Saturday, June 25, 2016

Saturday June 25, 2016 Beehives... by Kate Sutherland

A perfect sunrise was our backdrop as we headed to Hatteras Inlet this morning in light, westerly winds.  Quite a contrast to yesterday when it was blowing and choppy!  There was a little swell as we headed offshore and like yesterday, it was not very birdy on our way to the edge of the shelf.  Once we slowed down though, it was not long before Nick Bonomo spotted a beehive a short distance ahead!  Beehives are the backbone of summer pelagic trips here, anything is possible and you just never know what might pop in.  Last year on May 25, we found a Bermuda Petrel with an early spring beehive - a bird that stayed with the feeding group (and us) for almost 45 minutes!  So to begin the day with one of these dome shaped feeding flocks of shearwaters and petrels...well, it felt like summer might really be here!  This group of almost 200 birds was comprised mostly of Cory's & Great Shearwaters (photo by Kate Sutherland)
with some Audubon's, a couple of Black-capped Petrels on the periphery, and the star of the day: a Manx Shearwater!  We stayed with these birds for almost an hour and at one point the Manx was on the water right under the bow (photo by Nick Bonomo)!!
Even a couple of Royal Terns came in to check out the activity!  By 1000 the wind had shifted to the north & picked up a bit - our slick was a magnet for Band-rumped Storm-Petrels (photo by Nick Bonomo) and Black-capped Petrels, and of course, some Wilson's Storm-Petrels!
With the wind the Black-cappeds were fearless, buzzing by the stern as they dropped to the slick to feed on some delicious fish - they were not interested in the dead, previously frozen, squid I tried feeding them (photo by Kate Sutherland).
As we neared the shelf break after 1:30 in the afternoon, there was a flight line of shearwaters moving across the bow - temperature break?  Some type of change, or condition?  As we neared these shearwaters and looked to the left, a beehive was forming right there!  Brian ran into the current to catch up with the small swarm that was growing by the minute, birds streaming in...  Soon we found ourselves in our second beehive of the day, this one was majority Great Shearwaters with Cory's, a few Audubon's, Wilson's, a Black-capped plus a bonus Band-rumped!  While we see many beehives over the course of a summer in the Gulf Stream, this was unique because we were there for the beginning.  We did not see what it was that the birds were chasing, but did see some of them scampering after Atlantic Patchwings and Oddspot Midgets!  Another amazing adventure in the beautiful blue waters of the Gulf Stream!  Thanks to Nick Bonomo for helping to lead the trip (and recruiting our only participants to attend both trips!) and thank you again to everyone who joined us out there!  Next weekend is booked, but we have space on the rest of our trips this summer - July 15, 16, 29, & 30 and August 5, 6, 12, 13, 26, 27, & 28!

Trip List for June 25, 2016

Black-capped Petrel  14-16
Cory's Shearwater  150 (a few nominate type birds)
Great Shearwater  175
Manx Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  62
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  75
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  9-10

Royal Tern  2

Bottlenose Dolphin  5

The Black-capped show today was incredible!  (photo by Nick Bonomo)
It was really nice to have time to compare the Manx Shearwater (top) and Audubon's (bottom) (photos by Nick Bonomo):
Here is a photo of an Audubon's with a small fish at the first beehive...(photo by Kate Sutherland)
We did not have huge numbers of Wilson's Storm-Petrels today, but they were cooperative in the slick!  (photo by Kate Sutherland)
& the Band-rupmeds came quite close over the course of the day as well!  (photos by Kate Sutherland)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday June 24, 2016 First Trip of Summer by Kate Sutherland

A southwester has kept most of the boats in Hatteras at the dock this past week, and without a clear satellite image this morning to see what the Gulf Stream looked like, we were hoping for the best!  The winds were still quite brisk this morning as well (from the southwest, of course!), and birds were not very active as we headed offshore...though we did see a Black-capped Petrel in just 150 feet of water!!  It took some time to gather birds behind the boat, but when they came in, we had quite a nice following flock made up of Great & Cory's Shearwaters, Wilson's & Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, and even some Black-capped Petrels early in the afternoon!  Numbers were not high, but the views were just stunning with Great Shearwaters diving right behind the boat,
Wilson's pattering nearby on the slick, and Band-rumpeds making some excellent close passes by the stern.  At one point when we turned back to check out a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
a South Polar Skua flared up in the slick over our shearwaters.  This bird did not stick around though, so while it was close, everyone was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to catch a glimpse of it before it moved on.  Sargassum was very sparse and scattered, but the Audubon's Shearwaters were getting up high with the wind so we saw quite a few over the course of the day popping up above the horizon, sometimes a distance away.  A few very obliging individuals flew right by the boat for some excellent photo ops and views!
Hopes were not high for a Bridled Tern with the grass in short supply and no perches in sight...but we chummed one right in an hour and a half before our time was up!  This young bird flew right in to the stern and made some nice passes in the slick, flying back to us multiple times for everyone to see.
By the time we headed toward the inlet, the seas were a bit calmer and gave us a nice ride back in.  It was an awesome first trip of the summer, we'd like to thank everyone who joined us for the adventure, especially Nick Bonomo, who helped us lead the trip today!  (All of the photos today are by me, Kate Sutherland)

Trip List June 24, 2016

Black-capped Petrel  25-26
Cory's Shearwater  42
Great Shearwater  44
Audubon's Shearwater  34
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  55-60
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  6-8
Oceanodroma sp.  2
Bridled Tern  1
South Polar Skua  1

Royal Tern  1

Black-capped Petrels were very obliging today!
We did have one classic dark individual - compare the underwing of the bird pictured below with the white-faced bird underneath.  It was really nice to have time to observe these individuals!
We did have one nominate type Cory's - also known as Scopoli's Shearwater
& a couple more photos of the Bridled Tern - what an awesome find!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Saturday June 11, 2016 Diablotin by Kate Sutherland

Morning dawned with little wind, after yesterday's confused washing machine seas in the Gulf Stream, we headed offshore with a gorgeous sunrise to the east and calm seas ahead!
The knowledge was with us, however, that the forecast was for the wind to pick up in the afternoon from the while we enjoyed the morning, we looked forward to the afternoon when winds would get our seabirds up and flying, not to mention carry the delicious (it's all relative..!) scent of our slick a bit farther!  Shearwaters were inshore of the shelf break along a nice sargassum line, so we slowed to enjoy close, leisurely views of Audubon's, a species we only caught a glimpse of yesterday.  Cory's and Great Shearwaters were present and we even had a nice shearwater flock over some Skipjack close to where we slowed down.  It took some time to get the first Black-capped Petrel and one did not appear until we were observing our second Band-rumped Storm-Petrel of the morning (a species we did not even glimpse yesterday!).
The winds steadily increased midday and our feeding group of shearwaters and storm-petrels in the slick increased as well with some Black-capped Petrels showing a healthy interest in our fish oil & chum blocks!  Two of these birds were sharp looking, fresh individuals!
The feathers looked fairly uniform on both, perhaps indicating younger birds.  Many times when we have younger birds visiting the slick, they stay for some time feeding and show little to no fear of the boat - though some stiff winds help any Black-capped feel more secure passing closely!  These two today stayed with us for some time, feeding with the shearwaters and just about flying over the stern!  Just from the numbers of Black-cappeds we see off of Hatteras it is obvious that there are unknown nesting populations.  As recently as 2015 evidence showed that they are nesting on Dominica, it is also possible that Cuba, or other locations in the Caribbean, could host colonies.  I still am amazed, and humbled, that there are unknowns with our present day knowledge ever expanding, not to mention all of the technological tools available to us!  Fortunately in the Gulf Stream the Diablotin continues to rule, and we can stand in awe, watching these children of the wind.

It was nice to have close encounters with our Gulf Stream specialties today after spending most of yesterday with fairly low numbers of birds (though the European Storm-Petrel kept us entertained for much of the day!!).  We even found our first Pilot Whales of the season this morning, and they watched us watching them...a couple were spy hopping right next to the boat!  A big thank you to Chloe Walker, who helped us on eight trips this spring!  Thank you also to Jeff Lemons & Sage Church for helping us lead the trips this weekend - and of course thank you to everyone who joined us for a trip to the Gulf Stream this spring!  So far 2016 has been a spectacular year!

Trip List June 11, 2016
Black-capped Petrel  17-20
Cory's Shearwater  95
Great Shearwater  40
Audubon's Shearwater  56
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  115-120
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  6
Oceanodroma sp.  2
Common Tern  1

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  10
Bottlenose Dolphin  2
Pilot Whales (prob Short-finned)  14

A few more Black-capped images:
It was interesting to see the difference in the underwing patterns of these two birds!
And in examining the many photos I took, it seems that there is some contrast between the primaries & secondaries indicating that these birds are maybe a couple of years old.  
The most numerous shearwater today was Cory's, while we saw many that gave us pause as we searched for a nominate bird, most had intermediate amounts of white in the underprimaries like this one pictured below:
I think my 400mm lens was a bit much for the Pilot Whales!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Friday June 10, 2016 The Euro by Brian Patteson

After a couple of days ashore and a couple of days of fishing charters, we were back out to sea with a birding trip today on the Stormy Petrel II.  Winds were westerly at the dock, but by the time we reached our destination in the Gulf Stream we had northerly winds in excess of 20 knots. Fortunately the current was not running too hard and although the seas were a bit confused they were not steep. We had a load of juvenile Loggerhead Sea Turtles aboard from the Lohmann Lab at UNC, so our first order of business was to release them back into the wild (photo of Sage Church with one of the Lohmann's Loggerheads!).
We cut them loose in about 1000 feet of water and then started chumming and working farther out to sea.  There were a few shearwaters cruising around and it did not take very long to attract a few storm-petrels. Not all of the birds were keeping pace with the boat, however, so around 0908 I decided to turn back and survey the slick.  About this same time, Kate noticed a European Storm-Petrel in the slick, so we put out a little more chum and pulled up into the wind. Fortunately it did not take long for the Euro to fall in line with the Wilson’s and we had the bird at point blank range in excellent light (photo by Brian Patteson). 
I’ve seen several of these birds here off Cape Hatteras since 2005, but this was the best we have ever had it. The bird was very close to the boat for long periods and ultimately stayed around for most of the day- at least four hours! It seemed odd to be waiting for a good look at Black-capped Petrel – which we did get, but Black-caps were scarce today. Probably many of them chased the last tropical storm out to sea, and it will take time for the numbers to build back up here. We ventured well offshore hoping for some new tubenoses, but all we came up with was a couple of jaegers. The Long-tailed put in a quite a show sparring with a Black-capped Petrel a few times (photo by Kate Sutherland),
and we had a nice comparison of Long-tailed and Parasitic when they arrived at the slick. A Leach’s Storm-Petrel also put in a brief appearance in the early afternoon, but the inshore tack was a bit slow, possibly because we had to tack into the wind a bit. Once we were in the lee of Diamond Shoals the ride got much better and we made good time back to the inlet. The wind has fallen out since then and I am hoping for smooth seas tomorrow morning for the ride out at least. Thanks to Kate Sutherland, Jeff Lemons, and Chloe Walker for leading the trip today.

Trip List June 10, 2016
Black-capped Petrel  7
Cory's Shearwater  15-20
Great Shearwater  20-30
Manx Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  10
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  70-75
European Storm-Petrel  1
Leach's Storm-Petrel  1
Oceanodroma sp.  1
Black Tern  1
Parasitic Jaeger  1
Long-tailed Jaeger  1

Loggerhead Turtle  1 adult
*Released 9 young Loggerhead Turtles for the Lohmann Lab at UNC Chapel Hill, all just under a year of age!

And we must post some more photos of the Euro...!!  Top photo by Kate Sutherland, all of the others are by Brian Patteson (yes, he came out of the wheelhouse to photograph this bird!!!).


And everyone else seems so routine after that...!  Great Shearwaters are here and we had up to 12 at once feeding and diving in the slick today!  (photo by Kate Sutherland)
 A shot of the very cooperative Long-tailed Jaeger (Kate Sutherland)
We were lucky enough to see an adult Loggerhead while we were out there today!  (Kate Sutherland)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sunday June 5, 2016 Sou'wester Surprise by Brian Patteson

I had high hopes when we headed out this morning. After two days with just a little bit of wind, we had a fair breeze this morning and it was forecast to continue through the day. It was a bit bumpy in the green water, but when we reached the Gulf Stream the seas had a nice spread. There was no rain this morning, but the birds were on the move. The morning hours were productive, but the birds did not want to follow us much as we quartered into the wind so the current would not push us too far up the break. The Gulf Stream was moving swiftly out in the deep. Black-capped Petrels (photo below by Will Brooks) and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels arrived as if on cue today, but overall diversity of seabirds was on the low side, and numbers were modest.
Sargassum has been comparatively scarce lately, but we did find some fair sized streaks about 28 to 30 miles out. Kate spotted a dark bird off the bow that looked odd and it was feeding over the Sargassum. Although we never got great looks at it, it appeared to be a Brown Noddy. I tried to chase after it, but we were getting too much spray from the wind chop. It was frustrating, but a reminder that the birds and conditions do not always work out for us to get a good look. After we got about as far north as I felt we should go, I started an inshore tack toward the shelf break. We jumped a few Black-capped Petrels along the way in, but the highlight was when Chloe Walker spotted a light morph Trindade Petrel. It was a good view for those who were there when it came by, but it did not stick around for a second look.  This was our seventh Trindade Petrel for the year and our second light morph.  We tried to lure the Trindade Petrel back with more chum, but all we got was great close looks at three Band-rumped Storm-Petrels (photo by Kate Sutherland).
After that it was time to head back to shore. The ride back was uneventful but not too rough. I would like thank Kate Sutherland and Chloe Walker for helping to lead today’s trip, which was the 15th in 15 days for Kate and I.  That was a good run, but still four days short of our 19 day run in 2009. As usual it was great to be out there every day for two weeks and get a feel for the season, which was very different from last year.  I would like to thank everyone who made it possible - our trip participants and our outstanding crew of guides, most of whom did several days this spring.  It was a good time and I’m glad we were able to run all but one of the trips so far this spring.  Thank you also to participant Will Brooks who allowed us to use some of his photos from today here!

Trip List June 5, 2016
Trindade Petrel (light)  1
Black-capped Petrel  34
Cory's Shearwater  53
Great Shearwater  2
Audubon's Shearwater  16
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  80
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  6
Noddy sp - likely a Brown Noddy  1

We had a few Cory's following the boat today and while I did not see it at the time, this bird had some extensively white under primaries, not quite enough for a certain id as Scopoli's, but more than would be seen in an Atlantic Cory's...  There is so much variation!  (Kate Sutherland)
 The Cory's were quite attentive in the slick today (Kate Sutherland)
One Great Shearwater made a couple of nice passes, but did not stick around in the slick (photo by Will Brooks)
Our Wilson's Storm-Petrels gathered up quite well on our drifts (top photo by Will Brooks, bottom by Kate Sutherland)
We had some really good luck with Band-rumpeds!  This photo is of the same individual as above (in the post) taken by Will Brooks.
 & a fresh individual from the afternoon slick...(Kate Sutherland)
One of our first Band-rumpeds of the day!  The molt looked quite typical for the "Grant's" type (Kate Sutherland)
On the way back to Hatteras Inlet, I took position in the bow pulpit to attempt some photos of flyingfish.  This looks like an Atlantic Patchwing with some rosy wings (Kate Sutherland)!
I was hoping this was a different species with the wholly dark tail fork, but it seems to be a Patchwing or variant there of...!!