Tuesday, September 16, 2014

September 13, 2014 by Brian Patteson

We had another nice day for pelagic birding off Hatteras on Sept. 13. A stalled cold front resulted in light winds and slight seas, but surprisingly there were no thunderstorms out over the deep Gulf Stream! The lack of wind had the birds flaked out on the water most of the day (often the case after some bright moonlit nights), but we saw a bit of activity during the early afternoon with birds coming to our chum slick and also feeding in natural conditions. Black-capped Petrels were the dominant tubenose of the day (photo below by Bob Fogg).
It's getting late for large numbers of Wilson's Storm-Petrels and there just have not been many shearwaters around lately. Sooty Terns made a good showing, with several pairs of adults and young seen throughout the day (young Sooty Tern below by Bob Fogg).
We had a good tern show near the shelf break on our inshore tack, with both Bridled and Sooty Terns calling and feeding right beside the boat. This is, of course, a seasonal highlight: you don't get juvenile tropical terns here during the spring or early summer. It starts in late August and September is the peak time for it. September can also be a good time for young Long-tailed Jaegers, but a southerly flow for several days is not a good set up and we did not see any jaegers, nor did we see any Great Shearwaters which are seen more frequently south of the Cape when the wind blows from the north. The cold front arrived here Saturday evening, so had we been out on Sunday, we might have seen some of these birds, but we would have gotten tossed around a lot more on the process. Warm calm days are great for nice looks at terns, phalaropes, and Audubon's Shearwaters (photo by Mike Lanzone),
and they are also good for first time seabirders- which we had quite a few of on this trip. With the exception of Great Shearwater and jaegers, we saw all of the seabirds that we usually expect in mid September. A late Band-rumped Storm-Petrel was somewhat of a surprise, and it was the only seabird that left us wanting a better view. Probably the rarest bird of the trip was a Connecticut Warbler that flew by the boat during the afternoon. It was identified from photos, and it was the first one we have seen offshore in many years. There was a little sign of warblers throughout the day, with at least five or six species seen, a sure sign we had some westerly wind the previous night. All in all, it was a good trip. It was good to be back out on Stormy Petrel II ("El Grande" as my friend Bruce Armstrong says after we ran several trips on our smaller boat in recent weeks.) We would like to thank Bob Fogg and Scott Winton for helping to lead the trip and Scott for bringing a crowd of new participants from Duke. We would also like to thank Bob and Mike Lanzone for contributing some of their photos to this report.

Black-capped Petrel 59-61
Cory's Shearwater 34
Audubon's Shearwater 17
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 48
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel 1
Red-necked Phalarope 10
Sooty Tern 34
Bridled Tern 5
Black Tern 96 counted - likely more! Amazing flight!
Common Tern (offshore) 14

shorebird sp. 2
Ovenbird 1
Black-and-white Warbler 1
Connecticut Warbler 1
American Redstart 3
Magnolia Warbler 1
Bay/Poll 1
unidentified warbler 3

Loggerhead Turtle 1

Black-capped Petrel - Bob Fogg
 One of the few white-faced birds we have seen this summer - Mike Lanzone
This individual was with us for over an hour feeding in the slick and making close passes in good light!  A good candidate for the nominate Cory's Shearwater, known as Scopoli's Shearwater.  Two photos below by Mike Lanzone.
 & two more photos by Bob Fogg
We had a perched Bridled Tern in the morning then an adult and young individual on some bamboo in the afternoon - they are always a favorite to photograph!  So here are a few...
by Kate Sutherland
 by Bob Fogg
& three takes on the bamboo...first - Mike Lanzone
 The young Bridled Tern is on the left - Brian Patteson
 Kate Sutherland
Thanks again to everyone who joined us out there!  It was a beautiful day offshore!  Here is a photo of our data buoy off of Cape Hatteras #41025 (Kate Sutherland):

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Discovery Series - September 6, 2014 by Brian Patteson

It was good to get out again after a few days ashore, we don't usually run many trips in September.  There are too many other birds migrating south to make a late summer pelagic trip draw lots of interest. But fortunately for us, we only need a few people to run a trip on the F/V Skua, so away we went on September 6 with a full boat.  The weather had been hot and stagnant for days leading up to the trip, but the current had picked up so we were optimistic that some birds would be moving through with the Gulf Stream.  Cloudy and choppy conditions during the morning made it tough to see erratically flying terns, but we did have some nice Bridled Terns along a weedline inshore of the shelf break.  Heading out to the deep, we were pushed back by a thunderstorm, but the accompanying winds brought some Black-capped Petrels.  Overall the birding was a bit slow but we saw all of the expected species ending up with eight pelagic seabirds for the day.  The wind picked up during the afternoon and evening, and on Sunday morning, seas were a bit rough.  There were also many powerful thunderstorms in our way for getting out to the deep, so we decided it was best to cancel the Sunday trip.  We still have space on this weekend's trip aboard the Stormy Petrel II.  It looks like we might get one or two cold fronts pushing through before then too, so maybe some Long-tailed Jaegers and a Sabine's Gull are on the way...

Black-capped Petrel  16
Cory's Shearwater  34
Audubon's Shearwater  4
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  60-65
Red-necked Phalarope  5
Sooty Tern  10
Bridled Tern  8
Onychoprion sp.  6
Pomarine Jaeger  1
white egret sp - prob. Snowy
Ruddy Turnstone  3
shorebird sp  3
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  8-11

Looking to the east in the morning (Kate Sutherland)
 The view ahead as we motored offshore aboard the F/V Skua (Kate Sutherland)
Excellent Black-capped Petrel photo by Kyle Kittelberger
 Cory's Shearwater by Brian Patteson
 One of our loyal Wilson's Storm-Petrels by Kate Sutherland
A very cooperative, perched Bridled Tern - photo by Brian Patteson
 In the afternoon we found three Ruddy Turnstones with a couple of Red-necked Phalaropes flying along a grassline!!  photo by Brian Patteson
(updated to add trip list 9/10/14 updated to add J. Ferdinand's photo link 9/24/14)
photos from Johannes Ferdinand's visit to the Gulf Stream (from Germany) can be seen here 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Discovery Series August 30 & 31 by Brian Patteson

After a few days of brisk northerly winds last week, we had light southerly winds for our two pelagic trips over the weekend. This made for calm seas and warm days. As has been the case for most of the summer be saw generally few birds in the shelf waters, although a nice flock of Red-necked Phalaropes
and a couple of BridledTerns on Saturday got us off to a good start. The weedline where we found the Bridled Terns was also where we released a couple of juvenile Loggerhead Sea Turtles for a lab at UNC Chapel Hill.
Both of these turtles were outfitted w/ satellite transmitters (Mushu, pictured here was released by participant Linda Bell), so it will be interesting to see where they go from here. Out past the shelf break we were also pleased to find a few Band-rumped Storm-Petrels Saturday morning.
These can be hard to find at this latitude in late August. Shearwaters were scarce, but we did find three species, and Black-capped Petrels put on a good show in the wake, making close passes for our two keen photographers, who took thousands of photos. We've been saying it all along. The smaller boat is a great platform for photography, but so far few people have come along for that. At one point we had several Black-capped Petrels trailing in the wake, some of these a few hundred yards out. During this peak of activity, a smaller somewhat similar, but darker looking petrel joined the chum flock. Eventually it came by fairly close before moving on- Bermuda Petrel! We got a couple of quick photos to document the record.
This was out first August Cahow in a few years, and it was the fourth gadfly petrel for the Discovery trips aboard the F/V Skua, which just began this summer! It was also a new bird for our guest leader Kyle Kittelberger. My first Bermuda Petrel was one we saw off Oregon Inlet on July 31, 1993, which Kyle says was less than a year before he was born!
On Sunday we traveled a bit farther south in hopes of finding more shearwaters. Charter boats had reported good numbers just past the shelf break about 10 to 15 miles south of where we started on Saturday. We found a few Cory's, mostly resting birds, 
along w/ more Black-capped Petrels than we had seen the previous day, but it was not what we had hoped for. We also got very close to some roosting Black-capped Petrels, which is usually very hard to do, as they are famously skittish.  This photo is of a dark faced individual.
It seemed like the birds were pretty scattered and there was not much feeding going on except for what we had in our chum slick- again quite good for the Black-caps. We covered a lot of water, more than we did on Saturday. Finally, in the last hour we found what we were after. Kate Sutherland spotted dozens of shearwaters out on the horizon. I estimated it at two miles and we took off in pursuit. When we arrived on the scene, we found many Cory's Shearwaters and several Great Shearwaters. We also had great looks at Sooty Terns and a Pomarine Jaeger. The birds were moving quickly and feeding on bait fish driven to the surface by some larger fish, probably Skipjack Tuna. Ironically, all of this action is right where we had been the day before, which is how it usually goes around here. It was a great sight to see and working back toward the shelf break we saw a good number of Black-capped Petrels, but no new species. All in all, a great two days on the water.

Thanks to everyone who made these trips possible by joining us to head offshore, especially our photographers: Johannes Ferdinand (http://www.bird-lens.com/photos-2/pelagic-birds-off-shore-cape-hatteras/) from Germany & Jacob Spendelow of Virginia.  Photos by Kate Sutherland & Brian Patteson, trip lists on our website here.

A couple more shots of Black-capped Petrels from the weekend:
Cory's Shearwater
The light is tough in this photo, but it looks like there could be extensive white in the under primaries of this individual - possibly a nominate Cory's.  We had a few over the weekend that were good candidates!
Red-necked Phalaropes working in the sargassum.
Sooty Tern
A few shots of Bridled Terns from Saturday's trip, we did not turn any up on Sunday!
A Common Tern who came in to investigate our slick on Saturday.
 One of the juvenile Loggerheads after the release!
(site updated 9/7/2014)