Monday, September 24, 2018

Saturday September 22, 2018 - by Kate Sutherland

Hurricane Florence has savaged North & South Carolina since our last trip offshore, and while many seabirds turn up inshore with hurricanes, they do not always offer better birding offshore.  That does not mean it can't be interesting as birds return to an area after vacating it due to a huge disturbance, but we were not really expecting to see much more than our usual suspects out there this weekend!  We were not disappointed, though it would have been nice to have a little more wind to carry the scent of our chum and get the birds flying!  There was a nice northeasterly swell that many birds were traveling on, but this also kept them closer to the water.

The shelf break held some sargassum and at least eight Bridled Terns plus Cory's and Great Shearwaters!  This certainly started the day off well!  As we headed offshore we found a nice flock of feeding shearwaters that we were able to approach and spend some time with.  The majority of the birds were Cory's and many of these looked to be the nominate Scopoli's Shearwater (photo by Ed Corey).
There were also some Great and Audubon's mixed in so we had excellent views of all of our shearwaters at the same time!  A couple of Sooty Terns flew by and our first Black-capped Petrel of the day showed up in the slick - not bad for a calm day!  We continued our journey offshore to deeper water and a gorgeous, dark morph Pomarine Jaeger came in to investigate our chum (photo by Kate Sutherland).
We had put out some extra chum to attract the Black-capped Petrels and this jaeger was quite happy to take advantage of that.  As we have learned over the years, Black-cappeds are not fond of these dark individuals, perhaps because they resemble skuas, and one of the Black-cappeds really turned on the speed to buzz the jaeger on the water!  (photo by Kyle Kittelberger)
What a show!

Wilson's Storm-Petrels were quite scarce, as they can be later in the year, but we did have nice views of at least a couple individuals that came in to visit the slick.  The Black-capped Petrels were very obliging and we had some incredible photo opportunities as they sailed by the boat (photo by Ed Corey). 
Just after noontime a Merlin flew over the boat, not missing a beat as we all scrambled to get a look at this uncommon offshore find!  Brian commented that he could not remember the last time we had a Merlin on one of our trips, but it was likely in September!  We had at least four more Pomarine Jaegers come to check us out and we had a Sandwich Tern and a Bridled Tern visit us in the afternoon.  A few pods of offshore Bottlenose Dolphins came in to the boat and we found a few pods of Pilot Whales (probably Short-finned) out there as well that allowed us to approach.  The first group Pilot Whales showed their flukes a few times, not something we always get to see (photo Kate Sutherland)!
Overall it was an incredible day out there, not too hot but sunny, and birds to see in spite of the calm conditions!

A big thank you to Dr. Seabird McKeon of St. Mary's College of Maryland for bringing his Coastal Ecology class out with us, they got to spend the day in the big, blue classroom!  And thank you to everyone who joined us making the trip possible!  Thanks also to Kyle Kittelberger and Ed Corey for helping us lead the trip and contributing their photos for this blog post!  We have four trips next month on the 6(7), 13(14), 19, and 20 - think about joining us!

Species List September 22, 2018
Black-capped Petrel  42-44
Cory's Shearwater  10+
Scopoli's Shearwater  30+
Cory's type  95-96
Great Shearwater  18
Audubon's Shearwater  25
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  3
Red-necked Phalarope  2
Sooty Tern  2
Bridled Tern  9
Sooty/Bridled Tern  1
Black Tern  9
Sandwich Tern  1
Pomarine Jaeger  5
jaeger sp.  1
peep sp.  7
Merlin  1
Pilot Whale (likely Short-finned)  23-28
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin  39-45

Another Black-capped Petrel image showing the white rump that is easily visible from a great distance!  (Ed Corey)
We had a lot of Cory's types out there and many were like this individual that looked small in the field but only had reduced amounts of white in the underprimaries.  It feels like the more we learn the less we know with these subspecies (or to many, species!). (Kate Sutherland)
It was nice to see some Great Shearwaters out there!  They have been a bit scarce this summer, in this image you can see the dark patch on the belly.  (Ed Corey)
Audubon's Shearwaters also were very cooperative and we had a few that allowed close approach!  (Ed Corey)
The dark morph Pomarine Jaeger spent some time sitting on the water and stayed put as we maneuvered for a closer look!  (Kyle Kittelberger)  Until it flushed (Ed Corey), but it stayed with us for quite awhile feeding in the chum.
Kyle captured an image of one of the other Pomarine Jaegers that visited us over the course of the day.
The Pilot Whales came in fairly close to the boat and gave us some good views of their bulbous heads and large dorsal fins!  (Kate Sutherland top, Ed Corey below)
The offshore Bottlenose came right in and rode under the pulpit!  This individual had a mangled dorsal fin!  (Kate Sutherland top, Ed Corey below)

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