Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thursday May 31, 2018 - by Ed Corey

A partly cloudy, moonlit sky greeted the crew and twelve passengers of the Stormy Petrel II this morning, in stark contrast to the gray cloudbanks and impending rainfall of the previous two days.  The storm system had moved on, and we weren’t sure what to expect out in the deeper waters off of Hatteras.  The ride out to the Gulf Stream was relatively uneventful, though it was good to see an adult Black Tern not too far from the inlet.  

Once off of the Continental Shelf, we noticed that the seas were much quieter, with little wind to get the birds moving.  Flat seas can be good for cetaceans and spotting birds on the water.  Early on, we found a cooperative pod of pilot whales (likely Short-finned) logging lazily at the surface. (photo Peter Flood)
We were also able to find a handful of Black-capped Petrels sitting with a single Great Shearwater, and several Wilson’s Storm-Petrels.  Black-cappeds are quite wary on the water, and didn’t allow us to get too close, but all aboard were able to see these “flying field marks” as they took off.  (photo by Peter Flood)
Birds visited our chum slick off and on all day, with decent diversity.  A lone Leach’s Storm-Petrel visited us around 0900, and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels popped in sporadically throughout the day.  We had visits from the different morphs of Black-capped Petrels (dark-faced, intermediate, and white-faced), Great Shearwaters, as well as both Atlantic and Mediterranean-breeding Cory’s Shearwaters (the latter often referred to as Scopoli’s, or the nominate Cory’s).  (photo by Steve NG Howell)
After a lull in activity, we began to notice some fish breaking the surface.  Skipjack Tuna were chasing baitfish, leaping clear of the water as they went.  One piece of flotsam along our trajectory held Tripletail, clinging tightly to the only structure they could find in the big blue desert.  A marlin surfaced briefly, providing a few people a quick glimpse of its distinctive dorsal fin.

Around 1300, the slick picked up a bit more excitement, as a lone Sooty Shearwater joined us for a couple of passes.  Then, a 2nd-summer Long-tailed Jaeger came steaming towards the flock of storm-petrels behind the boat.  After harassing several Wilson’s in the slick, it took aim on an adult Laughing Gull that had found us a few miles before.  Everyone enjoyed seeing this aerial master as it “dogged” the gull, finally persuading it to drop some morsels of food. (photos by Peter Flood)

Many of our trip participants were new faces, and we were glad to show them what the Gulf Stream has to offer!  Thanks to Steve NG Howell, Peter Flood, and Ed Corey for helping us to lead the trip today!

Species List May 31, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  22
Cory's Shearwater  41 - Scopoli's Shearwater  6
Great Shearwater  6
Sooty Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  22
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  85
Leach's Storm-Petrel  1-2
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  9-11
Laughing Gull  1
Black Tern  1
Long-tailed Jaeger  1
Pilot Whale (prob. Short-finned)  16-20
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin  3

We had a few dark faced Black-capped Petrels today, like the individual pictured below (Kate Sutherland)
Here is a nice dorsal shot of a Scopoli's
Here are two shots, Atlantic Cory's on top and Scopoli's on the bottom (photo by Peter Flood)

We just had one Sooty Shearwater today (photo by Ed Corey)
But the Audubon's were around!  Not quite like yesterday, but they were flying!  (photo by Ed Corey)
Band-rumped Storm-Petrels showed well over the course of the day and we saw both molting (top - Steve NG Howell) and non-molitng birds (Peter Flood).

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wednesday May 30, 2018 - A Stormie Day - by Kate Sutherland

Today the weather was unsettled, and that made for some excellent birding...but wet conditions for us!  We did not see much as we headed offshore this morning, in contrast to yesterday's life inshore, but as we closed in on the shelf edge about 0740, breeze associated with some rain had the birds flying!  Especially the Audubon's Shearwaters which we saw in the highest numbers yet for this spring! (photo Peter Flood)
It is a bit easier to see them when they are arcing above the horizon in lines of three to five...  Plus the Black-cappeds were in their dynamic element and also came in quite well to the slick over the course of the morning!  We were in this scattered rain and its associated breezy conditions until just after noontime.  The highlight of the day was large stormies, most notably the Leach's, who were present in the highest numbers we have seen here in years! (photo Kate Sutherland)
This is perhaps the peak time for Leach's to be passing offshore here and today in the rain, the winds were northwest for awhile.  This should have taken the scent of our slick offshore a bit, maybe pulling them in to it.  We had them popping up all over the place with 7 to 10 or more back behind the boat at one time for over an hour!  Incredible photo opportunities, but of course the light was a little difficult with the rain.  The Band-rumpeds did not disappoint either and we had some of the best views yet this spring of both molting and non-molting individuals! (photos by Peter Flood)
Our slick also attracted some of the first Great Shearwaters of the year and we had up to four at once behind us with some Scopoli's and Cory's Shearwaters as well, all feeding.  As the afternoon progressed, the rain passed and the seas got glassy calm - like a totally different day - and we were jumping flocks of large stormies off the water as we moved inshore on the afternoon tack.  So were these birds already there?  Or were they ones that came in to our scent and sat down on the water only to be seen by us as we headed back to the shelf edge?  Who knows?  It was an amazing display!  Just offshore of the shelf break we found a Wilson's Storm-Petrel picking around some sargassum and sitting right there were two Red-necked Phalaropes!  A bit late for them, but they were properly appreciated by everyone aboard, especially the photographers! (photo Kate Sutherland)
While we were checking out the phalaropes in the bow, a hammerhead shark was checking out my chum basket with fish carcasses in the stern, and flying fish were popping up all over the place.  A perfect way to end our time out there.

Thanks to everyone who headed offshore with us today and thank you to our leaders Peter Flood and Ed Corey!  Thank you also to Peter for assembling photos for today's blog post!

Species List for May 30, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  59
Cory's Shearwater  30  Scopoli's Shearwater  2
Great Shearwater  7
Audubon's Shearwater  63
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  215-235
Leach's Storm-Petrel  55-56
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  10-12
Large stormie sp.  8
Red-necked Phalarope  3
Common/Arctic Tern  2
dark backed tern sp  1
hammerhead sp  1

Black-capped Petrel (Peter Flood)
Scopoli's Shearwater - you can see the delicate build and extensive white in the underprimaries (Peter Flood)
Great Shearwaters feeding in the slick made some nice passes by the stern and up the sides of the boat!  (Peter Flood - ventral / Ed Corey - dorsal)

Another couple images of Audubon's Shearwater (Peter Flood)
Another Leach's image (Peter Flood)
& an idea of how close the Wilson's were, in the rain...such amazing little creatures!  (Kate Sutherland)

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Tuesday May 29, 2018 - Tahiti Petrel - by Brian Patteson

We could hear the ocean from the dock this morning, but were pleased to see the seas were a bit nicer than yesterday afternoon. Crossing the bar was a piece of cake and just as we got clear of it, a Sooty Shearwater few by right under the bow. A few miles farther out, a Pomarine Jaeger flew in and followed us for about half an hour as we headed into the swells at a slow cruise. About 20 miles out we found a few shearwaters feeding over some Little Tunny, which were driving bait to the surface. We had excellent looks at both Cory’s and Audubon’s Shearwaters right off the bat. We also scored our first Great Shearwater of the season a bit farther out. Jogging out past the shelf break, it became clear that conditions had changed from the past couple of days. The wide band of blended greenish water was gone and we found bright blue Gulf Stream water pushing 80 degrees just 27 miles out. We slowed down and started chumming and gradually drew in a few tubenoses. We had super looks at Black-capped Petrels and eventually chummed up a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel that stuck close to the boat for a long drift (photo Peter Flood).
Rain squalls kept us pinned inside 30 miles, but that’s still deep water and we had some good birding when the wind picked up and the squalls started to overtake us. I decided to go ahead and jog through the rain, which was coming up on a broad front from the south. Soon after getting clear of it, we began seeing a few Leach’s Storm-Petrels (photo by Ed Corey).
Around 1140 Peter Flood alerted us to a different petrel flying up the slick toward the boat from astern. He thought it might be a light morph Trindade Petrel, but as it came in close, we realized it was not. It was a bit too large and the underwings were dark. Our next thought was Atlantic Petrel, but it didn’t really look right for that. The bird in question was sailing around with straight wings and that did not look right for a Pterodroma. Several of us snapped some pics before the bird glided away. Looking at my camera, I started to think “Tahiti Petrel?” Kate Sutherland came to the wheelhouse with the same thought. It was a species we had not seen before in life, but we had a search image from pics and video. But it was in the WRONG OCEAN, so it was not on our radar initially. As far as I know, this is the first occurrence in the Western North Atlantic and perhaps the Atlantic period. After looking over the pics, everything seemed to be in order for Tahiti Petrel (photo by Peter Flood).
We’ve seen some out of range birds from the boat over the years, but I have to say this one is the least expected of them all! I wish it had stuck around a little longer, but it was awesome to be able to see it here. I sure was not expecting to see any lifer seabirds 30 miles from the house at this point in my life. Working back to the shelf break, we picked up a Sooty Tern and a Long-tailed Jaeger (photo by Peter Flood).
We also had a quick flyby Manx Shearwater before we started steaming back to shore. Thanks to our crew today for a job well done: Kate Sutherland, Peter Flood and Ed Corey worked together like a well-oiled machine. We also had a great group of participants. Thanks to all!

Species List for May 29, 2018
Tahiti Petrel  1
Black-capped Petrel  39-40
Cory's Shearwater  29
Great Shearwater  1
Sooty Shearwater  1
Manx Shearwater  1 (seen by Brian & Ed on the way in)
Audubon's Shearwater  9
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  135-140
Leach's Storm-Petrel  12
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  6
Laughing Gull  1
Sooty Tern  1
Common Tern  1
Sandwich Tern  1
Pomarine Jaeger  4
Long-tailed Jaeger  2
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin  2

A few more photos of the Tahiti Petrel, top two by Peter Flood, bottom by Kate Sutherland
We had really nice views of our Black-capped Petrels today as well (Peter Flood)
The Wilson's were coming in quite close in the slick!  (Peter Flood)
We had one Common Tern visit us offshore today (Ed Corey)
We also had four Pomarine Jaegers today!  (Peter Flood)

Monday, May 28, 2018

Monday May 28, 2018 - by Peter Flood

Well, today was unlike yesterday, and will probably be different from tomorrow.  A snappier southerly wind and partly cloudy to overcast skies greeted us upon exiting Hatteras Inlet this morning.  Seas were a bit more agitated today and a noticeably more vigorous southeasterly swell coupled with 4-6 foot waves made for a bouncier ride out to the shelf edge.   A few Cory's Shearwaters and an occasional Audubon's Shearwater kept us company in transit. (All photos below by Peter Flood) 

Reaching the shelf edge we set our chum slick and quickly built a loyal following of storm-petrels off the stern.  Leach's Storm-Petrels were a real feature today spending considerable time in the chum slick feeding and making some unbelievable close (un-Leach's like) passes by the boat.  One of the Leach's briefly caused some serious heart palpitations for it possessed a minimal rump patch and at first glance initially appeared to be a "dark-rumped" type storm-petrel. (Photo of the subject Leach's below) 

We also managed to tally a few Band-rump Storm-Petrels as well all of which appeared to be a mix of fresh and molting Band-rumps.    
An immature Long-tailed Jaeger bullied its way into the slick and began harassing and chasing storm-petrels around in true kleptoparasitc fashion. (Photo below)
Shortly thereafter we were joined by a couple of Arctic Terns that spent some time feeding in the slick and calling close to the boat much to the delight of all onboard. These extreme long distant migrants that frequent the high latitudes of both hemispheres appeared to be immature terns exhibiting some white speckling on their dark caps. (photo below)

Black-capped Petrels seemed more at ease today than the past couple of days arcing high with confidence all the while making breathtakingly bold passes by the boat.  (photo below)

The stray rain showers that were a minor nuisance during our time offshore today were becoming a bit more persistent as it was time to head in.    Prior to steaming northwest back to shore we enjoyed some energized Bottlenose Dolphins that were acrobatically leaping out of the sea and riding the waves. (photo below) 

A big thank you to Paul Mayer for organizing a group from IL that came offshore with us today, and another big thank you to all of our trip leaders today Chris Sloan, Sea McKeon and Peter Flood.  Thanks to Peter for writing the blog and contributing photos.  

Species List for May 28, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  43
Cory's Shearwater  25
Sooty Shearwater  2
Audubon's Shearwater  15
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  163-173
Leach's Storm-Petrel  24-25
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  4-5
Laughing Gull  2-4
Arctic Tern  2
Common Tern  3
Common/Arctic Tern  2
Long-tailed Jaeger  1
jaeger sp.  1
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin 19-20

A couple more white-faced Black-capped Petrel images
We also had some really nice passes by Cory's Shearwaters, most were the Atlantic type like this bird
Most of the Leach's we saw today looked more typical like this individual below
And a different angle on the young Long-tailed!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sunday May 27, 2018 - by Chris Sloan

We left the dock under similar conditions to yesterday – light southwest winds, without much swell, and a relatively smooth ride out to the shelf under partly cloudy skies.  We reached the shelf break by around 7:45, and initially there was little activity.  It didn’t take long for that to change, though.  Over the course of the next hour, we gradually started picking up small number of Black-capped Petrels; even though the winds were only slightly stronger than yesterday, it was apparently enough to bring these graceful “flying field marks” back into the area.  By 9:00, we had already seen more than we saw all day yesterday!  
For the second day in a row, a jaeger paid us an early visit in the form of subadult Long-tailed Jaeger. Unlike yesterday’s “pet” Pomarine, this one moved through with purpose, powering in on the starboard side and never breaking stride as it continued on a straight line away from us.
Although it took a while for the numbers to build, we eventually attracted many more Wilson’s Storm-Petrels than yesterday, and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were also fairly steady companions throughout the day.  Many made close passes up the slick, allowing numerous opportunities for us to study them.  

Notably, we saw at least two individuals who showed no signs of flight feather molt (one was the bird pictured above).  There are at least four Band-rumped Storm-Petrel populations in the Atlantic, of which all are potential candidates to be split as separate species.  One, Grant’s Storm-Petrel, breeds in the winter months; most Band-rumps seen off of North Carolina in spring are moulting their flight feathers, which is to be expected for birds just completing their breeding season.  However, a warm season breeding population, Madeiran Storm-Petrel, also appears to occur regularly here in small numbers.
In contrast to the two non-moulting individuals we observed, Madeirans appear, on average, to be smaller and blacker than Grant’s with a narrower bill.  On the other hand, in addition to the lack of flight feather moult, both individuals today showed a pronounced black line in the rump, similar to a Leach’s; this is a feature that has been ascribed to Madeiran by some authors.  Could these non-moulting birds have been Madeiran Storm-Petrels, or were they juvenile Grant’s?  Much remains unknown or uncertain about separating these populations.  This is why, in some respects, seabirding is the “last frontier” of birding!
Other than the storm-petrels, most of the day was spent steadily cruising through the warm water searching for pockets of activity.  We had small but steady numbers of Audubon’s and Cory’s Shearwaters, in addition to the occasional Black-caps.  Around noon, a small white tern in the slick caused a bit of confusion.  Initially, because it appeared shorter-tailed than would be expected of Arctic, it was identified as a Common Tern, but further study confirmed that it was, in fact, an Arctic Tern that appeared to be molting, or have lost, it’s longest tail feathers. Fortunately, it made a couple of close passes for all to enjoy.
The last exciting moment of the day came late in the afternoon, when a small black-and-white shearwater went zooming down the port side.  The markedly black upperwing and the wing cadence strongly suggested that it was a Manx, but unfortunately, it went away so quickly that no one was able to confirm it.  When it comes to birding in the Gulf Stream, there is always a reason to come back for more!  (Brian later confirmed that the last shearwater was indeed a Manx!)
Thanks to our great group of participants today, and thank you to our leaders: Chris Sloan, Seabird McKeon, Jeff Lemons, and Peter Flood.  A huge thank you to Chris for composing and providing photos for today's blog!

Species List May 27, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  59-60
Cory's Shearwater  15
Sooty Shearwater  2
Manx Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  28-38
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  70
Leach's Storm-Petrel  2
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  10-11
Arctic Tern  1
Common/Arctic Tern  1
Long-tailed Jaeger  1
jaeger sp.  2

Black-capped Petrel - we had much better luck with them than yesterday!  There were some nice passes by the stern.
Though we had just a couple Sooties today, the second one flew into the slick and we were able to get some incredible views!
(*we should have some more photos from Peter tomorrow!)