Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sunday August 28, 2016 Summer Surprise - by Brian Patteson

It was nice to have some clouds today as we headed offshore; it makes it easier to scan all around the boat and it increases the chances that our participants spot birds on the way out (sunrise by Kate Sutherland).
We had been seeing a few birds in shelf waters for the last couple of days, so we were looking pretty hard this morning. It paid off in about 100 feet of water with great looks at an adult and a juvenile Sooty Tern- a species that we had not seen well yesterday (photo by Chris Sloan).
There were also a lot of shearwaters moving- mostly Cory’s, but we did get better looks at Audubon’s this morning than we had yesterday. After pounding the shallows yesterday morning without much to show for it, I decided to keep running past the shelf break today. There wasn’t much going on, but around 0850, I noticed one of our participants, Tim Lucas, looking at something off the starboard side. I glanced that way and immediately saw what got his attention. It was a White-faced Storm-Petrel flying and hopping by at point blank range (photo by Kate Sutherland). 
Within seconds, everyone aboard was on it and I kept it close for a few minutes before the choppy seas and an oncoming ship caused me to abort the mission. It had been a few years since I had chased one these bouncing little birds around with the boat. They are not all that fast, but they can turn on a dime, and when it’s choppy they can be tough act to follow. White-faced Storm-Petrel is an annual visitor the Western North Atlantic, but it is not a bird that we see every summer off Hatteras. They are more frequently found farther east - especially along the shelf break south of New England.  The last time we saw one here was in 2009 and that was not a close look.  So it was great to have one today that everyone was able to see well and have a chance to photograph. I hope that we are able to find some more off the VA Capes on our trips next month. Kate was just back fresh from seeing some at Hydrographer Canyon, but it has been almost two years for me. It’s a really neat bird and I wish that we were able to see them more often down south, but it’s a fluke to find them in the hot water and fast current.

After we left the White-faced, we headed out to the deep, where we scrapped out a few species that had eluded us yesterday, such as Great Shearwater and Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (photo by Chris Sloan). 
A Long-tailed Jaeger gave us another species for the weekend. I was hoping to find a tropicbird or some other rarity out there, but it did not happen, which was fine because we had already had the incredible fortune to cross paths with the endearing little kangaroo petrel. I would like to thank everyone who came this weekend- especially those who did two or three trips. Your persistence paid off. Also a big thanks to our leaders: Kate Sutherland, Chris Sloan, Kyle Kittelberger, and Chloe Walker.  It’s always nice when some or most of the leaders get a lifer!

Trip List August 28, 2016
Black-capped Petrel  24-27
Cory's Shearwater  112
Great Shearwater  10
Manx Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  7
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  40-45
White-faced Storm-Petrel  1
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  2-3
Sooty Tern  11
Bridled Tern  2
Onychoprion sp.  2
Black Tern  15
Long-tailed Jaeger  1
jaeger sp.  1

Monarch Butterfly  1

Black-capped Petrels were in their element today, wind!  We had some nice view of these birds close by and also studied their diagnostic flight in the distance (photos by Chris Sloan)
While we were unable to find a Great Shearwater yesterday, today we had some close individuals! (Chris Sloan)
This Audubon's flew right in to the boat! (Chris Sloan)
Another photo of the White-faced Storm-Petrel! (Kate Sutherland)
It was nice to see some Band-rumpeds on the last trip of the summer from Hatteras! (Chris Sloan)
This Long-tailed Jaeger flew right up the slick, but did not pause as it passed us by! (Chris Sloan)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday August 27, 2016 What a Difference a Day Makes - by Kate Sutherland

The wind shifted a bit from yesterday so we had northerly winds this morning coming around to the north east by afternoon.  The skies were mostly clear, and it was a calm day out there even with a breeze against the current!  The water was a far cry from what we had yesterday, though, and offshore of the shelf break it was a little blended, not quite the same lively beautiful blue Gulf Stream water.  There was some current out there and we found Black-capped Petrels (juvenile bird pictured),
Cory's Shearwaters,
and Wilson's Storm-Petrels -
our main birds of the day (all photos by Chris Sloan) - with excellent views of each! Bridled Terns were inshore again today so we had some nice passes this morning and then seven individuals this afternoon, including one begging juvenile bird that perched on a piece of flotsam for examination and photos.  Three Sooty Terns were over some fish offshore but we had to work into the current to approach them and while we were unsuccessful in getting close, they were identifiable!  A hammerhead shark swam by the boat and into the chum slick as we approached the shelf break this afternoon
and we had a small pod of Bottlenose Dolphins come in to check us out in that same area (photos by Kate Sutherland).
Once we were back on the shelf, a participant spotted some phalaropes on the water. They sat patiently for us to get close enough for everyone to have a nice look at these petite birds and identify them as Red-necked Phalaropes (photo by Chris Sloan).
Shortly after we picked up to run back to the inlet, Kyle Kittelberger spotted a couple of Bridled Terns flying near some fishing boats and just below them was a huge Loggerhead Turtle on the surface!  It also was patient and most everyone aboard was able to catch a glimpse of the second species of sea turtle for this set of trips (photo by Chris Sloan).
While I had high hopes that we would find something different and perhaps rare today, it did not pan out.  What we did have was another amazing day in the Gulf Stream, just a reminder that some days being out there and getting good looks at our usual suspects is enough!

Thank you to everyone who joined us, we were close to full today, and thank you to our leaders: Chris Sloan, Kyle Kittelberger, and Chloe Walker.  They all did a spectacular job and Chris supplied most of the photos for the post today!

Trip List August 27, 2016
Black-capped Petrel  20
Cory's Shearwater  105
Audubon's Shearwater  3
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  80-90
Red-necked Phalarope  5
Sooty Tern  3
Bridled Tern  10-11
Onychoprion sp.  5

Sanderling  1
American Redstart  1

Bottlenose Dolphin  about 20
Loggerhead Turtle  1
Hammerhead sp.  1
Cloudless Sulphur  4

Summer usually brings us good numbers of Cory's Shearwaters so we are always looking for candidates for the nominate Cory's, or Scopoli's.  This bird has some white in the underprimaries, but falls more into the intermediate category.  (Chris Sloan)
This bird was closer to the nominate type - while not extremely clear in this photo, this bird was well marked on its underprimaries (Kate Sutherland)
It was nice to see so many Cory's on the water! (Chris Sloan)
 One of the perched Bridled Terns from the day (Chris Sloan)
 The Red-necked Phalaropes (Chris Sloan)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday August 26, 2016 A Tale of Two Tropicbirds - by Kate Sutherland

It has been a couple of weeks since we ran a trip down here and with the cold front that moved through earlier this week, our hopes were high for an awesome summer trip!  We were not disappointed! (sunrise above by Kate Sutherland)  Black Terns are on the move and we had some really nice views of them around the inlet and then a bit farther offshore (photo by Chris Sloan).
The winds were light from the south for most of the day and we had some clouds, the weather seemed like a footnote, shadowed by all of the life we found out there!  And a lot of it was on the shelf, something we have not really encountered yet this year.  We slowed a few times before we even reached the shelf break for tropical terns and shearwaters, getting nice views of Sooty and Bridled Terns (photo by Chris Sloan) before 0900!
These birds were feeding over some small tunas - it was reported that the fishing boats nearby were landing small Blackfin and Skipjack Tuna, so these were likely the fish we saw leaping out of the water inshore today (to the delight of the shearwaters and terns!).  Cory's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters all made some nice passes by the boat around the shelf break so that our participants could become familiar with them, then the first Black-capped Petrels (photo by Chris Sloan) began to appear as we moved into some deeper water -
with them the first Band-rumped of the day was seen on the water with some shearwaters, but it flew directly away for a less than stellar view.  Wilson's Storm-Petrels began to slowly gather in the slick, and while their numbers start to dwindle this time of year, we still had a few and ended up with some nice views!  Brian shouted "What's this?!  A tropicbird!!!" right around 1110 and sure enough, a White-tailed Tropicbird flew right in front of the wheelhouse and down the starboard side!  Thank goodness it made a few more passes once everyone was situated! (photo by Chris Sloan)
Not even forty minutes later Chloe Walker shouted "Right here, on the water!!  Tropicbird!!"  And we were amazed to see a close White-tailed Tropicbird lift off of the sea in the strong sun glare on the port side - while this bird flew directly away, at least everyone again had a chance to see it!  We know that we had two individuals since one had nice long tail feathers and the other did not.  A certain sign of life offshore is tropicbirds!!  The water was gorgeous out there today, and while it was calm, there was just enough breeze to keep us comfortable without too much chop.  We did finally have some nice passes by a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (photo by Chris Sloan) in the stern, rounding out the good looks at our usual Gulf Stream suspects!
With calm seas comes the ability to see birds on the water in addition to cetaceans and turtles. Black-capped Petrels on the water allowed us to closely approach them more than once today, and we found two Leatherback Turtles out there! (photo by Kate Sutherland)
Near the shelf break we had a small pod of curious offshore Bottlenose Dolphins come in to check us out, they were very vocal and spent quite a bit of time riding our bow wave.  Closer inshore we had three encounters with Atlantic Spotted Dolphins that also came in quite well to the boat.  Overall, it was another amazing summer day in the Gulf Stream - life abounded and really put on a show.  The flyingfish were captivating for most of the day - giving excellent opportunities for photographing them with some awesome reflections on the calm seas.

Thank you to everyone who joined us today, we had a full boat, and a big thank you to our leaders: Chris Sloan, Kyle Kittelberger, and Chloe Walker who all did an outstanding job helping to spot, identify, and get people on the birds we saw today!  Thank you also to Chris for supplying photos for the blog post today!

Trip List August 26, 2016
Black-capped Petrel  38-39
Cory's Shearwater  123
Great Shearwater  16
Audubon's Shearwater  25
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  30
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  3
White-tailed Tropicbird  2
Sooty Tern  12
Bridled Tern  10
Onychoprion sp. 4
Black Tern  33
Common Tern  2

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  45
Bottlenose Dolphin  12
Leatherback Turtle  2

Black-capped Petrel (Chris Sloan) - most of the birds we saw today were dark-faced individuals or intermediate, like this bird.
 It was nice to have all three shearwaters sitting with Black-capped Petrels! (Chris Sloan)
Great Shearwaters taking off, here you can see the mottled underwing of the species. (Chris Sloan)
Audubon's Shearwaters were around today and a few made some nice passes! (Chris Sloan)
One group of Spotted Dolphins seemed to be telling us to buzz off! (Kate Sutherland)
The ocean was gorgeous today, as illustrated in this photo of some Atlantic Spotted Dolphins. (Kate Sutherland)
A couple of flyingfish photos by Chris Sloan:
 These both look like they fall into the Atlantic Patchwing group.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Saturday August 13, 2016 by Kate Sutherland

Winds were west south west this morning as we left Hatteras Village behind and headed offshore (sunrise by Kate Sutherland).
It was breezier than yesterday so we were hopeful that some birds would be flying...but instead we found some blended, greenish blue water offshore of the shelf.  We started chumming in about 100 fathoms, but did not see even a Wilson's Storm-Petrel for awhile.  At times when the wind is more westerly, combined with a long period of high pressure, things offshore can get a little stagnant - and that is more or less what we found out there today.   We were able to find some birds though, and ended up adding a couple of species to the weekend's list, plus had awesome views of all of them!  Black-capped Petrels and Band-rumpeds were not as attentive as they were yesterday, but they were out there and we had some nice passes by both - though the Band-rumped was a bit fleeting...! (photo by Kate Sutherland)
Cory's and Audubon's Shearwaters both made some close passes, but we were unable to turn up a Great Shearwater today.  Sooty Terns were a highlight with one making some really nice passes by the boat! (photo by Lucas Bobay)
Plus we were able to find three more Bridled Terns, and some adults in contrast to yesterday's young individual.  The second new species for the weekend was Red-necked Phalarope!  We encountered a small flock on our way in that landed on the water and then allowed us to approach quite closely for some awesome photo ops (photo by Lucas Bobay).

The deep was another story.  Today we went out farther than yesterday because of that blended water and we wanted to see what we could find.  Out in over 8,000 feet of water, the Gulf Stream was deep blue, highlighted with patches of sargassum - a gorgeous sight!  One of the Bridled Terns was perched out here and we had close passes by the Audubon's (photo by Lucas Bobay).
The highlight, though, was a massive Leatherback that swam along just below the surface coming up for a breath a few times as we watched!! (photo by Kate Sutherland)
It's not every day that we get to encounter these deep divers and the views were quite satisfying!  I have been waiting all summer to get into patches of sargassum like that so we could dip some to look at - and a quick sample before making the inshore tack turned up some sargassum swimming crabs, both types of shrimp, and six sargassum nudibranchs (photo of one by Kate Sutherland)!!
After two days out there, it was very cool to get to show these creatures to our participants!  Overall, we turned a day with some low numbers into an awesome day offshore - though each day in the Gulf Stream is an adventure!

Thank you to everyone who joined us for both trips, and for today - it was so nice to have a full boat for a change!  And thank you to our leaders - Jeff Lemons, Lucas Bobay, and Ed Corey - they did a great job keeping up with the birds and keeping our participants informed!  Thank you again today to Lucas for allowing me to use some of his photos for the post!

Trip List August 13, 2016
Black-capped Petrel  14
Cory's Shearwater  16
Audubon's Shearwater  7
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  45
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  3
Red-necked Phalarope  16
Sooty Tern  3
Bridled Tern  3-4

Least Tern  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Barn Swallow  2

Leatherback Turtle  1

Black-capped Petrel - this dark faced individual was one that made some nice passes by the stern today (Kate Sutherland)
 Cory's Shearwater - possibly one of the nominate types (Kate Sutherland)
Another view of one of the Sooty Terns (Kate Sutherland)
& Bridled Tern - perched on a large piece of bamboo and in flight (both photos by Lucas Bobay)
Red-necked Phalaropes in flight (Kate Sutherland)
 One more photo of the Leatherback Turtle (Kate Sutherland)
The larger sargassum swimming crab that we found (the species is Portunus sayi)
The good thing about the Gulf Stream is that even when birds are scarce, there are always flyingfish to look at!!  Top photo of "Rosy veined Clearwing" which could also be a patchwing, and an interesting smaller flyingfish that looks like some kind of young flyingfish...perhaps a double midnight wing...!