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)

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