Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wednesday May 31, 2017 Brown Noddy - by Peter Flood

When it comes to seabirding I have learned, over time to expect the unexpected.  In fact, I'll always remember my college Ecology professor stating "exceptions don't prove the rule they probe the rule".  Over the past week there were more than a few folks that have asked...."can we have a good day offshore with these persistent westerly winds"? My response has been of course! Because everyday is a different day along the edge of the dynamic ecosystem we call the Gulf Stream.

Twenty intrepid birders and Captain and crew of the Stormy Petrel II steamed out of Hatteras Landing under delightful conditions with a soft gray overcast and light westerly winds.  Shortly after reaching the shelf break we found an active Sargassum line where we encountered feeding Skipjacks chasing smaller bait fish and attendant flocks of Audubon's and Cory's Shearwaters. A Bridled Tern was discovered sitting on some flotsam within the weed line (photo by Peter Flood).
This tropical tern flushed and was briefly joined by a second tern that briefly circled the boat before veering off to the west.

Further to the east several Black-capped Petrels were arcing up on the horizon and we began collecting Wilson's Storm-Petrels in our chum slick that were briefly joined by our first Band-rumped Storm-Petrel of the day (photo by Peter Flood).

About mid-morning Kate picked out all dark, graceful and slightly unfamiliar seabird inspecting the chum slick.  As the bird came in closer the call went out for Brown Noddy! The bird was seen well by all on board and represents only one of a hand full of sightings off North Carolina of this elegant tropical tern (photo by Dave Shoch).
As we continued on a mixed flock of shearwaters and Black-capped Petrels were seen mobbing a sub-adult Pomarine Jaeger which was ultimately pursued and escorted from the area by a Black-capped Petrel!  Storm-petrels and Black-capped Petrels were a feature for most of the day in the chum slick and a Scopoli's Cory's Shearwater made a nice close pass off the stern (photo by Peter Flood).
Early in the afternoon distant thunderstorms on the horizon produced a couple of waterspouts which were safely enjoyed from the comfort of the Stormy Petrel II (photo by Peter Flood).
We laid out a final slick in the afternoon to enjoy a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel with the Wilson's and Brian spotted a White Marlin swimming right next to the boat!  Great end to an amazing day...
-Peter Flood

Thanks to everyone who joined us out there today!  And thank you to our leaders: Ned Brinkley, Dave Shoch, Steve Howell, Peter Flood, and Chloe Walker.  Sage Church helped us today as well and a big thanks as always to my blog post author, Peter, and to he and Steve for keeping me in the pictures...!

Trip List May 31, 2017
Black-capped Petrel  76-79
Cory's Shearwater  48
Manx Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  118-128
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  75-95
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  4-6
Oceanodroma sp  1 (Leach's/Band-rumped)
Brown Noddy  1
Bridled Tern  5
Pomarine Jaeger  1

Laughing Gull  4
Common Tern  2
Semipalmated Sandpiper  3

Bottlenose Dolphin  10-12
White Marlin  1

Black-capped Petrels (top Peter Flood, bottom Steve Howell)
 Audubon's Shearwaters (top Steve Howell, bottom Peter Flood)
Another view of the Brown Noddy!  (Steve Howell)
& we will leave you with a Bridled Tern in flight (Steve Howell)
Good night & we will be out there again tomorrow...promise to keep you posted!!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tuesday May 30, 2017 - by Seabird McKeon

Today was the day of Audubon’s Shearwater.  A bird of the tropical and subtropical North Atlantic, Audubon’s Shearwaters often play second fiddle to the spectacular Black-capped Petrel as the emblem of the Gulf Stream waters, but they share grace, charisma, and endangerment due to cats, rats, and other human-induced ills.  These are small birds.  With a wingspan of only 65-74 cm, they could sit comfortably in your outstretched hand.  Boldly patterned in dark brown and white, they share a general appearance with their heftier, cold water cousins, Manx shearwater, but Audubon’s make a living fishing under floating mats of pelagic Sargassum, and breed from the Bahamas to coastal Brazil.  Today we saw more Audubon’s shearwaters together than have been seen in open water for decades (photo by Dave Shoch).
            Dropping to speed from the run offshore, we knew immediately the conditions had changed from the last few days.  Cory’s and Audubon’s Shearwater surrounded the boat, soon joined by a few Black-capped Petrels and Wilson’s Storm-petrels.  A group of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins rode the bow-wave for a few minutes, as numbers of birds steadily increased.  As we watched the shearwaters feeding, two Long-tailed Jaegers appeared above the flock- an adult and a first summer individual.  As we skirted the edge of a thunderstorm, the numbers of Audubon’s climbed, feeding above football sized Skipjack Tuna.  Closer and closer until the cry went out “MANX!” and the race was on to find Manx Shearwaters hidden in the wheeling flock (photo of Manx & Audubon's by Steve Howell).  
Small numbers of Great and Sooty Shearwaters joined the whirling flocks of Audubons, raising May 30th 2017 to a five shearwater day.  Mysterious flocks of shorebirds passed overhead. Even a Bridled Tern joined the flock, dipping at the surface in shallow U-shaped dives. 
            Lightning striking nearby deterred few from standing out on deck and watching the edge of storm for birds to be pushed our way, followed by a drenching rain.  As the last drops fell, raincoats came off, and the search was back on, with participants going from having never seen a shearwater to separating Audubon’s from Manx, Atlantic (Cory’s) from Scopoli’s Shearwaters (photo by Peter Flood).  
Heart rates were raised as a hooded Pterodroma petrel made a close pass at the starboard of the boat, leaving everyone wondering if it was a Bermuda Petrel, an unusually dark Black-capped Petrel, or something even stranger.  On review of the photos at the end of the day, it appears to have been the same dark individual we saw two days ago. 

            As the day wore on through high sun, we stopped to examine a patch of Sargassum well offshore, examining the complex community of small creatures that live with the floating ‘weed’.  Band-rumped Storm-petrels made short forays into the slick, with both Grant’s and Madeiran types identified by moult timing.  We were 28-30 nautical miles away from shore when once again we were surrounded by large flocks of Audubon’s shearwaters.  Hundreds of individuals would rise from the water and resettle in large discreet flocks.  Many appeared to be juvenile birds.  We ended up counting some 585 individual birds before we had to turn back towards shore, awed that we had just seen more Audubon’s shearwaters than had been seen at sea since the 1990’s.  Offshore Bottlenosed Dolphin (photo by Peter Flood) and a Hammerhead shark (photo by Steve Howell) put in appearances for the trip back to the dock, rounding out a remarkable day offshore.

A huge thank you to all of our participants today & thanks as well to our leaders: Dave Shoch, Steve Howell, Sea McKeon, Peter Flood, & Chloe Walker!  Thank you Sea for writing this wonderful and informative blog post, and thanks to Dave, Steve, and Peter for the photos!  Here is a photo of Peter Flood in an awesome Black-capped Petrel shirt from Sea!

Check out his website: & use the coupon code "Offshore 2017" for a discount on your purchase!!

Trip List for May 30, 2017
Black-capped Petrel  41
Cory's Shearwater  57
Great Shearwater  5-6
Sooty Shearwater  3-5
Manx Shearwater  4-6
Audubon's Shearwater  400-600 (careful estimate for the birds today, I counted about 585, difficult to tell if we encountered the same flocks twice or not)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  105-125
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  6
Bridled Tern  3
Long-tailed Jaeger  2

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  7-12
Bottlenose Dolphin  23-24

Black-capped Petrel (Peter Flood)
Nice photo of a subadult Madeiran type Band-rumped with an adult "Scopoli's" Shearwater (Steve Howell)
Photo of a fresh juv Sooty Shearwater (Steve Howell)
Audubon's Shearwaters in flight (Peter Flood)
Another view of the fresh Madeiran type Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (Peter Flood)
A couple photos of our very cooperative Bridled Tern this afternoon way offshore in the deep! (top Steve Howell, bottom Peter Flood)

There were some flyingfish out there today as well!!  We found the warmest water we have seen so far this spring - Atlantic Patchwing (Steve Howell)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday May 29, 2017 - by David Shoch

A swell driving up from the southwest combined with a weak current made for a
choppy ride out to the Gulf Stream this morning. Still, winds had picked up from the
previous day, and surely the birds of the deep would be up sailing those currents.

The winged runners didn’t disappoint – our first Black-capped Petrel came to the
boat almost immediately after slowing down just past the shelf break (photo by Peter Flood).
Light but fairly consistent west winds continued through the day, and the Black-capped
Petrels were up and moving and in near constant attendance. Several birds lingered
and fed in the chum slick, and made repeated and obliging close passes at the stern.
Wilson’s Storm-petrels, strung out down the slick, built to flocks of 30-40 birds, and
Band-rumped Storm-petrels regularly cycled through, streaking through the crowd
on their long bowed wings.  (Photo of Band-rumped below by Steve Howell looks like a first summer bird, so likely a Madeiran type vs the molting Grant's type we mostly see)

A Manx Shearwater was a nice surprise out in the Gulf Stream water - an atypical
individual where feather wear had created the semblance of an Audubon’s
spectacles (photo by Peter Flood).
This bird offered excellent comparisons sitting and flying with several
accompanying smaller, slimmer-bellied Audubon’s Shearwaters.

In the afternoon, Chloe Walker spotted a small pod of Risso’s Dolphins. On a break
from their deep dives, the Risso’s lingered at the surface with us for a leisurely time,
though keeping their distance. From the uniquely scarred dorsal fin of one animal,
this appeared to be the same pod seen yesterday. (photo by Steve Howell)

Tomorrow we head out yet again to experience a new day on the Gulf Stream.

by David Shoch

Thank you to everyone who joined us today and a big thanks to our leaders Dave Shoch, Steve Howell, Sea McKeon, Peter Flood, and Chloe Walker - Sage Church was also a huge help!!  Thank you to Dave for the blog and Steve & Peter for letting me use their photos here... - Kate Sutherland

Trip List May 29, 2017
Black-capped Petrel  60
Cory's Shearwater  11-12
Manx Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  37-38
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  80-95
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  7-9
Oceanodroma sp.  2

Semipalmated Sandpiper  3-6

Risso's Dolphin  8
Bottlenose Dolphin  2

A couple more Black-capped Petrel photos by Peter Flood
We also had a nominate type Cory's Shearwater, aka Scopoli's, in the slick late in the day.  Steve easily identified it and Peter captured this image.
Manx & Audubon's Shearwaters by Steve Howell.  Note the slim body and long tail of the Audubon's (R) vs the heftier build of the Manx (L).  A Manx Shearwater weighs twice as much as an Audubon's, and the difference easily seen in this photo!  You can also see the toes projecting beyond the tail in the Manx and the white undertail coverts vs all dark in the Audubon's.
One more shot of the Risso's Dolphins by Peter Flood

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday May 28, 2017 - by Sea McKeon

Part of what makes the Gulf stream such a beautiful shade of blue is a lack of nutrients.  Few nutrients results in less phytoplankton, the little plants that make the water green and alive.  The blue waters of the Gulf Stream are essentially a desert, and the animals we get to see in this landscape are hardy survivors in a harsh land – their rarity speaks to what it takes to make a living here.   In the face of these odds everyone onboard the Stormy Petrel II got some amazing glimpses of life in the Ocean Desert today, with early distant looks at Cory’s Shearwater and Common Tern before the real specialty birds of the Gulf Stream put in an appearance.  As Kate laid out a fish-oil slick, Wilson’s Storm-Petrels began to gather in our wake.  We traveled up a windline of Sargassum, which tends to attract other species interested in shelter or a potential meal.  Today, the Sargassum lines were filled with jellyfish, flyingfishes, and  juvenile fishes of many types that would dash into the Sargassum as soon as they saw or felt the boat.   As if on cue, Black-capped Petrels began to sail into the lengthening slick, gleaming white on the underside and strikingly marked above (photo by Peter Flood top, Steve Howell bottom). 

By the end of the day Black-caps were making close passes by the boat, with one individual having a dark, almost ‘hooded’ appearance lacking the pale neck normally seen (photo by Peter Flood). 
Audubon’s Shearwater, a small bird that frequently hunts under and around Sargassum, supplied some great views both in flight (photo by Peter Flood)
and resting on the surface of the water.  Nearing our ‘turning point’ to work our way back inland, a pod of 15 Risso’s dolphin, a large blunt-headed and pale dolphin, put in an appearance diving underneath the boat as we approached, only to resurface several hundred meters away (photo by Peter Flood).
The afternoon sun did its best to lull everyone to nap in the shade, only to be shocked awake by the appearance of three Band-rumped Storm-Petrels resting on the water immediately alongside the boat (photo by Peter Flood).
Leaping to flight, the birds gave everyone a close view of the differences between this species and the Wilson’s Storm-Petrels foraging nearby.  While we are never entirely sure of what we will see on the Gulf Stream trips, these three species, the Black-capped Petrel, Audubon’s Shearwater, and Band-rumped Storm-Petrel form the core of our experiences off of Hatteras, and it was a delight to see them so well today.

Thank you to Sea for composing this blog post!  & thank you to Steve & Peter for contributing their photos!  Thanks to all three of them and to Chloe Walker for helping to lead the trip today!  We will be out there again tomorrow...  -Kate Sutherland

Trip List May 28, 2017

Black-capped Petrel  30-32
Cory's Shearwater  5
Audubon's Shearwater  16
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  60-65
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  7-8
Common Tern  2
Risso's Dolphin  15-20
A dark faced Black-capped (Peter Flood)

A ventral view of the same "hooded" looking individual from above in the blog post (Steve Howell)
One of the Audubon's Shearwaters on the water, yawning (Peter Flood)
& another flight shot of an Audubon's (Steve Howell)
The Band-rumped Storm-Petrels just after taking off (Steve Howell)
Here it is even easier to see the tall, falcate dorsal fins of the Risso's Dolphins (Peter Flood)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Saturday May 27, 2017 - by Kate Sutherland

I have always said, and truly believe, that any day you see a Black-capped Petrel is a good day - an amazing day - a special day.  So today was all of that, because we cannot forget how lucky we are to head offshore and pretty much expect to see a Black-capped Petrel, our signature Gulf Stream species.  The persistent westerlies of the past few days really cleared out some of the species we hope to see, but the Black-cappeds were there,
and we saw more of them than any other species, save Wilson's Storm-Petrel!  It was a beautiful day out there, with a bit of breeze from...well, the south west...but there was some grass out in the deep and we did find some beautiful, blue, warm water out there.  While Black-capped Petrels, both types, stole the show today, we did have good looks at a few Audubon's Shearwaters and a Sooty Shearwater that was feeding on the water allowed us to approach closely before flushing!
The Wilson's Storm-Petrels came in well to the slick and we even had some pretty nice views of a couple of Band-rumpeds, though they did not make any close passes for photos like they did last Wednesday!  Between 1130 and noon a Cliff Swallow flew towards the boat, coming right in over the stern before moving on, an interesting species to add to the offshore list!
Overall, it was what we would expect to find in the Gulf Stream, the numbers were just a little low.  But tomorrow is another day and we will be out there to see what we can find!

Thank you to everyone who joined us out there, especially those who spent two or three days on land waiting for the chance to get out there!  Thanks to Steve Howell, Sea McKeon, and Peter Flood for helping us lead the trip today!  All of the photos in the post today are by Steve, nice captures!

Trip List May 27, 2017
Black-capped Petrel  27
Cory's Shearwater  5
Sooty Shearwater  1-2
Audubon's Shearwater  5
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  40-50
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  2-4
Oceanodroma sp  1

Cliff Swallow  1
Laughing Gull  1

Black-capped Petrels
Audubon's Shearwater
And while there were not many birds out there, we did see a lot of shipping traffic!  Here is the Seaspan Alps with a Black-capped Petrel flying by...