Sunday, August 19, 2018

Friday August 17, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

Two weeks have passed since our last outing to seabird offshore of Cape Hatteras, and the weather has been pretty much the same since the beginning of the month - onshore southerly winds.  This unwavering weather pattern coupled with some messy water moving up from Florida produced another trip with low numbers for the summer, but excellent views of just about every species we encountered!  The wind was steady from the southwest all day on Friday, increasing a bit in the afternoon, so there was some breeze to carry the scent of the chum and get the birds up in the air if they were around.  We did not encounter any seabirds on our way to the shelf break, but once we got there we found some Red-necked Phalaropes poking around in the sargassum (photo by Kate Sutherland)! 
These were the first for the summer here and they proved to be the most numerous species of the day with many incredible photo ops right next to the boat!  Wilson's Storm-Petrels were next in line for numbers and we also had some excellent views of them in the fish oil slick behind us and when circling back.  Black-capped Petrels and the Cory's type Shearwaters kept their distance but were seen well enough to get the identification down for those who were out for their first trip with us.  Audubon's were scarce in spite of plentiful sargassum, but we did have one that we approached on the water (photo by Kate Sutherland). 
We had one Band-rumped Storm-Petrel fly in at a high rate of speed, but it paused at the slick and then flew right up behind the boat so we all had a chance to get a nice view, especially with the attendant Wilson's (photo by Ed Corey)!
The other summertime stars were the tropical terns...we had some feeding Sooty Terns just after 9 that we were able to get among, then midday a Bridled Tern flew by!  Brian pursued this bird and when we slowed, there were three right there!  Following that encounter, a young Bridled Tern followed us, swooping down to the chum occasionally, for almost 30 minutes (Kate Sutherland)!
The terns showed us some nicer blue Gulf Stream water in the morning and we were able to stick with that until early afternoon.  Our hopes were that we might see that water moving up by Saturday's trip, but the winds were already blowing over 20 knots by 0430 that morning, so we ended up canceling another summer trip.  It looks like we might have a bit of a change in the weather preceding our trips next week, so hopefully we will get another chance out there to find something exciting in addition to our usual suspects.  We still have space on Friday and Saturday (8/24 & 8/25), so let us know if you want to join us!

Thank you to everyone who signed up to join us this weekend, we could not get out there without you!  Thank you also to Ed Corey for helping Brian and I lead the trip on Friday and for contributing some of his photos!

Species list for August 17, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  5
Cory's Shearwater  1
Scopoli's Shearwater  1
Cory's type  3
Audubon's Shearwater  4
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  29
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  1
Red-necked Phalarope  38-39
Sooty Tern  7-9
Bridled Tern  4
Laughing Gull  1
Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore)  10-12
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  4-5

Ed Corey captured this photo of a Scopoli's Shearwater
The same Audubon's pictured above in flight (Kate Sutherland)
A couple more photos of the Red-necked Phalaropes.  They are no longer showing their red necks, but you can see the fine bill and streaked back that help to separate them from the larger Red Phalaropes that we see here in the winter months.  (top photo by Ed Corey, bottom two by Kate Sutherland)
One of the adult Sooty Terns that we found in the morning, they made some really nice passes once we were able to get into position among them!  This photo shows the dark underprimaries (vs white in Bridled Tern) and the reduced amount of white on the forehead.  Sooty Terns are also blacker above and much more powerful in their flight than the slighter Bridled Terns.  (Kate Sutherland)
Two more images of the young Bridled Tern that followed us in the afternoon showing those white underprimaries (Kate Sutherland), another perspective by Ed Corey (below).
A curious Laughing Gull that came in while we were offshore of the shelf break!  (Ed Corey)
We also had some nice flyingfish out there like this Atlantic Patchwing (Kate Sutherland)
Near the shelf break we passed this NOAA vessel - on the way out and back! (Ed Corey)
(*post updated to add and change photos 19 Aug 2018 at 1721)

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Early August - by Brian Patteson

Compared to the previous couple of weeks, the weather had been drier, and well, not as windy. After 20 inches of rain here in July, it was good to see some sunshine. We actually got out to the deep three days in a row last week, as we had an offshore charter with some folks at the Duke Marine Lab on Thursday, August 2. It was still pretty windy and rough that day, and we only spent a few hours out past the shelf break. Birds were sparse, and we even did a little chumming while we were out there looking for marine mammals, which we did not find in the deep water. It was worth melting a couple of chum blocks though, because a Trindade Petrel did fly right up to the boat to investigate (photo by Kate Sutherland)! The only cetaceans we saw were Atlantic Spotted Dolphins in the shelf waters, but we found two pods, and we had them around the boat for a long time (photo by Kate Sutherland).

Sea conditions were a bit better by Friday morning, but it was still choppy in the inshore waters. We again found some Spotted Dolphins on our way out to the break. Birding got off to a slow start, but we did find most of the expected species with the exception of Band-rumped Storm-Petrel. Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were also scarce, as they have been on most of the trips this summer. The winds have been from the south now for days on end, and that’s not a good pattern for seeing storm-petrels here. Southerly winds are usually good for Audubon’s Shearwaters, but they have also been scarce. Nevertheless we had some good looks at Audubon’s each day (photo by Peter Flood).
The southerly flow seems to have brought some Sooty Terns our way, and we saw several each day, with some nice close encounters of calling birds on Saturday. We only managed to get good looks at Bridled Terns on Saturday.  The Bridled Terns were both first summer birds, but the Sooty Terns were mostly adults with just a couple of juveniles. We should be joined by northward dispersing adult and juvenile Bridled Terns in the days to come.

Large tubenoses were scarce overall and we saw just a handful of shearwaters each day: Cory’s, Scopoli’s, Great, and Audubon’s. Black-capped Petrels were seen best on Friday, the day we had a bit of squall activity offshore (photo by Peter Flood).
Single Long-tailed and Pomarine Jaegers were seen on Friday only. We did not have a trip on Sunday, but I kept in touch with Tom Johnson, who was on the NOAA ship Bigelow as they made a quick transit northward through the area that day.  Tom reported seeing low numbers of seabirds from the waters off Cape Fear all the way to Cape Hatteras.  His numbers of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were shockingly low, with only 16 in well over 100 miles of steaming. Numbers of storm-petrels did pick up to the northwest of the Gulf Stream though, and he also found a White-faced Storm-Petrel about 40 nautical miles east of Nags Head late Sunday afternoon. We have seen them up there in years past, but it’s been a while since we have gone up there.

We would like to thank everyone who joined us for last week’s trips and also our guest leaders, Dave Shoch and Peter Flood. Our next trip is August 17 and we have space on all of our trips this summer and fall. See for details.

Species List for August 2 / 3 / 4
*we did not have a typical seabirding trip on the 2nd, so the numbers are a bit lower
Trindade Petrel  1 / 0 / 0
Black-capped Petrel  6 / 12-15 / 6
Cory's Shearwater  1 / 0 / 1
Scopoli's Shearwater  0 / 2 / 4
Cory's type  3 / 12 / 10
Great Shearwater  3 / 5-6 / 2
Audubon's Shearwater  4 / 11-12 / 4
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  10 / 50-60 / 27
large storm-petrel (Leach's / Band-rumped)  0 / 0 / 1
Sooty Tern  7 / 14 / 23
Bridled Tern  0 / 0 / 2
tropical tern species (Sooty / Bridled)  6 / 4 / 8
Least Tern  0 / 1 / 0
Black Tern  1 / 0 / 0
Pomarine Jaeger  0 / 1 / 0
Long-tailed Jaeger  0 / 1 / 0
dowitcher  0 / 0 / 4
yellowlegs  0 / 0 / 2
shorebird sp.  2 / 0 / 1
Barn Swallow  0 / 4 / 0

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins  40 / 7 / 0
Pilot Whales (prob Short-finned)  0 / 0 / 50-75

Great Shearwater (Kate Sutherland)
Sooty Tern (Peter Flood)
Bridled Tern  (Kate Sutherland)
Pilot Whale (probably Short-finned) (Kate Sutherland)
Some Atlantic Patchwings from Saturday (Kate Sutherland)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Friday July 27, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

We again had some rain and wind preceding our trip on Friday, but the winds subsided to 10-15 kts from the south southwest and we only encountered a bit of rain first thing in the morning!  One large shearwater, a Cory's or Great, was all we saw on our way to the shelf break.  Once we slowed, we had five species in the first thirty minutes, not bad!  Black-capped Petrels were the highlight again this weekend with birds feeding in the slick behind the boat and flying by at close range (photo Kate Sutherland). 
This was interesting since typically birds are not as hungry on the full moon, though we have had a lot of storms moving through of late, so cloud cover could have impacted their night time feeding.  Around 0900 we had a first summer Bridled Tern fly in to inspect the slick and then move on.  This was nice to see since these tropical terns have been in short supply so far this year, hopefully we will begin to see more of these and the Sooty Terns as we move into August.  Cory's and Scopoli's (photo by Brian Patteson) were both seen well during our time out over the shelf,
and we were lucky to encounter a few Audubon's Shearwaters on the water, plus some even came in to feed on the chum.  Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were not easy to find, but we did turn up a few in our flock of Wilson's (photo by Brian Patteson)!
Hoping to find a tropicbird, we continued farther offshore than usual in search of some habitat...we found it, but we also found some swift current in the hot, blue Gulf Stream water.  This made our inshore tack a bit different than usual since we had to kick up our speed just to head toward the inlet against the strong northeasterly flow - the birds followed though and were more than happy to feed on the chum as we worked back to the north / northwest.  Lucky for us, an adult Sooty Tern flew in to check out our slick, giving us a nice look before moving on, and a Great Shearwater joined the back of our flock as well.  We circled back for a nice view of this shearwater that just last month we had feeding beside the boat!  That's how it goes though with these shearwaters, you never know where they'll be or if they will decide to join us in the slick.  The Black-cappeds, Scopoli's, Audubon's, Wilson's and Band-rumpeds all were very responsive this trip - so we saw all that we hope to see out there this time of year.  No tropicbird...but there is always next weekend!

Thanks to Jeff Lemons for helping Brian and I lead the trip this week, our trip on Saturday was cancelled due to weather.  First time we have had to weather out this year, but it happens and better to be on the safe side!

Species List for July 27, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  29-34
Cory's Shearwater  2
Scopoli's Shearwater  3
Cory's type  5
Great Shearwater  3
Audubon's Shearwater  18
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  47
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  3-5
Bridled Tern  2
Sooty Tern  1

Black-capped Petrel, dark faced bird, dorsal view.  Most of the birds we saw well were dark faced individuals and were actively molting their primaries.  (Kate Sutherland)
A Black-capped Petrel feeding on our chum!  (Kate Sutherland)
Another Scopoli's, different individual than pictured above, showing the underwing.  (Brian Patteson)
Audubon's Shearwater taking off.  (Kate Sutherland)
Wilson's Storm-Petrels came in fairly close to the stern!  (Kate Sutherland)
I did manage to capture a quick image of the first Bridled Tern we saw... (Kate Sutherland)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Sunday July 22, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

Today was our first birding trip here since July 7, and the past couple of days have been very unsettled and stormy.  It was a relief to wake to light breeze here in Hatteras with no rain on the radar!  We had a group from Mass Audubon that wanted to get out today so we added a trip to the schedule, and we made it over the bar at Hatteras Inlet and into the ocean just after 0600 this morning to head offshore and see what we could find!
There were a lot of terns on our way offshore, but shearwaters were in short supply with just 3 Cory's and an Audubon's inshore of the shelf break.  We did however, have a nice pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins that came in briefly to ride under the bow and surf in our wake!  The weather was forecast to change for the worse in the afternoon so we ran a bit past the shelf edge before we started chumming, and while it took some time, we soon had close passes by Black-capped Petrels!
Most of the birds we saw that were close enough to get a good look at were dark faced types, this intermediate looking bird above had underwings that indicated a dark faced individual as well.  We did have one white faced bird zip by close to the boat that was very fresh, it seemed to be a young bird, or perhaps a fresh adult, I was unable to get sufficient photos to tell which.  Wilson's Storm-Petrels began to gather in the chum slick and by the end of our time in deeper water we had some nice views of these birds.  Excitement was high when we finally had a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel join the flock!  It stayed with us for awhile giving everyone excellent views as it passed close by the stern. 
Audubon's Shearwaters were not as easy to see with the wind and sea, but we had a few glimpses of them, then we had an individual right next to the boat on our way back inshore.  As we approached the inlet in the afternoon there were once again terns as we approached the inlet, but we also saw a flight line of shearwaters moving ahead of some rain.  A few of these passed us close enough for some nice looks, and we added Great Shearwater to our species list for the day! 

Thank you to Mass Audubon for giving us the opportunity to add this date to the summer trip schedule!  A big thank you also to Ned Brinkely for coming down to help Brian & I lead the trip!  All photos today are by me, Kate Sutherland.

Species List for July 22, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  20-21
Cory's Shearwater  12
Great Shearwater  7
Audubon's Shearwater  10
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  25
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  1
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins  6
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins  10-12

Another one of the dark faced Black-capped Petrels we saw.  There were at least two that showed this dusky nape.
The only Cory's type shearwater I photographed today...this bird looked slender when it flew by, but without knowing the limits of white in the underwing of the Atlantic Cory's, it is difficult to tell if it is a female Cory's or a male Scopoli's.  We know that the Scopoli's can have a limited amount of white in the underprimaries, but there is still a lot to learn about the separation of these two types!
We passed the Diamond Shoals buoy on our way back, this is where we are able to get a lot of information about the wind and wave height before, during, and after our trips.  While it is inshore of the shelf break, it can tell us if the current is running that far inshore!  The website where its observations can be found is here:
By the time we crossed the shelf in the early afternoon, the wind had picked up a bit offshore.  There were also some large swaths of sargassum and we did see quite a few flyingfish!  This little grasshopper, or Sargassum Midget as dubbed by Steve NG Howell, ended up on the deck of the boat and was already dead when I found it.  Now it will be added to my specimens at home!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

July 6 & 7, 2018 - by Brian Patteson

It was good to get back out to the deep after a four-week hiatus. June is a fine month for pelagic birding but historically it’s been a tough time to fill boats after the first week or so. Therefore we gave it a break and I ran just fishing charters for a while.

Early July is not typically a time of high diversity, but we usually see decent numbers of the regular birds and it’s often better than August for Leach’s Storm-Petrel. The odds for Leach’s go up with onshore winds and that’s what we had last week. After a short stop to look at some Atlantic Spotted Dolphin on Friday morning, we ran right out to the deep and within minutes we had seen our first Leach’s. The wind was light on Friday, but that didn’t prevent the storm-petrels from finding our slick.  It took a little while for them to gather, but we had great looks at all three species feeding together, and it was one of the best July trips ever for Leach’s (pictured below with a Great Shearwater).

Shearwaters were in low numbers, but we got the expected four taxa, counting Scopoli’s (photo by Kate Sutherland).
Scopoli’s Shearwater counts as a species across the pond, and the AOU is supposed to vote on the split from Cory’s later this year. I think we are getting dialed in on the ID, but it’s not always straightforward between male Scopoli’s and female Cory’s. It looks as though some Scopoli’s can have a darker underwing than was previously supposed. It’s nice to see them when we have Great Shearwaters around for size comparison, and both species like to feed in the slick. Three Manx Shearwaters right outside Hatteras Inlet were a surprise on Saturday morning. We were just across the bar when they flew by together! Audubon’s Shearwaters were in much lower numbers than a month ago, despite plenty of Sargassum offshore.

Perhaps the southerly winds on Thursday and Friday brought us some Sooty Terns (photo by Kate Sutherland).
It was nice to see them, and we got really close looks at the last one. We probably saw a Bridled Tern on Friday, but it never got close enough for a good look. Black-capped Petrels made a fair showing each day, with great looks each day. Perhaps there would have been more if the winds had not been so light for days preceding the trips. We did get some wind on Saturday and it got pretty sporty by the afternoon. We also got some rain, which was a big hindrance to photography, and naturally the birds came quite close to the boat in the dim light! We had just gotten clear of some showers midday on Saturday when a Fea’s Petrel came to see us.
It made a couple of nice passes and gave everyone a chance for good looks and photos before continuing on its way. That was our reward for sticking with it in the rain, and a good reminder that it often pays to go on back to back trips!

I would like to thank Kate Sutherland and Jeff Lemons for their help leading these trips.     

Species List for July 6 / 7
Fea's Petrel  0 / 1
Black-capped Petrel  23-24 / 22
Cory's Shearwater  5 / 6
Scopoli's Shearwater  2 / 4
Cory's type  12 / 14
Great Shearwater  11 / 20-25
Manx Shearwater  0 / 3
Audubon's Shearwater  8 / 7
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  50-60 / 110
Leach's Storm-Petrel  21-25 / 23
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  13 / 11
Leach's / Band-rumped sp  9 / 0
Sooty Tern  3 / 0
Sooty / Bridled Tern sp  2 / 2
Common Tern  0 / 1
Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore type)  35-40 / 20
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  12 / 0
Gervais Beaked Whale  2 / 0
Loggerhead Turtle  1 / 0

All photos today are by Brian & Kate - it was nice for Brian to get out there and take some pictures this weekend!  Following is a nice collection from the two days!  -Kate

A couple more Fea's Petrel images, top by me and bottom by Brian
Most of the Black-cappeds we saw were molting like this individual (K Sutherland)
A nice Atlantic Cory's above by Brian with a Scopoli's below (K Sutherland)
The Great Shearwaters were much more attentive to the slick on Saturday, sometimes they were too close for photos!
Leach's Storm-Petrels definitely stole the show!  They were around in good numbers and made some incredibly close passes on both trips.  These birds were in varying states of wear, some even had square looking tails due to their tail feathers being so worn down!  A nice comparison of a Leach's (bottom) and Wilson's Storm-Petrel.  And another photo of the Leach's we had feeding on the chum at the end of the trip on Saturday!  What a treat (for it and for us!!)!
Most of the Band-rumpeds we saw were not nearly as cooperative as the Leach's, but we did have some nice views each day. (K Sutherland)
Our Common Tern flew around in the rain with us for a bit, then took a rest up on the bow!
We did not see any Gervais Beaked Whales all spring, but we had two on Friday!  It was nice to see them!  They were a bit far for photos, but captured a few images of them, so here is one where you can see both individuals.
We had a very playful pod of offshore Bottlenose Dolphins on Friday!  We spent some time with them hoping their activity might attract something different like a tropicbird, but nothing turned up. 
To finish it off a couple of flyingfish pictures.  These two trips were like night and day, you can see how calm the water was on Friday!  On Saturday these fish were really catching some air in the stiff breeze, not the easiest conditions for flyingfish photography!  Top is a purple bandwing and pictured below is a smurf, the generic name for some of the very small, brilliant blue individuals we encounter out there.