Sunday, February 11, 2018

February 10, 2018 Aukorama - by Brian Patteson

Running winter trips is a challenge because it is generally a rough time of year offshore with more wind and swell than the summer. Cold fronts are more frequent and the dominant wind is usually from the north. That makes Hatteras an appealing port because the inlet here is sheltered from the northeast swell. But there are also times when the wind blows hard from the south. With this in mind, we usually keep the option open to run a trip from Oregon Inlet if necessary. This weekend was the first time in several years that we played that hand, and I ran the Stormy Petrel II up to Wanchese on Friday, with the hope that the predicted southeaster would not be too much for us up there. A southeaster is no cakewalk on the north side of Cape Hatteras either, but generally the farther you get from the Gulf Stream the less wind there is.

There was not much wind for us when we headed out to sea Saturday morning. It was blowing pretty hard south of the Cape, but off Oregon Inlet there was not even a white cap, but the swell was already starting to build. As for birds, it was pretty quiet close to shore. We saw just a few loons, gannets, and Razorbills as we jogged down toward Wimble Shoals. This can be a great area for birds, but was sparsely populated by them the morning of Feb. 10.  We did, however, find quality over quantity, and less than an hour after clearing OI, we were looking at our third species of alcid for the day. Surprisingly, it was a Thick-billed Murre, which is quite rare at this latitude.
The murre allowed us to approach closely for photos, and reminded us that part of the appeal of these trips is the potential for the unexpected. We continued on our way southward and about 35 minutes later we were looking at another murre, but this one was a Common Murre molting into breeding plumage!
BAM! Four species of alcids and no puffin yet! Well, we didn’t have to wait long for that because we spotted a puffin sometime after 9:00. We also picked up five more Common Murres before 10.

We kept on our way slowly to the southeast and we began to recruit a few gulls and gannets with our chum. It did not take long for a few fulmars and kittiwakes to find our flock, and a minute or two after 11, a Great Skua came charging in and began raising hell (photo by Alex Brash).
We’ve had some good luck with skuas so far this winter. This one came in close and sailed right over the boat. Within minutes a couple of Manx Shearwaters appeared, adding yet more diversity to the day’s sightings. Bonaparte’s Gulls are often around when you are seeing winter Manx, but they were kind of scarce.

We were still struggling with Dovekies in the tight, growing swell. We had seen a few singles, but generally not until we were right on top of them at which point they would dive or fly off. Last week it was better for Dovekies closer to the warm water change, so I pressed onward to the southeast in search of such a condition. We finally found some warmer water around 12:15, but it was not a super sharp change. Not surprisingly it was devoid of phalaropes, which are more often near a hard change. There were, however a few puffins around and we found them in the cold water and in the warmer water. There was about an 8 degree spread over a few hundred yards from around 50 to at least 58.

We stuck close to the change for a while and a couple of new species appeared. We saw not one, but two Black-capped Petrels near the change (photo by Ed Corey).
It’s always great to see them, especially a few miles away from the deep Gulf Stream water they prefer. Then we had some excitement when a Sooty Shearwater arrived near the boat at the same time as a pair of adult Little Gulls. The Sooty stuck around for several minutes, but the Little Gulls quickly moved on, but we all had a close look before they left.

Working back into the cold water we found many more Razorbills than we had seen during the morning but they were nervous and hard to get close to. We had better luck getting close to some Common Murres and we saw several over the course of an hour (photo by Kate Sutherland).
It was mix of basic plumaged and molting Common Murres. We also had a few more of encounters with at least one more Great Skua.

It was a pretty nice ride back to the inlet in following seas. That helped us get some better looks at Dovekie. It was little bit foggy and some fulmars followed us inside the 3 mile line. So we saw fulmars in state waters in the truest sense. We also picked up another Sooty Shearwater just south of the OI sea buoy (photo by Kate Sutherland).

It’s been a long time since we had to swap departure points a couple of days before the trip, but it enabled us to run a trip we would have otherwise had to cancel. The timing of the weather was also crucial to our success. If the southeaster had come on the afternoon before, we probably could not have gotten down to where the concentration of birds was and we might not have been able to run a trip at all.  I would like to thank everyone who came out and had faith in us getting trip out. I would also like to thank Kate Sutherland and Ed Corey for working the deck all day without a break. They did a top-notch job making sure nothing was missed despite the fact that birds were appearing and disappearing quickly in the conditions we had to work with.

We're going to put the eBird link here for the trip list - click here for that!  A big thank you to Ed Corey and participant Alex Brash of CT for allowing us to use their photos for the blog!  -Kate

We had both light and dark Northern Fulmars in our following flock.  Light bird below is by Ed Corey, dark by Kate Sutherland.
Dorsal view of the second Black-capped Petrel (Kate Sutherland)
One of our closer Manx Shearwaters (Alex Brash)
Black-legged Kittiwake - all of the individuals we saw were young birds (Kate Sutherland)
A couple more Great Skua images, the first (top) and second (bottom) close encounters with this individual!  (Kate Sutherland)
& yes....Aukorama! 
Razorbill group by Alex Brash (top) and individual Razorbill by Ed Corey (bottom)
A few more Common Murre images by Brian Patteson and Ed Corey
Another Thick-billed Murre image by Ed Corey
And finally one of the Atlantic Puffins (Kate Sutherland)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Saturday February 3, 2018 - by Brian Patteson

It was good to be back out on the water this weekend. Nathan Gatto organized a group from the Forsyth Audubon club for a birding charter on our boat. It was still a bit windy when we got to the inlet, but it was a north wind so the shoreline provided some shelter and there was an abundance of Razorbills close to the beach. That’s not too surprising because cold water had surged southward in previous days, as you can see in this sea surface temperature map from Rutgers (marine.rutgers.edu).
Earlier in the week I had seen over 12,000 Razorbills from the beach at Cape Hatteras, the most recorded here to date. Razorbills tend to fly in the morning and they kept us busy counting as we worked eastward closer to Cape Hatteras.

As we got near Diamond Shoals, we began to see hundreds of Red-throated Loons flying.  These small loons are much more aerial than Common Loons, and like the Razorbills, they have been quite abundant locally in recent days. Similar to last weekend, there were also several Manx Shearwaters close to shore. We stayed in the lee of the shoals and worked slowly to the southeast. We knew there was a hard change somewhere inshore of the shelf break, probably in about 30 fathoms (you can see this on the temperature map above!).

The water temperature increased slightly from mid to upper 40s as we got closer to the change and we added a few species to the day’s list. An immature Black-legged Kittiwake joined our flock of birds trailing the stern and came in for a close look (photo by Nathan Gatto).
A couple of Dovekies popped up beside the boat, but they spent a lot of time underwater and were not easy to see in the chop. A Great Skua appeared far astern and promptly headed away into the wind.

Soon after 11:00 we could see blue water on the horizon. As we got closer to the color change, we spotted a couple more Dovekies and an adult Little Gull.  Both of these are species that we did not see on last weekend’s trip. We had been seeing a good number of Bonaparte’s Gulls all morning but they had been scattered. Little Gulls are rare but regular here in winter and they are frequent associates of the Boneys.

There was a small concentration of Bonaparte’s Gulls feeding along the color change and we moved in closer to investigate. We soon began seeing scattered Dovekies along this break and another Little Gull was spotted- this time feeding with the Boneys. This bird was much closer to the boat and was easily seen without binoculars (photo by Ed Corey).
We followed these small gulls for a while and found a single Red Phalarope in their midst. It was a bit odd to see just one phalarope, but it pitched close to the boat and we were able to see it quite well.

As we worked westward on the change, we noticed less bird activity, so I decided to turn around and track the change to the eastward. Soon after we came about, a Northern Fulmar came by to check out our chum. Next we got bombed by a Great Skua that appeared suddenly over the bow at point blank range (photo by Ed Corey).
My sense is that it came out from the sun glare over the blue water. A little farther ahead Kate spotted a couple of Atlantic Puffins. The puffins gave us good looks and we picked a few more Dovekies along the change. A very lethargic looking Loggerhead Turtle appeared on the blue water side of the change. Perhaps it had just arrived there and was a little stunned from being in the cooler water. The blue water was in the 60s so it was a better place for the turtle to be (photo by Kate Sutherland).

Turning back towards the inlet, we found a few more fulmars zipping around just inshore of the change. There was a bit less wind and we were able to spot several scattered Dovekies for the next few miles too. Razorbills were still flying well into the early afternoon and we saw many hundreds (photo of flock by Ed Corey, individual Razorbill by Nathan Gatto).
In the half hour between 1:00 and 1:30 PM, we tallied 435 of these auks, and we saw them in good numbers right up to the beach.  We saw several Bottlenose Dolphins just out side the inlet and we also had a lone Humpback Whale a couple of miles off the beach.

We ended the day with a new record count for Razorbills on our trips, 2515, and it was a great day for seabird diversity. I would like to thank Nathan for bringing us this charter, and of course we could not have done it without our experienced crew. Thanks go to Kate Sutherland for her ceaseless work on the deck, and also to our guest leaders for the trip: Ed Corey, Nathan Gatto, and Jeff Lemons.

We are trying out a new method for the list - click here to see the eBird list for the day!  The non-avian species are in the comments before the list!

Thanks to Ed & Nathan for allowing us to use some of their images here for the blog!  A few additional photos are below:
The color change!  Wish we had this on every trip - it was beautiful - about a 15 degree change from green to blue water.  Sea smoke is visible on the blue side (warmer water) with a flock of Razorbills in the distance.  (Kate Sutherland) "Auks Patrol These Waters"
Atlantic Puffins, our first pair on the water by Kate Sutherland
And a closer look by Nathan Gatto!
I only took one picture of a Dovekie...so here it is (Kate Sutherland)
And our Red Phalarope in flight (Ed Corey)
Little Gull with a Bonaparte's Gull on the temperature break (Kate Sutherland)
Bonaparte's Gulls, in flight and on the water (Kate Sutherland)
You have got to love the face of the Northern Gannet! (Kate Sutherland)
And finally, one more Razorbill photo!  The light was nice and these birds were flying right by the boat - it was a perfect day to photograph some Razorbills!  (Kate Sutherland)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Saturday January 27, 2018 - by Brian Patteson

It was great to finally get back out to sea after a month long hiatus. We did not have any trips scheduled during that period, and it while was a relief when we were iced in, I would liked to have been out last weekend. Anyhow, we did have a trip this weekend and it was an awesome day to be out. Southerly winds made for a mild day, but cold water on Diamond Shoals resulted in good numbers of interesting winter birds.
We left the marina at the crack of dawn. As soon as we got to Hatteras Inlet, there was a good sign of life. Hundreds of gannets crossed our bow, headed to a flock that was raining down on a shoal of fish.  A Humpback Whale was feeding just to the east.  The water temp was around 60 degrees.  Prior to this trip I had been seeing hundreds of Razorbills from shore at Cape Hatteras. The arrival of the Razorbills was not far behind an influx of colder water, with temperatures down to the mid 40s. I had also seen a few Manx Shearwaters there in recent days, so I figured it would make sense to start inshore and work out from the north side of Diamond Shoals.
Nearing the shoals we began to see a few Razorbills on the water, and by the time we reached the north side, we were seeing dozens of these auks (photo by Lucas Bobay).
Less than four miles off the beach, we began to see Manx Shearwaters, and within an hour we had seen at least 10 Manx. We also had quick looks at single Great and Sooty Shearwaters as we chummed our way to the east.  Less than six miles out we came upon a juvenile Atlantic Puffin and had great looks close to the boat (photo Lucas Bobay).
About seven miles out I spotted a first winter Black-legged Kittiwake ahead of the boat and a few minutes later a young kittiwake made a close pass to the stern (photo Kate Sutherland).
A few minutes later we saw our first Northern Fulmar.  These birds had been attracted by a large and noisy flock of birds feeding on our chum, so it was not too surprising that our next visitor would be the highly sought target bird for many of our passengers: Great Skua. The first skua appeared astern of the boat and soon disappeared, but it was not long before we had a closer encounter and some photo ops (photo by Brian Patteson).
This was one of our most cooperative skuas in a few years and it was just the beginning.  Over the next hour and a half, we had several encounters with at least three Great Skuas.  Out near Diamond Tower (12 miles off the Cape) we found warmer water at a strong temperature break.  The water near the tower was in the low 60s and it was teaming with Hammerhead Sharks. We also found a few Loggerhead Sea Turtles there there was a large school of Little Tunny (False Alabcore) feeding at the surface with their attendant Bonaparte’s Gulls (photo Kate Sutherland).
A flock of four puffins flew by headed eastward.  From here we made a slow tack back to the inlet, staying south of Diamond Shoals and a little far to sea than we had been in the morning. The water was warmer here- in the low 60s- and there were no Razorbills to be found. We picked out a few more fulmars, kittiwakes and puffins (mostly flying), and an adult Iceland Gull joined our feeding flock briefly (photo by Lucas Bobay).
Back at the inlet there were hundreds of Double-crested Cormorants and many gannets to remind us what a rich feeding area it can be during flood current.
I would like to thank everyone who made this trip possible: our enthusiastic
participants and also our leaders: Kate Sutherland, who is in charge of the deck and
the chum, and also our guest leaders, Ed Corey and Lucas Bobay. We still have space
on all of our upcoming winter trips next month. Go to www.seabirding.com for the
schedule and registration info.

Trip List January 27, 2018 (Target Species)
Northern Fulmar  9-11
Great Shearwater  1
Sooty Shearwater  1
Manx Shearwater  21
Northern Gannet  2000
Bonaparte's Gull  700
Iceland Gull  1 adult
Black-legged Kittiwake  5 immature
Great Skua  at least 3
Razorbill  175
Atlantic Puffin  15
Humpback Whale  1
Bottlenose Dolphin  25+
Loggerhead Turtle  3-4
Hammerhead shark  25+

A couple more photos of Great Skua by Lucas Bobay - what a day!!
One of the Manx Shearwaters by Kate Sutherland
One of our scrappy Northern Fulmars dropping in to feed with the gulls behind the boat!  (Kate Sutherland)
A couple images of the Northern Gannets behind the boat - diving (Kate Sutherland)
 & flying (Lucas Bobay)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Cahow Experience, Bermuda 2017 - by Kate Sutherland

The Cahow, or Bermuda Petrel (Pterodroma cahow) is a bird that is sought after on our trips from Hatteras.  I saw my first ones here in 2000, and have been lucky enough to see many more on our trips offshore from Hatteras!  We have birders that travel from all over the world hoping to catch a glimpse of this "Lazarus species" - one that has been rediscovered after being thought extinct for many years - in their case about 330 years.  So one can only imagine my excitement when I saw the Cahow Experience trips being offered by Dr. Robert Flood (of Scilly Pelagics) in Bermuda - five trips to sea when the birds are courting and a trip to Nonsuch Island to see the translocation colony of this highly endangered species...and the possibility to see them in the hand!  Not to mention time with David Wingate, the man who was there when the Cahow was rediscovered and dedicated his life to its survival, and Jeremy Madeiros, the man who took over from David in 2000 and stepped things up a notch with a translocation program!  I signed up for my first trip in 2015, then returned again in 2016.  For the trip in 2017, Bob made me a co-leader so I was able to make the trip for a third year in a row - opportunity of a lifetime!
For anyone unfamiliar with the story of the Cahow, Ned Brinkley has composed an excellent and fact filled segment for the Neotropical Birds online library, and you can read that here.  Brian wrote a post after we took this trip in 2015 about his first trip there in 1993, you can see that here.  This year, while circumstances beyond my control prevented me from attending the first two trips, Peter Flood captured this image on the second trip, Tuesday November 14.
While the weather prevented us from heading offshore on the 15th, we made it out for the rest of our trips, including the trip to Nonsuch, by Sunday.  This was very lucky because the weather took a turn for the worse by Monday the week of Thanksgiving!  David Wingate joined us for most of the trips offshore and it is always a treat to have him with us.  He is now over 80, but still as spry and as sharp as ever, the thrill of being there and seeing these birds in greater and greater numbers every year can be seen in his eyes and heard in the excitement in his voice!  (Photo of David Wingate and Peter Flood on our November 18 outing)
This year the offshore trips yielded over 20 individuals on two occasions.  We also turned up a young Masked Booby and an adult Brown Booby!  Excellent sightings for Bermuda!  But, more than anything, it is incredible to scan the horizon and know that the most likely bird to enter your field of view will be a Cahow!  In November, most of the breeding adults have already returned to their nesting burrows and re-acquainted themselves with their mate, calling and allopreening, then mating.  Young birds and unmatched birds are courting and checking out their options at the different colonies around Castle Harbor.  So scheduling this trip in November, during the new moon, is perfect to see the most individuals at sea.  Beginning in December the birds depart for a month or so before returning to lay their eggs and turn their attention to incubating, then rearing their chicks.  Below is a photo of a courting pair that I took in 2016.
November also gives us a good chance to encounter incoming pairs that have not been checked yet by Jeremy Maderios, so when we join him on Nonsuch for a tour and burrow checks, we have a good chance to see Cahows in the hand and be a part of the data collection for each bird as they begin their nesting season!  This year we were able to go to Nonsuch on Friday November 17.  Stepping on this island, that has been aggressively managed to cull invasive species, is like stepping back in time. 
Surrounded by plants that dominated the landscape when Bermuda was settled, then seeing pieces that you have read about in books about the Cahow recovery program, the house where Wingate and his family lived for many years, the paths that are well worn from the dock to the buildings...it is a feeling like no other.  Jeremy is there to welcome us to the Living Classroom, as Nonsuch has been dubbed, for it is a classroom for Bermudians to learn about their past, and their future - which includes the future of their National Bird, the Cahow.  When Jeremy took over as Senior Conservation Officer from David Wingate, he put the wheels in place to begin a translocation colony on Nonsuch.  For four years, 2004 to 2008, he took chicks and moved them to artificial burrows on Nonsuch, which did not have a breeding colony, but was much better suited for the future of these birds than the low lying islands they naturally nest on.  He held his breath until the first translocated chick returned to nest on Nonsuch, in 2008!  The program has continued in earnest and now he has a second translocation colony on Nonsuch.  So the day we visited, we were able to see six adults during his burrow checks!  It is incredible to have Jeremy point out the characteristics that we all know so well on a bird in the hand...and the chance to photograph them?  Nothing like it! (pictured here, Jeremy Madeiros with the Cahow, of course, and left to right: David Pereksta, Robert Flood, and Tom Blackman)
If you are interested in seeing the Cahows in real time on the nest, check out the Cahow Cam that features a pair on Nonsuch!  The link is here: http://www.nonsuchisland.com/live-cahow-cam/ This is the sixth season that this has been available, so you can also check out some of the historical footage as well. 
Following are a few more images from the past three years of trips to Bermuda.  Anyone who might be interested in joining us for the 2018 Cahow Experience (November 5-14, 2018), or getting on a list for a future year, can just let me know, my email address is cahow1101@gmail.com.  Or, join us on a trip from Hatteras!!  (photo from the May 25, 2015 Hatteras trip by Brian Patteson below!)
Same email address or check out our website here!  There is always a chance to see a Cahow here, in the Gulf Stream and Brian and I do our best to find them!

A couple of images by Brian Patteson from our 2015 tour
A ventral image I took during the 2016 tour

A pair of Cahows, male and female, from the November 2016 visit to Nonsuch
An incredible shot showing the inside of a Cahow's mouth as it bites Jeremy's shirt! (2017)
Robert Flood, myself, and Peter Flood - no they are not related!  But it is a funny coincidence...
photo is courtesy of Dr. Robert Flood who runs Scilly Pelagics and is the author of the Seabirds Multimedia ID Guides that you can find on his site!