Saturday, December 30, 2017

Friday December 29, 2017 - by Kate Sutherland

December 28th was to be the date for our last trip of the year, scheduled to give Yve Morrell and Reuben & Victor Stoll a chance to add Great Skua to their Big Year lists, but the forecast for Thursday was grim and a couple days before we were to go, Brian made the decision to push it back to the weather date of Friday.  Excellent decision as the seas were settled after the gale force winds that visited them on Thursday!  The Gulf Stream waters were smoking as we headed offshore
and we were able to check out this warmer water (68.5 degrees vs mid 50s inshore), but it held little more than a few hammerhead sharks.  Surprising, as typically these temperature breaks are good for some life, Boneys, phalaropes and maybe even a puffin.  Some days we can even turn up a tubenose like a Northern Fulmar or a Manx Shearwater, but not today!  It was a bit quiet.
After cruising around north of Diamond Shoals with our attendant gull flock for most of the morning, we headed back to the shoals.  A little after 1:30, Ed Corey started shouting "skua, skua, SKUA!!!!" and everyone rushed to catch a glimpse of this dark pirate of the seas as it flew by, deliberately searching for a candidate to harass as gulls quickly dispersed.  I did not see the bird as it came down the port side, but many were in place to have a good look, including Yve, Reuben, & Victor!  It flew off ahead of us, and while we hoped it might sit on the water for us to relocate, no such luck was had.
As we headed back to Hatteras Inlet, we did turn up two Iceland Gulls (kumlieni) that were very cooperative behind the boat flying close for excellent photo opportunities!  One was a crisp looking first winter bird
and the other an adult, something we don't often see here from Hatteras very often! 
Overall it was a great day out there with good numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls along with the usual Herring and Great Black-backeds.  We turned up a few Bonaparte's Gulls, young ones and adults, plus a handful of Ring-billed Gulls and even a couple of Laughing Gulls!  The Northern Gannets put on a nice show at the end of the day, diving behind the boat and feeding nearshore. 
We had all age classes, and a nice showing of younger birds!  Alcids were not as cooperative and we saw just a handful of Razorbills with only one young individual landing near the boat for a quick view before it dove and eluded us.
The non-avian encounters for the day were quite spectacular with two Humpback Whales breaching in the morning offshore of Avon.  They allowed us to approach for some incredible views of these awesome whales!  Loggerhead turtles were out in good numbers as well, and I imagine had the conditions been a bit calmer, we could have seen many more!  Most were nice, large adults on the surface near the boat. 
We had good numbers of Bottlenose Dolphins and even saw what could have been some Spotted Dolphins in the warmer water in the morning.  It was so nice to get offshore and we are looking forward to a good series of winter trips aboard the Stormy Petrel II in 2018!  Check out our schedule here and join us for one!
Thank you to our leaders today, Jeff Lemons and Ed Corey, they worked really hard to get everyone on what we found.  Thank you also to our Big Year Birders and everyone who joined us - we could not run these trips without you!  All photos today are by Kate Sutherland.

December 29, 2017
List of species seen offshore
White-winged Scoter  6
Red-breasted Merganser  2
Red-throated Loon  3
Common Loon  2
loon sp.  1
Northern Gannet  410
Great Skua  1
Razorbill  13
Bonaparte's Gull  38
Laughing Gull  2
Ring-billed Gull  at least 8
Herring Gull  estimated 300
Iceland Gull (Kumliens)  2
Lesser Black-baked Gull  estimated 45
Great Black-backed Gull  estimated 175
Forster's Tern  4

A few more photos of the Iceland Gulls:
First winter, you can see the small, delicate looking bill in both of these images.
The adult bird had a compromised lower leg leaving it with a useless looking foot.
 It was nice to see so many first winter Gannets!
We had a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers fly right by the stern!  Here is a photo of one of them...
 A nice adult Lesser Black-backed Gull - we had great views of all age classes!

Laughing Gull that flew by offshore
A photo of the flock near the end of the day!  The Great Black-backed Gulls in the center with Herring Gulls - one battling a Brown Pelican in back and a glimpse of the adult Iceland Gull's wing tip on the right!  I always enjoy the antics of the feeding flock!
 A couple more images of the sea smoke out in the Gulf Stream!  This happens when the water temperatures are warm and the air temperatures are cold, not something we see every day out here and always a treat!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Saturday September 2, 2017 - by Kate Sutherland

Friday night into Saturday morning there was a line of storms that moved east across the state, pushing offshore just around 4 in the morning yesterday.  The rain was light when our participants began to show up behind the boat in the morning, but many of them had travelled through this weather and then had restless nights with the thunderstorms, as did Brian & myself!  You just never know what you will get with the seabirds after an event like this, the birds could be pushed offshore by the storms, or when they are widespread, the birds are spending a lot of time moving around and are hungry, so more responsive to the food we offer them in the chum.  Luckily for us, the latter was the case for yesterday's trip!  We had an excellent showing of Black-capped Petrels
with about sixty individuals over the course of the day, and many of these birds came in to feed in the slick, dropping down to the water to show off their pink and black feet - something not everyone who comes offshore with us gets to see!
We also found a feeding flock offshore early in the the day that, when we relocated it, on the water it held almost twenty Black-cappeds with some shearwaters and Wilson's!  Shearwaters were in attendance with four species feeding behind the boat at one point, though this weekend the Cory's were the dominant species versus Great Shearwaters last weekend.  Again, the majority of the Cory's we had in the slick looked to be the nominate type, or Scopoli's Shearwaters, like we had a few weeks ago.
Great Shearwaters also followed, calling and feeding with the Cory's, and we had a few juvenile Audubon's Shearwaters who followed us for long periods as well.  Around 1230 one of our passengers yelled, "Kate!  What is this?  A Sooty Shearwater??!"
Sure enough, a Sooty Shearwater flew in to our feeding flock and made sure to get some food as well!  This bird stayed with us for awhile and must have been hanging around, because it showed up again when we stopped for a chum drift over an hour later!  Many of the birds were diving completely under the water to feed, including the Wilson's Storm-Petrels!  It was quite a show!  Meanwhile, above, we had a nice flight of Sooty Terns with groups of up to nine flying over at once.
Many of these birds were adult and juvenile pairs.  Bridled Terns were not as easy to come by, though we did turn up one young bird without its attendant parent that flew directly away from us, and another adult individual that flew over us and away down the slick.  Late summer is a good time to see jaegers and I was a little worried we might not cross paths with any in spite of the good shearwater numbers out there.  It wasn't until after 2 that  a Long-tailed Jaeger flew by the boat and into the slick!  As we circled back we saw there were two, a juvenile and a subadult bird.  After we crossed back onto the shelf, we had another group of shearwaters inshore and were treated to nice views of a Pomarine Jaeger, that looked to be a first summer individual!  This bird attacked an Audubon's Shearwater right next to the boat,
but the shearwater outsmarted it, diving underwater and swimming some distance away before surfacing.  A very narrow escape for the little Audubon's, they have to learn quickly out here!

This was our last scheduled trip for the summer and it was an excellent one with good looks at everything (except for the uncooperative Bridled Terns...) and a bonus species in the Sooty Shearwater!  Thank you to everyone who joined us, and thanks to Jeff Lemons for helping Brian and I lead the trip!  All photos today are by me, Kate Sutherland.

September 2, 2017 Trip List
Black-capped Petrel  57-60
Cory's Shearwater  104 *at least 20 or 25 of these were Scopoli's
Great Shearwater  23
Sooty Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  26
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  80-85
Sooty Tern  40-43
Bridled Tern  2
Onychoprion sp.  1
Pomarine Jaeger  1
Long-tailed Jaeger  2
jaeger sp.  1

Black Tern  2
shorebird sp.  3

Bottlenose Dolphin  17-22
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  8-10

Black-capped Petrel flying behind an Audubon's Shearwater in the slick
Dorsal view of a Black-capped Petrel
Black-capped with the dramatic backdrop of a frontal line offshore!  These squalls can provide some nice wind for seabirds!  Black-cappeds especially take advantage of the breeze along these fronts.
Cory's Shearwater - this individual was one of the nominate types, or Scopoli's Shearwater
Great Shearwater
Audubon's Shearwater
Another view of the Sooty Tern showing the dark underprimaries in addition to the reduced white in the forehead.
A couple images of the Pomarine Jaeger, on the water with Cory's Shearwaters, and in flight.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

August 25 & 26, 2017 - by Kate Sutherland

This year has not been the most cooperative in terms of weather, so as we had three trips approaching that were full, Brian and I were following the marine forecast closely.  It was going to be a little atypical for late summer, northeasterly winds, but that was good if it was not going to blow too hard!  Needless to say the forecasters were a little off and what we found on Friday offshore was a bit more wind than they called for, as it was for Saturday, but the birds were flying and we had an awesome showing over the two days we made it out there with a total of 12 pelagic species encountered!
Black-capped Petrels were around in good numbers on both days, but more so on Friday flying right in behind the boat to feed in the slick next to the Great and Cory's Shearwaters!  It was an amazing show, and so nice to see them performing in their element: wind! (photo by Peter Flood)
Everyone aboard had time to study the Cory's and Great Shearwaters flying around the boat and feeding as well, so closely at times that binoculars were not necessary to see the differences in bill color or plumage characteristics.  We did have some of the nominate Cory's, or Scopoli's Shearwaters on both trips, but Saturday's birds were more of the "textbook type" with the nice markings on the underprimaries. (photo by Kyle Kittelberger)
Audubon's Shearwaters were out there but not quite as common as the larger shearwaters, and as is typically the case when we encounter large seas, they can be a little tough to get an eye on!  We did have some come in to the slick each day so everyone had a chance for a nice look at one of these small black and white shearwaters if they were patient! (photo by Lucas Bobay)
I was excited to see how many Wilson's Storm-Petrels we were able to turn up as this is the time of year when they begin to thin out, but when we get the north and easterly winds like this, it can be good for them, and they did not disappoint!  Late August is also when the Band-rumped Storm-Petrel numbers begin to wane.  We only had a glimpse of one on Friday that did not stick around...but Saturday we were treated to some excellent views, including one that showed up in the slick just 15 miles off the beach! (photo by Peter Flood)
Friday we had our first juvenile tropical terns of the season and good looks at some adults as well, both Bridled and Sooty Terns, but for some reason on Saturday we were unable to turn up any close terns. (photo of juvie Sooty Tern by Lucas Bobay, juvie Bridled Tern by Kate Sutherland)
Okay, now for the unexpected visitors!  Friday we had a South Polar Skua fly right in to the boat, (photo by Lucas Bobay)
circle us, and then stay with us for awhile in the slick much to the dismay of our Black-capped Petrels!  It was amazing to watch a Black-capped pursue that skua in an attempt to chase it off!  A little over thirty minutes later a Fea's Petrel appeared in the slick behind us and flew right in, up the port side and then circled back to check out some extra chum I put out for it! (photo by Peter Flood)
 Everyone was able to get on the bird and get some nice views as it flew around with Black-capped Petrels and shearwaters, then it also took on the issue of the South Polar Skua!  Together with a Black-capped, the Fea's was hot on the skua's tail, just in case it had decided it was welcome in the area after the initial escort over 30 minutes earlier! (see last photo in post...!)
Then, on Saturday the shout went out just after 11 - "bird up high!!!" and sure enough, our first White-tailed Tropicbird of the year flew right to the boat, up high, checked us out, and headed on its way! (photo by Peter Flood)
Not before being counted as #700 for one of our salty crew, Gail Morris!  Congrats again Gail!  Overall it was an awesome set of trips, as you can tell, the weather did get us for Sunday, but we will be out there again next weekend for one more trip this summer, September 2, and we have some space left on that trip!
A huge thank you to everyone who joined us for these trips, we couldn't do it without you!  And a huge thank you as well to our leaders who helped Brian and I, Kyle Kittelberger, Peter Flood, and Lucas Bobay - thanks as well to them for sharing their photos for the blog!

Trip Lists August 25 / 26
Fea's Petrel  1 / 0
Black-capped Petrel  47 / 26
Cory's Shearwater  68 / 35 (*at least 5 Scopoli's Shearwaters each day, likely more)
Great Shearwater  100-105 / 74
Audubon's Shearwater  31 / 31
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  150 / 180
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  1 / 3-4
White-tailed Tropicbird  0 / 1
Sooty Tern  4 / 1
Bridled Tern  6 / 0
Onychoprion sp.  3 / 2
South Polar Skua  1 / 0
Long-tailed Jaeger  0 / 1
jaeger sp.  1 / 0

peep sp.  1 / 1

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  0 / 8
Bottlenose Dolphin  12 / 7-10

A couple more photos of the Fea's Petrel top by Kyle Kittelberger, bottom by Peter Flood
Black-capped Petrel by Peter Flood
Another shot of a Scopoli's Shearwater (Peter Flood)
Great Shearwater (Peter Flood)
Another shot of an Audubon's Shearwater (Peter Flood)
Adult Sooty Tern (Peter Flood)
A couple more images of the South Polar Skua!  (top by Kyle Kittelberger, bottom by Peter Flood)
& I almost forgot the South Polar Skua / Fea's Petrel photo!  by Peter Flood.....