Wednesday, August 28, 2013

August 23 & 25

The Stormy Petrel II headed up to Wanchese, NC for our final trips of the summer on Thursday August 22.  Typically, the prevailing winds in the summer are from the SW, making Oregon Inlet the perfect place to run late summer trips since there is cooler green water right offshore, and the warm Gulf Stream waters are not too far out of reach for a day trip.  Friday the 23rd was the first of three days we planned to run from Wanchese, and the day began with some breeze but the winds were never more than 10 or 15 kts from the WSW.  There were reports of large groups of shearwaters east of the inlet in the green water, so the decision was made to head out there and maybe a White-faced Storm-Petrel would show up!  We passed two Leatherback Turtles on the way out in the morning, but we did not encounter much to suggest good concentrations of birds.  The three expected shearwaters were present, Cory's, Great, & Audubon's, plus a few Wilson's Storm-Petrels, but not really in the numbers we had hoped for.

A map of the sea surface temperature off of Cape Hatteras showed a nice edge south of where we were and Brian decided to go for it.  We picked up speed and headed toward the Gulf Stream hoping to find some additional species and more life.  By 1030 we were in a small pod of Pilot Whales and things were looking up!  While we did not get into the hot Gulf Stream water until midday, we added Red-necked Phalarope and Bridled Tern to the list before noon.  The phalaropes were found along a line of sargassum, and we slowly cruised by flock after flock on the water.  Soon after 1200, in the warmer water, we finally had a glimpse of a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, shortly followed by a Black-capped Petrel!  Wilson's Storm-Petrel numbers were fair all day and we ended up seeing nine Band-rumpeds over the course of the afternoon!  Pilot Whales were popping up around us most of the day and we even encountered some Bottlenose Dolphins in the afternoon.  The time to head for home came earlier than we're used to in Hatteras because we were such a long way from the inlet, but the seas were quite calm by the end of the day and we spotted several Leatherbacks on the way in.  At one point we had a couple surrounded by a small pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins - very cool to see.  We had never before seen 10 Leatherbacks in a day on one of our trips, so while we did not encounter any rare seabirds, we still had a record breaking day!

Saturday morning it was much windier than anticipated, the wind had shifted overnight to ENE and picked up.  Although we knew a front was moving through, the forecast was for the wind to really pick up Saturday night into Sunday morning.  Brian made the decision before we even reached the marina to cancel the trip on Saturday and try for an alternate plan.  He would run the boat back to Hatteras Saturday and we would run Sunday's trip down there, weather permitting.  The weather would not permit us to run either day from Oregon Inlet which faces east - the ever freshening winds from the northeast meant the inlet could possibly be closed out by breakers.  Hatteras Inlet, however, faces south and we have the cape to the north protecting the nearshore waters from northerly wind and swell.  Our participants were adaptable and we even had a few join us at the last minute for the alternate trip, so 13 were at Hatteras Landing Marina ready to go on Sunday morning.

The seas were righteous by the time we reached the hot water, which was close in just 120 feet of water!  When the wind is against the current like it was on Sunday, it can cause the waves to really stand up - it was good that we did not hit any really fast current where we were on Sunday!  The birds were there, as expected!  Right off the bat we were in feeding flocks of mostly Cory's Shearwaters with some Great & Audubon's flying around as well!  It was spectacular!  While numbers of Wilson's were not very high, shearwaters and Black-capped Petrels made up for it - just the sheer spectacle was worth the trip out there!  Conditions were not the easiest for spotting and staying on birds since the waves were high and the birds were moving at high rates of speed in the troughs, but they were flying high and pretty close to the boat, so it was all relative.  Just before one o'clock, we had Black-capped Petrels flying like storm-petrels in the chum; Tom Johnson spotted the bird of the day: a Trindade Petrel!  It flew up the slick and then away.  Most people who were outside had a pretty good look at the bird before it became a distant dark gadfly behind some Black-cappeds and disappeared.  We also had at least one Pomarine Jaeger make a close pass and a young Long-tailed Jaeger, fresh from the tundra, flew right into the stern for everyone to see!  So, while it may have been a little bumpy, it was worth it to be out there in the elements - and to see the birds behave so naturally in the wind, while we humans are so grounded...

Thanks to everyone who joined us over the last long weekend of the summer, and thanks also to everyone who was flexible enough to make it possible for us to run on Sunday from Hatteras!  Lev Frid (The Spruce Blog) joined us to help lead both trips this weekend, and we finally saw longtime friend & our most enthusiastic leader, Jamie Cameron, for Sunday's trip.  Tom Johnson helped us out on Sunday as well.  Thank you to Lev, Tom, and Jeff Lemons for letting us use some of their photos here!  (9/3/2013) Here is a link to Lev's post about the trips on August 23 & 25

Friday morning's sunrise on the way to Bonner Bridge (over Oregon Inlet) (photo by Lev Frid)
 Sunday's Trindade Petrel - an intermediate individual
 Black-capped Petrel with some chum
 Black-capped Petrel - 2 photos
Audubon's Shearwater
 one of the feeding flocks seen on Sunday's trip
probable Scopoli's Shearwater (photo by Lev Frid)
 Wilson's Storm-Petrels
Red-necked Phalaropes (photo by Lev Frid)
Juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger
 Atlantic Short-finned Pilot Whale (photo by Lev Frid)
 Leatherback Turtle (photo by Lev Frid)
We had some breathtaking views out there this weekend! (photo by Lev Frid)

Monday, August 19, 2013

August 16, 17, 18, 2013

Last Monday & Tuesday's trips found at least five individual Trindade Petrels, then on Wednesday a front pushed through bringing cooler temperatures and some northerly winds, uncommon here in mid August.  We did not know if the birds would be lined up out there, or pushed offshore, but we did know that the stage was set for something different than just typical summer trips August 16-19.  Brian put the word out, and while we still had only a few participants for Friday and Sunday, Saturday's trip filled with a decent number of participants, most from the Carolinas.  Each day held different weather conditions thus making each trip quite different - the beautiful blue water of the Gulf Stream was over 40 miles offshore by Sunday - definitely not a typical August day offshore from Hatteras!

Friday's trip was the roughest, with winds from the north northeast at about 15 knots most of the day.  The waters in the Gulf Stream were choppy with this wind that is counter to the current generally moving swiftly to the northeast.  Shearwaters were seen on the way out in the morning, an uncommon sight so far this season.  When we have wind against the current like this, it typically makes it a good day for storm-petrels and that it was!  We had the most Wilson's and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels of the weekend on Friday's trip, a pleasant surprise after encountering low numbers just a few days previous.  Black-capped Petrels also were out there in good numbers, keeping in line with what we had seen on our last trips.  The birds were hungry, perhaps due to the weather that had just passed through, or the lunar cycle, so we had a nice show in the slick all day on Friday.  The highlight, besides the storm-petrels, was a group of six Bridled Terns that we picked up from a feeding flock of shearwaters around 1230 - these birds stayed with us for almost two hours feeding in the slick!

Saturday winds were still from the north early in the morning and forecast to be light all day with some variation in direction, but mostly with some east to it.  As we headed offshore, the shearwaters were streaming by, many more than we had on Friday.  We slowed down just after 0800, shallower than usual since there were so many birds around.  Black-capped Petrels began to appear with the Cory's and Audubon's Shearwaters plus a few Wilson's Storm-Petrels were beginning to gather in the slick, when a jaeger was spotted flying towards the boat - a first summer Long-tailed Jaeger flew towards us and then continued by, leaving us content with the view even though the bird did not linger!  We found a feeding flock of birds that we spent almost two hours following around here, in the shallow waters, turning up three species of shearwater plus Black-cappeds, Wilson's and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, a couple of Sooty Terns and some Bridled Terns - including the first juvenile terns of each species for the season!  Around 1030 we headed offshore again with squalls all around us on the horizon.  Just before 1100 someone glanced up and spotted a White-tailed Tropicbird!  The bird did not linger, but flew in towards the boat to check us out and then headed away, it was close enough for everyone aboard to get a great look at this dainty powerhouse!  We were finally getting out into the deep and when a feeding flock was spotted just after noon, hopes were high that we might have a chance to find something different as we sped in that direction.  Brian slowed as we approached the flock and then shouted as he spotted a Trindade Petrel flying some distance from us with the shearwaters!  In time, the bird approached the boat and flew around us before melting back into the flock.  20 minutes later the same individual flew back towards us for a few more close passes!  It was a nice looking intermediate individual, making it easier to identify the bird we saw less than an hour later as a second dark individual.  There was also one Manx Shearwater seen in this offshore flock in addition to some Red-necked Phalaropes.  Just before we picked up to head in for the day, a Pomarine Jaeger flew by, upping the species count for the day to fourteen!

Sunday the winds were coming back around to the southwest, typical summer weather for us, but it blew southeast all night on Saturday, so the seas were a bit mixed up for the morning's trip offshore.  In contrast to Friday and Saturday, hardly any shearwaters were seen on the run out in the morning and the water was very green looking in comparison.  We slowed down after 0830, offshore of where we had been starting the previous days, and there were loads of Cory's Shearwaters around us just flying by.  A couple of Black-capped Petrels flew by distantly and some Audubon's Shearwaters were around as the first photo-op of the morning presented itself - a Bridled Tern perched on a coconut!  Brian decided to continue offshore in hopes of finding the clear blue fast moving waters of the Gulf Stream.  We finally got into some current about 1000, and by 1130 we were in some nicer blue water just under 9,000 feet in depth and over 42 miles from the inlet.  Most of the birds we saw on Sunday were between 30 and 40 miles offshore, much farther than they had been!  There was a fly-by Sooty Shearwater first thing in the morning and then we had excellent looks at the other four species we saw on Sunday - Cory's, Great, Manx, and Audubon's.  Instead of feeding flocks, today it was flocks on the water, and in one there were at least two Manx Shearwaters, one of which sat with some Audubon's for an excellent comparison!  While Wilson's and Band-rumped Storm-Petrel numbers were low, we still had great looks at each, and Sunday proved to be the best yet for the diminutive Red-necked Phalaropes!

Overall we had a very successful three days offshore!  Not many cetaceans were seen over this long weekend, but we did have a small group of Spotted Dolphins on Friday and two Bottlenose Dolphins, one a tiny calf, on Sunday.  I want to thank everyone who came offshore with us this weekend, we could not have done it without you!  Also a big thanks to Scott Winton and Nate Swick for helping us out as leaders on Saturday and Sunday's trips.  These were our last trips of the summer from Hatteras and our next three will be going out from Oregon Inlet to the north with Wanchese as the port of departure.  It will be interesting to see what we find up there and how it compares to our summer birding off Hatteras.

Trip Lists are now posted on the website - on the right side just look for a post with the dates & trip lists.

Photos are all by me this week -Kate Sutherland

First Trindade Petrel - intermediate bird - two photos
 Second Trindade Petrel - darker individual
 a nice white-faced Black-capped Petrel just after taking off from the water
 same individual as above
 small group of Cory's Shearwaters taking off
 one of the Manx Shearwaters seen on Sunday's trip
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (left) with Wilson's Storm-Petrel (right)
Band-rumped Storm-Petrels - three photos
Red-necked Phalaropes - two photos
 Adult Bridled Tern - two photos of the same individual
 Young Bridled Tern (first summer)
my guess for these guys - Atlantic Flyingfish (Cypselurus melanurus) - but for now, just the genus will do!  Cypselurus sp.  They were around a grassline with some feeding shearwaters on Sunday's trip;  we were in about 3,000 feet of water or more.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

August 9-13, 2013

In addition to our regularly scheduled trips over the weekend, we also ran charters Monday & Tuesday organized by Mike Lanzone for the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology.  So we had trips five days in a row, with each turning up the expected species and some extra excitement as well.  Here we just will cover what was seen by species over the five days instead of breaking down each trip separately.

The highlight came during the two days of chartered trips with four individual Trindade Petrels seen in under an hour Monday morning!  There were at least two individuals flying around in the slick at once and many, many close passes by these dark birds.  It took photo investigation to conclude that we had at least four birds that morning.  On Tuesday, we had a Sooty Shearwater that surprised us in the morning, flying in quickly to the slick, low on the water lending thoughts to a small, dark gadfly petrel. Then, just thirty minutes later, an intermediate Trindade Petrel flew into the slick with three Black-capped Petrels, darting down to the water and landing a few times before coming in for a nice pass by the starboard side of the boat!  It was amazing to find these birds two days in a row and perhaps it means they are out there this summer, we'll see what we turn up this weekend!

Black-capped Petrels were seen in increasing numbers over the five days with the lowest number on Friday and highest on Tuesday.  Perhaps the new moon made them hungry, or perhaps they are just beginning to show up more in this area - it seems earlier in the year there were large numbers to the south of us - either way, we were excited to see them feeding in the slick like Wilson's Storm-Petrels!  There were dark faced individuals finishing up their molt with just a couple primaries to go, and a few white faced birds that were in strikingly fresh plumage!

Shearwaters, as mentioned in the last post, are scarce this summer compared to most.  Cory's numbers, like the Black-cappeds, increased each day with the most seen on Monday, though they were not in any group, but seen scattered over the day.  It seems we were lucky to see some Great Shearwaters each day, though a few days the views were distant, we did have a few individuals on the water that allowed us to approach them for great views and photo ops!  As I mentioned earlier, we did have one Sooty Shearwater show up on Tuesday the 13th for a quick pass, but it was the only individual to be seen over the course of the five days.  Young Audubon's Shearwaters are showing up and they are a treat to see!  While we did not see very many of them, we did have some quality encounters so that hopefully everyone was satisfied!

Wilson's Storm-Petrels are beginning to taper off for the season, but we were still able to recruit some to the slick each day!  We had some glimpses of Leach's Storm-Petrel on Friday's trip, but no others appeared on successive days.  Band-rumped Storm-Petrels made a strong showing on the early trips, also beginning to taper off by Monday and Tuesday.  We typically see them moving out towards the end of August, but they could be moving early this year.  At least the individuals seen made some close passes by the boat so that everyone had good looks!

Red-necked Phalaropes are beginning to show up again and we saw them on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday's trips, though not in large numbers!  We were able to approach some small groups for some very nice views!  The tropical terns were out there, just not in the numbers we sometimes see in the summer.  We had Bridled Tern on all but one trip and some nice looks at Sooty Terns on Sunday and Monday's trips.  A first summer Long-tailed Jaeger flew into the slick on Monday, showing well, a nice surprise to round out our species list for the five trips!

Cetaceans were rare over the five days with just a few groups of bow-riding offshore Bottlenose Dolphins and a glimpse of some Spotted Dolphins on Tuesday.  We want to thank everyone who joined us on this five day stretch, especially our leaders: Dave Shoch & Bob Fogg!  Also thanks to the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology for chartering us Monday & Tuesday!  Trip lists will be posted on our website, so please look for those there!

Trindade Petrel (photos Bob Fogg)
 Fresh Black-capped Petrel (photo Bob Fogg)
 Black-capped Petrel - a darker individual (photo Kate Sutherland)
 Black-capped Petrel - white faced individual (photo Kate Sutherland)
Cory's (left) and Great (right) Shearwaters (photo Bob Fogg)
 Great Shearwater (top photo Dave Shoch, bottom photo Kate Sutherland)
 Audubon's Shearwater (top photo Dave Shoch, bottom photo Bob Fogg)
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (top photo Bob Fogg, bottom photo Dave Shoch)
 Red-necked Phalarope (top photo Bob Fogg, bottom photo Kate Sutherland)
Bridled Tern (photo Dave Shoch)
Bridled Tern feeding over some Sargassum (photo Kate Sutherland)
first summer Long-tailed Jaeger (photo Bob Fogg)
& an unexpected visitor offshore Monday... young Great Black-backed Gull (photo Kate Sutherland)