Monday, June 29, 2015

Friday June 26, 2015 - Discovery Series

Brian made the decision to switch this weekend's trips to the "big" boat (Stormy Petrel II) midweek, yes, the forecast was that bad!  But we were able to add a couple more participants to our Discovery trip group from Michigan, so it worked out well!  Friday morning there was a line of storms to the north of us that looked quite menacing and seemed to be moving to the south.  After a short delay to check the radar and talk to some other captains, Brian decided to head out there and we left the dock right around 0600.  There was rain, wind, and lightning, but the first Black-capped Petrel of the day flew by the boat before we had a close look at a Cory's Shearwater, and in only 150 feet of water!  We ran out a little farther before slowing around 0900.  The wind was brisk from the north east and a few Black-capped Petrels looked hungry in the slick, so we decided to drift a bit (photo by Brian Patteson).
The "confused" sea (meaning the waves were from multiple directions) made it a little uncomfortable on the drift, but the birds were amazing!  We had our first Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
come in fairly close on the slick with the Wilson's (BRSP on the right, photo by Kate Sutherland), and even a Leach's Storm-Petrel showed up!  The Black-cappeds were joined by some Great Shearwaters feeding on chum and a Cory's Shearwater flew closely by the stern.  A Manx Shearwater was glimpsed flying ahead of the boat, but did not return for a close pass, the conditions did not make it easy to get on birds zipping by with the wind.  Fortunately all of our visitors to the slick made nice close passes so everyone could see them well, even without binoculars! (Cory's Shearwater by Kate Sutherland)
The wind combined with the chum made a very productive and busy slick for most of the day and we had excellent views of the Mediterranean Cory's, also known as Scopoli's Shearwater, plus the Band-rumped Storm-Petrels came in right behind the boat!  Audubon's Shearwaters were not present in large numbers, but we had some nice looks at them flying by - not the best day for spotting them on the water!  The bird of the day was a sharp looking Sooty Tern that flew right to the boat and around before moving on.  This was the first Sooty Tern of the year for us, summer is almost here offshore!

Thanks to everyone who came out with us and made the trip possible, we had another trip scheduled for Saturday, but thunderstorms offshore right where we needed to go caused us to cancel it, even for the "big" boat!

Black-capped Petrel  37
Cory's Shearwater  36
Great Shearwater  26-27
Manx Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  8
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  130-150
Leach's Storm-Petrel  3
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  8
Oceanodroma sp.  1
Sooty Tern  1

Royal Tern  2
Common Tern  1

Black-capped Petrel (Brian Patteson)
Cory's Shearwaters (Kate Sutherland)
Great Shearwaters (Brian Patteson)
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel with a Great Shearwater in the background (Kate Sutherland)
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - most of the individuals we saw were the "Grant's" type pictured here (Kate Sutherland)

Monday, June 15, 2015

June 12 & 13, 2015

Weather this spring has been quite variable and unexpected, bringing in a nice diversity of birds for the Spring Blitz and following trips.  The forecast for Friday & Saturday included wind, lots of it on Saturday, from the west south west.  Usually these winds are excellent for Black-capped Petrels so we were anticipating some amazing encounters with our "signature species" on these trips.  Most of our participants were unfamiliar with the species offshore here, so while the sought after rarities (many times people forget that Black-cappeds are rare themselves!) were no shows, the expected species turned out well with a few surprises!  And the sunrises were spectacular!

Friday morning the first arrivals at the boat were five unpaid passengers.  They would not be returning to the dock since we planned to throw them overboard, and they were less than a year old!!  The Lohmanns, professors at UNC Chapel Hill, brought satellite tagged Loggerhead Turtles to release in the Gulf Stream!  Monster & Mushu were two turtles we released for them last year, but no one from the lab was able to accompany them on their journey offshore so we released them, taking data about the release to send to the lab.  This was the first time the Lohmanns (seen here photographing & releasing one of the turtles)
had ever encountered the Gulf Stream, and they were fascinated to see where their turtles, raised in captivity, would spend the next phase of their lives.  These small turtles will be reporting their location via the transmitters affixed to their shells for up to about 150 days each time they surface!  The Lohmanns promise to share their findings when they have them, we promise to keep you posted on the Lohmann Turtle Project, you can also check out their website here!  Click here to see a short video of Monster's release last summer.

Moonlight was scarce out there this past weekend, so we had a pretty good idea that the Black-capped Petrels would respond well to the chum.  They did not disappoint!  Here is a Black-capped by Brian Patteson getting ready to drop down to the water to feed on some shark liver:
And here you can see a fresh (possible juvenile) white-faced type Black-capped Petrel (center) feeding in the slick with Wilson's Storm-Petrels, Cory's (right), and Great (left) Shearwaters (photo by Kate Sutherland).
Friday we were thrilled to see a few Leach's Storm-Petrels!  They came in close to feed in the chum, as did Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, which were seen very well each day, though numbers were not what we had last weekend.  Pictured here is one of the typical "Grant's" type birds in primary molt (photo by Kate Sutherland).  This time of year while it's obvious that the molting birds we see are likely the "Grant's" type, fresh individuals of this type are also possible.
Cory's Shearwaters were seen well each day and we had a Scopoli's Shearwater stay with us in the slick on Friday for an extended period of time!  Great Shearwaters were also obliging, diving and eating right behind the boat.  Cory's pictured here in the front with a Great behind (photo by Kate Sutherland).
Our bonus species were a Pomarine Jaeger on Saturday that flew up the slick, and a South Polar Skua (a juvenile, upon inspection!) that I spotted about a mile ahead of the boat on a grassline beating up on some shearwaters.  Brian chased the skua and we found it right were he predicted, sitting on the water!  (photo by Jeff Lemons)
Overall it was an awesome, breezy two days offshore!  We would like to thank everyone who joined us and especially thank Jeff Lemons & Nate Swick for helping to lead the trip.  Thanks to Jeff for also contributing photos.

Trip Lists (June 12, 13):
Black-capped Petrel  13-14, 25
Cory's Shearwater  53, 11
Great Shearwater  14, 5-6
Audubon's Shearwater  27, 13
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  95, 140
Leach's Storm-Petrel  3-4, 0
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  7-8, 5-7
Pomarine Jaeger  0, 1
South Polar Skua  0, 1
Spotted Dolphin  3, 0

Black-capped Petrel (Brian Patteson)
 White-faced Black-capped Petrel (Kate Sutherland)
 Molting & fresh individuals (Kate Sutherland)
 Black-capped (Jeff Lemons)
Cory's Shearwater (Jeff Lemons)
 Cory's Shearwaters (Kate Sutherland)
Great Shearwater & Wilson's Storm-Petrel (Jeff Lemons)
Fresh Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (Kate Sutherland)  
 Molting Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (Kate Sutherland)
Pomarine Jaeger from Saturday on the water in the slick (Kate Sutherland)
 & in flight (Jeff Lemons)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Black-capped Petrels in their element: 7 June 2015 by Steve NG Howell

Another great day offshore, and one filled with birds. But it was windy, with 20-25 knots out of the northeast against the Gulf Stream, and the seas were spectacular at times, with translucent sapphire bands below the white caps of the biggest waves. Even so, the Stormy Petrel 2 rode the swells easily and we spent a fair amount of time drifting comfortably at slicks as Black-capped Petrels wheeled around, in their element – wind. About a third of the Black-caps today were dark-faced types, and two-thirds white-faced. The white-faced birds were in obvious wing molt, whereas the dark-faced birds were not yet molting (see blog post from 5 June). At times they fed almost at arm’s length, pattering like storm-petrels just off the back of the boat!
Among the constant flock of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, several Band-rumped and Leach’s Storm-Petrels gave repeated good views. As is typical, most Band-rumps were winter-breeding Grant’s types, but there was at least one full-winged bird, likely a Madeiran type. We also enjoyed good views of 2nd-summer Arctic and Common Terns, a stunning adult Pomarine Jaeger, and a challenging 1st-summer Parasitic Jaeger.

Also memorable were the large shearwaters. We found one feeding flock on our way offshore, and another couple of flocks offshore and on the return. Add to this the near constant Great Shearwaters following us (with numerous juveniles now in evidence, unlike only a few days ago), along with Cory’s and Scopoli’s Shearwaters often behind the boat, and it was one of the best opportunities one could wish for to repeatedly compare these species. We also saw a few Audubon’s Shearwaters and some nice flyingfish, but the high swells were not conducive to seeing any marine mammals.

Today is the culmination of 18 days offshore for Brian & me (out of 19).  Thanks to Steve & Judith for joining us today and a big thanks to Steve Howell & Nick Bonomo for helping us lead the trip & for contributing their photos for the blog!  Thanks again to Steve for composing our posts for the past many days!  -Kate

Black-capped Petrel  41-44
Cory's Shearwater  254-264
Great Shearwater  79-86
Audubon's Shearwater  25-27
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  194-219
Leach's Storm-Petrel  2-3
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  9-12
Bridled Tern  1
Arctic Tern  4
Common Tern  2
Sterna sp  5
Pomarine Jaeger  1
Parasitic Jaeger  1

Dark-faced Black-capped Petrel
 Presumed first summer white-faced Black-capped Petrel pattering in the slick!
 Same individual as above, in flight
 The same white-faced Black-capped Petrel that was actively feeding in the slick, two images by Nick Bonomo
 Dark-faced Black-capped
One of a few shearwater flocks we encountered today!
Audubon's Shearwaters were tough to get a good look at in the large seas today.
Wilson's Storm-Petrel by Nick Bonomo
 Wilson's Storm-Petrels with today's waves!
Leach's Storm-Petrel
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - fresh individual (presumed Madeiran)
 Another fresh Band-rumped Storm-Petrel by Nick Bonomo
 Molting Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (Grant's) by Nick Bonomo
Another molting individual
Arctic Tern by Nick Bonomo
 By Steve Howell
Pomarine Jaeger that was at one of the shearwater flocks this afternoon!
First summer Parasitic Jaeger
Atlantic Patchwing

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Saturday June 6, 2015 by Steve NG Howell

Today’s seas offshore were less confused than yesterday, although it was still somewhat choppy, with a northerly wind pushing against the northward-flowing Gulf Stream. We found feeding flocks of shearwaters on our way out and back, including excellent views of Cory’s and Great, along with some nice Audubon’s and a few terns. Out in the Gulf Stream we had a steady following of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, among which a number of Band-rumped and a few worn-plumaged 1st-summer Leach’s Storm-Petrels made appearances. The Band-rumpeds were mainly winter-breeding Grant’s types in wing molt, but there was also one fresh-plumaged, presumed summer-breeding adult, perhaps a Madeiran type. As with yesterday, Scopoli’s Shearwaters showed well behind the boat along with ‘typical’ Cory’s and several Greats. Black-capped Petrels put in regular appearances, with an increased proportion of black-faced types (see yesterday’s post) and numerous nice passes at the stern. Some Bottlenose Dolphins row the bow for a while, and on the return journey flyingfish showed well, mainly Atlantic Patchwings and Oddspot Midgets.
The day’s highlight, however, was shortly after 9.15, when a dark morph Trinidade Petrel made a close pass of the bow, showing well for all on board! This scarce petrel breeds on islets off Brazil and is a rare but regular (= annual) visitor to Gulf stream waters off Hatteras. The name is also spelled Trindade, and this was formerly considered a subspecies of Herald Petrel – talk about confusing, and don’t ask us how to pronounce it!

Thank you to everyone who joined us today and to Jamie Cameron, Steve NG Howell, and Nick Bonomo for helping to lead the trip today!  -Kate

Trindade Petrel  1 (dark individual)
Black-capped Petrel  22
Cory's Shearwater  71-76
Great Shearwater  9-10
Audubon's Shearwater  8
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  132-142
Leach's Storm-Petrel  3
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  8
Arctic Tern  2
Common Tern  2
Sterna sp  5
Laughing Gull  1

Bottlenose Dolphin  7

Trindade Petrel, ventral view by Nick Bonomo
 Coming in head on...Trindade Petrel by Nick Bonomo
 Dorsal view of Trinidad Petrel
 Arcing on the horizon...
Black-capped Petrel
 Another Black-capped photo by Nick Bonomo
Nominate Cory's Shearwater, also known as Scopoli's Shearwater by Nick Bonomo
Great Shearwater (top) Black-capped Petrel (bottom) Wilson's Storm-Petrel (left)
Audubon's Shearwater by Nick Bonomo
 Two more photos of Audubon's Shearwater, it was nice to have some cooperative individuals!
Two images of Leach's Storm-Petrel
Fresh (possible Madeiran)  Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
 Another image by Nick Bonomo