Monday, August 20, 2012

August 18 & 19, 2012

Our final trips of the summer began with a downpour Saturday morning before boarding, and ended with rain from some squalls inshore Sunday afternoon, but we had perfect conditions in between!  Light westerly winds on Saturday blew the scent of our chum offshore, bringing us more storm-petrels than we expected, and even slighter winds from the east on Sunday produced less than expected.  Birds were hungry on Saturday, thanks in part to the swift Gulf Stream current and recent new moon, but we were still surprised to have activity around us all day without the usual midday lull.  Sunday was more subdued, but we did find a small feeding flock of shearwaters over Skipjack Tuna that was exciting to observe.  In addition to many of our repeat customers, we had several people who had not been out with us before and a few people who had never been on a pelagic trip, so while there were no big surprises, we encountered a nice variety of species pleasing to all aboard.
No rare gadfly petrels this weekend, but Black-capped Petrels (rare in their own right) gave spectacular shows, and they were hungry!  There was action in the slick both days with up to 15 Black-cappeds feeding on chum Saturday while we drifted, and on Sunday one even pursued a Wilson's Storm-Petrel to steal a morsel of food.  Black-cappeds were in the shallows Sunday with a couple individuals inside the shelf edge in the morning and one seen on our way in that afternoon, in less than 200' of water!  At least three juvenile birds were seen on Sunday, always a exciting to see the almost silvery looking fresh plumage of a young individual!
Cory's, Great, & Audubon's Shearwaters were seen well on each trip and even though typical summer conditions have not really been in evidence this year, we were lucky to encounter some feeding flocks of shearwaters.  Luck brought us good looks at some of the nominate type of Cory's Shearwater, Calonectris diomedea diomedea called Scopoli's Shearwater, in addition to the more common Atlantic type (Calonectris diomedea borealis).  Great Shearwaters, though only a few were seen, made close passes for those aboard, many of whom had not seen them before.  They also put on a show diving to feed on food pushed to the surface by the active school of Skipjack Tuna on Sunday!  Sargassum was in short supply offshore, so it was no surprise that the same was true of Audubon's Shearwaters so often associated with this floating brown algae.  At least we had a few each day that were close enough for everyone to see!
The end of August is typically when numbers of Wilson's tend to wane and Band-rumpeds become scarce, so it was interesting to have two days so different in terms of storm-petrels!  Saturday the Wilson's packed into the slick shortly after we slowed down in the morning and at times a glance behind the boat turned up 100 or more.  The first Band-rumped Storm-Petrel flew in before 0930 that morning and we even flushed a couple sitting with some Wilson's on the water just before noon.  In contrast, on Sunday we had only reached a tally of 50 Wilson's by noon, and were lucky to encounter a Band-rumped sitting on the water with a couple of Wilson's a little after 1300!  The bird flushed, but then settled again and allowed one of the closest approaches we've had to a Band-rumped on the water!
Red-necked Phalaropes were seen each day, but cooperation was lacking without good conditions to hold them.  Bridled & Sooty Terns were seen each day despite the paucity of sargassum, and we were happy with some nice passes!  Saturday we found a flock at the end of the day that had some Sooty Terns, including one juvenile, and a Bridled Tern, then Sunday on the way in we passed an adult Bridled Tern sitting on a board for the closest look of the weekend!
A crisply plumaged juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger came in to investigate our slick on Saturday afternoon, responding well to the chum it dropped to the slick repeatedly to grab food and then followed us for 20 minutes!  Several Pomarine Jaegers were seen over the weekend with more on Sunday, and at least three around the feeding flock of shearwaters!
Black Terns were seen offshore over the weekend with more on Sunday following the front, and we even found two exhausted individuals sitting on the water!  Cetaceans were limited to Sunday with Spotted Dolphins coming in to ride the bow in the morning (link to YouTube video at end of post), then some offshore Bottlenose Dolphins were seen charging against the current just before noon that later came in to ride the bow as well!
Thank you to everyone who came offshore with us over the weekend and a big thanks to Scott Winton ( and Lev Frid for helping us lead the trips on short notice!  They both did a great job to help everyone have successful days offshore (Brian & myself included...!).

Saturday August 18, 2012
Black-capped Petrel   42-43
Cory's Shearwater   60-70
Great Shearwater   10
Audubon's Shearwater   5
Wilson's Storm-Petrel   420-445
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel   11-14
Red-necked Phalarope   6
Sooty Tern   5
Bridled Tern   5
Onychoprion sp.   4
Pomarine Jaeger   2
Long-tailed Jaeger   1
jaeger sp.   1

Black Tern   11
Barn Swallow   1

Sunday August 19, 2012
Black-capped Petrel   44-45
Cory's Shearwater   101-106
Great Shearwater   6
Audubon's Shearwater   3
Wilson's Storm-Petrel   95-100
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel   2-3
Red-necked Phalarope   17
Sooty Tern   1
Bridled Tern   4
Onychoprion sp.   4
Pomarine Jaeger   6

Spotted Sandpiper   1
sandpiper sp.   3
Black Tern   16-18
Common Tern   6
Barn Swallow   3

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin   8-10
Bottlenose Dolphin   10

Black-capped Petrels:

 Cory's Shearwater:

 Band-rumped Storm-Petrel on the water
& just after taking off
juvenile Sooty Tern
 very cooperative Pomarine Jaeger (first summer):

Yes, Long-tailed Jaegers do come in to chum...!

Black-terns on the water:

 Atlantic Flyingfish
Short video of Sunday's Atlantic Spotted Dolphins from our YouTube channel:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

July 28, 29, & 30 2012

The weather was much more cooperative than we expected for all three trips with some wind on Saturday (but not nearly as much as they were calling for!), calm, hot conditions on Sunday, and overcast with a few breezy squalls offshore Monday.  While none of the trips turned up a much anticipated White-tailed Tropicbird or other rarity, we encountered our "regulars" with stunning views each day.  The rarity of the long weekend was a second summer Long-tailed Jaeger, with tail projections, that flew into the slick on Monday, a first for us in July!  Many participants were with us for the first time or their first summer trip, so there were loads of lifers racked up over the course of three days.
Black-capped Petrels were a definite highlight, with great looks on every trip and Monday turning up flock after flock of 20 or more individuals resting on the water!  Most birds observed were the dark-faced or intermediate types, but on Monday (7/30) we had a strikingly fresh juvenile of the white-faced type.
Cory's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters were seen every day, not in the large flocks we sometimes find in the summer, but we had satisfactory views on all trips.  We did not see any definite nominate Cory's Shearwaters, most were obviously the Atlantic Cory's, Calonectris diomedea borealis.  Sunday (7/29) a solitary dark bird on the water turned out to be a Sooty Shearwater, a species rarely found in the summer with mixed flocks, and not one we expected to see on these trips.
Wilson's Storm-Petrels were present each day, with persistent SW winds the week preceding the trips producing a low count on Saturday, but thankfully light, shifting winds stirred things up to give us more solid counts on Sunday and Monday.  Surprisingly we did not see any Band-rumped Storm-Petrels on Sunday, but had close passes on Saturday and Monday with one even flying right under the bow!  There were a few Band-rumpeds that were still growing p10, probably the "Grant's" type, and others that were finished molting, or perhaps had not begun molting, making more than general identification difficult.  An uncommon sight on Monday was Wilson's, & even one Band-rumped, diving in the slick, perhaps after pieces of the Wahoo carcas we were dragging in addition to our usual chum.
Red-necked Phalaropes are showing up again post breeding, and a few we saw even still had some color!  They were skittish around the sargassum, but we did finally get good looks at some sitting on the water.  Tropical terns were in short supply for summer, but we have not really had "summer" conditions yet this year, hopefully some tuna will show up in August bringing us larger numbers of shearwaters and terns!  Sunday we had close Sooty Terns, with the individuals seen on Monday flying by at a bit more of a distance.  Bridled Terns were only seen on Monday's trip, a pair flew right to us on the starboard side after we had picked up for the day, circling the boat for excellent views.
Finally we had a set of trips with calm enough conditions for spotting cetaceans, and while no whales were seen, we had a cooperative pod of Spotted Dolphins Saturday with offshore Bottlenose Dolphins on Saturday and Sunday.  Pods of Risso's Dolphins on Sunday and Monday were a pleasant surprise and they were very cooperative, surfacing right next to the boat each time!  Monday we saw TWO Leatherback Turtles, both massive individuals, giving us a chance to educate participants who were not familiar with these deep diving reptiles.
Flyingfish are growing in popularity with our participants so we will conclude with an overview of species seen over the long weekend!  We saw Atlantic & Fourwing Flyingfish (aka Bog-standard Fourwing), Bandwing Flyingfish (aka Atlantic Necromancer), Blackwing Flyingfish, & Sailfin Flyingfish (aka Oddspot Midget).  There is still much to be hashed out with identification of our flyingfish off Hatteras...but hopefully we will have a photo guide soon!  Check out Steve Howell's photos of flyingfish in this blog post: and thanks Steve for our aka flyingfish names!
Thank you to everyone who came out with us and a special thanks to Larry Meade for recruiting so many NOVA Bird Club members to join us over the three days!  Thanks to Dave Shoch & George Armistead for helping us lead these trips, and thanks to Dave also for contributing photos for the blog post!  Otherwise, we have a some photos from Capt. Brian Patteson, and the rest were taken by me, Kate Sutherland.

Saturday July 28, 2012
Black-capped Petrel   42-44
Cory's Shearwater   41
Great Shearwater   13
Audubon's Shearwater   14
Wilson's Storm-Petrel   80-100
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel   6-7

Bank Swallow 2
Barn Swallow   6
swallow sp   8

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin   +/-10
Bottlenose Dolphin   1
caught 1 Wahoo

Sunday July 29, 2012
Black-capped Petrel   56-59
Cory's Shearwater   53
Great Shearwater   14-16
Sooty Shearwater   1
Audubon's Shearwater   36-41
Wilson's Storm-Petrel   200-210
Red-necked Phalarope   14-15
Sooty Tern   3

swallow sp   1

Risso's Dolphin   13-16
Bottlenose Dolphin   7-8
Hammerhead sp   1

Monday July 30, 2012
Black-capped Petrel   123-125
Cory's Shearwater   70-72
Great Shearwater   6-8
Audubon's Shearwater   19
Wilson's Storm-Petrel   310-355
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel   8
Red-necked Phalarope   9
Sooty Tern   3
Bridled Tern   2
Long-tailed Jaeger   1

Barn Swallow   2
warbler   1
bat sp   1

Risso's Dolphin   15-20
Leatherback Turtle   2
caught 1 King Mackerel

Black-capped Petrels (top two photos by Brian Patteson):

 juvenile Black-capped Petrel from Monday July 30 (top photo by Brian Patteson):

Cory's Shearwaters:

 Great Shearwaters:

Audubon's Shearwater:
 Wilson's Storm-Petrels feeding in the slick:

 Red-necked Phalarope:
 one of Monday's Bridled Terns:
Risso's Dolphin head on (lucky shot!):
 one of the Leatherback Turtles (taken by Brian Patteson):
I did not have much time to take photos since I was a little busy with a full boat all three days, but here are a couple of flyingfish shots anyhow...!  Atlantic Flyingfish (aka Bog-standard Fourwing)
 A lucky Atlantic Flyingfish with obvious bite marks just ahead of its' dorsal fin!