Sunday, October 21, 2018

Friday October 19, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

Friday was a calm day tucked between two windy days...and while we would typically prefer some nice stiff winds, it turned out to be a nice day for both seabirds and humans!  I don't even think we had any spray on the boat all day, plus we had some incredible feeding flocks.  The ride out to the shelf break was quiet, but just inshore of the break we found our first shearwaters feeding, Cory's types with Audubon's.  As we were watching the shearwaters an Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) leaped out of the water right next to us!  Just over the break we had another encounter with our charismatic megafauna, this time with a Leatherback!  It surfaced a few times giving us all an incredible look at the back of the head and the pink spot that is thought to allow sunlight into the pineal gland, adjusting their circadian rhythms and triggering movements to different feeding grounds based on changes in daylight.  (photo by Kate Sutherland)
We also found some shearwater flocks just over the shelf break and had our first Black-capped Petrels fly by the boat less than 30 minutes later!
The Gulf Stream current and the really hot water was too far offshore for us to reach, but the water did warm up as we headed in that direction!  There were birds around all day and we had a few Wilson's Storm-Petrels that came in to check out the slick; it was nice to see them since they have been a bit scarce this fall!  We finally had some jaegers out there, the first to approach the boat was a juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger; it came in and flew right over us before heading off! (photo by Ed Corey)
Shortly after that we had a dark Pomarine Jaeger join us in the slick, it was very cooperative for photos and stuck with us for at least 30 minutes.  As we closed in on 1,000 fathoms (about 6,000 feet) someone shouted "WHALE"!!  A Sperm Whale was surfacing just off the starboard side!  We were able to turn a little to get it in some better light and we watched it surface a number of times, its bushy blow angling to the left, until it dove, giving us an incredible view of the tail stock and flukes of this toothed whale! (photo by Kate Sutherland)
This was the first sighting for us in 2018, lucky on our last trip of the year!
Our inshore tack was no less productive than our trip offshore and we added a species to the October trip lists for the year with a Bridled Tern!  While it did not come very close, the identification was clear as it flew across the bow.  As we approached the shelf break there were many flocks of shearwaters on the horizon so we were able to move from flock to flock checking for anything different!  We had excellent views of Atlantic Cory's with a few Scopoli's, Great Shearwaters, and Audubon's all feeding on some skipjack tuna and their prey that were busting on the surface! (photo by Kyle Kittelberger)
While we were with the shearwater flocks we had another three Pomarine Jaegers fly by, one was even pursued by a Black-capped Petrel!  It was such a treat to get offshore this fall, hopefully these trips will help to entice others to join us next fall!
Thanks to everyone who joined us out there and thank you to Kyle Kittelberger and Ed Corey for helping Brian and I lead the trip and for contributing photos for the blog post!  A big thank you too to Brad Sale for sharing some of his Sperm Whale photos with us (see below)!

Species List for October 19, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  48-54
Atlantic Cory's  200
Scopoli's Shearwater  57
Cory's type  402
Great Shearwater  17
Audubon's Shearwater  142
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  5
Bridled Tern  1
Long-tailed Jaeger  1
Pomarine Jaeger  4
jaeger sp (Pom or Parasitic)  1

Great Blue Heron  3
American Kestrel  1
American Pipit  1
shorebird sp.  4 (possibly phalaropes, but not seen well enough for positive identification)

Sperm Whale  1
Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore type)  25+
Leatherback Turtle  2
Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)  1-2

Black-capped Petrels did not disappoint!  (photos by Ed Corey top, Kate Sutherland below)
The number of Cory's we saw was impressive!  We had both Scopoli's (top) and Atlantic Cory's (below) (photos by Kate Sutherland)
Audubon's Shearwaters also put in a nice showing!  They were very cooperative in the feeding flocks (photo by Kyle Kittelberger)
A few more jaeger images - the juvenile Long-tailed (above) and the dark Pomarine Jaeger that followed us for a bit (below).  (both photos by Kyle Kittelberger)
One of the Black-capped Petrels chased a Pomarine Jaeger we had later around one of the feeding flocks!  Not the sharpest image, but always interesting to see!  (Kate Sutherland)
A couple more images of the Sperm Whale - what an experience!  You can see the blow that is at an angle since the blow hole of a Sperm Whale is on the left side of its head, pointing in that direction (photo by Ed Corey).  And below, another image of the tail as it dove (photo by Brad Sale).
Another nice image of the Leatherback turtle (by Ed Corey).

Monday, October 15, 2018

Saturday October 13, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

Tropical Storm Michael brought some soundside flooding to the northern sections of Hatteras Island on Thursday night, but the winds had subsided and our channel to the ocean was still intact for our trip out on Saturday!  The winds were westerly in the morning and this gave us a steady procession of warblers for most of the day with at least six species identified offshore.  We were not sure how this would shape up for seabirding, but we need not have worried because we still encountered some nice groups of feeding shearwaters and the Black-capped Petrels were out there in force!  Brian had checked the sea surface temperature map before we left the dock and the hot water was to the south of us, heading offshore to the east.  This prompted us take a more southerly route in the morning from the inlet, but we found the nice, blue water of the Gulf Stream and had nice numbers of Audubon's Shearwaters before we even reached the shelf break! (photo of two Audubon's by Kate Sutherland)
Black-capped Petrels were in their element with the increasing winds throughout the day and a few times my scans turned up 45 to 50 individuals stretched back in the chum slick!  They were attentive to the chum like last weekend, and we had many incredible passes as these dynamic flyers came to feed behind the boat!  A young Herring Gull flew up the slick and for the first time I saw some Black-cappeds harassing this species, they did not bother a young Great Black-backed Gull that came in a bit later. (photo of Herring Gull, Cory's, and Black-capped Petrels behind the boat by Kyle Kittelberger)
There was also some activity at one point up ahead of the boat and a couple of Black-cappeds were chasing one another around, and though the reason was never apparent to us, the moniker "gadfly" made so much sense!  It was a very bizarre display.  Other individuals were cruising up high, at times there were up to ten sailing in the clouds before they would dive back down to sea level and begin a more typical, arcing flight.  They stole the show again this weekend, and while the light was at times harsh, the photo ops were seemingly endless (Kyle Kittelberger).
Heading back toward the shelf break just after noontime, our large shearwaters finally turned up!  We had a handful of Cory's in the morning, but were glad to finally encounter some feeding flocks that allowed everyone to have much closer views of both types of Cory's and some Great Shearwaters...all the while Black-capped Petrels were keeping up with us in the slick!  While we had a nice flight of Audubon's in the morning, there were not many in with these afternoon groups.  A couple of Wilson's Storm-Petrels came in to visit the chum slick and came close enough for some nice looks!  This time of year they can be hit or miss, so it was nice to see them.
Just over the shelf break, Brian spotted a huge Leatherback Turtle that stayed on the surface right next to the boat, taking a few breaths before sounding (Kyle Kittelberger).
This was the best view of a Leatherback we have ever had, and the churning water was impressive as its powerful flippers readied it to dive!  Dr. Fred Alsop of East Tennessee State University had his Coastal Studies class with us on Saturday, so this was the first sea turtle many of them had ever seen!  It was another incredible fall day out there!  Thanks to everyone who joined us for the trip, and a big thank you to Dr. Alsop for joining us with his class!  Thank you also to Kyle Kittelberger who helped Brian and I lead the trip and contributed photos for this post!

Species List for October 13, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  150-162
Atlantic Cory's  at least 4
Scopoli's Shearwater  at least 10
Cory's type  140-170
Great Shearwater  12-13
Audubon's Shearwater  76
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  2-3
Red-necked Phalarope  2
Herring Gull  1-2
Great Black-backed Gull  1
Common Tern  2

White-rumped Sandpiper  1
Wilson's Snipe  1
Tennessee Warbler  3
Cape May Warbler  9
Northern Parula  1
Chestnut-sided Warbler  1
Bay-breasted Warbler  2
Black-throated Blue Warbler  4
warbler sp.  39

Leatherback Turtle  2
Bottlenose Dolphins (offshore type)  4

Yes, a few more Black-capped Petrel photos, top two by Kate Sutherland, and you can see we had some in the green water in the bottom photo by Kyle Kittelberger!
This bird looked to be an Atlantic Cory's (Kate Sutherland)
We only saw two Red-necked Phalaropes all day, but it was a little choppy for spotting them on the water!  (Kate Sutherland)
Kyle also captured this image of some of the many warblers we had offshore!  (from L to R: Northern Parula (1st year), Cape May Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler (male), and another Cape May Warbler)
Another image of the Leatherback showing how it almost seemed to make a dent in the water before sounding!  (Kate Sutherland)
Finally, a few images from our sargassum dip with the ETSU students!  Top to bottom: both species of Sargassum - fluitans (L) natans (top R), a large male sargassum swimming crab (Portunus sayi), two photos in a row of a smaller, female swimming crab - dorsal and ventral (you can see she had eggs!), and finally a small pipefish!  (all photos by Kate Sutherland)

Monday, October 8, 2018

Saturday October 6, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

Conditions looked favorable for our trip this weekend and we were not disappointed!  It was an incredible day out there, showing how the possibilities for fall, a time when we have not run many trips, are just really unknown waiting to be explored.  Our jog out to the shelf break was uneventful, but right at the shelf edge we found our first "beehive" of shearwaters!  This flock was composed of mostly Cory's type shearwaters and as we checked them out most looked to be Scopoli's!  There were some Audubon's mixed in, a few Red-necked Phalaropes, one Great Shearwater, and a Black-capped Petrel that was feeding with the Scopoli's on small bait fish in and around the sargassum (photo by Kate Sutherland).
On our way offshore we just encountered more flocks of feeding birds, so we meandered out there, going from flock to flock.  One group held a Sooty Shearwater that sat for photos before taking off and flying out of sight (photo by Kate Sutherland).
Red-necked Phalaropes were zipping around in these flocks too, so we were able to get some nice views of them in flight and on the water.  A little before 1100 we found a nice current edge with about a 2 degree temperature break.  There was sargassum lined up along it and the blue water was testy with the north wind.  We did not see much life as we scanned offshore of the break, so we opted to stay where the birds were...and that choice really paid off!  Black-capped Petrels began gathering to feed in our chum slick so we put out some more food for them.  We had at least 40 individuals feeding around the boat for almost 30 minutes, flying right by us and almost over the pulpit!  It was a spectacle the likes of which we have never seen, and the photo ops of these gorgeous, freshly plumaged birds were incredible (photo by Brian Patteson)! 
Just as things were winding down with the Black-cappeds, I happened to look up and flying over us was an adult Masked Booby!!  It moved quickly over us and away, but we all had excellent views before it was gone (photo by Ed Corey). 
I thought we might find more jaegers out there with all of the shearwater action, but we just had one Pomarine Jaeger that hung with a shearwater flock harassing Audubon's and another quick pass by one that was either a Pom or Parasitic, views were fleeting and it flew into the sun.

There were some other interesting sightings for the day including at least 7 Mola mola, or Ocean Sunfish, one of which leaped from the water three times while we were watching!  They came close enough to the boat for us to see these strange looking bony fish under the surface as they moved along waving their dorsal fins occasionally above the surface.  We also had a nice hammerhead shark swim right up next to us and almost under the bow, much to the delight of participants in the pulpit!  As we headed back to shore, I spotted a large Loggerhead Turtle on the surface.  Typically these animals will dive before we are able to stop the boat to look at them, but this one stayed up and allowed us to approach.  Tami Gray, Brian's girlfriend and experienced waterwoman, noticed that there was a net hanging from the neck of the turtle.  With some team work we were able to get the turtle to the side of the boat, cut some of the net free, and see the extent of her injuries.  Once we saw the shape she was in, we brought her aboard, cut the remainder of the net from around her neck and took her back to port for a trip to a rehab facility. 
What an amazing day!

We want to thank everyone who joined us out there today, we could not run these trips without you!  And a big thank you to Ed Corey for helping us lead the trip and contributing photos for the post!  We still have space on the rest of our trips this month, they will run on October 13(14), 19, and 20th.

Species List for October 6, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  95-102
Cory's Shearwater  50
Scopoli's Shearwater  300
Cory's type  413-473
Great Shearwater  34-36
Sooty Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  71-72
Masked Booby  1
Red-necked Phalarope  48-49
Pomarine Jaeger  1
Pomarine/Parasitic Jaeger  1
Herring Gull  2
Peregrine Falcon  1
Loggerhead Turtle (with remoras when in the water)  1
hammerhead shark (likely Scalloped Hammerhead)  1
Mola mola (Ocean Sunfish)  7
Little Tunny  1 released
American Bird Grasshopper  1 came aboard offshore

Most of the Black-capped Petrels we saw were the dark faced type, like the one pictured below (Ed Corey), but there were at least four or five white-faced individuals that I saw over the course of the day!
This is a photo to illustrate just a small part of our feeding group of Black-cappeds!  Here there are twelve Black-cappeds and a Cory's type shearwater in the slick (Kate Sutherland)
A couple more gorgeous Black-capped images. (top Ed Corey, below Kate Sutherland)
The feeding groups were amazing as well!  Here are some images of different species with prey items (Scopoli's - Kate Sutherland, Great Shearwater - Brian Patteson, Red-necked Phalarope - Ed Corey)
The "beehives" were excellent for photos!  Here is a photo of Scopoli's and Cory's type shearwaters feeding in the sargassum, followed by a Great Shearwater taking off (Brian Patteson)
Here is a photo of the one year old Pomarine Jaeger chasing an Audubon's that is vomiting!  (Kate Sutherland)!
A nicer Audubon's image by Brian Patteson!
We had a few unexpected visitors offshore, Herring Gull (Ed Corey), Peregrine Falcon (Ed Corey), and an American Bird Grasshopper!  (identified by Ed Corey and photo by Kate Sutherland)
Finally, here are images of a Mola mola dorsal fin vs a hammerhead dorsal fin!  Not only is there a difference in the shape and coloration, but the way each species moves through the water is distinctive as well!  (both photos by Kate Sutherland)