Sunday, August 26, 2018

August 24 & 25, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

A wind shift mid-week set us up for the best trips of the summer, just in time for the last trips of the summer!  If you have been keeping up with the blog posts, then you know we have had weeks upon weeks of southwest winds and ugly water here off of Hatteras.  The species we expect to see here in the summer have not been around in the numbers we typically encounter.  But as winds shifted around to the north last week, we watched the forecast and waited...and Brian and I were ready to see what we could find out there in the two days we had to do it!  Winds were stiff from the north north east on Friday, then falling out a bit with more of an easterly component on Saturday with little to no current and some gorgeous, blue water.  Who knows what we could have found out there Sunday, but unfortunately there was not enough interest to run that trip.  Mornings were very productive both days with a dark Trindade Petrel right off the bat on Friday, zipping in to check out the slick at a high rate of speed just before 0900!  On Saturday yelling out on deck immediately slowed our offshore progression and a second summer Masked Booby flew right up the wake and by the port side, while we were still on the shelf (photo by Kate Sutherland)!
Not even thirty minutes later there was more shouting, this time a young Red-billed Tropicbird (first summer) was with us!  That sighting coincided with our arrival at the shelf break and we slowed soon after to see what else we could turn up.  There were flocks of mostly Cory's type Shearwaters feeding on fish out there Saturday thanks to the slack current and we were able to run to get among these birds quite easily most of the day.  This worked in our favor since the first flock, indicated to us by the Sooty Terns flying high above, held another Masked Booby, this one looked to be a first summer individual (photo by Brian Patteson).  
As we sorted through the hundreds of shearwaters for something different, another tropicbird flew in to check out the activity!  This one turned out to be a young White-tailed Tropicbird (photo by Kate Sutherland)! 
We stayed with this flock for almost an hour until the birds dispersed and were rewarded with views of the Sooty Terns, including one young bird, plus Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers!  This whole time we were watching Cory's, Scopoli's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters around us feeding and sitting on the water (photo of Cory's Shearwater by Brian Patteson).
A short time after we began heading offshore once again, one of our participants happened to look up and find another White-tailed Tropicbird looking back at her!  This bird looked more adult-like, though it may not have been a full adult quite yet.  It spent a lot of time hovering over the boat and checking out the slick, though it did not splash down for any food.  (photo by Kate Sutherland)  
A short time after this bird disappeared from sight, a tropicbird was spotted on the reveal that it was the same individual we had just seen, not a third individual.

We had excellent views of Black-capped Petrels on both trips, though they were definitely seen in higher numbers on Friday, the windier of the two days.  Cory's type shearwaters dominated on both trips, but we did have good views of both Great and Audubon's on each trip.  Wilson's Storm-Petrels were again around in low numbers, but this is also expected as we move into the late summer and early fall.  We were lucky to get good views of two Band-rumped Storm-Petrels on Saturday, though none were seen on Friday.  Tropical terns were hard to come by on Friday, though we did have excellent views of one Sooty, while Saturday we had nice views of both species and one of our participants even spotted a perched adult Bridled Tern that allowed for close approach (photo by Kate Sutherland).  
Overall a great couple of trips!  While we have had both tropicbirds on trips in the past, and even two White-taileds and a Red-billed on the same day...Brian cannot remember a trip with two individual Masked Boobies, so that was quite a feat!  Our next trip is September 8 (weather date of the 9th), and we should have a chance to see all of these species except for the Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, which become scarce after late August down here.  We have space!  Think about joining us out there...

Thanks to Jeff Lemons and Nick Newberry for helping Brian and I lead the trips this weekend!  

Species List for August 24 / 25
Trindade Petrel  1 / 0
Black-capped Petrel  49-52 / 19
Cory's Shearwater  1 / many seen
Scopoli's Shearwater  11 / many seen
Cory's type  84 / 440* we had hundreds of Cory's in a few flocks, it was impossible to break these down into Atlantic Cory's vs Scopoli's in the field
Great Shearwater  3 / 5
Audubon's Shearwater  16-20 / 13-14
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  20-22 / 23-24
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  0 / 2-3
White-tailed Tropicbird  0 / 2
Red-billed Tropicbird  0 / 1
Masked Booby  0 / 2
Red-necked Phalarope  1 / 0
Sooty Tern  1 / 7
Bridled Tern  0 / 2
Sooty/Bridled  0 / 2
Least Tern  2 / 0
Pomarine Jaeger  0 / 1
Parasitic Jaeger  0 / 1
Semipalmated Sandpiper  0 / 1
Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore population)  11-13 / 0
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  0 / 6

A couple photos of Black-capped Petrels - ventral by Brian Patteson, dorsal by Kate Sutherland
One of the Scopoli's Shearwaters that we saw on Saturday (Brian Patteson)
Audubon's on the water (Brian Patteson) and flying in the rain (Kate Sutherland)
While Wilson's Storm-Petrels were in short supply, they did make some nice passes for photographs!  (Kate Sutherland)
The second White-tailed Tropicbird just after taking off of the water (Brian Patteson)
Record shot of the Red-billed Tropicbird (Kate Sutherland)
Bridled Tern in flight (Brian Patteson) 
& a couple images of the very cooperative Atlantic Spotted Dolphins we had on the way in on Saturday (Kate Sutherland)

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Friday August 17, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

Two weeks have passed since our last outing to seabird offshore of Cape Hatteras, and the weather has been pretty much the same since the beginning of the month - onshore southerly winds.  This unwavering weather pattern coupled with some messy water moving up from Florida produced another trip with low numbers for the summer, but excellent views of just about every species we encountered!  The wind was steady from the southwest all day on Friday, increasing a bit in the afternoon, so there was some breeze to carry the scent of the chum and get the birds up in the air if they were around.  We did not encounter any seabirds on our way to the shelf break, but once we got there we found some Red-necked Phalaropes poking around in the sargassum (photo by Kate Sutherland)! 
These were the first for the summer here and they proved to be the most numerous species of the day with many incredible photo ops right next to the boat!  Wilson's Storm-Petrels were next in line for numbers and we also had some excellent views of them in the fish oil slick behind us and when circling back.  Black-capped Petrels and the Cory's type Shearwaters kept their distance but were seen well enough to get the identification down for those who were out for their first trip with us.  Audubon's were scarce in spite of plentiful sargassum, but we did have one that we approached on the water (photo by Kate Sutherland). 
We had one Band-rumped Storm-Petrel fly in at a high rate of speed, but it paused at the slick and then flew right up behind the boat so we all had a chance to get a nice view, especially with the attendant Wilson's (photo by Ed Corey)!
The other summertime stars were the tropical terns...we had some feeding Sooty Terns just after 9 that we were able to get among, then midday a Bridled Tern flew by!  Brian pursued this bird and when we slowed, there were three right there!  Following that encounter, a young Bridled Tern followed us, swooping down to the chum occasionally, for almost 30 minutes (Kate Sutherland)!
The terns showed us some nicer blue Gulf Stream water in the morning and we were able to stick with that until early afternoon.  Our hopes were that we might see that water moving up by Saturday's trip, but the winds were already blowing over 20 knots by 0430 that morning, so we ended up canceling another summer trip.  It looks like we might have a bit of a change in the weather preceding our trips next week, so hopefully we will get another chance out there to find something exciting in addition to our usual suspects.  We still have space on Friday and Saturday (8/24 & 8/25), so let us know if you want to join us!

Thank you to everyone who signed up to join us this weekend, we could not get out there without you!  Thank you also to Ed Corey for helping Brian and I lead the trip on Friday and for contributing some of his photos!

Species list for August 17, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  5
Cory's Shearwater  1
Scopoli's Shearwater  1
Cory's type  3
Audubon's Shearwater  4
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  29
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  1
Red-necked Phalarope  38-39
Sooty Tern  7-9
Bridled Tern  4
Laughing Gull  1
Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore)  10-12
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  4-5

Ed Corey captured this photo of a Scopoli's Shearwater
The same Audubon's pictured above in flight (Kate Sutherland)
A couple more photos of the Red-necked Phalaropes.  They are no longer showing their red necks, but you can see the fine bill and streaked back that help to separate them from the larger Red Phalaropes that we see here in the winter months.  (top photo by Ed Corey, bottom two by Kate Sutherland)
One of the adult Sooty Terns that we found in the morning, they made some really nice passes once we were able to get into position among them!  This photo shows the dark underprimaries (vs white in Bridled Tern) and the reduced amount of white on the forehead.  Sooty Terns are also blacker above and much more powerful in their flight than the slighter Bridled Terns.  (Kate Sutherland)
Two more images of the young Bridled Tern that followed us in the afternoon showing those white underprimaries (Kate Sutherland), another perspective by Ed Corey (below).
A curious Laughing Gull that came in while we were offshore of the shelf break!  (Ed Corey)
We also had some nice flyingfish out there like this Atlantic Patchwing (Kate Sutherland)
Near the shelf break we passed this NOAA vessel - on the way out and back! (Ed Corey)
(*post updated to add and change photos 19 Aug 2018 at 1721)

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Early August - by Brian Patteson

Compared to the previous couple of weeks, the weather had been drier, and well, not as windy. After 20 inches of rain here in July, it was good to see some sunshine. We actually got out to the deep three days in a row last week, as we had an offshore charter with some folks at the Duke Marine Lab on Thursday, August 2. It was still pretty windy and rough that day, and we only spent a few hours out past the shelf break. Birds were sparse, and we even did a little chumming while we were out there looking for marine mammals, which we did not find in the deep water. It was worth melting a couple of chum blocks though, because a Trindade Petrel did fly right up to the boat to investigate (photo by Kate Sutherland)! The only cetaceans we saw were Atlantic Spotted Dolphins in the shelf waters, but we found two pods, and we had them around the boat for a long time (photo by Kate Sutherland).

Sea conditions were a bit better by Friday morning, but it was still choppy in the inshore waters. We again found some Spotted Dolphins on our way out to the break. Birding got off to a slow start, but we did find most of the expected species with the exception of Band-rumped Storm-Petrel. Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were also scarce, as they have been on most of the trips this summer. The winds have been from the south now for days on end, and that’s not a good pattern for seeing storm-petrels here. Southerly winds are usually good for Audubon’s Shearwaters, but they have also been scarce. Nevertheless we had some good looks at Audubon’s each day (photo by Peter Flood).
The southerly flow seems to have brought some Sooty Terns our way, and we saw several each day, with some nice close encounters of calling birds on Saturday. We only managed to get good looks at Bridled Terns on Saturday.  The Bridled Terns were both first summer birds, but the Sooty Terns were mostly adults with just a couple of juveniles. We should be joined by northward dispersing adult and juvenile Bridled Terns in the days to come.

Large tubenoses were scarce overall and we saw just a handful of shearwaters each day: Cory’s, Scopoli’s, Great, and Audubon’s. Black-capped Petrels were seen best on Friday, the day we had a bit of squall activity offshore (photo by Peter Flood).
Single Long-tailed and Pomarine Jaegers were seen on Friday only. We did not have a trip on Sunday, but I kept in touch with Tom Johnson, who was on the NOAA ship Bigelow as they made a quick transit northward through the area that day.  Tom reported seeing low numbers of seabirds from the waters off Cape Fear all the way to Cape Hatteras.  His numbers of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were shockingly low, with only 16 in well over 100 miles of steaming. Numbers of storm-petrels did pick up to the northwest of the Gulf Stream though, and he also found a White-faced Storm-Petrel about 40 nautical miles east of Nags Head late Sunday afternoon. We have seen them up there in years past, but it’s been a while since we have gone up there.

We would like to thank everyone who joined us for last week’s trips and also our guest leaders, Dave Shoch and Peter Flood. Our next trip is August 17 and we have space on all of our trips this summer and fall. See for details.

Species List for August 2 / 3 / 4
*we did not have a typical seabirding trip on the 2nd, so the numbers are a bit lower
Trindade Petrel  1 / 0 / 0
Black-capped Petrel  6 / 12-15 / 6
Cory's Shearwater  1 / 0 / 1
Scopoli's Shearwater  0 / 2 / 4
Cory's type  3 / 12 / 10
Great Shearwater  3 / 5-6 / 2
Audubon's Shearwater  4 / 11-12 / 4
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  10 / 50-60 / 27
large storm-petrel (Leach's / Band-rumped)  0 / 0 / 1
Sooty Tern  7 / 14 / 23
Bridled Tern  0 / 0 / 2
tropical tern species (Sooty / Bridled)  6 / 4 / 8
Least Tern  0 / 1 / 0
Black Tern  1 / 0 / 0
Pomarine Jaeger  0 / 1 / 0
Long-tailed Jaeger  0 / 1 / 0
dowitcher  0 / 0 / 4
yellowlegs  0 / 0 / 2
shorebird sp.  2 / 0 / 1
Barn Swallow  0 / 4 / 0

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins  40 / 7 / 0
Pilot Whales (prob Short-finned)  0 / 0 / 50-75

Great Shearwater (Kate Sutherland)
Sooty Tern (Peter Flood)
Bridled Tern  (Kate Sutherland)
Pilot Whale (probably Short-finned) (Kate Sutherland)
Some Atlantic Patchwings from Saturday (Kate Sutherland)