Monday, May 13, 2024

Westerlies - 10 & 12 May 2024 by Kate Sutherland

Our first trips of the season had prevailing westerlies...which as most of you know means birds get pushed a bit farther offshore here from Hatteras, NC! Add to that some odd conditions on Friday when the warm, Gulf Stream water was much farther offshore than usual, then a hard north blow Saturday that kept us onshore and you have an interesting first set of trips for the spring here!
Sunrise was gorgeous Friday morning and we had good running conditions once we made it across the Hatteras Inlet bar. As we ran offshore we began to see some Wilson's Storm-Petrels flitting by...then a few more...then we found a nice flock of phalaropes on the water right by the boat! Brian slowed down and we made a few laps around these Red-necked Phalaropes sitting on the water.
It was cool to see the Wilson's feeding around them! As we continued on our way to the shelf break we had a tubenose zip across the bow - a light form Black-capped Petrel! Definitely a nice start to the day. 
Black-capped Petrels made a nice showing 
and we saw our first Atlantic Cory's of the year, but we couldn't turn up an Audubon's. Though, admittedly, there was not much Sargassum out there on Friday. On our way back inshore, on the shelf, Brian suddenly pulled back the throttle and yelled "red one!" Sure enough, sitting on the water was a Red Phalarope with a couple of Red-neckeds. Thankfully it stayed long enough for us to see it well and get some photos.
Saturday morning we all turned up at the boat though it was blowing quite hard from the north (at least 25 to 30 mph)...and those of you who have been with us on a trip that has weathered out know I always am itching to go no matter how rough it will be and Brian has a more even toned approach. After checking with other captains to see if anyone else was going to give it a try, he decided safety dictated that we stay's never wise to be the only boat out there and even less wise to go when you know conditions could be unsafe for your passengers! Alas, we had to wait for Sunday...
While the winds shifted around a bit, they still had a westerly component by the time we headed offshore Sunday morning. Seas were a bit choppy with the swell leftover from Saturday, but again conditions were nice as we headed to the shelf break. Skies were clear and we had sun pretty much all day!
Red-necked Phalaropes were on the shelf again, but we didn't have nearly as many Wilson's Storm-Petrels and no Black-cappeds. However, our first Sooty Shearwaters of the spring appeared and it was great to see them rocketing by in the wind! 
The Gulf Stream was just offshore of the shelf break and it was glorious to be there! Audubon's Shearwaters were right there near the Sargassum and we even had nice views of Atlantic Cory's and a few Black-capped Petrels, all before 08:30 in the morning! 
Conditions were good for recruiting birds from the east with the chum and wind, so we set up camp on a slick for about an hour and watched Wilson's Storm-Petrels patter and Black-capped Petrels come in by twos or threes from the sun glare to the slick where they made some incredible passes! We also had Atlantic Cory's and Audubon's Shearwaters on this drift. Around 10:30 we picked up and headed offshore again. The Black-cappeds stayed with us and we picked up a Sooty Shearwater offshore who put on a nice show diving in the slick! 
During the 11:00 period Brian spotted a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel crossing the bow flying to the left. It quickly got away from us as it zipped by and for those of us on the deck it was tough to catch a glimpse between waves as it flew directly away from the boat. Unfortunately it did not respond to the chum and we didn't have another chance at one for the rest of the day. We did have some chances to photograph Audubon's Shearwaters, though, and after not seeing them on Friday's trip it was quite a treat to try our hand at these small birds. 
Wilson's Storm-Petrels were cooperative on both trips, and it is always a treat to watch these small tubenoses for hours in the slick behind us! 
Most individuals that we saw were pretty fresh looking, like this bird, likely one that just hatched over our winter, though we did see a few that looked like molting adults (see below).
A huge thank you to everyone who joined us out there this weekend, and a thank you as well to Steve Backus for helping Brian and me lead the trip! All images in the post are © Kate Sutherland and see our species list below for the numbers!

Species list 10 / 12 May 2024

Red-necked Phalarope 20 / 8
Red Phalarope 1 / 0
Red/Red-necked 2 / 0
Laughing Gull 9 / 10
Least Tern 0 / 5
Black Tern 0 / 1 possibly
Common Tern 1 / 11
Sterna sp 0 / 4
Common Loon 4 / 4
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 90 to 95 / 99 
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel 0 / 1
Large storm-petrel species 2 / 0
Black-capped Petrel 39 to 40 / 75 to 86
Atlantic Cory's Shearwater 1 / 5
Cory's/Scopoli's Shearwater 3 / 1
Audubon's Shearwater 0 / 16 to 17

Semi-palmated Sandpiper 1 / 2
Black-bellied Plover 0 / 5
shorebird sp 0 / 7
Barn Swallow 1 / 0 / 1

Nearshore Bottlenose Dolphin 0 / 2 to 5
Cetacean species - possibly dolphins 0 / 3
Shark species 0 / 1
Billfish species 0 / 1

A few more images from our trips Friday and Sunday!
Black-capped Petrels:
Atlantic Cory's Shearwater
Gorgeous view of the "tubenose" on this Atlantic Cory's!
Ventral view of an Audubon's Shearwater
Red and Red-necked Phalaropes flying together. The size difference alone is striking, not to mention the plumage differences and the much larger bill of the Red.
We had close to a hundred Wilson's Storm-Petrels each day! Looking forward to seeing more of these little tubenoses as we move into thee season.
On both trips we had Laughing Gulls feeding in the chum offshore!

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Feb. 24 and 26: Two Trips in Three Days! by Brian Patteson

 The weather is always a challenge for us in February, which is why we set up each trip with a backup day for weather, but for three out of four recently scheduled trips that was not enough! We missed two in a row, and then it looked like we would miss another this week, so I scrambled and put another trip on for Monday, which turned out to be a nice day offshore. On Saturday, we ended up going out east of the inlet, and we had really good birding in the cold water on the shelf, but not so much out around the shelf break. On Monday, it was more of the reverse. Once we got more than ten miles out, it was pretty dull for the next 20 miles, but there was a lot of life out in the deeper water near "The Point". We found most of that action near a sharp temperature break on Monday. There was no such condition east of the inlet on Saturday. The water was warmer, but not as warm as it was Monday (70 degrees Fahrenheit), and there was no current edge. 

Alcids continue to be the dominant attraction for us this month. Oregon Inlet is definitely a more consistent locale than Hatteras for seeing good numbers of the common species and so far this winter we have seen at least four species on each trip. Razorbills are usually the most numerous, but this year Dovekies have made a strong showing too. There were still a few puffins around, but not nearly as many as the week before. Common Murres might also be thinning out, but we had double digits each day. We did not find any Thick-billed Murres the last couple of trips.

On Monday we had our best numbers of Red Phalaropes so far this winter, which is not surprising as they do favor a sharp temperature break, and it was quite pronounced that day. Manx Shearwaters continue to be scarce- we only saw them on Saturday, and they were way inshore. It's always a treat to see Black-capped Petrel on a winter trip and we had good looks at one and more distant looks at a few more on Monday. There was hardly any wind, but the swell was pushed up by the Gulf Stream and the Black-caps were sailing around effortlessly on that. Little Gulls have been tough for us this year, but we did get onto one inshore and a couple offshore on Monday. The big surprise though, and the rarest find for us, was a first winter Black-headed Gull that Danny spotted on Monday. It was over 30 miles offshore and just inshore of the Gulf Stream change where there were many Bonaparte's Gulls feeding.  

On Saturday there was not much to report for cetaceans, but on Monday we had a good variety. We had both coastal and offshore Bottlenose Dolphins in small numbers, but we had an epic showing of Common Dolphins, with at least 500 seen! We also saw at least five Humpback Whales, and had distant views of a pod of Cuvier's Beaked Whales.

I would like to thanks everyone who joined the trips, especially those who were able to make it out here for Monday on relatively short notice. As usual our crew, this time Daniel Irons and Ed Corey, were ever attentive and made sure we didn't miss anything out there, and still managed to get some nice images of what we saw. The bird lists follow the photos below.

Red Phalaropes by Ed Corey

Atlantic Puffin by Brian Patteson

Razorbill by Daniel Irons

Dovekie by Ed Corey

Common Murre by Ed Corey

Little Gull by Brian Patteson

Glaucous x Herring Gull by Brian Patteson

Lesser Black-backed Gull by Ed Corey

Manx Shearwater by Daniel Irons

Northern Gannet by Ed Corey

Cuvier's Beaked Whales by Daniel Irons

Common Dolphins by Ed Corey

Bird Lists for Feb. 24/ Feb. 26

Black Scoter 0/15
Red-breasted Merganser 3/0
Red Phalarope 2/224
Atlantic Puffin 34/27
Razorbill 911/735
Dovekie 298/153
Common Murre 32/12
Little Gull 0/3
Bonaparte's Gull 174/759
Black-headed Gull 0/1
Ring-billed Gull 3/3
Herring Gull 320/220
Great Black-backed Gull 50/54
Lesser Black-backed Gull 24/21
Red-throated Loon 27/78
Common Loon 13/47
Black-capped Petrel 0/4
Manx Shearwater 3/0
Northern Gannet 670/137
Brown Pelican 4/3

On Saturday, Feb. 24 we also saw 6 coastal Bottlenose Dolphins, one unidentified large whale, one loggerhead Turtle and one Thresher Shark, which was breaching.

On Monday, Feb. 26, we also saw 8 costal Bottlenose Dolphins, 3 unidentified Bottlenose, and 29 offshore Bottlenose, at least 500 Common Dolphins, 5 Humpback Whales, 6 Cuvier's Beaked Whales, one Ocean Sunfish, and two Hammerhead Sharks.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Feb. 18, 2024; Alcids Aplenty by Brian Patteson

After a day of strong winds from the north on Saturday, I had high hopes for getting out on both Sunday and Monday, but it wasn't to be. Sunday was nice enough though, and we had good conditions for seeing alcids with slight seas and cloudy skies. Razorbills were not as abundant as they sometimes are, but we still saw over 200 by 0830. By 0930, we were about 24 nautical miles offshore and seeing plenty of Dovekies, as well as our first Atlantic Puffins. About 30 miles out, we had a close flyby Thick-billed Murre on the bow: our third for the season. I thought it would be a good idea to try to find some warmer water, so we kept charging offshore, arriving at "The Point" around 1100. The Point is a heavily visited area where there is a deep submarine canyon and typically good tuna fishing. We found several boats fishing there and catching both Bluefin and Yellowfin Tuna. The water was warmer, but only reached the low to mid 60s. The 70 degree Gulf Stream water was farther offshore and out of range on this day. Nevertheless, we did find a few hundred Bonaparte's Gulls near the temperature break, and also several Red Phalaropes and one adult Little Gull, which was not close or easy to see. There were also quite a few Humpback Whales. These have been scarce inshore this winter, and perhaps they have been out here for a while. The water depth was in excess of 600 fathoms where we were seeing them, but there was a lot of bait out there. The inshore tack was the best for puffins, and Danny counted 61 in half an hour during the best of it. There was also a first winter Little Gull, but it kept its distance too. Back inshore there were a few Common Loons and several small groups of Razorbills. 

Dovekie by Nate Dias

Atlantic Puffin by Brian Patteson

Common Murre by Brian Patteson

Thick-billed Murre by Daniel Irons

Red Phalaropes by Daniel Irons

Bonaparte's Gull by Daniel Irons

HERG and LBBG by Daniel Irons

Humpback Whale by Daniel Irons

Bird List for Feb. 18, 2024

Red Phalarope 25
Atlantic Puffin 146
Razorbill 276
Dovekie 390
Common Murre 6
Thick-billed Murre 1
Little Gull 2
Bonaparte's Gull 515
Herring Gull 142
Ring-billed Gull 3
Great Black-backed Gull 33
Lesser Black-backed Gull 26
Red-throated Loon 74
Common Loon 19
Northern Gannet 55

We also saw 3 Ocean Sunfish, 10 Humpback Whales, 2 Common Dolphins, 25 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, and 3 offshore Bottlenose Dolphins.

Thanks to everyone who came out for the trip and of course our crew: Daniel Irons and guest leaders Jeff Effinger and Nate Dias. 

Monday, February 19, 2024

February 15, 2024 Alcids Continue to Dominate by Brian Patteson

 Our second trip of the year was a mid week departure, and we chose to push back a day for weather. It was still a bit choppy on Thursday morning, but easy enough crossing the bar on an ebb tide, and then we headed to the south for a while for the best ride. It's always a bit tougher seeing alcids in a sea, but we had some great looks as Razorbills and Common Murres inshore. From there we eased offshore a few miles and started seeing Dovekies. Puffins were fairly scarce until we got over 30 miles out. We found the best numbers near the edge of the Gulf Stream, which was about 38 miles southeast of the inlet. We also found a few Red Phalaropes out there along with many Bonaparte's Gulls. Big gulls and gannets came to the chum, but not much else. We had a quick look at a pair of Manx Shearwaters. We came back a bit north of where we went out and that stretch was not very productive compared to the waters near Wimble Shoals. I feel like everything is farther south this year, but we haven't been out of Hatteras yet, so I don't know how much so. It's definitely a different situation from last year, when we had lots of alcids out on Platt Shoals and beyond to the east of Oregon Inlet. It will be interesting to see how things change over the next couple of weeks.

Razorbill by Daniel Irons

Razorbill by Daniel Irons

Common Murre by Daniel Irons

Common Murres by Brian Patteson
Atlantic Puffin by Brian Patteson

Red Phalaropes by Daniel Irons

Northern Gannet by Jesse Anderson

Lesser Black-backed Gull by Jesse Anderson

Species List

Black Scoter- 2
Red Phalarope- 20
Atlantic Puffin- 49
Dovekie- 209
Common Murre- 14
Bonaparte's Gull- 349
Herring Gull- 118
Great Black-backed Gull- 50
Lesser Black-backed Gull- 5
Forster's Tern- 3
Red-throated Loon- 302
Common Loon- 18
Manx Shearwater- 2
Northern Gannet- 120

We also saw 3 Common Dolphins, 2 offshore Bottlenose Dolphins, 3 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, one unidentified large whale, 5 Ocean Sunfish, and several Hammerhead Sharks.

Thanks to all who came out to make the trip possible, and also to our spotters Daniel Irons and Jesse Anderson.