Wednesday, June 9, 2021

June 5 & 6, 2021 - Kate Sutherland

Weather again!  We had storms and high winds move through on Friday June 4 causing us to cancel the trip scheduled for that day, the following two days were suitable, however and we made it out there!  Both days life was a bit farther offshore from the shelf break than usual, but we were able to find and have great looks at a number of seabirds if you were with us for both trips.  No matter how many times we say it, people still think they can see it all on a single trip, and while we have those days, anyone who joined for both trips this weekend had a nice, solid list of seabirds to show for it!
Winds were southwest, our typical wind direction here in Hatteras, but usually we have some Gulf Stream current offshore in conjunction with that wind, working to keep the waves a bit smaller than they would be without that current moving in the same direction.  Saturday we didn't have much current, which was nice because the breeze made the sea a bit choppy and we also had some clouds and weather around - all good things for making seabirds fly and for making our chum interesting to them!  Saturday was strictly a tubenose day, we didn't see any terns or jaegers out there, but had a solid list.  Great Shearwaters were super attentive in the chum and we had some followers for most of the day.
Cory's are here and in addition to the Atlantic breeders we also saw at least three of the Mediterranean species, Scopoli's Shearwater!  Audubon's were zipping around and we had enough pass closely by for everyone to see these small black and whites with their long tails and pale faces.  We were even lucky enough to have a Manx Shearwater fly up the slick and away so everyone in the stern could see how different from, and similar to, Audubon's they really are!  While Wilson's Storm-Petrels were not around in high numbers, we had our fair share in the slick and as usual they were super helpful for participants to study while waiting to see a larger storm-petrel appear in the slick.  Though they never seem to prepare them for how quickly they move around, flying circles around the Wilson's!  Both Leach's and Band-rumpeds visited the slick on Saturday with nice views of both.  Black-capped Petrels were around but they were not very interested in the chum so didn't come incredibly close, but definitely made some nice passes!
Sunday was a bit different, life was still offshore of the shelf break and it took some time to gather a small following of Wilson's Storm-Petrels, but skies were fairly clear and there was not as much wind.  The Gulf Stream current was closer to the shelf and there were some birds moving on the horizon - Black-capped Petrels were around and we'd only seen a handful before the shout went out from the top deck - "FEA'S PETREL!!"  Todd McGrath spotted this silvery petrel with dark underwings that made a few nice passes around the bow of the boat before angling away.  Photos by Tom Blackman (top) and Douglas Koch (bottom)

Not a bad start to a day of calm seas!!  A little over an hour later a distant tropicbird was spotted flying high, flight style and photos revealed it to be a White-tailed Tropicbird.  Not the most satisfying views...but no worry...this bird or another appeared above the Stormy Petrel II, as these curious birds sometimes do, less than 30 minutes later!  
The view was quite satisfying, close enough that many of us couldn't get our lenses to focus.  A third new species for the pair of trips flew in to investigate the slick and our followers in the afternoon - two Long-tailed Jaegers.  These birds put on quite a show feeding on our chum and harassing some of our shearwaters and storm-petrels.  We finished up the pair of trips with 13 pelagic species!  It pays to sign up for at least a couple of trips when you decide to join us!
Thank you so much to Todd McGrath and Dave Pereksta for traveling to help us out this weekend and also to Andrew Rapp for helping Brian and I lead these trips.  Our summer schedule is beginning to fill up, so if you wanted to join us be sure to check our availability soon.

*all photos except for those of the Fea's Petrel (and those are labeled) are by Kate Sutherland

Species List for June 5 / 6
Fea's Petrel - 0 / 1
Black-capped Petrel - 24 to 29 / 25 to 26
Cory's Shearwater - 48 / 41
Scopoli's Shearwater - 2 / 0
Cory's / Scopoli's Shearwater - 32 / 12
Great Shearwater - 36 to 37 / 15
Sooty Shearwater - 0 / 1
Manx Shearwater - 1 / 0
Audubon's Shearwater - 20 / 18
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 65 to 70 / 52 to 57
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 2 / 0
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 4 to 5 / 3
Leach's / Band-rumped - 0 / 1
White-tailed Tropicbird - 0 / 1 to 2
Long-tailed Jaeger - 0 / 2
jaeger sp. - 0 / 2
Common Tern - 0 / 4
Laughing Gull - 0 / 1
Beaked Whale sp. - 0 / 1
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin - 20 to 25 / 0

A couple more Fea's Petrel images by Tom Blackman
Black-capped Petrels with the ocean texture, we saw mostly dark form or intermediate (pictured below) individuals over the weekend.  Just a handful of light form birds.
Great Shearwater showing off its dark belly patch
A couple of Band-rumped Storm-Petrel images - a molting individual (top) and a non-molting individual (bottom).  
Our second encounter with a White-tailed Tropicbird - close enough to see the Stormy Petrel II reflected in the eye!
And finally, one of the Long-tailed Jaegers that followed us for a period 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Tuesday June 1, 2021 - Kate Sutherland

 Our last day of the Blitz still held a bit of wind in the morning, from the northeast and skies were sunny as we headed offshore to the shelf break.  The hot, fast Gulf Stream current was offshore a bit farther than usual so we continued running past the break before we slowed and started to chum.  Cory's Shearwaters were on the move and we tallied over 50 of them over the course of the day with at least one Scopoli's that came to feed with the Great Shearwaters in the slick for a bit.  

While this individual didn't have as much white in p10 as we sometimes see, it did have a slender bill and was closer in size to a Great Shearwater than the larger Atlantic Cory's that were around!  It was nice to see one following and feeding as they typically do in the summer when we have more offshore here.
We had excellent views of both Leach's and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, with one Band-rumped (Grant's type) following us up onto the shelf in the afternoon.  Sargassum was here in large amounts, and in the morning we spent some time checking large patches to see if we could possibly turn up a Bridled Tern...and yes!  

Leader Andrew Rapp found one perched on a coconut ahead of the boat so we were able to get everyone situated to get a view of this first summer bird before it flew.  As we crossed the shelf, passing through a lot of sargassum in the afternoon we turned up a couple more of these tropical terns.  With a lot of sargassum we usually expect to see good numbers of Audubon's Shearwaters, but they just weren't around in any number.  This wind direction is also not the best for Black-capped Petrels, but we did have a few visit us to feed on the chum and they made some nice, close passes!  One jaeger visited our flock in the afternoon, a Parasitic, but didn't hang around for long.
Wilson's came in well, there just were not a lot of them and while we were circling back and drifting at one point, participant James Huntington pointed out a Wilson's with what looked to be white feathering around the bill.  It also had a few white feathers on the belly.  I kept an eye out to see how long this bird trailed us in the slick, but it was a short visit!

Thank you to everyone who joined us this spring for these Blitz trips, David Greening signed up for all of them and we only missed two!  We're out there again this weekend, June 4, 5, and 6, so we'll keep you posted!  Thanks to Andrew Rapp for helping Brian and I lead the final trip of the Blitz!

*all photos today by Kate Sutherland

Species List June 1, 2021
Black-capped Petrel - 8 to 14
Cory's Shearwater - 52 to 54
Scopoli's Shearwater - 1
Cory's / Scopoli's - 4
Great Shearwater - 5 to 6
Sooty Shearwater - 1
Audubon's Shearwater - 8
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 83 to 93
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 1 to 2
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 4 to 6
Bridled Tern - 3
Parasitic Jaeger - 1
Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore population) - 12

Black-capped Petrel

Great Shearwaters were quite loyal to the slick again today and we had up to three following us at once!

Wilson's Storm-Petrels were really the best at coming close in decent light today!  They were excited about the pieces of chum.
I missed the Band-rumped and Leach's when they were close, we were making sure everyone saw the right bird!  And I think we were successful in that undertaking!  It can be difficult to pick out these large stormies since they fly so quickly, it is tough to follow them.  Our final Band-rumped of the day stayed with us for long enough for everyone to have a chance to study it, however! 

Monday, May 31, 2021

Monday May 31, 2021 - Kate Sutherland

Weather kept us ashore for two days, May 29 and 30, so today we finally continued the Blitz.  Winds were from the north west this morning and we ran offshore under cloudy skies.  Not much was flying between Hatteras Inlet and the shelf break, and even after the break we didn't see much reason to slow down until we started to see some birds.  The oil had barely begun its drip when Brian came on the loudspeaker to say that a nearby charter boat had seen a Masked Booby!  I thought at first it was somewhere far from us, because that's how it usually goes...but then he announced it was flying toward the boat at 11:00!  Sure enough, a first summer Masked Booby came to investigate the Stormy Petrel II, in poor light, and proceeded to dive a couple of times nearby.  Incredible start to the day and the first booby for our Spring Season.  
Black-capped Petrels and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were both cooperative for viewing today, which was nice because Band-rumps have been a bit hit or miss so far this spring.  We had excellent views of all the birds we saw and it make the day super interesting and exciting, especially since we had a nice flock of Wilson's and searching for that European Storm-Petrel is always fun.  Great Shearwaters are beginning to show up and it was nice to have some in the slick most of the day.  
Audubon's were out in the Sargassum in good numbers and we even had one on the water right next to the boat.  Cory's, Scopoli's, and those individuals in between were also around and made some nice passes.  Overall it was an incredible day out there!
Thanks so much to Ed Corey and Andrew Rapp for helping Brian and I lead the trip - and a huge thank you to everyone who joined us out there today!  We'll see what we can turn up tomorrow!

*all photos today by Kate Sutherland

Species List May 31, 2021
Black-capped Petrel - 23 to 29
Cory's Shearwater - 30
Scopoli's Shearwater - 2
Cory's / Scopoli's - 20
Great Shearwater - 7
Sooty Shearwater - 5
Audubon's Shearwater - 19 to 21
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 260 to 275
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 4 to 6
Masked Booby - 1
jaeger sp. - 1
Bottlenose Dolphins (offshore population) - 12
Flying Squid - 40 to 50 !!

Black-capped Petrel shearing the water, not a commonly captured moment!
One of the intermediate Black-cappeds we saw today
An example of a Cory's type - a bird with some white but not really enough to be a slam dunk Scopoli's - the bill, though, is also slender and there is not as much dark in the leading edge of the underwing as we sometimes see in Atlantic Cory's.
We were lucky to have one nice Scopoli's come to the slick!
Great Shearwaters are always fun to photograph and having them around all day means they get photographed a lot!  All of the individuals we saw today were completing molt.

This image has a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel to the right, but the Great Shearwater stole the focus!
A couple more images of the Masked Booby

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Friday May 28, 2021 - Seabirds in their Element - Kate Sutherland

Today we headed more to the south, into the waves, anticipating the current we had yesterday and giving ourselves space to more a bit move to the north.  We didn't find much on our way to the shelf break but did find a nice color change with a temperature break just inshore of there.  Not much life on this break compared to yesterday, but we were able to get some nice views of Audubon's Shearwaters!  While we didn't have many Wilson's Storm-Petrels, they can be scarce on a southwester, the Black-capped Petrels were hungry and feeding in our slick on the chum.  We decided to stop and drift with the chum for a bit and these magnificent "winged runners" came right in (George Armistead).

Participants were treated not only to the Black-cappeds feeding right in front of us and showing off their bicolored feet (Kate Sutherland, below), but also to their calls!  George Armistead heard some calls he didn't recognize while we were on the drift and sure enough, it was the Black-cappeds calling as they squabbled over pieces of chum.  What a treat to be with these birds in their element, zipping effortlessly around us while we are gripping the rails, dropping elegantly down to pluck a piece of food from the sea's surface, generally doing what they do out there while we get to watch.  It was awesome, though I could be a bit biased!

Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaegers both visited the slick in the late morning and at least six or seven Black-cappeds were seen "escorting" the Pom from the slick.  Yes, we have bouncers here sometimes around the Stormy Petrel II and they are not fond of skuas or jaegers.  Perhaps they want the right to steal from the birds in our slick themselves as some have imagined, or maybe they just don't enjoy the proximity of birds that are a threat to them.  Or maybe it is none of the above, since we're not Black-cappeds all we can do is take notes and imagine what the purpose may be.  They could just be exhibiting their mastery of the skies to these seemingly less skilled seabirds, who knows? (Kate Sutherland)

A bit before noontime, on our inshore tack with the sun on the stern, I noticed a grayish looking bird coming toward the slick from the port side.  It didn't come very close and stayed low as it crossed astern showing a white belly occasionally.  I thought at first it would be a Fea's Petrel with the color of the dorsal surface, and took a few photos once it became obvious it was going to blow right past us like our Trindade Petrel yesterday.  It turned out to be a light morph Trindade Petrel!  Perhaps the reflection of the sun on its feathers gave it that sheen suggestive of a Fea's Petrel, who knows?  But a handful of participants saw it before it flew away.  (record shot Kate Sutherland)

It was a salty day out there with the wind picking up a bit earlier than forecast and the Gulf Stream current falling out a we did our best!  Thank you to everyone who joined us out there, and a big thanks to George Armistead who also contributed photos for this post, and Andrew Rapp for helping Brian and I lead the trip today.

Species List for May 28, 2021
Trindade Petrel - 1 light morph
Black-capped Petrel - 42 to 46
Cory's Shearwater - 35
Great Shearwater - 5 to 6
Sooty Shearwater - 16
Audubon's Shearwater - 25
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 75 to 80
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 4
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 2
Band-rumped / Leach's - 2
Sooty Tern - 1
Pomarine Jaeger - 2
Long-tailed Jaeger - 1
Loggerhead Turtle - 1

A few more dark morph individuals by George Armistead

And some feeding in the slick by Kate Sutherland

Great Shearwater skimming the waves by George Armistead
Some of our Wilson's Storm-Petrels feeding on the chum by Kate Sutherland
At first I thought this Band-rumped was going to be one of our "little" Band-rumpeds, but it has a couple of old primaries indicating a winter breeder (Kate Sutherland)
Our Long-tailed Jaeger by Kate Sutherland

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Thursday May 27, 2021 - Birding the Break - Kate Sutherland

There was some wind overnight, and then some in a squall line that moved through early this morning - this made for some choppy conditions running offshore this morning.  It took us awhile to reach the shelf break, but once we were there we found a gorgeous color change just offshore.  This break had a nice blue green color change edged in sargassum. 
The warmer, blue water had some Gulf Stream current while the cooler, green water had less.  The temperature change was almost 3 degrees Fahrenheit.  There were Black-capped Petrels, Cory's, and Audubon's Shearwaters all working this break and a few Wilson's Storm-Petrels as well, though we could have brought some of them with us in our slick!  Our first Bridled Tern of the Blitz (and the spring!) was on this break and while it was flying ahead of us at first, it finally settled down on a piece of flotsam so we could all have a great view!
After about an hour with this awesome feature, we continued offshore.  
Black-capped Petrels were super cooperative and we had more than we've seen on the past couple of trips.  Cory's, Sooties, and Audubon's Shearwaters all showed well and made some nice passes in good light!  A little before 1100 George and I were in the stern and he spotted a Trindade Petrel rocketing across the slick!  It was on a mission and did not come any closer to the Stormy Petrel II, a number of participants did catch a glimpse of this much sought after gadfly petrel.  A little after 1100 Andrew spotted a skua heading toward the boat - it came in close enough to see it was a South Polar - and then it flew directly away.  Not nearly as cooperative as our three yesterday!  Leach's Storm-Petrels were cooperative for us while Band-rumpeds were not, and we had close and excellent views of these large stormies as they flew around the boat and fed at point blank range for us.
Thanks to everyone who joined us out there today and thanks to the SBC who joined us for four trips this spring, you'll have to try again for the White-tailed Tropicbird and Cahow!  We look forward to having you back!  Thank you also to George Armistead and Andrew Rapp for helping Brian and I lead the trip today.

*all photos today are by myself, Kate

Species List for May 27, 2021
Trindade Petrel - 1
Black-capped Petrel - 33 to 35
Cory's Shearwater - 36 to 37
Cory's / Scopoli's Shearwater - 3
Great Shearwater - 2
Sooty Shearwater - 13 to 15
Audubon's Shearwater - 19 to 20
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 150 to 180
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 3 to 4
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 2
Bridled Tern - 3
Bridled / Sooty Tern - 1
Common Tern - 2
Arctic Tern - 1
Common / Arctic Tern - 2
South Polar Skua - 1
jaeger / skua - 1
Barn Swallow - 1
Bottlenose Dolphin (Offshore population) - 12
Dolphin sp - likely Atlantic Spotted Dolphin - 5
Leatherback Turtle - 1
Loggerhead Turtle - 1
Portuguese Man of War - 2

A couple of Black-capped Petrels - a light form bird above and a dark form below just beginning primary molt

Cory's Shearwater head on!  We didn't see any Scopoli's today.
A cool view of a Leach's Storm-Petrel (R) zipping in to the chum with a Wilson's flying by on the left.