Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Sustained Sou'westers July 29 & 30, 3022 by Ed Corey

The Outer Banks had been experiencing three weeks of southwest winds prior to our trips this weekend. When these winds maintain this direction for a few days, numbers and diversity can occasionally decrease, but there’s always the chance for a large flock of shearwaters or a rarity to show up under these conditions to make the trip worthwhile! 
Friday’s venture into the deep was a bit rough, with the 20+ mph winds building up the seas on the continental shelf. Once we reached the deeper waters off of the shelf, the seas diminished to a much more comfortable 3-4’, and we were better able to scan our surroundings. The current was ripping to the northeast at roughly 5 knots, so staying in one spot was not really in the cards. 
Numbers were quite low, but there were still some of the regular species to see out there! Audubon’s and “Cory’s-type” Shearwaters, including at least one of the Mediterranean-breeding Scopoli’s, coursed around the boat. After a short time, we started to pick up a few distant Black-capped Petrels, perfectly at home in the windy conditions. Once they caught scent of the chum and fish oil, they became much more obliging, and all on board were able to study the distinctive field marks of these stunning birds. (Kate Sutherland)
A few Sooty Terns made passes throughout the day, though never as close as we would have liked. A handful of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels eventually joined us in the slick, pattering their feet on the water as they picked up tasty morsels from the ocean’s surface. And in the afternoon, a report of a fin near some Sargassum lead to a nice encounter with a moderate-sized hammerhead shark, either a Scalloped or Carolina (these are cryptic species and require a count of the vertebrae to determine the correct ID, photo Kate Sutherland). 

Because of overnight conditions, Saturday’s trip almost didn’t go, but a revised forecast gave us confidence we could make it back out to the Gulf Stream. With a little later start, we headed out from the marina. Not long after we made it over the shelf, Brian spotted an incoming storm-petrel on the bow: a Band-rumped! (Ed Corey) 
We were able to observe several of these longer-winged storm-petrels throughout the day, with great looks at them in flight as well as feeding in the slick along with a few more Wilson’s than were seen the previous day.
Black-capped Petrels were also more numerous and made close passes to the boat most of the day. (Ed Corey) 
Audubon’s Shearwaters were less approaching, and in the wind were exhibiting their “Pseudodroma” behavior, where they could almost be mistaken for a small petrel at a distance. At one point, a Bridled Tern joined our attending storm-petrel flock, another new species for the weekend! Our ride back brought us along a current change, where we saw a few more Bridleds at closer range as they searched for food in the accumulated weed line (Ed Corey). 
 ~ Ed Corey

Thanks so much to everyone who joined us to see what was out there for the first of our summer trips! Not a bad species list for the two days and a big thank you to our leaders: Ed Corey, Daniel Irons, and Mario Balitbit, for helping Brian lead the trips. ~Kate

Species List for 29 / 30 July 2022
Black-capped Petrel - 21 / 36
Scopoli's Shearwater - 1 / 0
Cory's / Scopoli's - 19 / 4
Great Shearwater - 10 / 0
large shearwater species - 0 / 2
Audubon's Shearwater - 12 / 16
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 5 / 12
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 0 / 6
Sooty Tern - 3 / 2
Bridled Tern - 0 / 7
Sooty / Bridled Tern - 0 / 3
jaeger species - 1 / 0
Royal Tern - 13 / 7
Black Tern - 2 / 0
tern species - 0 / 1
Least Sandpiper - 1 / 1
Barn Swallow - 1 / 5
swallow species - 0 / 1
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin - 12 to 15 / 0
Scalloped / Carolina Hammerhead - 1 / 0

Photo opportunities on Friday were few and far between, but here are a couple more of the cooperative Black-capped Petrel we had in the slick that looked like a juvenile dark-faced individual (Kate Sutherland)
And they were a bit more cooperative on Saturday! Here is another dark-faced bird in primary molt. (Ed Corey)
Wilson's Storm-Petrels were not very cooperative on Friday, but at least you can see the yellow webbing on the feet in this image (Kate Sutherland)
Ed's picture in the text portion of the blog shows the short legs of the Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, here you can see it as well, followed by another dorsal view (Ed Corey)
Sooty Terns were not very obliging either on Friday's trip, but here is a record shot that shows the dark under primaries well, which are in contrast to the white seen in those of Bridled Terns illustrated by the image in the text (Kate Sutherland)

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Bob Fogg's Gulf Stream Adventures - 20, 21 June 2022 by Kate Sutherland

Though the spring trips for Seabirding have ended...we had a couple more trips to look forward to with our friend Bob Fogg who chartered the boat for a couple of days this past week.  And yes, we were super lucky to spend the Summer Solstice offshore!  The group was diverse, some were birders, some knew that seabirds existed, some catch and tag sharks for a living, others knew the rods on the boat were for catching something...so Brian came up with a plan to target it all!  Depending on the conditions we would spend some time trolling one day and birding the rest of the day, the next day we would head out and bird in the morning coming back inshore to try for some bottom fish in the afternoon.  And one more thing...Bob works for a company called Cellular Tracking Technologies in Cape May, NJ.  Michael Lanzone, the founder of this company and its technology, was also along on the trip and he had some equipment he wanted to test in the deep waters offshore of the continental shelf - okay!  So we added that to the schedule too!
Monday winds were northwesterly and we headed right out to the shelf break catching a wahoo along the way!  There were some nice Sargassum lines offshore of the break and we spent some time trolling along one.  Looking up ahead there were some birds around a couple of Navy ships...one was a Black-capped Petrel that flew in towards us and the other was a Bridled Tern!!  It flew in and landed on a tree that coincidentally happened to have some fish under it (Bob Fogg).
So as we photographed this super cooperative tern, some Mahi mahi were coming over the stern.  We held off on putting a chum block over because it is the season of the Great Shearwater (fishing lines in the water while feeding birds can be a challenge!), but fish oil did well enough.  Band-rumped (Bob Fogg)
and Wilson's Storm-Petrels were following and making some nice passes, Black-capped Petrels came zipping by and Cory's, Scopoli's, and Great Shearwaters all were flying around.  Just after 1100 we started putting out more chum and our flock grew to a high count of 52 Greats!  A fresh looking, likely recently fledged, Black-capped came and fed in the slick with the shearwaters sticking with us for over thirty minutes (Kate Sutherland). 
Scopoli's were super cooperative feeding in the slick with the other shearwaters and we had some Audubon's fly through as well.  A Common Tern joined the slick in the afternoon and we had a Leach's fly though around that same time - the only one of the day.  Offshore the wind turned out to be a bit more than they had forecast so our plans for the deep drop and dipping some Sargassum would have to wait until Tuesday!  All good, because we ended up with an awesome day overall, lots of seabirds and enough fish for dinner! (Brian Patteson) 

Overnight winds were easterly and by Tuesday morning we still had some light winds coming from that direction!  We headed right offshore to the deep to look for seabirds and give Mike and his team a chance to test their equipment with over a mile beneath the boat.  Somehow we hooked a Mahi on the fast troll this morning instead of a wahoo, and since we planned to bottom fish in the afternoon it was most certainly the only one of the day.  A single Atlantic Spotted Dolphin came in to visit us on the shelf also, and it showed well, riding our bow wave and checking us out!  One of the first species we saw over the break was Band-rumped Storm-Petrel!  Black-cappeds were slow to appear and just after 0830 we realized why when we found a flock of eight on the water with some Band-rumpeds!  Pretty cool to have a flock of Band-rumpeds fly right by us on the bow (Kate Sutherland)!! 
Later in the day I was yelling about a couple together in the stern then turned to see a flock of eight going up the starboard side - wow! (part of the flock by Bob Fogg)
I hope they stick around into the summer like that!  We were hoping to see some Leach's since the winds were from the east, and sure enough...we were not to be disappointed...as we sat on a long drift with chum blocks we had Leach's flying right by us (Kate Sutherland). 
Great Shearwaters came in to eat some fresh chum and a shark was attracted to it as well.  We threw the block over and waited...it only took a few minutes for the shark to come in and take the tasty, easy meal, much to the dismay of our shearwaters! (Bob Flood) 
Bob's brother, Michael, happens to tag sharks for a living so we had some expert insight to help us identify it to species...it looked like a large Dusky Shark!  The shark tag field testing was a success and Mike got them down to 1119 meters using a nice electric reel! (a picture of it getting close by Brian Patteson) 
Since we were planning to do some bottom fishing on the shelf in the afternoon we had to head in from the deep around midday.  Fortunately we found some cooperative offshore Bottlenose Dolphins before then and we got to spend some time with a nice group under the bow pulpit much to the delight of all aboard!  Bob's sister, Kim, was especially excited to have a chance to see and hear these cetaceans!! (Kate Sutherland) 
Back on the shelf we headed to the Rock Pile, Brian was cruising around looking for a nice mark indicating a good place to drop some baited hooks for bottom fish.  At the same time Bob spotted a small group of shearwaters off the starboard bow.  They were over a small slick and we headed over to see what they might be feeding on.  As we approached there was a lot of splashing and what looked like a tall fin...then suddenly there was blood in the water! (Bob Fogg) 
The tall fin was the tail of a large billfish and as we got closer we could see sharks as they charged over the carcass, ripping pieces off and efficiently cutting through the water around the fish!  Michael Fogg said they looked like Sandbar Sharks, did I mention how nice it was to have a fisheries biologist on the boat?? (Kate Sutherland) 
Shearwaters and storm-petrels were right there taking what they could as we watched, our mouths agape, taking video and attempting to photograph the sight.  The whole sequence lasted less than ten minutes and as the fish sank out of sight, the sharks descended with it and we were left with just a big slick.  Like we have seen thousands of times before and thought to ourselves "I wonder what made that slick?"  We would never imagine a scene like the one we had just witnessed!!!  Incredible!  As we cruised around that spot Brian found a mark and we started fishing, catching another creature rarely seen, a Red Cornetfish!!  On a jig no less!  (Brian Patteson, Michael Flood - angler) 
Fishing went well for our last hour or so and we added a few more species to the catch for the set! (Brian Patteson) 

What a great set of trips.  A big thank you to Bob for trusting us to deliver a good birding / fishing charter and thank you to Daniel Irons and Tristan O'Leary for helping out on the deck.  So glad Bob's siblings and coworkers trusted him to set up and awesome couple of trips!  Thanks for letting me tag along and one more thank you to Bob for contributing photos for this post!  ~ Kate 

Species List for 20 / 21 June 2022
Black-capped Petrel - 24 / 17
Atlantic Cory's Shearwater - 8 / 2
Scopoli's Shearwater - 6 / 0
Cory's / Scopoli's - 20 / 13
Great Shearwater - 81 to 82 / 47
Audubon's Shearwater - 16 / 11
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 56 / 43
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 1 / 3 to 4
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 15 to 17 / 30
Bridled Tern - 1 / 0
Parasitic Jaeger - 0 / 1 to 2
Royal Tern - 0 / 1
Common Tern - 1 / 0
Risso's Dolphin - 1 / 0
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin - 0 / 19 to 24
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin - 0 / 1
Loggerhead Turtle - 1 / 0
Dusky Shark - 0 / 1
Sandbar Shark - 0 / 12 to 15
Blue Marlin - 0 / 1 seen dead
Wahoo - 1 caught / 0
Mahi mahi (Atlantic Dolphinfish) - 16 caught / 1 caught
Greater Amberjack - 0 / 1 released
Almaco Jack - 0 / 1 caught
Black Sea Bass - 0 / 8 caught
Gray Triggerfish - 0 / 10 caught
Sand Tilefish - 0 / 4 caught
Red Cornetfish - 0 / 1 released
Tattler - 0 / 1 released

And some more photos...!  We'll begin with ones from the 20th followed by some from the 21st - captions above each image, as usual 🙂
A couple more Bridled Tern images (Kate Sutherland)
A couple more flight shots - Bob top and Kate bottom
A lot of the Black-cappeds we saw, though admittedly we didn't see a ton, were molting like these birds (Bob Fogg)
We also had a couple of really dark birds like this one (Kate Sutherland)
An angle I always enjoy on Black-capped Petrels - each has a slightly different facial pattern (Kate Sutherland)
Monday was the best day for Scopoli's!  Here are a dorsal and underwing shot of the same individual (Kate Sutherland)
The ever present Great Shearwater (Kate Sutherland) showing the mottled underwing and smudgy belly 
We didn't see a whole lot of Wilson's Storm-Petrels over the two days, but the ones we did have were pretty cooperative!  (Bob Fogg)
Our following flock!  (Bob Fogg)
Flyingfishes were everywhere on both trips!!  Here are a few captured by Bob on Monday
Okay, moving right along to Tuesday's trip!  We again had some cooperative Black-capped Petrels though they were more scarce than the day before.  It could have been that some were sitting around on the water...or the wind didn't help us much during our drift, who knows?  (Bob Fogg)
One of our Great Shearwaters getting some food down and then preening.  We don't always get to see this since typically we are moving and the birds fall behind when they sit on the water!  (Kate Sutherland)
One of the Audubon's Shearwaters we saw on the solstice - some can show a lot of white around the eye!  (Kate Sutherland)
A couple more cooperative Wilson's, one is even showing off the yellow webbing on its feet!  (Bob Fogg)
A couple more Leach's images by Bob Fogg.  You can see how abraded the outer tail feathers are in the second image!
And WOW, like I said, Band-rumped Storm-Petrels kind of stole the show!  A few more images - top two by Bob Fogg and bottom image by Kate Sutherland
A few more images of the Blue Marlin being eaten by the sharks...
The top two (Kate Sutherland) show the coloration of the fish when it was killed.  I haven't seen this before, but Brian said when they get exhausted this is the color they show.  This fish was likely caught recently by a charter boat and was worn out, wounded, or had been injured while on the line and finally just couldn't out-swim the sharks anymore.  The organ coming out of her mouth here is her stomach, billfish like these can evert their stomachs to get rid of unwanted items...like hooks or undigestible items. 
Nice view of one of the Sandbar Shark's dorsal fins next to the marlin.
An overview of the situation!  Pretty incredible capture with the marlin and sharks as things began to end as quickly as they began!  (Bob Fogg)
Bob with a nice Black Sea Bass!  (Brian Patteson)
And in closing a few more flyingfish!!! (Kate Sutherland)