Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday May 31, 2015 by Steve NG Howell

The penultimate day of the Spring Blitz – and still the birds keep coming. Our commutes to and from the warm deep water produced the ‘usual’ scattering of shearwaters, including a couple of Manx, and even a Northern Gannet inside the sound, along with varied flyingfish as we entered the blue water and scattered golden Sargassum weed. Out in the deep ‘blue desert’ (see yesterday’s post) things got quiet and hot, like yesterday, but Brian persisted with working the slick, knowing from long experience that time + chum = birds. Our first backtrack down the slick produced excellent and repeated studies of Leach’s Storm-Petrels along with the Wilson’s. Some time later, the second backtrack produced good views of a molting Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, a species scarce in recent days. The wing molt identified this bird as a winter breeder of the population (= cryptic species) known as Grant’s Storm-Petrel, the most frequent type we see here.
As we worked the slick a couple of female/immature Mesoplodon beaked whales appeared and kept us company, seeming quite curious as they rode along beside the bow to offer amazing views – rarely do we see them let alone this well. The animals appeared consistent with Gervais’s Beaked Whale, a species first documented at sea (as opposed to by beach-washed specimens) on our trips not so many years ago! Our first Black-capped Petrel made a pass at the same time, and then it got quiet again: the patchiness of food (and birds) is typical of the blue desert.
        Scattered birds, including Black-capped Petrels, kept us looking, and then in early afternoon some jaegers and terns came in to the slick to join the Great and Cory’s Shearwaters. For quite a while we enjoyed excellent views of Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaegers, along with some Arctic Terns (including 2 first-summers) and a Common Tern. The call of ‘skua’ heralded the approach of a South Polar Skua, which made several passes and was chased at times by a Long-tailed Jaeger. But all too soon it was time to pull in the chum and head back to the ‘real world,’ passing through more flyingfish and a steady light flow of shearwaters as the shoreline appeared.

Thank you to everyone who joined us today!  Thanks to Steve Howell, Bob Fogg, and Jeff Lemons for helping us lead the trip and to Steve & Bob for today's blog photos!  Big thanks again to Steve for composing the trip report!  -Kate

Black-capped Petrel  9
Cory's Shearwater  78
Great Shearwater  12
Sooty Shearwater  2
Manx Shearwater  2
Audubon's Shearwater  18
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  84-94
Leach's Storm-Petrel  10
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  1
Oceanodroma sp.  3
Common Tern  1
Arctic Tern  6
South Polar Skua  2
Pomarine Jaeger  1
Parasitic Jaeger (identified by photo) 1
Long-tailed Jaeger  9
jaeger sp  2

Bottlenose Dolphin  6
Gervais' Beaked Whale  2-3
Loggerhead Turtle  1

Our first Black-capped Petrel of the day made a nice pass
 A more white faced Black-capped by Bob Fogg
On the way in this afternoon we had a Manx (left) & Sooty Shearwater flyby!  Photo by Bob Fogg
Leach’s Storm-Petrel – some sailed high in today’s calm conditions
Another Leach's Storm-Petrel photo by Bob Fogg
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel – the wing molt indicating Grant’s
Adult-type Common Tern – compare the molt contrast in the primaries with the uniform wings of Arctic
 And resting on the sea
Arctic Tern 1st summer, following a complete molt in its first winter – in Antarctica! Note the translucent primaries
Another image by Bob Fogg
Adult-type Arctic Tern – note the short neck, uniform generation primaries
South Polar Skua, adult starting wing molt
Same individual by Bob Fogg
Adult Pomarine Jaeger, probably a male given the clean creamy-white breast
Same individual feeding in the slick by Bob Fogg
2nd-summer Long-tailed Jaeger, superficially resembling Parasitic, but note the small bill and wire-like tail points
Female/immature presumed Gervais’s Beaked Whale (uncropped head shot!)
Oddspot Midget

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Out in the Blue Desert: A Tale of Three Jaegers (5/30/15 by Steve NG Howell)

Three days left of the 2015 Spring Blitz, and every day has been different. Today, after passing through a few shearwaters and jaegers on the transit offshore we came upon some dolphins, and then a feeding flock of Cory’s, Great, and Audubon’s Shearwaters near the shelf break – just like yesterday, but with nicer sea conditions, a low swell and light easterly wind. It was a pretty day to be out, and we enjoyed some great flyingfish as well. But then it got quiet, and hot. The tropical Atlantic is the second biggest desert on the planet (after the tropical Pacific), and by mid-late morning we came to appreciate that just because it’s full of water doesn’t mean it’s not a desert. The 360-degree vista of blue water was punctuated by only a handful of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels in the wake, as we headed deeper into the desert. Few people realize that Black-capped Petrel is an oceanic desert species, adapted to cover huge areas in search of food, and we did have a few nice views of this threatened gadfly petrel. But mostly it was hot and seemingly lifeless.
Around lunchtime, however, a cry of “jaeger in the wake” stirred folks to life, and one, then two, then three jaegers were behind the boat – two Long-tailed and a Parasitic, affording great comparisons. Then a Pomarine Jaeger came in, a few more Long-taileds, and a couple more Pomarines – wow! For well over an hour we got to study all three jaeger species together, including 1st-summer, 2nd-summer, and adult-type of both Long-tailed and Pomarine, along with an uncharacteristically cooperative 2nd-summer Parasitic. A few Great and Cory’s Shearwaters joined the fray as numbers of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels increased – we had found an oasis of birds out in the desert. A Bridled Tern and a very obliging Arctic Tern appeared, and then Kate spotted a Scopoli’s Shearwater in the wake, amid the ‘blizzard’ of jaegers. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and surely millions of electrons were captured by the digital cameras on board!

Heading back we enjoyed more flyingfish, and closer inshore a couple of Manx Shearwaters flew by. Well within sight of land Bob spotted a skua on the water and Brian pulled the boat right up to a very confiding South Polar Skua - nice. A few more shearwaters, some Spotted Dolphins, and a turtle rounded out the transit back to the inlet after ‘just another amazing day at sea.’ As they say, ‘today was typical of today.’ You never know what you’ll see, or when.

Thanks to our leaders: Steve Howell, Bob Fogg, & Jeff Lemons - and thank you to Steve & Bob for the blog photos!  Big "Thank You" to Steve for writing today's post and some of the captions, he very kindly gave me more time to sleep tonight!!  -Kate

Black-capped Petrel  5
Cory's Shearwater  130
Great Shearwater  36-37
Sooty Shearwater  2
Manx Shearwater  4
Audubon's Shearwater  19
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  80
Leach's Storm-Petrel  3
Oceanodroma sp  1
Bridled Tern  1
Arctic Tern  6
South Polar Skua  1
skua sp  2
Pomarine Jaeger  3
Parasitic Jaeger  1
Long-tailed Jaeger  11

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  10-12
Bottlenose Dolphin  25-30
Loggerhead Turtle  2

Photos: Steve's have his name on the photo, Bob Fogg's are labeled!
Black-capped Petrel, white-faced
Audubon's Shearwater
Cory's & Audubon's Shearwaters by Bob Fogg
Cory's Shearwater by Bob Fogg
Scopoli's (nominate Cory's) Shearwater
Bridled Tern by Bob Fogg
Bridled Tern & Long-tailed Jaeger by Bob Fogg
Adult Arctic Tern
 by Bob Fogg
South Polar Skua on the water by Bob Fogg
1st-summer Long-tailed Jaeger, the first bird
1st-summer Long-tailed Jaeger, the second bird
1st summer Long-tailed, dorsal by Bob Fogg
2nd-summer Long-tailed Jaeger, dorsal
2nd-summer Long-tailed Jaeger, ventral – note the barring under the wings
Adult-type Long-tailed Jaeger
 Adult-type Long-tailed by Bob Fogg
Parasitic Jaeger 2nd summer dorsal
Pomarine Jaeger 1st summer ventral with retained juvenile outer primaries and middle secondaries
Pomarine Jaeger subadult (some underwing barring)
Pomarine Jaeger adult-type
Jaeger 3-way: Parasitic 2nd summer below, Long-tailed 1st-summer at top (nearer camera, so looks big!) and 1st-summer Pomarine on right
Jaeger 3-way with Great Shearwater: Parasitic 2nd summer left, Long-tailed 1st-summer middle, and 1st-summer Pomarine on right (bleached and retained juvenile outer primaries create false Long-tailed upperwing pattern)
Pomarine (behind) and Long-tailed Jaegers, 1st-summers
Pomarine (left) and Long-tailed Jaegers, adults
Portuguese man o' war
 Purple Bandwing
 Rosy-veined Clearwing

Friday May 29, 2015

Clouds and distant rain greeted us this morning as we headed to the south from Hatteras Inlet.  The forecast was for light easterly winds and maybe some rain in the morning, but we were treated to a bit more wind than forecasted!  Shearwaters were just outside of the inlet as they have been the past few days, but we were lucky to have a closer encounter with South Polar Skuas this morning than we had on the 27th & 28th.  Four individuals crossed the stern, nearshore, before 0700!  Before we slowed down we had added Cory's, Great, Sooty, & Audubon's Shearwaters plus Long-tailed & Pomarine Jaegers to the list!  Even a couple of Wilson's Storm-Petrels flew by.  We slowed at 0821 and ended up heading back inshore a bit to investigate a shearwater flock that flared up on the horizon.  This flock held a couple of Bridled Terns plus more jaegers, Arctic Terns, and shearwaters, at the end of a rainbow.  After checking them out, we turned back on our course towards deeper water where we might find some Black-cappeds.  The first individual did not turn up until after 1000!  Black-cappeds were tough to see well at first, as is typically the case on days like this, but we ended up having some nice passes before the day was over, and all aboard got their eyes on our Gulf Stream specialty!

The Gulf Stream current has been moving swiftly the last few days, so we headed down south to the triple zeros in case we got carried too quickly to the north.  Once we arrived, though, the current was a bit less than it has been, allowing us some flexibility and we were able to chase many flocks of shearwaters over the course of the day.  Awesome and humbling begin to describe the feeling when arriving at a feeding flock of seabirds.  Fish are leaping out of the water, birds scrambling to catch them, and succeeding, as can be seen in this photo by Steve Howell of a Great Shearwater with a halfbeak.
This is a spectacle rarely witnessed in the spring off of Hatteras;  we were excited to find so much activity offshore!  The easterlies are still providing us with jaegers & skuas, Leach's Storm-Petrels, and nice counts, not to mention views, of Arctic Terns.  The latter were present in our last flock of the day where we also found some Manx Shearwaters.  One of the birds landed and then flew off, but the other rested on the water near an Audubon's allowing close study of the two superficially similar birds on the water and taking off!  We had many aboard who had never ventured offshore from Hatteras and they had a full day studying the "regulars" and then some!

Thanks to everyone who joined us, and to our leaders Steve Howell, Bob Fogg, Seabird McKeon, and Jeff Lemons

Black-capped Petrel  21
Cory's Shearwater  256-261
Great Shearwater  161-164
Sooty Shearwater  9-10
Manx Shearwater  3
Audubon's Shearwater  40
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  90-95
Leach's Storm-Petrel  5
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  2
Oceanodroma sp  3
Bridled Tern  2
Arctic Tern  15+
South Polar Skua  4
Pomarine Jaeger  5
Parasitic Jaeger  1
Long-tailed Jaeger  9
jaeger sp  5

Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin  14

There were birds at the end of the rainbow this morning!  (Steve Howell)

Black-capped Petrels (by Steve Howell)
 by Bob Fogg
Feeding Cory's & Great Shearwaters (Steve Howell)
Cory's & Great Shearwaters (Bob Fogg)
Sooty Shearwater (Bob Fogg)
Manx Shearwater (Bob Fogg)
 Audubon's (L), Manx (R), & Cory's (Center) Shearwaters (Bob Fogg)
Audubon's Shearwater (Steve Howell)
1st summer Arctic Tern (Steve Howell)
 Arctic Tern (Bob Fogg)
South Polar Skua (Bob Fogg)
Long-tailed Jaeger (Bob Fogg)
& some flyingfish by Steve Howell:  Atlantic Patching
 Atlantic Necromancer
 Sargassum Midgett
 Small Clearwing