Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Saturday February 2, 2019 - Lariday - by Brian Patteson

It was great to get to sea for the third winter weekend in a row with a full boat and great weather. It was a little breezy this morning, but not enough to slow us down and keep us from going where we wanted to go. We found good numbers of gulls and gannets just east of Hatteras Inlet and our chumming soon attracted a first winter Iceland (Kumlien’s) Gull. An hour later, a first winter Glaucous Gull joined us (photo by Kate Sutherland).
This was our first winter trip in a while with both white-winged gulls. There were a few Razorbills on the move early in the morning as we might expect, but the water was a bit warmer than we like for alcids, so we headed north across Diamond Shoals looking for cooler water temps. It took a while to find those conditions, and birds were decidedly sparse north of the Cape. Around 10:30 a Manx Shearwater found us and ended up following the boat for nearly half an hour! It came close and gave great photo ops working up into the wind (photo by Kate Sutherland).

When we got in the vicinity of Wimble Shoals, we did find cooler water and quite a few more gannets than we had seen off Buxton and Avon. There were also more Razorbills, but they were skittish and hard to approach.  Working back to the south, we continued to see Razorbills and we got better looks and even some photo ops. We also found a very cooperative Little Gull among a flock of Bonaparte’s (photo Ed Corey).    
Our much hoped for Great Skua was nowhere to be found, however. They can be tough to find on “bluebird days” because they don’t fly around as much, and it’s harder for them to sneak up on the gulls, so they are less likely to even try. As for the gulls, we ended up with nine species for the day, and as the rare ones were our best finds for the trip, so at Kyle's suggestion, we will call this trip a “Lariday.” I would like to thank our crew: Kate Sutherland, Kyle Kittelberger, and Ed Corey worked together like a well-oiled machine. Our next trip- coming up on Feb. 9 or 10- has plenty of room, and from what I can see of the forecast, it looks more promising for finding a skua. Check out our website for details about this and other upcoming trips: www.seabirding.com

Target Species List February 2, 2019
Common Loon  4
Red-throated Loon  2
Manx Shearwater  1
Northern Gannet  thousands seen
Little Gull  1 adult
Bonaparte's Gull  2125
Iceland Gull (kumlieni)  1 first winter
Glaucous Gull  1 first winter
Razorbill  38
the other species of gull encountered were Laughing, Ring-billed, Herring, Lesser Black-backed, and Great Black-backed!

Bottlenose Dolphin  74
Loggerhead Turtle  11
Spinner Shark  1

And a few more photos, thank you to Kyle & Ed for sharing some with us to post here!

Manx Shearwater, dorsal view (Kate Sutherland)
Another couple of photos of the Little Gull in with the flock - showing the underwings, and then the upperwings below (bird on the far R) (both photos by Kyle Kittelberger)
A couple more images of the Glaucous Gull, it stayed with us for hours!  (top Ed Corey, below Kyle Kittelberger)
A couple of Razorbill images (young bird, top - Ed Corey, adult below - Kyle Kittelberger)
Northern Gannet with a tasty morsel - Atlantic menhaden (Kate Sutherland)
And a few more gulls from the day!
Laughing Gull (Ed Corey)
A handful of Bonaparte's Gulls, including one with a dark hood (Ed Corey)
Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls (Also by Ed Corey!)

Monday, January 28, 2019

Saturday January 26, 2019 - by Brian Patteson

January 26, 2019

We got out on our first regular winter trip of the season with a full boat of eager participants. We were again blessed with good weather, but the water had warmed up a few degrees as a result of southerly flow in recent days. Instead of water temperatures in the mid to high 40s, we had low to mid 50s. The water inshore looked about the same as last week, but there were not as many birds- especially Razorbills. 

I thought it might be worth checking out the edge of the Gulf Stream in hopes of finding some Red Phalaropes and maybe a kittiwake, but our foray offshore was pretty much a bust. We made it out a couple of miles past the shelf break and found water just over 70 degrees, but no birdlife except for what followed along with us.  Our trusty flock included a first winter Iceland Gull, which ended up spending most of the day in our wake (photo by Kyle Kittelberger).
We did see some marine life as we got into the warmer water: a pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins came in and rode our bow wave, and we saw several Hammerhead Sharks just inshore of the current edge. There was strong current where we turned around over 20 miles southeast of the Cape.

Having struck out on the south side of the Cape and offshore, I jogged back inshore toward Avon. Bird activity picked up again in the cooler water there. We had a quick look at a single Red Phalarope a couple of miles inshore of a ragged temperature break, and we finally started getting some better looks at Razorbills, which were both flying by and scattered around sitting on the sea (photo by Brian Patteson).
We also started to see a few Manx Shearwaters well inshore, and we ended up with seven for the day. We did not see any last weekend, so it was nice to find them on this trip. There were good numbers of gannets on the north side, and some were feeding. We still had a good following of gulls, and shortly before 1330, they attracted the attention of a Great Skua, which came charging in and made an attack only to soon lose interest and drift away. It seems like that’s how we see them on bright sunny days. I don’t think they waste much time flying around, and if they aren’t close, it’s hard to figure out how far away they have gone before they land on the water. Anyhow, it was one shot and it was gone: a lifer for some and a better view desired for others.

There was a lot of life all the way to Diamond Shoals- hundreds of gannets, large numbers of Bottlenose Dolphins, and good numbers of Bonaparte’s Gulls and Razorbills feeding. It thinned out when we crossed the shoals and did not pick up again until we got close to Hatteras Inlet. A Little Gull quickly crossed out bow on this leg of the trip, but it did not slow down enough for most people to see it. This is a species that we actually see with some frequency on these trips, but unless they are feeding they can be tough to get on.

I would like to thank everyone who joined us on this trip. It was a great showing and people came a long way to go with us. I would also like to thank Kate Sutherland for all her hard work on the deck as usual, and also our guest leaders, Kyle Kittelberger and Nick Newberry. I’m not sure what next weekend will bring, but possibly colder water again, so maybe more auks. There are currently good numbers of puffins in the shelf waters off the Virginia Capes and maybe a few will get down here in the days and weeks to come.

Target Species List January 26, 2019
Common Loon  4
Manx Shearwater  7
Northern Gannet  1125
Red Phalarope  1
Little Gull  1 adult
Bonaparte's Gull  300
Iceland Gull (kumlieni) 1 first winter
Forster's Tern  8
Great Skua  1
Razorbill  150

Bottlenose Dolphin (coastal)  88
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  15
Loggerhead Turtle  1
Hammerhead sp.  10

Some additional photos from the trip!
We saw all age classes of gannets, first winter bird (Kyle Kittelberger) with a second winter individual below (Nick Newberry)
Some Bonaparte's Gulls with a Razorbill on the water (Kate Sutherland)
A couple more photos of the Iceland Gull (Kate Sutherland)
Razorbill in flight with a sport boat in the background (Kate Sutherland)
We saw at least 200 Lesser Black-backed Gulls over the course of the day!  Here are a couple images of adults (Nick Newberry top, Kyle Kittelberger below)
We also had some young Brown Pelicans that followed us offshore, but most of the adults were closer to the beach (Nick Newberry)

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Friday January 18, 2019 Carolina Bird Club Winter Pelagic - by Brian Patteson

We usually do a winter boat trip for the Carolina Bird Club when they have their winter meeting in Nags Head, which has been every two or three years, but we couldn’t do it in 2017 because we were installing new engines in the boat, and in 2015, we had a trip planned but we got weathered out. As such we were very keen to run this trip, and as luck would have it the weather turned out to be beautiful (sunrise by Kate Sutherland). 

We also had an incursion of cold water south of Cape Hatteras, the likes of which is uncommon in mid January. This meant we did not have to start out north of the Cape, which is sometimes the case. A high tide in the morning also meant we were able to bypass the regular channel and slip out the east side of Hatteras Inlet, saving us about 20 minutes.

We found good numbers of Bonaparte’s Gulls and Razorbills not far outside the inlet, and between 7:30 and 8:30 AM we counted over 400 Razorbills! Razorbills have been here in force since late December, which is a bit earlier than usual. Cape Hatteras has been a wintering site for thousands of Razorbills for at least 25 years now, and this winter is no exception (photo of a young Razorbill by Kyle Kittelberger).

The water inshore was cold- in the mid to high 40s- but it was ugly looking. Nevertheless, it was teaming with life and we also found good numbers of gannets and a huge concentration of over 200 Bottlenose Dolphin feeding heavily (photo by Kate Sutherland). 

We steamed offshore looking for better water clarity, but did not find it until we got about 20 miles out. There we found a temperature break and water up to 60 degrees, but it was not a sharp change. There were quite a few Bonaparte’s Gulls there, but not the phalaropes, Dovekies, or puffins we had hoped to find. We did see a few Ocean Sunfish, including one that was cell phone close, and we also found a couple of Loggerhead Turtles. We followed the change out to the east into 50 fathoms, but there was nothing much to see there, so we headed northward. Working back into the cold water, we began to see more Razorbills again, and we stopped to look at a distant breaching Humpback Whale and a reported Razorbill on the water. The Razorbill turned out to be a Common Murre and most of the people aboard added a new species to their North Carolina life list (photo by Ed Corey). 

Continuing northward an immature Black-legged Kittiwake decided to join our flock of feeding birds and spent a long time with us, occasionally feeding on the chum. I had hoped for more kittiwakes, after a big showing on the Cape Hatteras Christmas Bird Count, but those birds must have moved on. Fortunately it only takes one, like the Great Shearwater, that joined us earlier in the morning and followed us for many miles. Unfortunately, that turned out be the only tubenose of the day. Usually we see Manx Shearwater and frequently Northern Fulmar but not on this trip. I expect an onshore wind might have sent those species our way, but instead we had light westerlies and a flock of Brown Pelicans that followed us over 20 miles out (photo by Ed Corey)!

Fair weather is good for landlubbers though and we had a pleasant trip and a boat full of happy people. We have several more trips to run and I expect we will see some more species as we go along. Last winter we saw Great Skuas on all of our winter boat trips, so I guess we were overdue to miss it on this one. They can be tough when it’s calm because they are less likely to be airborne, and they are always a low-density winter visitor here. I would like to thank everyone who came along to make this trip possible and also Christine Stoughton-Root of the Carolina Bird Club for helping us with the booking and promotion. Our experienced team of guides worked like a well-oiled machine: Kate Sutherland, Kyle Kittelberger, Ed Corey, and Jeff Lemons did an excellent job as usual.

Species List January 18, 2019
Common Murre  1
Razorbill  1509
Black-legged Kittiwake  1 immature
Bonaparte's Gull  1272
Laughing Gull  3
Ring-billed Gull  3
Herring Gull  185
Great Black-backed Gull  135
Lesser Black-backed Gull  32
Forster's Tern  23
Red-throated Loon  8
Common Loon  4
Great Shearwater  1
Northern Gannet  3860

Humpback Whale  1
Bottlenose Dolphin  305
Loggerhead Turtle  3
Ocean Sunfish (Mola)  6

A few more photos!  
Another image of the Common Murre!  (Ed Corey)
A couple of adult Razorbills on the water (Kate Sutherland) and one of the first cooperative birds we had in the morning (Ed Corey)

A couple photos of the Black-legged Kittiwake (Kyle Kittelberger)

We had a handful of Bonaparte's Gulls that still had varying degrees of black on the head like this individual (Kate Sutherland)
This Great Shearwater stayed with us, feeding in the chum with the gulls, for awhile! (Ed Corey)

The gannets were around in good numbers almost all day!  In the afternoon we got to watch them raining down over a pod of feeding Bottlenose Dolphins, all in view of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse!  (Kate Sutherland)
We were treated to all age classes of gannets!  It seemed like there were more first winter birds that we typically see, though this first trip is a bit earlier than our usual winter trips so who knows?  (First winter bird by Kate Sutherland - top / adult by Kyle Kittelberger - bottom)
A few of the gulls that showed well in the chum (all photos by Ed Corey)!  Top Great Black-backed Gull, middle Lesser Black-backed Gull, and bottom Laughing Gull
A closer image of some of the Bottlenose Dolphin dorsal fins with mesoparasitic copepods (likely of the genus Penella) attached (Ed Corey)

And finally, a photo of one of the Loggerhead Turtles we saw!  (Kyle Kittelberger)

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Friday October 19, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

Friday was a calm day tucked between two windy days...and while we would typically prefer some nice stiff winds, it turned out to be a nice day for both seabirds and humans!  I don't even think we had any spray on the boat all day, plus we had some incredible feeding flocks.  The ride out to the shelf break was quiet, but just inshore of the break we found our first shearwaters feeding, Cory's types with Audubon's.  As we were watching the shearwaters an Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) leaped out of the water right next to us!  Just over the break we had another encounter with our charismatic megafauna, this time with a Leatherback!  It surfaced a few times giving us all an incredible look at the back of the head and the pink spot that is thought to allow sunlight into the pineal gland, adjusting their circadian rhythms and triggering movements to different feeding grounds based on changes in daylight.  (photo by Kate Sutherland)
We also found some shearwater flocks just over the shelf break and had our first Black-capped Petrels fly by the boat less than 30 minutes later!
The Gulf Stream current and the really hot water was too far offshore for us to reach, but the water did warm up as we headed in that direction!  There were birds around all day and we had a few Wilson's Storm-Petrels that came in to check out the slick; it was nice to see them since they have been a bit scarce this fall!  We finally had some jaegers out there, the first to approach the boat was a juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger; it came in and flew right over us before heading off! (photo by Ed Corey)
Shortly after that we had a dark Pomarine Jaeger join us in the slick, it was very cooperative for photos and stuck with us for at least 30 minutes.  As we closed in on 1,000 fathoms (about 6,000 feet) someone shouted "WHALE"!!  A Sperm Whale was surfacing just off the starboard side!  We were able to turn a little to get it in some better light and we watched it surface a number of times, its bushy blow angling to the left, until it dove, giving us an incredible view of the tail stock and flukes of this toothed whale! (photo by Kate Sutherland)
This was the first sighting for us in 2018, lucky on our last trip of the year!
Our inshore tack was no less productive than our trip offshore and we added a species to the October trip lists for the year with a Bridled Tern!  While it did not come very close, the identification was clear as it flew across the bow.  As we approached the shelf break there were many flocks of shearwaters on the horizon so we were able to move from flock to flock checking for anything different!  We had excellent views of Atlantic Cory's with a few Scopoli's, Great Shearwaters, and Audubon's all feeding on some skipjack tuna and their prey that were busting on the surface! (photo by Kyle Kittelberger)
While we were with the shearwater flocks we had another three Pomarine Jaegers fly by, one was even pursued by a Black-capped Petrel!  It was such a treat to get offshore this fall, hopefully these trips will help to entice others to join us next fall!
Thanks to everyone who joined us out there and thank you to Kyle Kittelberger and Ed Corey for helping Brian and I lead the trip and for contributing photos for the blog post!  A big thank you too to Brad Sale for sharing some of his Sperm Whale photos with us (see below)!

Species List for October 19, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  48-54
Atlantic Cory's  200
Scopoli's Shearwater  57
Cory's type  402
Great Shearwater  17
Audubon's Shearwater  142
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  5
Bridled Tern  1
Long-tailed Jaeger  1
Pomarine Jaeger  4
jaeger sp (Pom or Parasitic)  1

Great Blue Heron  3
American Kestrel  1
American Pipit  1
shorebird sp.  4 (possibly phalaropes, but not seen well enough for positive identification)

Sperm Whale  1
Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore type)  25+
Leatherback Turtle  2
Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)  1-2

Black-capped Petrels did not disappoint!  (photos by Ed Corey top, Kate Sutherland below)
The number of Cory's we saw was impressive!  We had both Scopoli's (top) and Atlantic Cory's (below) (photos by Kate Sutherland)
Audubon's Shearwaters also put in a nice showing!  They were very cooperative in the feeding flocks (photo by Kyle Kittelberger)
A few more jaeger images - the juvenile Long-tailed (above) and the dark Pomarine Jaeger that followed us for a bit (below).  (both photos by Kyle Kittelberger)
One of the Black-capped Petrels chased a Pomarine Jaeger we had later around one of the feeding flocks!  Not the sharpest image, but always interesting to see!  (Kate Sutherland)
A couple more images of the Sperm Whale - what an experience!  You can see the blow that is at an angle since the blow hole of a Sperm Whale is on the left side of its head, pointing in that direction (photo by Ed Corey).  And below, another image of the tail as it dove (photo by Brad Sale).
Another nice image of the Leatherback turtle (by Ed Corey).