Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July 6 & 7, 2013

Summer is finally here as our trips this past weekend illuminated so well!  We had just enough breeze each day to make us comfortable, but the seas were mostly quite calm.  In recent years our spring trips have become more popular, and in keeping with that theme, we had just enough participation to run these trips - but each day really exceeded our expectations for it is still not fully summer, with the beehives and tropical terns that abound in August, yet the birds, mammals, and yes - fish - were spectacular!

The Gulf Stream current was quite typical on Saturday but by Sunday it had pushed way offshore so we spent the day in the deep well over a 1000 fathoms and finally found signs of life similar to Saturday.  Black-capped Petrels were seen well each day with more individuals on Sunday when it was a little windier.  The shearwaters were out there, with excellent numbers of Cory's and Greats making up most of the feeding flocks we found over small skipjack tuna.  Audubon's Shearwaters were scarce on Saturday and we had a tough time getting a good, close look at one, but Sunday they seemed to be everywhere - on the way to the deep and in the feeding flocks!  Wilson's Storm-Petrel numbers were low overall for the weekend, but the large storm-petrels were quite pleasing on Saturday and definitely not shy on Sunday either!  Leach's Storm-Petrels were a surprise for us on Saturday with their numbers, it was like a "Leach's Highway" out there on our slick!  We had Band-rumped and Leach's Storm-Petrels coming in to the chum and feeding from 0900 until after 1330 on Saturday.  While the Band-rumpeds were not quite as cooperative on Sunday, we still had nice views.  Over the weekend we saw not only the cool season breeders (Grant's Type), but what looked to be some of the smaller individuals as well (possibly Madeiran).  Bridled and Sooty Terns were scarce, as we expected this early in the summer, but Saturday morning the first bird of the day was a Bridled Tern perched on a float!  Sunday we encountered both species over a feeding flock of shearwaters.  The star of the show Saturday was a South Polar Skua that flew in to a flock of feeding shearwaters and petrels before 1300!  This individual spent more time than usual harassing the shearwaters in the flock, sitting down for a moment, then gearing up again and again to chase them!  It was a spectacular show!  Sunday we did see a Pomarine Jaeger in the morning, but it was quite lethargic by comparison.

Cetaceans were definitely around this weekend and the conditions helped us spot them.  Though we had many calm days this spring, beaked whales were not seen very often and this caused some concern, since we spent a lot of time where they typically live.  Just this past weekend we encountered more Gervais' Beaked Whales (Mesoplodon europaeus) than we have seen in recent memory!  Saturday we also found three distant Sperm Whales just inshore of 1000 fathoms.  These individuals stayed on the surface long enough for us to see their distinctive blows well before they dove, showing their tail flukes.  Sunday on the way back inshore, inside of 500 fathoms (about 3,000 feet of water) Brian saw an animal blowing just ahead of the boat.  It turned out to be a young Sperm Whale, the shallowest we've seen one off of Hatteras, and it had just enough curiosity to spend time swimming along and surfacing next to the boat before diving.  We also had excellent looks at both Atlantic Spotted and Bottlenose Dolphins over the course of the weekend.

Thank you to everyone who joined us and thanks also to our leaders - Scott Winton and Kyle Kittelberger - they both did a great job spotting and keeping everyone keyed in to what was going on around us.  Our next trips are July 19, 20, & 21 - the summer continues...

Saturday July 6, 2013

Black-capped Petrel  16
Cory's Shearwater  166-189
Great Shearwater  80-92
Audubon's Shearwater  5
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  76-86
Leach's Storm-Petrel  21-28
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  19-22
Bridled Tern  1
South Polar Skua  1
jaeger sp.  1

Sperm Whale  3
Gervais' Beaked Whale  7
Bottlenose Dolphin  20

Sunday July 7, 2013

Black-capped Petrel  26
Cory's Shearwater  125
Great Shearwater  92-97
Audubon's Shearwater  24
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  30-40
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  22-23
Oceanodroma sp.  1
Sooty Tern  1
Bridled Tern  1-2
Pomarine Jaeger  1

Sperm Whale  1
Gervais' Beaked Whale  9-10
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  11
Bottlenose Dolphin  20-24

Photos to follow tomorrow...!

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