Monday, February 29, 2016

Saturday February 27, 2016

Well, the weather was finally cooperative this month, but the water offshore...not so much!  We had an idea what we might find this past weekend, what we did not know was that the cooler water was way to the north offshore of Salvo!  As it was, it was a gorgeous day and our faithful gulls and gannets were hungry for our delicious mix of Menhaden chunks and ground beef fat (photo by Kate Sutherland).
A young Glaucous Gull flew into check us out before we were even through Hatteras Inlet!  This individual did not stick around for long but it was obliging enough for everyone aboard to have a good look before falling behind.  (Photo below courtesy of Middleton Evans)
A little after 0900 we had a Manx Shearwater fly by the boat and across the stern, not close, but not too far to identify naked eye, a nice surprise for the morning!  We saw a few Red Phalaropes, not very cooperative in the choppy water, and finally had a Northern Fulmar just after 1000!  Mark Vukovich was kind enough to let us use his Northern Fulmar image here!
At least a couple of these tubenoses made some close passes by the boat so that everyone could see them...a treat since only four were seen over the course of the day.  As we cruised offshore we saw some Loggerhead Turtles and collected more Lesser Black-backed Gulls behind the boat, our participants enjoyed studying these striking gulls (photo by Kate Sutherland).
We finally found a handful of Razorbills offshore of Salvo where there was some cooler, but not necessarily clearer, water.  Here also we discovered some Humpback Whales and more activity than we had seen to the south.  (photo of Razorbill with Salvo in the background by Kate Sutherland)
As we steamed back to Hatteras Inlet Brian spotted a large whale off the beach that turned out to be a North Atlantic Right Whale!  This species is quite rare, but migrates offshore of Cape Hatteras each winter.  The last time we had seen one on our winter trips was in 2008 so this was quite awesome!  This individual surfaced a few times and fluked twice while we were observing it!  Definitely the "bird of the day" for me and an excellent ending to our winter trips from Hatteras for 2016...(photo by Ned Brinkley)
Thanks again to everyone who joined us offshore this winter & thank you to Ned Brinkley for helping us lead this trip.  A big thank you to Middleton Evans & Mark Vukovich for allowing us to use their photos in the blog post!  It was a gorgeous day offshore!

Northern Fulmar  4
Manx Shearwater  1
Red Phalarope  5
Glaucous Gull (first winter)  1
Forster's Tern  14
Royal Tern  1
Razorbill  13

Northern Right Whale  1!
Humpback Whale  3
Bottlenose Dolphin  hundreds
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  2
Loggerhead Turtle  3

Northern Gannet (Kate Sutherland)
Third winter Lesser Black-backed Gull (Kate Sutherland)

& some more photos courtesy of Middleton Evans (thank you!!) below:

Excellent takes on our "squadron" that followed us for most of the day!
 Two awesome shots of the sharp looking Lesser Black-backed Gulls
Beautiful morning light on the Glaucous Gull
 We didn't see many Brown Pelicans, this one was quite photogenic
Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins
Humpback Whale off of the tri-villages
 & the Right Whale!!  Spectacular!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Saturday February 20, 2016 by Brian Patteson

It was a bit breezy for our pelagic trip this weekend, but there were no complaints about it being cold. Temperatures were in the mid to high 50s- about 30 degrees warmer than the last trip! The inshore waters south of the Cape were in the 60s, which is warm for February, but not that unusual because a strong southeaster (which we had on Monday) can bring water from the Gulf Stream in all the way to Diamond Shoals. I decided to go out around the shoals during the morning on our way to the northeast as the colder water had plunged southward over the previous couple of days such that it was a bit south of Diamond Tower according to the latest satellite images. Clouds had moved in and there was no image for Saturday morning to tell us that water had already started moving back up the beach, and we didn’t really find what we were looking for until we got about 10 miles northeast of the tower. There we found a nice color change and a strong break from mid 50s to high 60s.

Before we got to the change we already had a nice start with good numbers of fulmars, a Glaucous Gull (photo below by Irvin Pitts),
and plenty of Razorbills. The color change produced good numbers of Bonaparte’s Gulls and a modest number of Red Phalaropes (photo below by Irvin Pitts), the latter of which kept moving ahead of us as we followed this break.
There were also plenty of Razorbills on the change and they were very bold and close, perhaps on account of the choppy conditions. It seems like they are a bit more skittish when the sea is smooth. With the sea behind us mostly we had a decent ride along the change. We were about 14 miles off the beach and there were still a few Red-throated Loons and Forster’s Terns around. We had a quick look at a Dovekie, which flushed and flew away, and that kept us hoping for a better encounter. Our persistence paid off when we found a second Dovekie and that individual stayed put for a close study (photo by Kate Sutherland).
It was maybe a little too much a show off and we left after it had a close shave with a Herring Gull. Fortunately, it decided to dive when the gull tried to snatch it. We threw some chum and led the gulls back inshore. The inshore waters were cold and not so birdy. It was in the mid to high 40s north of the shoals, and the water was not very pretty, which explained all the auks out on the change. If the water is not too turbid, we usually find them closer to the beach.

I was expecting a rough ride back after we got across the shoals, but it really wasn’t that bad considering how hard the wind had been blowing from the south earlier. It slacked up a little bit in the afternoon and there was not as much wind near shore as there was out in the Gulf Stream. Unlike last weekend we did not encounter a skua on our way back, but it was a good day. It had been a great day for fulmars. This is not a species that we find in numbers every winter and on this trip we saw the range of variation, including the beautiful “Blue Fulmar”(photo by Kate Sutherland).
It was a good trip with good light for photography and lots of close hungry birds. I would like to thank everyone who joined us for the trip and our leaders, Kate Sutherland and Ellison Orcutt. As usual, Kate got some great photos to illustrate the report and participant Irvin Pitts let us use a few of his as well.

Target seabirds seen:
Northern Fulmar 32
Manx Shearwater 1
Red Phalarope 50
Dovekie 2
Razorbill 179

Loggerhead Turtle  8-10
Green Turtle  2
small sea turtle species  1

We also saw many Northern Gannets, Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, and Lesser Black-backed Gulls feeding in the chum all day and the Glaucous Gull was a nice bonus!

This was a lighter dark Northern Fulmar that visited the chum in nice light in the morning (Kate Sutherland)
 We saw at least four individual "Blue Fulmars" (photo by Irvin Pitts)
A second winter Herring Gull with a Northern Gannet (Kate Sutherland)
Two images (Kate Sutherland) of the extremely photogenic Northern Gannet.  These birds can look quite intent when following the boat - we only saw three or four subadult individuals on Saturday's trip.
Red Phalarope flying along the temperature break (Kate Sutherland)
A nice composition: Herring Gull & ocean! (Kate Sutherland)
First winter Lesser Black-backed Gull - we had at least 45 individual LBBGs visit us on Saturday! (Kate Sutherland)
A different perspective, but one we see often from the stern of the Stormy Petrel II! Third winter Lesser Black-backed Gull, from below (Kate Sutherland)
This little guy stuck around long enough for everyone aboard to have an excellent view! (Kate Sutherland)
 & one more Dovekie photo by Irvin Pitts!
One of the Razorbills we found on the temperature break, they were very cooperative for photographers! (Kate Sutherland)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Sunday February 14, 2016

Our weather window to make it offshore this President's Day weekend was very small...the forecast for Saturday grew increasingly unattractive as the week progressed, causing Brian to push back to our Sunday weather date as early as Thursday.  The temperatures were forecast to be below freezing all day on Sunday, adding yet another layer of difficulty in the form of freezing spray on our way to the ocean... Then Monday had south winds coming on in force too early in the day to make it work!  We made it on Sunday though, and were rewarded with incredible sharp temperature breaks of almost 20 degrees offshore, full of birds, plus sea smoke rising on the horizon visible from miles away!  Sea smoke, for those who have never experienced it, is a phenomenon produced by warm water temperatures and cold air temperatures.  We typically will find it over Gulf Stream waters on cold winter days off of Hatteras.  (photo below by Lev Frid)
Razorbills were flying by just outside of Hatteras Inlet, everyone was excited to get glimpses of our first alcids of the day!  We had a couple of flyby Dovekies after 1200, nice for those participants who were in place to see them, and by the end of the day Razorbills were just sitting on the water for approach!  (photo below by Amanda Guercio)
It is amazing that just last weekend we were struggling to get a good look at a Razorbill while Northern Fulmars were buzzing the stern - what a difference a week makes! While we did find some fulmars in the afternoon, they were all traveling, none were attracted to our chum like the individuals we encountered on last weekend's trip.  (photo below by Peter Flood)
Both white winged gulls visited us over the course of the day with two Iceland Gulls right off the bat in the morning and a gorgeous first cycle Glaucous Gull out on the temperature break offshore.  (photo by Amanda Guercio)
A young Little Gull was also cooperative enough to allow a fairly close approach early in the afternoon as it fed along the change with some Bonaparte's Gulls.  We thought we might be able to find another before the day was over, with over a thousand Bonaparte's Gulls lined up along the temperature break, but we had no more luck.  (photo below by Peter Flood)
Our gull and gannet flock was impressive and at times numbered in the hundreds! Unfortunately, the Great Skua that Brian spotted after 3 in the afternoon was not impressed and simply flew by at a distance with some other destination in sight.  This bird was south of Diamond Shoals, and while it was a little tough to see, it was visible naked eye from the boat.  (photos by Peter Flood)

This is the tenth consecutive year we have seen Great Skua aboard the Stormy Petrel II from Hatteras!  Some years we have seen them on as many as five trips, this was an excellent sighting...what a way to end the day!  We would like to thank everyone who came offshore with us this weekend and a big thank you also to Lev Frid and Peter Flood for traveling all the way to Hatteras to help us lead the trip!  Amanda Guercio also helped us as a spotter and all three of them kindly contributed photos for this post.  

Species of note are listed below, a more complete list of birds we saw offshore is on eBird under the Hatteras Winter Pelagic hotspot - please let me know if you would like me to share this list with you (Kate Sutherland

Northern Fulmar  8
Red Phalarope  12
Little Gull  1
Iceland Gull  2
Glaucous Gull  1
Great Skua  1
Dovekie  2
Razorbill  450

Loggerhead Turtle  4
Bottlenose Dolphin - seen
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  3
Hammerhead species  1

Northern Fulmar (by Peter Flood) - a few of these individuals made fairly close passes by the boat!
The Northern Gannets were hungry and very attentive behind the boat (by Lev Frid)
A couple of Red Phalaropes, these birds allowed us to get quite close to them when they were feeding with Bonaparte's Gulls along the temperature break!  (by Kate Sutherland)
Another image showing the small size of the Red Phalarope by Lev Frid
This gull was with us for hours behind the boat, it looked to be a darker Kumlien's Gull (by Kate Sutherland).
Lesser Black-backed Gulls were quite numerous all day on Sunday!  Our count of 60 is likely conservative.  It is always nice to have time to study all age classes of this striking gull!  (by Kate Sutherland)
 Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull (by Peter Flood)
This Razorbill was flying in the gull flock behind the boat!  (by Kate Sutherland)
Photographers aboard on Sunday were treated to many opportunities to capture these sometimes shy alcids!  (by Kate Sutherland)
One of the Loggerhead Turtles seen in the warmer Gulf Stream water (by Kate Sutherland)