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)

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