland)
Finally, a few images from our sargassum dip with the ETSU students!  Top to bottom: both species of Sargassum - fluitans (L) natans (top R), a large male sargassum swimming crab (Portunus sayi), two photos in a row of a smaller, female swimming crab - dorsal and ventral (you can see she had eggs!), and finally a small pipefish!  (all photos by Kate Sutherland)

Monday, October 8, 2018

Saturday October 6, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

Conditions looked favorable for our trip this weekend and we were not disappointed!  It was an incredible day out there, showing how the possibilities for fall, a time when we have not run many trips, are just really unknown waiting to be explored.  Our jog out to the shelf break was uneventful, but right at the shelf edge we found our first "beehive" of shearwaters!  This flock was composed of mostly Cory's type shearwaters and as we checked them out most looked to be Scopoli's!  There were some Audubon's mixed in, a few Red-necked Phalaropes, one Great Shearwater, and a Black-capped Petrel that was feeding with the Scopoli's on small bait fish in and around the sargassum (photo by Kate Sutherland).
On our way offshore we just encountered more flocks of feeding birds, so we meandered out there, going from flock to flock.  One group held a Sooty Shearwater that sat for photos before taking off and flying out of sight (photo by Kate Sutherland).
Red-necked Phalaropes were zipping around in these flocks too, so we were able to get some nice views of them in flight and on the water.  A little before 1100 we found a nice current edge with about a 2 degree temperature break.  There was sargassum lined up along it and the blue water was testy with the north wind.  We did not see much life as we scanned offshore of the break, so we opted to stay where the birds were...and that choice really paid off!  Black-capped Petrels began gathering to feed in our chum slick so we put out some more food for them.  We had at least 40 individuals feeding around the boat for almost 30 minutes, flying right by us and almost over the pulpit!  It was a spectacle the likes of which we have never seen, and the photo ops of these gorgeous, freshly plumaged birds were incredible (photo by Brian Patteson)! 
Just as things were winding down with the Black-cappeds, I happened to look up and flying over us was an adult Masked Booby!!  It moved quickly over us and away, but we all had excellent views before it was gone (photo by Ed Corey). 
I thought we might find more jaegers out there with all of the shearwater action, but we just had one Pomarine Jaeger that hung with a shearwater flock harassing Audubon's and another quick pass by one that was either a Pom or Parasitic, views were fleeting and it flew into the sun.

There were some other interesting sightings for the day including at least 7 Mola mola, or Ocean Sunfish, one of which leaped from the water three times while we were watching!  They came close enough to the boat for us to see these strange looking bony fish under the surface as they moved along waving their dorsal fins occasionally above the surface.  We also had a nice hammerhead shark swim right up next to us and almost under the bow, much to the delight of participants in the pulpit!  As we headed back to shore, I spotted a large Loggerhead Turtle on the surface.  Typically these animals will dive before we are able to stop the boat to look at them, but this one stayed up and allowed us to approach.  Tami Gray, Brian's girlfriend and experienced waterwoman, noticed that there was a net hanging from the neck of the turtle.  With some team work we were able to get the turtle to the side of the boat, cut some of the net free, and see the extent of her injuries.  Once we saw the shape she was in, we brought her aboard, cut the remainder of the net from around her neck and took her back to port for a trip to a rehab facility. 
What an amazing day!

We want to thank everyone who joined us out there today, we could not run these trips without you!  And a big thank you to Ed Corey for helping us lead the trip and contributing photos for the post!  We still have space on the rest of our trips this month, they will run on October 13(14), 19, and 20th.

Species List for October 6, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  95-102
Cory's Shearwater  50
Scopoli's Shearwater  300
Cory's type  413-473
Great Shearwater  34-36
Sooty Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  71-72
Masked Booby  1
Red-necked Phalarope  48-49
Pomarine Jaeger  1
Pomarine/Parasitic Jaeger  1
Herring Gull  2
Peregrine Falcon  1
Loggerhead Turtle (with remoras when in the water)  1
hammerhead shark (likely Scalloped Hammerhead)  1
Mola mola (Ocean Sunfish)  7
Little Tunny  1 released
American Bird Grasshopper  1 came aboard offshore

Most of the Black-capped Petrels we saw were the dark faced type, like the one pictured below (Ed Corey), but there were at least four or five white-faced individuals that I saw over the course of the day!
This is a photo to illustrate just a small part of our feeding group of Black-cappeds!  Here there are twelve Black-cappeds and a Cory's type shearwater in the slick (Kate Sutherland)
A couple more gorgeous Black-capped images. (top Ed Corey, below Kate Sutherland)
The feeding groups were amazing as well!  Here are some images of different species with prey items (Scopoli's - Kate Sutherland, Great Shearwater - Brian Patteson, Red-necked Phalarope - Ed Corey)
The "beehives" were excellent for photos!  Here is a photo of Scopoli's and Cory's type shearwaters feeding in the sargassum, followed by a Great Shearwater taking off (Brian Patteson)
Here is a photo of the one year old Pomarine Jaeger chasing an Audubon's that is vomiting!  (Kate Sutherland)!
A nicer Audubon's image by Brian Patteson!
We had a few unexpected visitors offshore, Herring Gull (Ed Corey), Peregrine Falcon (Ed Corey), and an American Bird Grasshopper!  (identified by Ed Corey and photo by Kate Sutherland)
Finally, here are images of a Mola mola dorsal fin vs a hammerhead dorsal fin!  Not only is there a difference in the shape and coloration, but the way each species moves through the water is distinctive as well!  (both photos by Kate Sutherland)

Monday, September 24, 2018

Saturday September 22, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

Hurricane Florence has savaged North & South Carolina since our last trip offshore, and while many seabirds turn up inshore with hurricanes, they do not always offer better birding offshore.  That does not mean it can't be interesting as birds return to an area after vacating it due to a huge disturbance, but we were not really expecting to see much more than our usual suspects out there this weekend!  We were not disappointed, though it would have been nice to have a little more wind to carry the scent of our chum and get the birds flying!  There was a nice northeasterly swell that many birds were traveling on, but this also kept them closer to the water.

The shelf break held some sargassum and at least eight Bridled Terns plus Cory's and Great Shearwaters!  This certainly started the day off well!  As we headed offshore we found a nice flock of feeding shearwaters that we were able to approach and spend some time with.  The majority of the birds were Cory's and many of these looked to be the nominate Scopoli's Shearwater (photo by Ed Corey).
There were also some Great and Audubon's mixed in so we had excellent views of all of our shearwaters at the same time!  A couple of Sooty Terns flew by and our first Black-capped Petrel of the day showed up in the slick - not bad for a calm day!  We continued our journey offshore to deeper water and a gorgeous, dark morph Pomarine Jaeger came in to investigate our chum (photo by Kate Sutherland).
We had put out some extra chum to attract the Black-capped Petrels and this jaeger was quite happy to take advantage of that.  As we have learned over the years, Black-cappeds are not fond of these dark individuals, perhaps because they resemble skuas, and one of the Black-cappeds really turned on the speed to buzz the jaeger on the water!  (photo by Kyle Kittelberger)
What a show!

Wilson's Storm-Petrels were quite scarce, as they can be later in the year, but we did have nice views of at least a couple individuals that came in to visit the slick.  The Black-capped Petrels were very obliging and we had some incredible photo opportunities as they sailed by the boat (photo by Ed Corey). 
Just after noontime a Merlin flew over the boat, not missing a beat as we all scrambled to get a look at this uncommon offshore find!  Brian commented that he could not remember the last time we had a Merlin on one of our trips, but it was likely in September!  We had at least four more Pomarine Jaegers come to check us out and we had a Sandwich Tern and a Bridled Tern visit us in the afternoon.  A few pods of offshore Bottlenose Dolphins came in to the boat and we found a few pods of Pilot Whales (probably Short-finned) out there as well that allowed us to approach.  The first group Pilot Whales showed their flukes a few times, not something we always get to see (photo Kate Sutherland)!
Overall it was an incredible day out there, not too hot but sunny, and birds to see in spite of the calm conditions!

A big thank you to Dr. Seabird McKeon of St. Mary's College of Maryland for bringing his Coastal Ecology class out with us, they got to spend the day in the big, blue classroom!  And thank you to everyone who joined us making the trip possible!  Thanks also to Kyle Kittelberger and Ed Corey for helping us lead the trip and contributing their photos for this blog post!  We have four trips next month on the 6(7), 13(14), 19, and 20 - think about joining us!

Species List September 22, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  42-44
Cory's Shearwater  10+
Scopoli's Shearwater  30+
Cory's type  95-96
Great Shearwater  18
Audubon's Shearwater  25
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  3
Red-necked Phalarope  2
Sooty Tern  2
Bridled Tern  9
Sooty/Bridled Tern  1
Black Tern  9
Sandwich Tern  1
Pomarine Jaeger  5
jaeger sp.  1
peep sp.  7
Merlin  1
Pilot Whale (likely Short-finned)  23-28
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin  39-45

Another Black-capped Petrel image showing the white rump that is easily visible from a great distance!  (Ed Corey)
We had a lot of Cory's types out there and many were like this individual that looked small in the field but only had reduced amounts of white in the underprimaries.  It feels like the more we learn the less we know with these subspecies (or to many, species!). (Kate Sutherland)
It was nice to see some Great Shearwaters out there!  They have been a bit scarce this summer, in this image you can see the dark patch on the belly.  (Ed Corey)
Audubon's Shearwaters also were very cooperative and we had a few that allowed close approach!  (Ed Corey)
The dark morph Pomarine Jaeger spent some time sitting on the water and stayed put as we maneuvered for a closer look!  (Kyle Kittelberger)  Until it flushed (Ed Corey), but it stayed with us for quite awhile feeding in the chum.
Kyle captured an image of one of the other Pomarine Jaegers that visited us over the course of the day.
The Pilot Whales came in fairly close to the boat and gave us some good views of their bulbous heads and large dorsal fins!  (Kate Sutherland top, Ed Corey below)
The offshore Bottlenose came right in and rode under the pulpit!  This individual had a mangled dorsal fin!  (Kate Sutherland top, Ed Corey below)