Thursday, September 9, 2021

September 4 & 5, 2021 - Shearwaters and Sooty Terns - Kate Sutherland

 Labor Day Weekend looked interesting with northeasterly winds on Saturday and light and variable winds on Sunday coupled with some easterly swell, so our hopes were high as we headed out into choppy seas on Saturday!  The features for both days were shearwater flocks, these flocks were pretty easy to spot thanks to the Sooty Terns flying above most of them.  We love beehives, the term we use for feeding flocks of seabirds, because you just never know what you might find in them.  Luck was on our side and we had excellent views of a number of species in these flocks over the course of the weekend.  In today's post I think we'll walk through each day, for while they had similarities in the form of these multi-species feeding flocks, each was also unique.
Saturday we had some wind so it was choppy and we headed in our usual direction to the south southeast in the morning.  We started to see shearwaters and had a couple of Bridled Terns before we even reached the shelf break!  Then we had what looked like a young Black-capped Petrel join us to check out the fish oil slick soon after we crossed into the slope waters.  Interestingly enough, we had a couple of Black-cappeds with us at the end of the day as we approached the shelf!  Usually these sharp looking gadfly petrels are in deeper water (Kate Sutherland).
Our first feeding flock had almost 30 Sooty Terns associated with it and it was incredible to hear the young birds as they swooped over the boat with their parents nearby (youngster by Ed Corey).
We had Scopoli's, Cory's type, and Audubon's Shearwaters in this group along with some Black-capped Petrels and Wilson's Storm-Petrels.  A Band-rumped Storm-Petrel briefly visited the group but did not show very well, and an immature Pomarine Jaeger was chasing Audubon's around also!  The next flock had fewer Sooty Terns but held a couple of Great Shearwaters and a young Long-tailed Jaeger!  There were also some Red-necked Phalaropes in the area (Ed Corey).
Just before noontime we finally had a more cooperative Band-rumped Storm-Petrel and a good number of Wilson's Storm-Petrels stayed with us throughout the day!  
By Sunday the wind had fallen out and we had calm seas.  The Gulf Stream Current, which had been slack on Saturday (we even had reports of some down current), was again not running hard close to Hatteras (less than a knot), so we headed to the east!  This put us a bit north of the ground we would usually cover and we were hoping to see what type of life was up there without running the risk of being swept too far to the north by the Gulf Stream.  Again we had Cory's, Scopoli's, Cory's type (Kate Sutherland), and Audubon's Shearwaters on our way offshore.
There were also a number of Common and Black Terns around.  Just over the shelf break we began to see flocks of shearwaters on the water and feeding, mostly Cory's types, and we began to travel from flock to flock to see what we could turn up!  Again we had the Sooty Terns attending the flocks with the calling juveniles and adults, one of these flocks also had a couple of Bridled Terns and we were able to see the differences between the larger, darker Sooty Terns and the smaller Bridleds with their grayer backs, pale napes, and whiter under primaries!  We were moving from flock to flock for most of the day and had over 400 Cory's types tallied by the time we reached the shelf break again in the afternoon.  Black-capped Petrels and Wilson's Storm-Petrels were cooperative in the slick, but we didn't turn up a Band rumped on Sunday.  We did, however, find a perched adult Bridled Tern that allowed us to approach for incredible views and we saw its youngster a few minutes later checking out some schools of small flyingfishes and Balao, a cousin to the Ballyhoo!  There was a lot of life out there so of course I wanted to dip some Sargassum and see what we could find...and while a few of us were sorting through that two young Long-tailed Jaegers flew in to check us out (Ed Corey)!
It has been a really good summer for seeing them!  Two participants found a Sargassumfish in one of the dips and everyone who was interested had a chance to see it plus our other finds (more information about them in the photo section) before we put them back with their floating habitat!  We had a glimpse of a Cuvier's Beaked Whale before it sounded, a nice pod of bow riding Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, and even a Loggerhead Turtle to round out the list! 
Overall a great set of trips, and our last weekend of the year to run a couple back to back.  The rest of our fall trips are Saturdays with an obligatory weather date on Sunday and we have space on our next departure on September 18 (19)!  Thank you to everyone who joined us out there and a big thank you to our leaders, Ed Corey and Paul Laurent, for helping us out!  Ed also contributed photos for this post, thanks, Ed!! 

Species List for September 4 / 5
Black-capped Petrel - 37 to 40 / 26 to 27
Cory's Shearwater - 4 / 13
Scopoli's Shearwater - 29 / 14
Cory's / Scopoli's Shearwater - 118 / 415
Great Shearwater - 5 / 52 to 53
Audubon's Shearwater - 21 / 49
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 86 / 93
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 2 to 3 / 0
Red-necked Phalarope - 11 to 12 / 2
Phalarope sp. - 0 / 1
Sooty Tern - 41 / 42 to 43
Bridled Tern - 2 / 4
Sooty / Bridled Tern - 0 / 3
Black Tern - 6 / 11
Pomarine Jaeger - 1 / 0
Long-tailed Jaeger - 1 / 2
American Redstart - 0 / 1 came aboard
Cuvier's Beaked Whale - 0 / 1
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin - 0 / 12 to 15
Silver-haired Bat - 0 / 1
Bat sp. - 0 / 1
Loggerhead Turtle - 0 / 1
Monarch - 0 / 2
Cloudless Sulphur - 3 / 7
Common Green Darner - 0 / 1

This Black-capped Petrel had very dark underwings!  (Kate Sutherland)
We saw a handful of Cory's Shearwaters over the weekend (Ed Corey)
And more Scopoli's Shearwaters, here you can see one in the center of this feeding group that is composed of Cory's types, Scopoli's, and Great Shearwaters (Kate Sutherland)
A Cory's type shearwater (Kate Sutherland)
Great Shearwaters were very cooperative near the boat! (Kate Sutherland)
As were Audubon's Shearwaters!  This was a treat because sometimes these small black and white shearwaters can be a bit boat shy.  (Ed Corey)
Audubon's are usually found around Sargassum since they feed on the creatures associated with this floating brown algae.  This one dove next to us and surfaced with some on its back! (Kate Sutherland)
A couple more views of some Sooty Terns!  Here is an adult and the underside of a juvenile (the upperparts are visible in Ed's photo in the blog text!) (Kate Sutherland)
And for comparison, here is the perched Bridled Tern from Sunday.  You can see the back is much grayer than the adult Sooty Tern pictured above.  (Kate Sutherland)
Here are a few pictures of the cooperative Atlantic Spotted Dolphins!  A typical spotted individual (top - Kate Sutherland) and a couple of typical younger individuals without spots below (Ed Corey).

It was really cool to see these schools of fish leaping from the water near the boat, but very easy to get a good photos of them!  These look like Balao (Hemiramphus balao). (Kate Sutherland)
And some young flyingfish!  (Kate Sutherland)
We found some really cool creatures in the Sargassum that we dip netted!  Here are participants Heather Levy and Peter Kleinhenz checking them out in some of our trays.  The weather has to cooperate for us to be able to do this! (Kate Sutherland)
Here is a closeup of the Sargassumfish (Histrio histrio) in some Sargassum natans, one of the species of Sargassum we commonly find offshore from Hatteras. (Kate Sutherland)
This photo has four different species, three fishes and one crab, in addition to the Sargassum natans you can see hydroids (the feathery looking creatures) and bryozoans (the crusty looking covering on the algae are their homes!) attached to the algae!  There are about 50 obligate species that are associated with Sargassum!  (Kate Sutherland)
Here is a closer look at the Sargassum Pipefish (Sygnathus pelagicus) and the Sargassum Swimming Crab (Portunus sayi) - the other creatures in the photo above are Planehead Filefish (Stephanolepis hispidus), and the Sargassumfish! (Kate Sutherland)

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

August 27 & 28, 2021 - Low Winds & High Fliers - Ed Corey

Tubenoses, like our petrels, storm-petrels and shearwaters, are truly masters of the wind. They’ve learned to effortlessly ride the gusts and gales to cover great distances in their search for food. However, sometimes the winds are less cooperative. So was the case for our trips this weekend! After several days with good winds out of the East and Southeast, we were left with light and variable conditions for both Friday and Saturday. When this happens, we change strategies and start looking for birds on the water or feeding activity over bait fish schools. 
The journey to the deep on Friday was quite pleasant, with low swells and patches of slick water to scan. Halfway to the shelf break, we spotted a flock of Red-necked Phalaropes working one of these slicks (Kate Sutherland). 
Though a bit jumpy at first, everyone was able to get on these “off-shorebirds," along with a pair of Audubon’s Shearwaters. A short time later, one of our spotters noticed a high flyer in the far distance, seemingly heading towards the boat. “High Flyer” is a term we use for any birds that spend time above the water, such as terns, boobies, tropicbirds or jaegers. The bird in question revealed itself to be a young Long-tailed Jaeger, passing behind us, but close enough for all passengers to see.
After leaving the continental shelf, we were able to find a few scattered birds on the water. Black-capped Petrels were shy, taking to the air well before we got close. A group of storm-petrels held mostly Wilson’s, but a Band-rumped flushed with them, showing its longer wings and more soaring flight style. Around 1pm, we came upon a loose flock of Bridled Terns, both adults and young, resting and being quite vocal. It was a treat to hear the birds calling back and forth to each other, as the parents came in to check on their offspring! (Ed Corey - adult left, juvenile right and Atlantic Tripletail swimming nearby!) 
Saturday’s trip brought similar weather, but also added a few new species for the weekend. One of our participants spotted an adult Sabine’s Gull on the water, which gave brief views as it did a lap around the boat and flew off behind us. The deeper water was a bit slower, but we were able to jump a Band-rumped and Leach’s Storm-Petrel traveling with a lone Wilson’s, a great comparison of our two larger stormies with their smaller distant cousin! (Ed Corey - Band-rumped above and Wilson's below) 
Around 10, our leaders spotted a large bird leading a ship further out, so we motored after it. Unfortunately, we were unable to catch up, but photo review afterwards showed this to be a Brown Booby! While watching the booby, we began to see quite a few tropical terns gathering and feeding ahead of us. Sooty Terns are larger and more buoyant than Bridleds, and we were able to count at least 60-70 individuals in this split flock! We were even able to see several Sooty Terns resting on the water, an uncommon but not unheard-of sight!
It took a while to get the birds interested in our slick, but eventually the storm-petrels fell in behind us. Black-capped Petrels and Band-rumped Stormies visited the gathering of Wilson’s. Though photo opportunities were not as numerous as we would hope, our participants gained confidence in identifying our Gulf Stream specialties at a distance!

~Thank you to everyone who joined us offshore for both of these trips!  Thank you also to our leaders, Ed Corey, George Armistead, and Jacob Farmer, and another thank you to Ed for writing the post, assembling the eBird lists, and contributing photos since I could not attend the trip on Saturday!!  -Kate Sutherland

Species List for August 27 / 28
Black-capped Petrel - 20 to 22 / 56 to 59
Scopoli's Shearwater - 3 / 0
Cory's / Scopoli's Shearwater - 2 / 34
Great Shearwater - 2 / 0
Audubon's Shearwater - 5 / 5
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 88 / 78 to 81
Leach's Storm- Petrel - 0 / 1
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 4 / 7
Brown Booby - 0 / 1
Red-necked Phalarope - 131 to 136 / 40
shorebird sp. - 0 / 2
Sabine's Gull (adult) - 0 / 1
Sooty Tern - 5 / 111 to 118
Bridled Tern - 21 / 3
Sooty / Bridled Tern - 3 / 5
Black Tern - 10 / 3
Long-tailed Jaeger - 1 / 0
Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore population) - 30 to 35 / 50 to 52

Black-capped Petrels from Friday's trip - dark and light forms on the water (Ed Corey) then the light individual in flight (Kate Sutherland)
It looked like both of these birds were Scopoli's Shearwaters.  Checking both underwings, one individual had a marginal amount of white on the underside of the outermost primary in one wing and close to 45% in the other, while the second individual had more than 30% in each. (Kate Sutherland)
We just had a couple of Great Shearwaters on Friday, but they were cooperative! (Kate Sutherland)
Audubon's were seen on both trips (Ed Corey)
And here is another image of Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (Ed Corey)
Red-necked Phalaropes were incredibly cooperative on Friday's trip! (Ed Corey)
And the terns!!  They were truly one of the highlights of the weekend!  
Adult and juvenile Sooty Terns (Ed Corey)
Sooty Tern with what appears to be a small flyingfish! (Ed Corey)
Adult (top) and juvenile (bottom) Bridled Terns perched (Ed Corey)
And each in flight!  (adult - top by Ed Corey, juvenile - bottom by Kate Sutherland)
This military aircraft buzzed us a few times out there on Friday - and yes, it was LOUD!  (Kate Sutherland)

Thursday, August 26, 2021

August 20 & 22, 2021 - Birding around Henri - Kate Sutherland

At first glance, it seemed that Tropical Storm Henri would send some swell our way...enough to help bring some seabirds in for us but not to disrupt our trips.  Little did we know the forecast was to change, as it tends to do with these tropical systems!  The National Hurricane Center had this system becoming a hurricane on Friday night into Saturday as it passed a couple hundred miles offshore of Hatteras Island.  Needless to say, this prompted us to cancel Saturday's trip on Thursday morning since a number of people were to join us from the Mecklenburg Audubon Society - quite a drive to turn around!  And it turned out we were right to do so since the swell was too large for us to get out of the inlet on Saturday morning, not a single vessel from Hatteras went out.  We did, however, get to do some pre and post seabirding on Friday and Sunday and it was an adventure for certain!
Friday morning we found some swell from the east as we headed offshore, so there was some wind out there somewhere!  But luckily there was not much with us and we had partly cloudy skies with some light winds from the south and southwest.  It was nice to see some Cory's type and Audubon's Shearwaters on our way to the shelf break and then we were lucky to find two Black-capped Petrels and a Sooty Tern just over the break.  As we worked our way out to deeper water in the 5 to 6 foot swell there were incredible flocks of Black-cappeds on the water - 40 or 50 in one that we found just after 0930! (Kate Sutherland) 
It's been awhile since we've seen them like that!  Without the wind birds were mostly sitting around, but we tried a short drift anyhow since there were certainly some storm-petrels around, and while we didn't have any larger stormies visit the chum it did attract a Bridled Tern that came in to feed.  Just as we were pulling out from the slick a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel made a brief appearance, but did not return for a nice pass.  Our large shearwaters were quite cooperative with good views of Great Shearwater feeding in the slick (Kate Sutherland)
and both Cory's and Scopoli's Shearwaters plus a number that were in between.  It's interesting that we see a number of Cory's type shearwaters that have some white in p10 but less than the 30% we like to call a Scopoli's.  There are a few that we can tease out using other characteristics, but just interesting to have so many occurring here.  On both trips I photographed almost as many of these 'tweeners as I did Scopoli's!  Our flocks on the water continued into the afternoon and we had another nice, large flock of Black-cappeds with at least 30 individuals plus some shearwaters and a nice group of stormies.  When the storm-petrel flock took off there were a couple of larger ones in there and one of these was a Leach's!  Most participants who were in the right place to see this flock caught a glimpse of this larger storm-petrel and its diagnostic, erratic flight style.  But the best was waiting for us at the shelf break!  I was up in the wheelhouse writing down our 1400 location which was just at the shelf break, and Brian shouted "what's this???  TROPICBIRD!!" as a White-tailed Tropicbird dropped in just off the port bow!  WOW!  It was an awesome view and the bird circled around us at least a couple of times before taking off.  An excellent pre-Henri sighting!! (Jason Denesevich) 
Sunday the weather was a bit more unsettled and the seas were confused with residual swell and wind.  I could see some squall lines offshore on the radar early in the morning when I checked, but they looked as though they might move by before we got out there.  Skies were partly cloudy to cloudy with winds from the south around 10mph as we headed offshore, again we had some shearwaters as we motored toward the shelf break.  Before we got there, though, we found a nice "grassline" (actually, an algae line composed of Sargassum!) that had some birds on it.  We took some time here getting our Cory's type, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters and also had some Bridled Terns fly by (Jason Denesevich).
By the time we reached the shelf break it was 0900 and a nice squall line with at least four waterspouts kept us penned in a couple hundred fathoms until we could find a safe break to get farther offshore.  This was a beautiful place, however, and the birds were flying much more than they had been on Friday.  A number of squall lines produced some incredible views of Black-capped Petrels and large shearwaters with our flock of following Wilson's Storm-Petrels growing to over 100!  Unfortunately we didn't turn up any larger stormies on Sunday, or smaller ones, or ones with white bellies!  Around noontime a group of Black-cappeds came in to visit the slick and we decided to deploy one of our last homemade chum blocks - lovingly crafted by Brian and Andrew earlier in the summer - and the birds loved it.  Black-cappeds and Wilson's fed excitedly on this and the shark liver we put with it (Kate Sutherland)! 
Winds picked up to a solid 20mph while we were out there, and we didn't get quite as deep as we had on Friday...but birding the squalls was incredible!  
Unfortunate that we didn't make Saturday, but we had a nice, solid set of trips and were able to get at least a few new birds for some of our Big Year Birders :)
Thank you to everyone who joined us and to Jeff Lemons and Jason Denesevich for helping us lead the trips - thank you also to Jason for contributing some of his images for me to use here in the blog as well!  Our next set of trips will run this Friday and Saturday, following that we have trips Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day Weekend!  See some of you all out there!

Species List for August 20 / 22
Black-capped Petrel - 116 to 128 / 44 to 52
Cory's Shearwater - 6 / 8
Scopoli's Shearwater - 14 / 14
Cory's / Scopoli's - 43 / 74
Great Shearwater - 7 to 8 / 14
Audubon's Shearwater - 4 / 8
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 100 to 105 / 150 to 160
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 1 / 0
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 2 / 0
White-tailed Tropicbird - 1 / 0
Red-necked Phalarope - 1 / 3
Sooty Tern - 3 / 3
Bridled Tern - 5 / 6
Willet - 0 / 2
Least Tern - 0 / 2
Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore population) - 0 / 45 to 55

Another view of the White-tailed Tropicbird! (Kate Sutherland)
A few more Black-capped Petrel images (Kate Sutherland)
Feeding in the slick!
What looked like a juvenile dark type individual
Jason captured these nice images of Cory's (back) and Scopoli's (front) together!  (Jason Denesevich)
A Cory's Shearwater (Kate Sutherland)
Here are a couple more Scopoli's images (Kate Sutherland)
And one of those Cory's types with some white in p10 but not quite 30%.  (Kate Sutherland)
Cory's (center), Cory's type, and Great Shearwaters showing some of the size variation (Kate Sutherland)
Great Shearwaters were very cooperative on both trips! (Kate Sutherland)
Wilson's Storm-Petrels were also showing off! (Kate Sutherland)
It was great to see both Bridled (top by Jason Denesevich) and Sooty (bottom by Kate Sutherland) Terns on both trips!  You can see white in the under primaries of the Bridled Tern that is not typically found in those of Sooty Terns.
Participant Trevor Sleight captured this awesome image of one of the offshore Bottlenose Dolphins as it was leaping from the water!
A flyingfish that came aboard on Sunday, it efficiently escaped from me and returned to the sea!  Photo by Charlie Bostwick and the species looks like maybe a young Bandwing Flyingfish!
And finally, two of our regular customers, Matthew Withrow (facing the camera) and Jamie Adams (back to the camera) with the moon setting in the background as we headed out on Sunday morning!  (Kate Sutherland)