Saturday, July 30, 2016

Saturday July 30, 2016 by Kate Sutherland

This morning dawned much calmer than yesterday and as we headed offshore there was ample cloud cover to keep us cool instead of wind (sunrise photo by Kate Sutherland)!
A pod of curious Atlantic Spotted Dolphins came in to the boat to ride the bow wave on our way offshore and we had awesome views of these small, energetic marine mammals!  When we reached the shelf break, we were greeted by shearwaters...unlike yesterday when it took some time to find them.  Right off the bat we had awesome looks at a pair of Audubon's that one of our participants spotted sitting on the water, so we slowed there and headed offshore (photo of one of these Audubon's in flight by Kate Sutherland).
We found Cory's and Audubon's Shearwaters to be quite cooperative on the water and even encountered our first Wilson's Storm-Petrels in a flock taking off in front of the boat (as opposed to in the slick!).  As we reached deeper water, Black-capped Petrels and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels put in an appearance!  A flock of fourteen Black-cappeds, two Audubon's, and three Wilson's on the water sat calmly for us to approach - a rare close encounter with sitting Black-cappeds!  (photo of a couple taking off by Brian Patteson)
Sooty and Bridled Terns were not around like they were yesterday in spite of some nice sargassum (with life!) offshore, but we did have one Sooty Tern that flew right over the boat, so at least everyone aboard had a nice quick view.  Cory's Shearwaters were more plentiful than on yesterday's trip and we had some excellent passes, but we were unable to turn up a Great Shearwater for the second day in a row.  Squalls in the distance kept us cool this afternoon and also brought us some wind;  it was nice for our participants to get to see the birds really showing off their ability to harness it!  Black-cappeds and Band-rumpeds, even the Wilson's, were transformed.  It is amazing the difference a day makes and we were quite pleased to find today to be more of a "summer" trip with the lines of sargassum and flyingfish (photo by Kate Sutherland) to keep us company out in the deep.
Everyone had a chance to see our usual suspects and see them well - another excellent adventure in the Gulf Stream!  Thank you to everyone who joined us out there today - we have space on our trips next weekend, Friday August 5 & Saturday August 6th!

Trip List July 30, 2016
Black-capped Petrel  37-38
Cory's Shearwater  16
Audubon's Shearwater  25
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  75
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  15-19
Sooty Tern  4
Bridled Tern  1
Black Tern  1

Least Sandpiper  1
shorebird sp.  1
Kingfisher  1

Black-capped Petrel by Brian Patteson
We spent some time with the Wilson's Storm-Petrels on a quick drift in the afternoon.  Here you can see the yellow webbing!  (Kate Sutherland)
 Another nice view of their long legs!  (Kate Sutherland)
Atlantic Patchwing (Kate Sutherland)
& finally a photo of our weather buoy (NDBC 41025) which we passed on our way in this afternoon (Kate Sutherland)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday July 29, 2016 European Storm-Petrel!! by Brian Patteson

We headed out this morning from Hatteras in a breezy southwest wind, and glad to have it because it has been pretty hot on light wind days, with water temps in the Gulf Stream now up to mid 80s.  I knew from yesterday that the current was going to be ripping on the shelf, so we headed as far south as we could so as not to let it whip us too far up to the east. The current moves in and out, so it’s not always strong in the shelf waters, but today it was. The Gulf Stream is a powerful force of nature and when the current is pushing hard in concert with a brisk southwest wind, it means we need to take some lumps in the morning and work well into it to avoid a slow, tortuous ride home later in the day.  We took our time and the ride down was not too bad. We started chumming at the shelf break and birds were slow to come in. We saw a few Black-capped Petrels starting in about 1000 feet of water.
A few Wilson’s Storm-Petrels started to trickle in and we kept heading offshore. I found a little line of Sargassum about 30 miles out in over 300 feet of water and started to follow it. Working slowly into the wind we began to attract some birds and we added Audubon’s Shearwater and both Bridled and Sooty Terns to the day’s list with crippling views of Audubon’s rooting around in the Sargassum oblivious to the boat.
Around 1030 we were still following to line and Kate spotted a European Storm-Petrel behind the boat. I slowed down and glanced back and got a look, but it disappeared before we could get a photo, as she was showing it to the group. Circling back, we soon relocated it and we saw it make a few brief appearances in the slick over the next 15 minutes.
Needless to say this was not what we were expecting to see today, but having seen several over the years, we are pretty tuned into how they fly and the fact that this one was about two months later than most did not matter. Our latest record before today was June 10 - also this year!  We worked the grassline a little longer and got a quick look at a larger storm-petrel, but not much else.  We headed offshore and soon found a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel that came close by.
About 32 to 33 miles out we found a lot more Sargassum, but not many seabirds. The inshore tack to the shelf break produced a few more terns, Black-caps and a Cory’s Shearwater. The latter has been remarkably scarce here lately. Cory’s is often the most numerous seabird here in July and August and we saw a grand total of four today, which is an all time low for us in summer. Black-capped Petrels, however, put on a great show feeding on our chum all the way in to the shelf break.
Inshore, the wind was a bit less and we had a pretty nice ride back to Hatteras Inlet. I would like to thank Kate Sutherland for leading the trip and all of our participants who were brave enough to leave their climate controlled homes and head to sea with us.  (all photos today by Kate Sutherland)

Trip List July 29, 2016
Black-capped Petrel  18-19
Cory's Shearwater  4
Audubon's Shearwater  7
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  50
European Storm-Petrel  1
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  2
Oceanodroma sp.  2
Sooty Tern  3
Bridled Tern  6
Onychoprion sp.  2
Barn Swallow  1

**A couple more photos of the Euro**  
Unfortunately, they are not perfect as we did not really have much time to capture this little guy - but they are all we need to record the first European Storm-Petrel to be found here in the summer!!
This Black-capped Petrel from the end of the day had an interesting head pattern - not sure if it is just some feathers out of place or if it actually had an odd white feather...
The same Audubon's Shearwater as pictured above
Another view of the Band-rumped Storm-Petrel showing the dorsal & tail, note no feet extending beyond the tail as is seen in Wilson's Storm-Petrel
& a couple of the Bridled Terns we saw today - they were all in tough light...

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thursday July 21, 2016 by Kate Sutherland

Today's trip was a private charter for two classes from Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC, located a little bit down the coast from us.  One course focuses on marine mammals and seabirds while the other's focus is primarily sea turtles, four of which we had aboard to release, courtesy of the aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.  The weather was absolutely perfect for a boat mostly full of novices, so with light winds from the north, we headed offshore in calm conditions with the recently full moon setting in the morning sky!
Sargassum (a type of brown algae pictured below) has been noticeably absent on our trips so far this summer, but not today!  There was a nice grassline right off the bat before 1000 and we stopped to sample some finding a few shrimp, some swimming crabs, a filefish, and a sargassum fish (Histrio histrio)!
Just as we finished up with that, a boat ahead of us radioed Brian to tell him they had a tropicbird overhead - we headed that way as some dolphins surfaced behind us.  We decided to come back for the dolphins and see if we could get a look at a tropicbird - and while they did not come close to us, there were THREE White-tailed Tropicbirds flying together ahead!  This is the third out of five trips this month that has found White-tailed Tropicbird - pretty nice ratio to start the summer!  Then back to the dolphins, some offshore Bottlenose, that put on quite a lazy show swimming along beside the boat and under the bow for some time.  There were at least two young ones in this group and one was spyhopping to check us out!
Over the edge of the shelf we released three Loggerheads and a Green Turtle (photo below), it was amazing to see them take to the Gulf Stream and go - each heading its own direction in its own way!
Later in the day Brian spotted a large adult Loggerhead that obligingly swam towards the boat, lifting its head from the water multiple times to our delight!
The birds were no disappointment either with a total of 10 pelagic species for the day.  Due to the light winds, Black-capped Petrels looked a little lazy flying by and no one was really very interested in the chum except a handful of Wilson's Storm-Petrels.  We were able to find a dark morph Pomarine Jaeger near the tropicbirds, possibly explaining why we did not have a close visit from them...and we turned up one Band-rumped Storm-Petrel sitting on the water with some Black-cappeds and a Great Shearwater.  Otherwise the stars of the day, right behind the tropicbirds (& the charismatic megafauna), were a couple of Sooty Terns!  So while it was a little slow at times, as is often the case when the seas are comfortable for humans, it was an amazing day out there!

Trip List July 21, 2016
Black-capped Petrel  12-13
Cory's Shearwater  20
Great Shearwater  2
Audubon's Shearwater  8
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  35
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  1
White-tailed Tropicbird  3
Sooty Tern  2
Bridled Tern  4
Pomarine Jaeger  1

Bottlenose Dolphin (Offshore)  25-30
Loggerhead Turtle  1
small turtle species  3

Cory's Shearwater - candidate for a nominate type?
Audubon's Shearwaters were very cooperative today, allowing close approach when they were sitting on the water!

A couple of Bridled Tern images:
& the Bottlenose Dolphins were so incredible to photograph today!  The calm seas made it easy to follow & capture them when emerging!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday July 16, 2016 by Kate Sutherland

The wind fell out overnight and we headed offshore this morning with light southwest winds (9-10 kts) and some welcome cloud cover!  Like yesterday there was not much to be seen on the way to the shelf break - just some Royal Terns and a Wilson's Storm-Petrel.  Not many birds were flying when we got out there, but shortly after we slowed down and put out some oil a Black-capped Petrel flew by in the distance, working its way in toward the boat.  The calmer conditions allowed us to get out to some deeper water today and that was where most of the birds we saw were found.  Numbers were not as high as yesterday for the Black-cappeds & Band-rumpeds, but we had nice views of both species!  Shearwaters were a little more cooperative today with a gorgeous Great Shearwater flying in to feed a bit in the slick first thing in the morning!
Out in the deep there was some scattered sargassum and there we found a very agreeable Audubon's Shearwater who ignored us as we approached it feeding on the water.
After we passed, it decided that maybe our food was a little easier to it stayed with us in the slick for awhile feeding with Wilson's and making occasional close flights by the stern.  While no Cory's came in to feed in the slick, we did find a small group of birds on the water that we had nice views of!  This group also held a quick glimpse of a Pomarine Jaeger as it beat up on one of the Cory's and then flew directly away.  The highlight of the day, though, was a White-tailed Tropicbird that spotter Sage Church saw in the clouds distant!  We watched this bird through our binoculars as it shot down towards the water then back up into the clouds thinking that was going to be it as it had not shown any interest in us!  Thankfully we were wrong and the bird flew over to check out our tropicbird lure,
flying down and around the boat for a few minutes!  Spectacular is the only word to describe it and it was a thrilling experience for all aboard (including Brian & myself!!)!  Heading back toward the shelf it was clear that we were very lucky to make it out to the deep today as life was scarce on the inshore tack.  However we did see another jaeger on the way back to the inlet, it looked like a Pom, but was too fast for photos or a nice view, and there was an Audubon's Shearwater just a mile or two off the beach!  Thanks to everyone who joined us today and a big thank you also to Sage Church who helped us spot the birds today!

Trip List July 16, 2016
Black-capped Petrel  14
Cory's Shearwater  15
Great Shearwater  3
Audubon's Shearwater  6
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  30
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  6
White-tailed Tropicbird  1
Pomarine Jaeger  1
jaeger sp.  1
skua sp.  1

Royal Tern  1 (offshore)
swallow sp.  1

Another photo of the Audubon's Shearwater that followed us for a bit taking off:
The last Band-rumped Storm-Petrel of the day - they did not come nearly as close to the boat as they did yesterday!  Maybe it was because we didn't have as much wind...or they were not quite as hungry today...
And yes...a few images of the White-tailed Tropicbird!!
While we were out in the deeper water we had a Royal Tern fly in!  This bird has bands on both legs!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday July 15, 2016 by Kate Sutherland

Summer is here and the water offshore is hot!  The satellite image of the sea surface temperatures off of Cape Hatteras is all shades of orange & red...and a deeper red swath of water offshore.  So we were looking for the hotter hot water today!  It was nice to have a breeze accompanying us offshore to get the birds up and moving.  We did not see much on our way to the shelf edge this morning, just some Royal Terns and a handful of Cory's Shearwaters - but our first Black-capped Petrel was right over the break in 100 fathoms!  It was a day of hot water birds - Black-cappeds (top) and Band-rumpeds (bottom).
 Amazingly, the rare and endangered Black-capped Petrel was the most common bird of the day, outnumbering even the Wilson's Storm-Petrels!  And at one point glancing back in the slick, I counted more Band-rumpeds following than Wilson's!  A little after 1130 Brian called a bird flying down the starboard side...a shearwater?  No...wait!  A Brown Booby!!  Even though the bird was not extremely close and flew away from the boat, everyone was still able to see it as the small sulid rose above the horizon multiple times for people to get a fix on it.  Shearwaters were in short supply as there are currently no schools of tuna to hold them here, but we did encounter Cory's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters (pictured below) over the course of the day!
We had a couple of brief encounters with what looked to be Leach's Storm-Petrels, but these birds did not stick around for photos or close study!  It was nice to see some dolphins today with some Atlantic Spotteds coming in to bow ride on our way offshore this morning, followed by a really nice pod of offshore Bottlenose Dolphin who attended the boat for 15 or 20 minutes just after 0930!  Overall it was an awesome day out there with really incredible Black-capped Petrel & Band-rumped Storm-Petrel encounters - there is never a dull moment observing these two species.  Every year we are able to glean more information about the variation that exists through observation and photography.

Thank you to everyone who joined us today!  And thank you also to Nate Swick & Sage Church for helping us lead the trip!  While it was not the best day for photography, I did my best and have included a few images here for the report!  -Kate Sutherland

July 15, 2016 Trip List
Black-capped Petrel  41
Cory's Shearwater  8
Great Shearwater  3
Audubon's Shearwater  6
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  27-32
Leach's Storm-Petrel  2
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  13-17
Brown Booby  1

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  5
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin  40-50
Hammerhead Shark  1

While these are not the best photos, this is one of the first Black-cappeds we saw this morning - it is a fresh white-faced individual!  I just really enjoyed the crispness of the underwings and feathers, most of the Black-cappeds we saw today were in varying stages of molt.
This is one of the last Black-cappeds we saw today - this bird was in just over 300 feet of water feeding in the slick!  It is the same individual pictured above in the trip report - it is a nice dark faced bird!
A Wilson's Storm-Petrel - in short supply today!  But you can see the yellow webbing on its feet in this picture...
& one more Band-rumped Storm-Petrel image...