Sunday, June 10, 2018

Saturday June 9, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

Our final day of the Spring Blitz brought some lighter winds from the south and our commute offshore to the deeper waters beyond the shelf break was quite nice with a few shearwaters along the way.  There was some rain where we slowed down and began chumming and while uncomfortable for humans, and frustrating for keeping optics dry, it was perfectly suitable for seabirds!  As we stopped on our first drift just after 8:00, we added all of the birds we typically see in the Gulf Stream to our list - and with nice views too!  There were at least five Black-capped Petrels that came right in to the chum plus Scopoli's (the Mediterranean breeding Cory's type), Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters. (photo of a Great Shearwater by Nate Dias)
Wilson's Storm-Petrels began feeding on our chum and a few Leach's Storm-Petrels joined making some nice passes in the rain.  Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were around as well, but were not quite as cooperative as yesterday - yet!  As we tacked offshore, then back inshore later in the morning and into the afternoon we pulled a very nice feeding group with us.  The shearwaters were feeding behind us giving some incredible views of the large, brute-like Atlantic Cory's with the more diminutive Scopoli's together - a nice study!  Plus the Great Shearwaters were vocalizing as they fought over bits of fish;  Audubon's zipping in and out of the slick (photo by Nate Dias),
occasionally coming right up to the back of the boat before flying off to settle back in the sargassum, the floating brown algae of the Gulf Stream, that is their preferred habitat.  The finale was a good one with our flock back inshore nearing the shelf break, we had both Leach's Storm-Petrel and a summer breeding Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (presumed Madeiran type) in the slick at the same time! (Band-rumped photo by Kate Sutherland)
As everyone was having their best looks of the day at Band-rumpeds, a Manx Shearwater flew by and landed ahead with some Great Shearwaters!  We were able to approach and have some excellent views of this bird flying into our slick, and sitting on the water - once seen, it was obvious how different they are from Audubon's - yet this is the species most easily confused with them.  As we watched the Manx with both Great and Audubon's Shearwaters, the non-molting Band-rumped made some nice passes again as well!  What a way to end the Blitz!

Thank you to everyone who joined us out there today - and thanks to Eagle Eye Tours for organizing a group that was with us for the last two days of the Blitz.  Thanks to Steve Howell and Nate Dias for helping us on this last day, and thanks to them also for contributing photos for the post!  Next trips - July!  Check our website for the schedule...

Species List June 9, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  23
Cory's Shearwater  27 / Scopoli's Shearwater  4-5
Great Shearwater  25-26
Manx Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  51
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  112-127
Leach's Storm-Petrel  7-9
Band-rumped Storm Petrel  5-7
Pomarine Jaeger  1
jaeger sp.  1
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins  11

Steve NG Howell's final photo narrative for spring 2018:
The day started in heavy rain, when several Audubon’s Shearwaters showed well in the gray skies
Black-capped Petrels showed as soon as we put out some chum, here a black-faced type
And here a white-faced Black-capped Petrel
Most Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were winter-breeding Grant’s types, like this individual in wing molt…
But one fresh-plumaged summer breeder (presumed Madeiran Storm-Petrel)  appeared in early afternoon near the shelf break
Wilson’s Storm-Petrels featured fresh juveniles, like this
But most were molting adults
The Leach’s Storm-Petrels were abraded first-summer and, like this bird, presumed second-summer individuals
While underwing pattern is often cited as a feature for Scopoli’s Shearwater, but lighter structure and slender bill is often easier to see…
As compared to this “huge-billed” Cory’s
Audubon’s Shearwaters showed well, which helped in the afternoon…
When this heavy-bodied Manx Shearwater appeared.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Friday June 8, 2018 - by Steve NG Howell

A wind direction switch again, this time to light southeasterly, as we left the dock under mostly cloudy skies with a red sun rising over Hatteras Village. A Black Tern and a few shearwaters punctuated today’s commute out to the Gulf Stream where we spent the day cruising slowly along in search of oceanic desert birds. The chum slick slowly started to pull in Wilson’s Storm-Petrels but it took a while before the first Black-capped Petrel appeared, and even longer for the first Band-rumped Storm-Petrel. But then Band-rumps started to show well and we slowed to drift, with good light plus current and wind directions conspiring to make a slick to remember. Over the course of 30 minutes we were treated to an absolutely amazing show of point-blank Black-capped Petrels, shearwaters, and storm-petrels all around the boat in dazzling light. Particularly nice was a recently fledged juvenile white-faced Black-capped Petrel that fed on chum next to the boat.
As has happened in recent days, the “Cory’s Shearwaters” that came close and into the slick were again of the Mediterranean-breeding population known as Scopoli’s Shearwater (split in the rest of the world but not [yet] by North American authorities). Most of the Band-rumps were molting birds from the winter-breeding population known as Grant’s Storm-Petrel (don’t even think about asking if that’s been split yet in North America...).
We also saw a few Leach’s Storm-Petrels, which were “just” Leach’s given that we were in the Atlantic, far from the two recently split populations of Leach’s from Mexico. As in all birding, location is a huge clue when looking at seabirds. Shortly before lunch, John Fitzpatrick with the Cornell Lab contingent spotted a distant gadfly that proved to be a (presumed) Fea’s Petrel, but it stayed far away and, although highly unlikely, it could have been a Zino’s Petrel given the views (moreover, Fea’s is split into two species by many authorities, adding to the challenges of pelagic birding!). As well as birds and flyingfish we saw some nice mammals, starting with bow-riding Bottlenose Dolphins in the morning, and then a dispersed group of logging Pilot Whales that seemed curious around the boat and gave amazing views, even spy-hopping like this animal.

As we headed on slowly back towards the alternate reality of mainland life we came upon a spectacular current break between the blue offshore and green inshore waters, after which birds dropped off noticeably and it was time to pick up speed and head back to port, slowing to see a couple of distant jaegers that kept heading north and avoided positive identification. All in all, another amazing day offshore.

*Thank you to everyone who joined us out there today!  A big thanks to Brian Sullivan for organizing a group from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and for taking care of the eBird lists for yesterday and today.  Thank you also to our leaders: Steve NG Howell, Nate Dias, and Liam Waters, they all did a great job getting everyone on the birds!  Thanks to Steve for all of his hard work on the blog and photos for me as we approach Day 18... -Kate

Species List for June 8, 2018
(presumed) Fea's Petrel  1
Black-capped Petrel  23
Cory's Shearwater  16 / Scopoli's Shearwater  3
Great Shearwater  10
Audubon's Shearwater  23
Wilson's Storm Petrel  68-78
Leach's Storm-Petrel  3-4
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  8-10
Black Tern  1
Parasitic / Long Tailed Jaeger  2
Pilot Whale (presumed Short-finned)  30-35
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin  5

Another image of the young Black-capped Petrel that put on such a nice show by Brian Sullivan.
And one more by Nate Dias - this bird was very curious about the boat and also came in to feed on the chum.

Another Black-capped Petrel
Juvenile Black-capped Petrel and Great Shearwater
Presumed Scopoli’s Shearwater
Another molting Grant’s [Band-rumped] Storm-Petrel
And a worn-plumaged presumed second-summer Leach’s Storm-Petrel for comparison
The Band-rumped Stormies were super excited about the chum today!  Photos by Nate Dias
An Oddspot Midget from the morning commute offshore.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Thursday June 7, 2018- by Steve NG Howell

Overnight the wind switched to northeast, and a mostly cloudy sky with spitting rain greeted today’s crew and passengers of the Stormy Petrel 2 at the dock. The wind freshened through the day and the white-capped seas were very different from the calm of yesterday—as were the birds. A small flock of migrating Short-billed Dowitchers flew over on our commute offshore, and a group of Bottlenose Dolphins came to check us out as we started to slow down for birding.
Then the birds started, slowly at first but steady throughout the day. Black-capped Petrels sailed well in the wind, and we enjoyed good views of both black-faced and white-faced types, likely cryptic species.
      As in recent days, Audubon’s Shearwaters were fairly numerous in the golden Sargassum weedlines, while the north wind proved good for bringing the large shearwaters into the chum—by early afternoon we had a swirling mass of Great, Cory’s, and Scopoli’s Shearwaters (see blog post from 3 days ago) behind the boat, offering excellent comparative views and photo ops. Shortly after noon a distant waterspout appeared, but the stormy clouds dispersed by early morning to leave cloudless skies.
Perhaps the most striking difference from yesterday was the near constant presence of Band-rumped Storm-Petrels among the Wilson’s Storm-Petrels in our slick, with up to 7 Band-rumps behind the boat at times, both molting and fresh-plumaged individuals—versus none at all yesterday! A couple of Leach’s Storm-Petrels also showed well, and a Bridled Tern (surprisingly scarce this spring, so far) made a pass by the boat in early afternoon, adding to the avian variety. Shortly before heading back for shore a group of Pilot Whales charged around exuberantly in the white-capped waves, and the return commute was highlighted by superb views of a couple of Devil Rays (like small Manta Rays), swimming right under the bow! All in all, another great day at sea.

(Thank you to everyone who joined us today and thank you to our leaders: Steve NG Howell, Nate Dias, and Liam Waters.  Brian Sullivan, who organized a group to join us today, kept the eBird list for this trip - a huge thank you to him for that task!  It was an amazing day out there!)

Species List for June 7, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  30
Cory's Shearwater  35 / Scopoli's Shearwater  7
Great Shearwater  21-26
Audubon's Shearwater  57
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  65-85
Leach's Storm-Petrel  2
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  9-13
Bridled Tern  1
Short-billed Dowitcher  11
Pilot Whale (prob Short-finned)  about 20
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin  about 12
Devil Ray  2

Sargassum Midgets showed well on the commute offshore.
Molting Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, and for comparison...
Fresh Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
The Leach’s Storm-Petrel, with bold pale upperwing bands and forked tail
One of the numerous Audubon’s Shearwaters
Cory’s Shearwater with well-marked white on underwing…
Compared to Scopoli’s Shearwater with poorly marked white on underwing, but a slender bill
A beautiful Great Shearwater image by Nate Dias
One of the Pilot Whales in charging mode.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Wednesday June 6, 2018 - by Steve NG Howell

What a difference a day makes. A fairly still and cloudless dawn under a half-moon greeted us as we headed out of Hatteras Inlet, Day 15 of the spring run.
Low seas and a light breeze made for an easy commute out to the Gulf Stream, where today the water was blended and very different from recent days. The calm conditions and “new” water conspired to produce a hot day on gentle seas, under clear skies and an unrelenting sun. Birds were hard to come by with little breeze to blow the scent of our chum slick, but a steady trickle of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels joined us through the day. This fresh juvenile fledged down in Antarctica in March and flew over 5000 miles to find our chum!
            Most birds we found, however, were sitting on the water, which raises an interesting point rarely appreciated by birders on land. The westerly wind of recent days may have been from the west (not the ideal direction), but at least it was wind, which for seabirds can be considered a habitat. Thus, in addition to tracking moving water masses and their associated food, many species of petrels and albatrosses also track moving wind systems, very different from the rather stationary habitats we are familiar with on land, such as fields and forests. The commonest bird species seen today was Audubon’s Shearwater, with small groups scattered on the water, often associated with the numerous Sargassum patches and at times sitting with the appreciably larger Great Shearwater, as here.
            The Sargassum patches held a good diversity of flyingfish, including many juveniles aka Sargassum Midgets.
One of the day’s highlights came shortly after noon when a Leatherback Turtle was spotted. The animal stayed up long enough to appreciate the pink crown patch, which has been determined to represent a “third eye”—a light sensitive window to the brain that may help the animals with “time management,” as in determining day length and when to migrate! Who knew.
            Despite relatively slow birding, by the end of the day we had seen both white-faced and black-faced Black-capped Petrels, both Cory’s and Scopoli’s Shearwaters (see post from two days ago), and many Audubon’s Shearwaters, although today Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were notably absent. But as somebody once said, “today is typical of today.” And tomorrow? Who knows, but we’ll be out there to see...

(Thanks as usual to our participants!  Also thank you to our leaders Steve NG Howell, Nate Dias, Sage Church, and Liam Waters)

Species List for June 6, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  19
Cory's Shearwater  16-17 / Scopoli's Shearwater  1-2
Great Shearwater  13
Audubon's Shearwater  82
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  40-45
Leatherback Turtle  1
Bottlenose Dolphin (likely coastal stock)  2

A couple of the Black-capped Petrels that passed close by, both black-faced types.
One more Black-capped Petrel image by Nate Dias
Scopoli's Shearwater by Nate Dias
A couple of today’s Great Shearwaters...
And some Audubon’s Shearwaters
A selection of flyingfish from the day...
Atlantic Patchwing
Sargassum Midget
Purple Bandwing
Another Sargassum Midget