Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Spring Blitz 2014 - by Chris Feeney (GA)

I signed up for the Spring Blitz plus three other trips this year.  Some friends asked if I was crazy, others told me I was crazy.  However, I would not be the first to do it, nor will I be the last.  A year ago, Doug (fashion guru and photographer extraordinaire) set the example for me.  Why did I do it?  My thoughts were that if I missed a trip I would most likely miss a target bird.  I had four targets - Fea's Petrel, Red-billed Tropicbird, Bermuda Petrel, and European Storm-Petrel.  I had no great thoughts of getting all four, but I wanted to at least maximize my chances.

What is it like doing so many trips?  It is early to bed, very early to rise each day.  It is the anticipation of a great bird being called.  It is seeing old friends over the course of the trips and making new ones as you go.  It is knowing that no two days will be the same.  It is seeing the changing of the guard, so to speak.  Sooty Shearwaters started the trip and Great Shearwaters ended the trip.

The first day was very windy and waves were high.  However, the birds were great.  I knew I would be in for a super run when Kate shouted "European Storm-Petrel".  It got even better when she shouted "Bermuda Petrel".  That first day was something.  On later trips I heard spotters describing "Epic Friday" where multiple Bermuda Petrels and a European Storm-Petrel were seen.  I can only say that first Wednesday had to be called "Wicked Wednesday" - Wicked Winds, Wicked Waves, and Wicked Birds (I think 12 Tubenoses including a European Storm-Petrel qualify)!  Day two was when I finally got a good look at a Fea's Petrel, and day four was the Red-billed Tropicbird.  I had figured on at least two life birds, but now I had all four of my targets.

The rest of the trips were spent enjoying all the special birds coming in - South Polar Skuas, White-tailed Tropicbirds, and Trindade Petrels among others.  The views were often spectacular, with birds hanging right over the boat.  I also enjoyed Seabird McKeon's classes on Sargasso Weed.  We had daily sightings of marine mammals and fish to liven things up even more.

I had the privilege of meeting Chloe, the ABA Young Birder of the Year .  I also got to meet the majority of the "700" club, those intrepid birders who have seen 700 birds in one year (Sandy did it twice - amazing).

You always run into birders you know on excursions like this.  I knew Theresa would be on some of the trips, taking time away from her Indiana Big Year.  I enjoyed evening meals with Theresa and Tommy throughout.  Seeing Bill and Kathy was a pleasant surprise.  It was nice to see Chris (a member of the 700 Club) again.  Paul came down from Canada.  Doug, as always, made the trips fun.  Great spotters came and went throughout - Big Dave, Jeff, Todd, Tom, Steve, and the rest.  I met several good birders along the way including John, Jay, Neil, Sandy, Rangel, and a lot of birders from Canada, Minnesota, and England.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that Brian did and excellent job every day getting us to the birds safely.  He just has a sense of where the birds will be and does a very good job of making sure everyone gets on the birds.  How he stayed on the European Storm-Petrel under the windy and wavy conditions was nothing short of amazing.

Last, but surely not least, Kate is the mainstay of the operation.  How anyone can come in every day with a smile and do all the things she does is beyond comprehension.  She is the spotter who called all four of my life birds.  She does the chumming that brings the birds in and also has the unpleasant job of cleaning up after those poor souls (and there were many) who get sea-sick (a problem I have never had - thank goodness).  Above all, she checks on everyone multiple times daily to make sure they are all doing OK and getting on the birds - a concierge without equal.

I would recommend going on as many trips as you can afford or have time for, as that is the way to ensure that you at least have a chance at your targets.  Luck has a lot to do with it as well.  I consider myself extremely lucky to have seen two quality birds on the first day and to have seen all of my targets.  Crazy - yes, four life birds - yes.

Chris Feeney
Augusta, Georgia

Chris, the author, with Theresa on the Stormy Petrel II - photo courtesy of Theresa Schwinghammer

Monday, June 16, 2014

Alvaro's Adventures - June 13 & 14

We had birding charters this past Friday & Saturday.  Alvaro Jaramillo organized a couple of East Coast pelagic trips aboard the Stormy Petrel II and George Armistead joined him to help lead the trips.  Friday was a busy day, even with the full moon!  The winds were lighter from the southwest than we had hoped for, but nonetheless a young Red-billed Tropicbird appeared nearby before 0830 in the morning!  The day continued to surprise us with three Manx Shearwaters and a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel showing up before 0930!  This was in addition to sightings of Black-capped Petrel, Cory's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters, plus our staple slick bird - the Wilson's Storm-Petrel.  A Leach's Storm-Petrel flew in just after 1000 and we found a Bridled Tern around a deep water line of Sargassum shortly thereafter.  The waters on Friday were also calm enough for spotting cetaceans and a small pod of Cuvier's Beaked Whales were seen, but at a distance.  An awesome front moved through while we were running back through Hatteras Inlet, but not the one we were hoping for that held the north wind!  Instead, we headed offshore again on Saturday with the winds still from the west...

Saturday Alvaro had a few more participants onboard, more eyes for spotting!  The day started out quite slow and we ended up not relocating the Red-billed Tropicbird, plus, no Leach's Storm-Petrels were seen on Saturday.  We did, however, have an excellent day for the charismatic megafauna as Brian would say!  A pod of Cuvier's Beaked Whales showed well just about a mile from where we saw them on Friday.  George spotted a huge Leatherback Turtle right next to the boat just before we pulled in the chum and began to motor toward the inlet in the afternoon!  This individual stayed on the surface long enough for most aboard to see its "leathery" back.  As we headed home, I spotted some False Killer Whales pushing water ahead of us and these creatures put on quite a show to end the day!  They were bow riding and we could hear them even when they were not in view - something we have noted before when they have been cooperative and engaged with us.  I wish I had gotten some underwater video when they were under the pulpit, but I waited too long and the murky waters made the one Pseudorca I did capture a bit blurry.  We know for next time!  At least their sounds were captured!

A big thank you to Alvaro for chartering us for these trips, his website is here: http://alvarosadventures.com/  and he should have his trip lists, etc. posted before long!  Thanks also to George Armistead for coming along to help out - it's always nice to see him!  Last, but most importantly, thanks to everyone who decided to join us offshore!  It was a great experience!

Species seen include: Black-capped Petrel, Cory's, Great, Manx, and Audubon's Shearwaters, Wilson's, Leach's, and Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, Red-billed Tropicbird, Bridled, Royal, and Black Terns (offshore)  Other marine life included: Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin, Cuvier's Beaked Whales, Beaked Whale sp., False Killer Whales, Leatherback Turtle, and a few species of Flying Fish - including the Oddspot Midgett, Atlantic Patchwing, and Rosy-veined Clearwing.

My 300mm lens has been on the blitz since early this spring.  I took some photos this weekend with Brian's 100-400, but they are not quite what I had hoped!  Here are a few...

Black-capped Petrel
Cory's Shearwater - a definite Atlantic Cory's here
A Cory's type Shearwater with more white in the underprimaries
Great Shearwater
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, two photos of the same molting individual.  We did have at least one or two fresh birds over the couple of trips.
A young Common Tern taking off that we found sitting on the water!
Two shots of the Cuvier's Beaked Whales
Observing the False Killer Whales (Pseudorca crassidens) at the end of the day on Saturday!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sunday June 8, 2014 - the Odd Couple

Today was the most beautiful day, weather wise, we have seen all spring, with light northerly winds.   A young Nothern Gannet flew by as we left the inlet, headed to the north.  Barely any spray on the way out or the way in, WOW!  Brian had seen a temperature shot and figured the hot, fast Gulf Stream water was over 40 miles offshore...but today we could get there, while many other days we had to contend with wind and sea conditions.  We motored out to where he thought we needed to be and before we even really slowed down, the shout of "Tropicbird!!" came from Jeff Lemons in the stern!  Leading up to this point, at only 0903, we had already seen one distant Black-capped Petrel, Cory's, Great, & Audubon's Shearwaters, plus a Long-tailed Jaeger and a couple of Beaked Whales!  I'm not even sure the rest of the day needs to be written in a proper report - I think Steve's photos will tell the tale...
Two tropicbirds...upon further inspection, one White-tailed (top) and one Red-billed (bottom)!  The White-tailed was calling as they flew over!
This is the first time we have ever seen the two species together like this!  Here is the White-tailed, a second year bird:
& the Red-billed, a first year:
Our first Long-tailed Jaeger of the day:
A couple of Laughing Gulls joined us, and then we spotted a white tern way out there, but making a beeline for us - it turned out to be a young Arctic Tern!  Later we had another, older individual join us behind the boat.  Excellent day for the birds from the east, perhaps they were held up by all of this north wind lately!
For contrast, we had some Common Terns around the boat out there as well, including one very tired individual who decided to land on the pulpit of boat for a quick rest!
While we were out there in the mega deep we saw some Atlantic Patchwings (pictured below) plus other flying fish species.
Black-capped Petrels were scarce, with only five individuals seen over the course of the day.  But a few came quite close to the boat, so those who wanted to see this gadfly petrel, had excellent views!
Great Shearwaters were more numerous than Wilson's Storm-Petrels behind the boat for most of the day!  They kept us entertained diving, calling, and feeding!  Here is a juvenile, and the second photo is of a third year individual.
We had a nice flight of Long-tailed Jaegers;  one even put on a spectacular show chasing a Wilson's Storm-Petrel!  Here is one individual with extensive white in the primaries, and another, more typical young bird below.
We did have one second summer Pomarine Jaeger that came in to harass our shearwaters - but it in turn was harassed by one of the Long-taileds!  
Bottlenose Dolphins joined us a couple times over the course of the day.
 And the Odd-spot Midgett was a highlight this afternoon as we headed back in over the shelf break!
This Loggerhead Turtle was seen on the way in this afternoon as well!

Black-capped Petrel  5
Cory's Shearwater  59
Great Shearwater  39-41
Sooty Shearwater  1
Manx Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  23
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  70-75
Leach's Storm-Petrel  4-5
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  2-3
White-tailed Tropicbird  1
Red-billed Tropicbird  1
Northern Gannet  1
Laughing Gull  2
Common Tern  8
Arctic Tern  2
Pomarine Jaeger  1
Long-tailed Jaeger  7

Beaked Whale sp  2
Bottlenose Dolphin  13-18
Loggerhead Turtle  1
Blue Marlin (seen)  1

A big thank you again to everyone who joined us, especially the enthusiastic Chris Feeney who joined us for all 15 trips this spring!  Thanks to Steve Howell & Jeff Lemons for helping to lead the trip today, it was a good one!  

Our next trips are this Friday & Saturday.  Alvaro Jaramillo of Alvaro's Adventures has chartered the boat for these trips, so if you're interested in joining us, please let him know - email info@alvarosadventures.com, or call him at (650) 504-7770!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Saturday June 7, 2014

Today's winds were moderate from the east northeast for most of the day.  Again we did not find too much Gulf Stream current out there in the deep, but there was scattered sargassum and even a nice line or two offshore.  We added some species to the weekend list and everything today was seen well!  Thanks to everyone who joined us and thanks to Steve Howell & Jeff Lemons for helping to lead the trip.  Another thank you to Steve for the photos that will tell the story of the day...!

A warm welcome to my nephew (yes, my younger twin sisters both had babies...!) Daniel Milton Head who was born today at 2:24 pm - 7 pounds 13 ounces and 21 inches.  His daddy's in the Coast Guard (Barnegat Light, NJ) so I'm sure he'll be out with us in the future!!  He gets the Manx Shearwater while niece Hazel has the White-tailed Tropicbird (May 29)!

One of the first birds this morning was a young Long-tailed Jaeger, a species not seen at all yesterday!
Another species that was such a treat today was this Manx Shearwater that flew in to the slick and then spent the next 30 minutes or so following and feeding there!
 You can see the white undertail here and even the feet projecting beyond the tip of the tail!
Note the differences in this Audubon's Shearwater (pictured below) with the Manx above!  They are much slimmer, lighter weight birds than the Manx with that longer tail (dark undertail) and whiter face!
We did see a few Black-capped Petrels in varying stages of molt (as seen below!) and they made some nice passes by the boat!
It was a challenge to keep track of the different individual Great Shearwaters that were coming and going behind us in the slick!  Here is a rarely seen third year individual:
 And the more commonly seen juvenile individual!
A couple of Sooty Shearwaters visited the slick over the course of the day and were very dynamic in their activity!  They followed us well and dove behind the boat on the chum!
Scopoli's Shearwaters (nominate Cory's, pictured below) were fairly numerous in the slick today as well as the Atlantic Cory's!  We even had one Cory's diving in the slick behind the boat for pieces of fish!
We had a number of Leach's Storm-Petrels today and they showed well behind and around the boat so everyone had good views!
Band-rumpeds were more cooperative than yesterday!  Here are photos of a fresh individual (below) and a molting individual (second photo)
Also seen...Bottlenose Dolphin!

Black-capped Petrel  16
Cory's Shearwater  38
Great Shearwater  28-38
Sooty Shearwater  2-3
Manx Shearwater  2
Audubon's Shearwater  40
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  385-460
Leach's Storm-Petrel  5-7
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  17-20
Long-tailed Jaeger  2

yellowlegs  1
Bottlenose Dolphin  3-4

Friday, June 6, 2014

Friday June 6, 2014

Yesterday's southwesterly winds were strong all day and most of the night, but by this morning, though the swell was from the south, the winds were light from the north east!  Beautiful day to be out there!  The swell made it a bit challenging to get where we wanted to go in a timely fashion this morning, but the birds were hungry and once we set out with our slick, there was always activity behind us!  Cory's Shearwaters were inshore this morning and the Great Shearwaters have arrived!  Here are photos of a juvenile bird (top) and a second year individual (bottom):
Wilson's Storm-Petrels came in readily to the chum, though it took us some time to get everyone aboard a good look at a Band-rumped.  A molting individual pictured here:
We found sargassum out in the deep and a Bridled Tern perched on a sandal spiced up the late morning
while Audubon's Shearwaters, also typically found with this brown algae, were very cooperative making nice passes and sitting on the water.
Black-capped Petrel numbers were up from our last outing and we had excellent views close to the boat most of the day!
While the species list is not huge, it was an awesome day to be out there.  Thanks to everyone who joined us, and a big thanks to Steve Howell and Jeff Lemons for helping lead the trip.  We're glad to have Steve back with us, even if it is for just a short three days...thanks to Steve as well for providing the images for today's post!

Pretty fresh looking Black-capped followed by two photos of individuals in heavy molt
Amazingly enough, for a period of time, the only Cory's type shearwater behind the boat was the nominate type, also known as Scopoli's Shearwater (pictured below)
Photo of an Atlantic Cory's (note the reduced white in the underprimaries):
By the end of the day we had Black-capped Petrel, Great Shearwater, & a Laughing Gull all feeding in the slick with the Wilson's!
 Pilot Whales & Bottlenose Dolphins were the cetaceans seen well today!

Black-capped Petrel  41
Cory's Shearwater  42
Great Shearwater  24-27
Audubon's Shearwater  47
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  405-460
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  9-10
Bridled Tern  2

Laughing Gull  1
Common Tern  2

Pilot Whale  35-45
Bottlenose Dolphin  15-20