Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Sunday September 25, 2016 Waterbird Society Charter - by Brian Patteson

After almost 70 nautical miles running out to the shelf break from Virginia for the last couple of weekends, it was a refreshing change to be back home in Hatteras, where the break is less than 25 miles out.  The short run here means we can run a lot of trips that would be impossible up north.  If we have to cut our cruising speed for a drier and more comfortable ride, it really doesn't matter much in Hatteras.  We might be a few minutes late getting out - not an hour or two.  We had a brisk north wind for the ride out, but it wasn't terribly rough, even when we reached the blue water, which was only about 15 miles from the inlet.  The first tubenose we saw was a Black-capped Petrel (photo below by Kate Sutherland) less than 16 miles out and we soon saw several more so we slowed down and started chumming.
We generally don't see any Black-capped Petrels until we get 25 or more miles out, so to see them on the shelf was exceptional.  But we had exceptional conditions.  The Gulf Stream had split and left a long tendril of pretty 85 degree water inshore.  As we worked offshore, we eventually passed through a band of cooler water - about 83 degrees Fahrenheit - before the water started warming again and getting rough about three miles past the shelf break.  We actually found more Black-capped Petrels - about 40 of them - shoreward of the break than we did offshore.  There were also a few dozen Cory's Shearwaters (photo by Kate Sutherland),
a couple of Great Shearwaters, and several Audubon's.  North wind is not very good for seeing Audubon's Shearwaters and tropical terns here, but we did have nice looks at an adult Sooty Tern and its begging youngster in an area of good seabird concentration.  There were very few storm-petrels to be found near the shelf break.  Perhaps there were more out in the deep, but it did not seem worth the beating to find out.  I was hoping for a little action at the north side of the eddy but we saw few birds there except for a handful of shearwaters.  There was a nice color change but it did not produce the hoped for phalaropes or Bridled Tern.  We did find a nice little group of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins there (photo by Kate Sutherland), however,
and because it was in less than 30 fathoms, we had just an 18 mile ride back to the inlet.  It was a great day to be out.  We had a lot of folks on the boat who had not been out on a Hatteras trip before and our star seabird, the Black-capped Petrel, put on a great show.  We ended up with almost 75 Black-caps for the day and some of the closest looks you ever get (photo by Kate Sutherland).
I would like to thank everyone from the Waterbird Society who came along and also those who helped arrange the trip but could not come.  Our charter trip followed the 40th annual meeting of the group!  Thanks also, of course, to Kate Sutherland for working the deck and making sure everything went as it should, all the while chumming, spotting birds, answering questions, and taking photos for this report!

Trip List September 25, 2016

Black-capped Petrel  74
Cory's Shearwater  47
Great Shearwater  2
Audubon's Shearwater  17
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  3
Red-necked Phalarope  2
Sooty Tern  2
jaeger sp.  1

Great Egret  32

Bottlenose Dolphin  2
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  8

A shot showing the sea conditions and a Black-capped Petrel showing the diagnostic white rump patch easily visible at a distance.
A couple of Black-cappeds in the slick - we had up to at least eight following at a time!
A Black-capped coming in to the chum
A dark individual - note the extensive dark in the underwing.  This individual had some interesting dark spots on the some of the underwing feathers near the body (compare with the individual pictured below it).  This bird also has a very dark face and smudgy neck collar, not white.
In contrast to the bird above, this individual is a lighter bird.  Note how much white is in the underwing and also the white above the eye, nice black cap, and white collar.
The Atlantic Spotted Dolphins had a few young individuals with them too!
& the edge of the Gulf Stream on our way back in the afternoon - there was a nice temperature break and noticeable color change!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Sunday September 18, 2016 - Virginia Beach by Kate Sutherland

Saturday's weather was a little breezy from the east, so Brian postponed the trip a day and our 18 participants were at Dockside in Virginia Beach before 0400.  We were on our way by ten after 4 in the morning and passed Cape Henry into slight seas with light winds from the east.  The satellite image of the sea surface temperature showed some really nice looking water in and around Norfolk Canyon, so that is where we headed.
There were some clouds offshore when the sun came up a little before 0700 (photo by Kate Sutherland), hopefully indicating that there was some Gulf Stream influence out there.  On our 75 mile journey to the deeper water we passed some phalaropes flying by and had one nice group of six Red-neckeds sitting on the water with gorgeous reflections!  Two Loggerhead Turtles were also cooperative on our offshore trek, staying on the surface and checking us out as we photographed them (photo by Kate Sutherland).
As we approached the Norfolk Canyon, the water temperature began to increase and we passed some sargassum, typical of Gulf Stream waters, followed by some Portuguese Man o' Wars - the gorgeous stinging siphonophore that is characteristic of tropical and subtropical seas (photo by Dave Shoch).
The northern tip of the canyon welcomed us around 0930 and from there we headed southeast down its length.  We had good views of Cory's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters plus a few Wilson's Storm-Petrels.  A few Great Shearwaters flew right up the slick to the boat in their quest for food (photo by Dave Shoch), which they happily dove for behind us.
We passed the mouth of the canyon into deeper offshore waters over an hour later where we found some Pilot Whales, likely Short-finned, and a couple large flocks of Wilson's Storm-Petrels - unfortunately we were unable to turn up a White-faced Storm-Petrel.  We also did not find any Black-capped Petrels or jaegers like last weekend.  We were lucky to find another group of Risso's Dolphins, though, mixed in with some Pilot Whales, and they came right in to the bow of the boat to check us out!  It was an unexpected bonus to find this species out there two weeks in a row!  We picked up speed as we crossed the shelf break again in the afternoon and twenty minutes later a Bridled Tern flew in towards the boat, a really nice sighting!  While we were stopped to look at this bird, two more were spotted on a piece of wooden flotsam.  These two were an adult and juvenile (photo by Dave Shoch).
It was awesome to hear the young bird begging and watch the adult fly and pace from edge to edge of the float to get some distance from its offspring!  It was a long day offshore, but worth it to see what was out there and to get nice views of two Gulf Stream specialties, the Audubon's Shearwater and Bridled Tern.  The seas were calm so it was a gorgeous day out there.  We would like to thank everyone who joined us for this final Virginia trip of the summer, especially our group of seven birders from Finland who were traveling in the area this week.  A big thank you to our leaders, Ned Brinkley, Dave Shoch, and James Fox, they all did an excellent job spotting birds and marine life and helping people get on them!  Thank you also to Dave for letting me use some of his photos here!

Trip List September 18, 2016
Cory's Shearwater  27
Great Shearwater  14-16
Audubon's Shearwater  3
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  376-386
Red-necked Phalarope  30
Red Phalarope  1
Phalaropus sp.  13
Bridled Tern  3
jeager sp.  1

Brown Pelican  2 offshore
Lesser Black-backed Gull  1 offshore
Royal Tern  1 offshore

Pilot Whale (prob Short-finned) 60-70
Risso's Dolphin  15
Bottlenose Dolphin  8
Loggerhead Turtle  2
Hammerhead Shark  2
Portuguese Man o' War  10

Cory's Shearwater showing the nice, clean underwings (Dave Shoch)
Great Shearwater showing the mottled looking underwings and dark belly patch (Dave Shoch)
Audubon's Shearwater taking off with a Cory's in the foreground (Kate Sutherland)
Red-necked Phalaropes (Dave Shoch)
Photo of the single Red Phalarope we found offshore (Dave Shoch)
Another image of the Bridled Terns (Dave Shoch)
Pilot Whale surfacing (Kate Sutherland)
The first Loggerhead Turtle (the second individual is pictured above) Kate Sutherland
 And another gorgeous image of a Portuguese Man of War and its reflection! (Dave Shoch)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Saturday September 10, 2016 - Virginia Beach by Brian Patteson

Yesterday we ran our first summer Virginia trip since 2006.  We left just after 0400 because it's a long way out to the shelf break there - 65 nautical miles from Cape Henry!  There was not much to see in the shelf waters except for a few flocks of phalaropes and a quick fly-by Long-tailed Jaeger.  A Leatherback Turtle was seen close to the boat, but briefly.
Out past the shelf break there was some activity - a few Cory's Shearwaters and Wilson's Storm-Petrels along with a couple of pods of Short-finned Pilot Whales.  Very soon after arriving we also found three Long-tailed Jaegers flying together and landing on the water for good views (photo by Kate Sutherland).
 The deeper water just offshore was almost birdless - just a few Wilson's Storm-Petrels and a distant Black-capped Petrel (photo by Kate Sutherland).
 We spent a while chumming past 500 fathoms with little to show for it, so I decided to head back inshore a couple of miles.  We had our best luck between 100 and 500 fathoms. There we found a scattering of Cory's Shearwaters and a single Great Shearwater.  Black-capped Petrel - which teased us earlier - showed well and we saw at least three more individuals which visited our slick.  Storm-petrels remained scarce and all that we saw were Wilson's.
The non-avian marine life was represented by several groups of Pilot Whales, some Ocean Sunfish, and a small group of Risso's Dolphins.  We also watched a White Marlin cruising at the surface of the water.  Increasing winds from the south and a forecast for that to continue kept us from getting as far north as the Norfolk Canyon and we started heading back to shore in the early afternoon.  Choppy seas and spray made it difficult to bird at cruising speed but we did get good looks at a couple of Loggerhead Turtles and we added Audubon's Shearwater to the day's list.  In some years we have found good numbers of Audubon's on these Virginia trips, but there was no Sargassum out there this time and that is important for them and for Bridled Tern, which we did not see.
It was a long day, but I feel like we made the best of a day with less than ideal sea conditions and sparse bird life.  It was good to see some marine life that is seldom found off Hatteras during the summer, such as Pilot Whales, Risso's Dolphins, and Sunfish.  Kate Sutherland, Ned Brinkley, Todd Day, and Ellison Orcutt did a superb job spotting, leading and chumming and I would like to thank all of our enthusiastic participants for making it possible to explore the waters off Virginia once again.  My first pelagic trips in 1986 were off Maryland and Virginia, so it's a homecoming of sorts.  Thanks also to Captain Kevin Seldon of Dockside Restaurant for providing dockage and parking for our trips here.

Trip List September 10, 2016
Black-capped Petrel  4-5
Cory's Shearwater  24
Great Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  1
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  26
Red-necked Phalarope  35
Red Phalarope  7
phalarope sp.  21
Herring Gull  1
Lesser Black-backed Gull  3
Great Black-backed Gull 2
Onychoprion sp.  1
Black Tern  6
Long-tailed Jaeger  4
jaeger sp.  1

Pilot Whale (prob. Short-finned)  abt 30
Bottlenose Dolphin  15-20 offshore abt 30 inshore
Risso's Dolphin  6-8

Leatherback Turtle  2
Loggerhead Turtle  8

Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)  5
White Marlin  1

Sunrise off of Virginia Beach - over 2 hours after leaving the dock!
A couple of Black-capped Petrel photos:
One of the Cory's we saw looked like a good candidate for a nominate individual!
A couple more photos of the Long-tailed Jaegers:
It was a little choppy to take photos of the Molas...!

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)