Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Saturday October 10, 2020 - by Kate Sutherland

Typically when we run this October trip we have winds that are northwesterly or westerly, so having south / southeasterly winds for our trip Saturday was such a treat!  Skies were overcast as we headed offshore and we were hopeful that conditions would be favorable to find some seabirds offshore.  Cory's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters were around as we headed toward the shelf break and we even had some curious Atlantic Spotted Dolphins come in to ride the bow for a few minutes!  Just after 0900 we had a Black-capped Petrel zip by, then a second one!  (photo Peter Flood)
Brian called out some cetaceans around the boat around the same time - and some False Killer Whales popped up!  At least four and perhaps six individuals surfaced a few times nearby before heading off to the northeast.  Wow!  We see them regularly in the spring but have never seen them in the fall, nor heard from any fishermen about them being around in the fall.  Quite a cool addition to our October species list!  There were a number of other Black-capped Petrels in this area as well and maybe they were with these blackfish (the False Killer Whales)?  Who knows, we just know we went ahead and started the chum a few miles inshore of the break!  Definitely an excellent start to the day!

Just before 1000 we reached the shelf break and had a distant high flier that turned out to be a skua!  We watched it flying up high, saw it harassing a shearwater, and could tell from photos that it was a skua, not a jaeger.  Looking at the pictures on a computer, it was probably a South Polar Skua - the nape was pale and the color dull, not warm like we would expect on a Great Skua.  Black-cappeds and all three shearwaters were attentive in the slick as we worked offshore and we even turned up a Wilson's Storm-Petrel that stayed with us in the slick for awhile, not a species that is really very common here in the fall like they are earlier in the year, so a good find for October! 

Fishermen were chatting about all of the birds they were seeing, so we generally worked that way, a bit to the south and offshore, and finally found some shearwater flocks a little before 1.  The first flock we found was incredible!!  There were more Audubon's Shearwaters than Cory's and Great combined! (photo Brian Patteson) 
There was a jaeger associated with this flock that was not very cooperative, but we did see it flare up as it chased shearwaters and photos indicated it was likely a young Pomarine Jaeger.  The second flock we found was about an hour later and was again mostly Audubon's with Cory's and just a handful of Greats.  One of the Cory's Shearwaters we photographed in this flock was banded!  (photo Kate Sutherland)
Many of the Audubon's looked to be fresh youngsters, and we tried to turn up a Manx among them, but to no avail!  Having such incredible numbers of shearwaters in October was reward enough.  Black-capped Petrels and Great Shearwaters put on quite a show as we chummed our way back to the shelf break before picking up to head back to shore.  One more stop to put out what we had left brought Black-capped Petrels right by the boat, in sleek, fresh plumage lit up by the afternoon light!  Incredible! (photo Brian Patteson) 

Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible by joining us in the fall!  And thank you to Peter Flood and Ed Corey for helping Brian and I lead the trip.  All four of us contributed photos for this post!  At this time we just have one space on our next trip - October 24 (25) - and four spaces on our November 14 (15) trip.  We're super excited to get out there twice more this fall!

Species List for October 10, 2020

Black-capped Petrel - 53 to 56
Cory's Shearwater (Atlantic) - 54 (verified by photo)
Scopoli's Shearwater - 2 (verified by photo)
Cory's type - 244 to 245 (not verified by photo to one species or the other)
Great Shearwater - 101 to 111
Audubon's Shearwater - 508 to 563
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 1 to 2
Pomarine Jaeger - 1
skua sp. (prob South Polar) - 1
Common Tern - 3

False Killer Whale - 4 to 6
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin - 6

Our Black-capped Petrels were quite cooperative for photos!
A number were dark-faced birds (Peter Flood - top - and Ed Corey - bottom)
We had at least three or four individuals that were white faced types (Peter Flood)
Here is an intermediate looking bird above with a white-faced bird below (Kate Sutherland)
One more image with a darker individual's underwing (Kate Sutherland)
In the shearwater flocks it was nice to show everyone Cory's vs Great Shearwaters on the water!  The yellow or straw colored bill of Cory's vs black of Great, plus the paler head of the Cory's vs the darker head seen on Great.  Here you can also see the clean underwing of a Cory's vs the mottled underwing of a Great!  (Peter Flood - Cory's top, Great bottom)
A couple more images of Cory's Shearwaters (Brian Patteson - top - Kate Sutherland - bottom)
As I sorted through photos I did uncover at least two Scopoli's Shearwaters, here is a record shot of one (Kate Sutherland)
Great Shearwaters were super cooperative!  We had some individuals that looked fairly fresh and others that were a bit rattier looking!  (Kate Sutherland)
And yes, the Audubon's!!  They were incredibly cooperative, not something we can usually say about these small black and white shearwaters!  (Peter Flood)
And sitting on the water with a Cory's (Kate Sutherland)
Here is a wide shot of a portion of the first flock (Kate Sutherland)
Zoomed in a bit by Peter Flood
And here is our record shot of the skua (Peter Flood) you get the picture!

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Sunday September 13, 2020 - Shelf Life - by Kate Sutherland

 Our hopes were very high going into our trips over the weekend, winds had been marching across the Atlantic all week!  Who knows what they might carry over to us?  We met at the dock Saturday morning, Brian checking the conditions offshore one more time before heading out, and the wind and waves were much higher than forecast.  So we made the decision to cancel Saturday and try for Sunday!  It was the right choice, we watched the weather reports all day and it was not anything we should have been out in!  Sunday there was still some wind, but not quite as much, and we headed out with a few clouds in the sky.  Typically the shelf waters are pretty dull in terms of bird life, but Sunday morning we found a flight of Cory's type Shearwaters and a couple of feeding flocks!  We took the time to check these out and had incredible views of adult and young Sooty Terns plus Cory's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters.  A few Black-capped Petrels even put in an appearance before we reached the shelf break! (Chris Thomas)
Life offshore and out to about 500 fathoms (3,000 feet) was pretty exciting as well with Black-capped Petrels attracted to the chum, by late morning we had up to fourteen following us!  They made some incredible passes and we saw both light and dark faced birds, plus a number that were in between.  Great Shearwaters also fed well in the chum and at times we had them just about flying over the stern!  Seas were quite large when the wind waves and swell hit the warm, fast moving Gulf Stream and this allowed us to really get a feel for what it means when birds "ride the swell!"  Tubenoses would appear then drop down in the trough and just disappear!  Frustrating, but also incredibly cool to see!  At one point we had a small Calonectris shearwater fly by that we thought might be a Cape Verde Shearwater, but photos showed a more yellow bill than we think one would have and the dorsal coloration was also not quite right for it was more likely a Scopoli's.  We also had some high flying birds in the distance that we gave chase to, one turned out to be an Osprey and perhaps the other was as well, we were just unable to gain enough ground to get a good look!  Another Osprey dropped in later in the afternoon and we had some young Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Ed Corey) and a young Herring Gull also visit us offshore.
Brian had reports of hundreds of shearwaters on the shelf in the afternoon, charter boats were catching yellowfin tuna around them, so we headed back into the shelf waters to see what we could find!  And yes!  Hundreds of shearwaters, Cory's, Scopoli's, Great, and Audubon's were around!  There was Sargassum scattered around that was full of life so the shearwaters were feeding on whatever they could find in there!  (Brian Patteson)
A Manx even turned up with these flocks, that was a nice bonus!  So while we didn't find the rarity we hoped for from across the Atlantic, we did have an awesome day!  

Thank you to everyone who joined us to make this trip possible and a big thank you to Ned Brinkley, Ed Corey, and Jacob Farmer for helping Brian and I lead the trip!  Photos today are thanks to Brian Patteson, Ned Brinkley, Ed Corey, and participant Chris Thomas!  My memory card somehow became corrupted mid-day so I am very bummed to not contribute much in the way of photos.  While our next trip is full we added another to the schedule which is filling steadily - that will run on October 24 (obligatory weather date of the 25th).

Species List for September 13

Black-capped Petrel - 43 to 48
Cory's Shearwater (Atlantic) - 16 (verified by photo)
Scopoli's Shearwater - 17 (verified by photo)
Cory's type - 342 to 352 (not identified to species by photo)
Great Shearwater - 219 to 224
Manx Shearwater - 1
Audubon's Shearwater - 21 to 23
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 2
Red-necked Phalarope - 1
Sooty Tern - 16
Bridled Tern - 1
Sooty / Bridled Tern - 2
Pomarine Jaeger - 5
Osprey - 2
Merlin - 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 2
Herring Gull - 1

Short-finned Pilot Whale - 8 to 10
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin - 7
Unidentified Dolphin species - 2
Loggerhead Turtle - 2

Cloudless Sulphur - 2
butterfly species - 1

A few more Black-capped Petrel photos courtesy of Chris Thomas.  We saw some sharp looking white-faced Black-cappeds
Some that looked darker, this bird has a large chest spur but the face is not incredibly dark, so more intermediate. (Chris Thomas)
And another that looks more white-faced. (Chris Thomas)
We had good views of both Cory's (Ed Corey) and Scopoli's (Kate Sutherland) Shearwaters over the course of the day!
It can be interesting to see the variation in molt and feather wear this time of year in the Cory's type Shearwaters! (Brian Patteson)
Scopoli's (R) and Cory's (L) on the water with feeding shearwater group (Ned Brinkley)
Cory's type preening (Kate Sutherland)
And Great Shearwaters were seen well also! (Brian Patteson)
The Manx, seen here behind a feeding group of larger shearwaters (Brian Patteson)
Audubon's were very obliging in the afternoon! (Ed Corey)
And we had some incredible photo ops of the Pomarine Jaegers that came to visit the slick offshore!  (top Brian Patteson, bottom 2 Poms with LBBG by, Ed Corey)
Somehow I captured a Cory's type with what looks like a young Loggerhead Turtle!  Scopoli's on the water observing and one flying by in the second photo as well!  (Kate Sutherland)

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

September 5 & 6, 2020 - Beehives - by, Kate Sutherland

This weekend we went from slick calm on Saturday morning to the high seas on Sunday with northeasterly winds up to 20 mph with higher gusts!  There were birds feeding up on the shelf Saturday morning, so we had our first Black-caps in about 160 feet of water!  We also found a number of shearwaters in there as well, Sunday was totally different and we found the birds farther offshore.  Both days the Gulf Stream produced nice, feeding flocks of shearwaters with Black-capped Petrels, Sooty Terns, and jaegers.  But our flock on Sunday was really magical!  Hundreds of shearwaters were swarming around, small bunches of them bickering on the water as they dove beneath sargassum to feed (Kate Sutherland),
other groups pulsing into the air over feeding skipjack tuna.  We stayed with our flock on Sunday for over an hour and a half.  They took us to the south a few miles, then back to the north again and we were able to find TWO Trindade Petrels (photo of first individual by Kate Sutherland) in this flock plus a Sooty Shearwater.  Epic birding for us here in the Gulf Stream offshore of Hatteras!

Saturday we had a Trindade Petrel as well!  An intermediate morph buzzed close by the stern while we were running, heading to a small beehive (feeding group) of shearwaters that we spotted on the horizon.  Brian slowed down when the shout went out, but the bird flew away from us and we just got the one pass, at least it was a close one!  The feeding flock, when we arrived, had over a hundred shearwaters, some Sooty Terns - adults and this year's young - plus a couple of Pomarine Jaegers and a Parasitic!  The Parasitic even sat on the water for close approach, though it flew off into the glare, much to photographers' dismay!  As the day went on the winds picked up from the north and birds really started flying!  Black-caps responded well to the chum and we had over 20 feeding behind the boat by early afternoon.  It was quite a show with some harassing shearwaters for food, and nice views of some really dark faced individuals! (Kate Sutherland)

Sunday's trip added five more species to the weekend list with Sooty Shearwater, Red-necked Phalarope, Bridled Tern, South Polar Skua, and an adult Sabine's Gull!  It was windy on Sunday, did I mention that?  And leader Ed Corey still spotted a Bridled Tern sitting on some timber out there!  It sat patiently for us to approach and stayed put on its perch as we pulled away.  The phalaropes were all quick fly-bys, though there could have been some sitting around on the water, conditions made it a bit difficult to find them there!  The Sooty Shearwater zipped through our large feeding group where we had the Trindade Petrels, a nice bird for us to find late summer!  Early afternoon as we worked our way back into the shelf a young Herring Gull joined our Black-cappeds and shearwaters in the slick.  Just a few moments later, a South Polar Skua dropped in as well!  It circled us and then flew off to chase something ahead of the boat - it was an adult Sabine's Gull!! (Ed Corey) It's been years since we've seen a Sabine's Gull on one of our trips!
Then a second skua dropped in!  What a show!  It was awesome to watch these birds working our followers while Black-capped Petrels buzzed them and the Herring Gull!  When we picked up to continue toward the shelf break we realized that the skuas really crashed the party!  The feeding flock was a bit diminished after their visit.

We had incredible views of Cory's, Scopoli's, and Great Shearwaters in the feeding flocks as well as in the slick both days!  Audubon's were very cooperative coming in close to the boat and feeding in the slick with some of the Wilson's Storm-Petrels we were able to entice to follow.  Sooty Terns were also cooperative near the feeding flocks and we again saw an adult drop down to feed a youngster on the water!  This pair did this a couple of times that we saw! (Kate Sutherland)

Thank you to Ed Corey for helping us lead the trips and contributing photos!  Also thank you to John Mark Simmons and Will Babb for organizing groups to come offshore with us on Sunday!  We had awesome participation both days and look forward to seeing what we can turn up out there this weekend!  We still have space on September 12 and 13 and we added another trip to our fall schedule - October 24 (25)!  Join us!

Species List September 5 / 6

Trindade Petrel - 1 / 2
Black-capped Petrel - 80 to 84 / 53 to 57
Cory's Shearwater (Atlantic) - 15 / 14 (verified by photo)
Scopoli's Shearwater - 16 / 22 (verified by photo)
Cory's type - 279 to 281 / 285 (not identified to species by photo)
Great Shearwater - 69 / 312 to 317
Sooty Shearwater - 0 / 1
Audubon's Shearwater - 11 to 13 / 25
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 9 to 10 / 6
Red-necked Phalarope - 0 / 7
Sabine's Gull - 0 / 1 adult
Sooty Tern - 10 / 11
Bridled Tern - 0 / 1
Sooty / Bridled - 1 / 0
South Polar Skua - 0 / 2
Pomarine Jaeger - 2 / 2
Parasitic Jaeger - 1 / 0
jaeger sp - 3 / 1

Herring Gull - 0 / 1
Osprey - 1 / 0
Blue-winged Teal - 2 / 0
duck species - 1 / 0
passerine - 6 / 0

Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins - 0 / 4 to 5

A couple more images of the Trindade Petrels!  Record shot of the Saturday bird by Kate Sutherland and photos of the first and second Trindade Petrels on Sunday by Ed Corey!  You can easily see we didn't have any repeat visitors!
Black-capped Petrels were really showing off in the wind both days!  It was exciting to have a young, white faced looking individual sit on the water long enough for a photo-op on Saturday! (Kate Sutherland)
An intermediate individual (Kate Sutherland)
Perhaps the same or similar individual showing off its feet!  I'm not sure I've seen them do this before...!  (Kate Sutherland)
Kleptoparasitic chase?  I saw a few Black-cappeds quarreling with shearwaters in the slick on Saturday (Kate Sutherland)
Mobbing behavior?  One of the skua was being pursued by up to three Black-cappeds at one point on Sunday! (Kate Sutherland)
Scopoli's seemed to be around in larger numbers than Atlantic Cory's (Kate Sutherland)
On Sunday I captured an image of one with a flyingfish!  It looked like our Atlantic four-winged flyingfish, aka our Atlantic Patchwing! (Kate Sutherland)
Our flock on Sunday, here you can see two Atlantic Cory's to the right up high and a Scopoli's to the left (Kate Sutherland)
This ratty looking Scopoli's stayed with us for a long time on Sunday! (Kate Sutherland)
A couple Great Shearwater images - dropping in to feed (top - Kate Sutherland), with a prey item (possibly a planehead filefish? Ed Corey)
It seemed like both days we had Audubon's Shearwaters with Wilson's Storm-Petrels in the slick! (Ed Corey)
Another record shot of our Sabine's Gull!  (Kate Sutherland)
Our Bridled Tern that Ed found for us on Sunday morning, with a bit of Sargassum!  There was a lot of life under its perch!  (Kate Sutherland)
A couple photos of a couple of South Polar Skuas (Kate Sutherland)
One of the Pomarine Jaegers we saw on Sunday (Kate Sutherland)
And just so you can see how calm it was on Saturday morning, I captured some nice images of our wake! (Kate Sutherland)