Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October 13, 2012

Strong northerly winds last week had us unsure when our annual October pelagic trip would run, but Saturday morning we just decided to go for it!  We knew the day would be rough, but worth it since the birds would be flying, and disappointed we were not.  Professor Fred Alsop has been taking students from East Tennessee State University offshore for an annual pelagic in October for 30 years and with his participation, we are able to offer a trip each fall.  There was space for seven passengers in addition to the student group, and we filled the trip.  Conditions were windy with NE winds gusting to 25 knots most of the day, plus we found the Gulf Stream current closer to shore than we expected, so the seas were impressive!  The NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island brought some sea turtles for us to release offshore, so we had four extra passengers that were the first order of business upon reaching the warm water.  Four of Fred's students released the turtles, two Greens and two Loggerheads (photos of each are at the end of the post).

Black-capped Petrel was the star of the show with crisp, fresh individuals of each type buzzing around all day, even following us into the shallows in the afternoon!  Feeding flocks of shearwaters turned up Cory's, Great, and Audubon's with close looks at each species for our novice passengers.  Four Wilson's Storm-Petrels were even seen over the course of the day with a couple making close passes!  Most of the day we had feeding flocks on the horizon many of which we were able to approach.  The highlight of the day came in the afternoon when, after a bit of a lull, we found a flock of birds feeding over some Skipjack Tuna.  It was a treat to watch the birds tracking the fish under the water, taking flight to chase the bait as it was pushed to the surface!  What amazed us most were the Black-capped Petrels feeding with the shearwaters, also chasing the bait just under the surface!  Brian commented that in all of his years of running trips and observing Black-capped Petrels, this was the first time he had ever seen them exhibit this foraging behavior!  Just as we were commenting on the lack of jaegers with all of the shearwaters around, a large, dark bird flared up ahead - South Polar Skua!  This individual was very cooperative flying around the boat, and sitting on the water with some Cory's Shearwaters for at least two close approaches.

Photographers had the perfect day, if they could stay steady for taking pictures!  The wind and the light were together setting the perfect stage for the close passes the Black-capped Petrels were making!  As the birds flew into the wind, it cooperated by slowing them down, giving ample time to get good shots.   Shearwaters allowed close approach on the water, and we observed some of the nominate Cory's Shearwaters (Scopoli's) in addition to the more numerous Atlantic Cory's (Borealis).

A big thanks to Nick Bonomo who helped us out as a leader on this trip!!

Saturday October 13, 2012
Black-capped Petrel   75-90
Cory's Shearwater   285-315
Great Shearwater   15
Audubon's Shearwater   17-20
Wilson's Storm-Petrel   4
South Polar Skua   1

Great Blue Heron   11
Mourning Dove   1
Red-breasted Nuthatch   1

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin   12
Spotted Dolphin   20-25

Loggerhead Turtle   1 (not a release!)

The Sea:
 Black-capped Petrel - a dark individual
 another dark Black-capped looking sharp!
a more intermediate individual
a white-faced Black-capped Petrel
 Cory's Shearwater
South Polar Skua
 cooperative Spotted Dolphins from the afternoon

Sea Turtle Releases:
the first Green Turtle was released by Caitlyn King
 the second Green Turtle was released by Dallas Brooks
 the first Loggerhead Turtle was released by Jordan Brison
 and the second Loggerhead, from this year, was released by Courtney Mohlerding
Thanks to Fred & his students for making our trip possible!