Monday, January 28, 2019

Saturday January 26, 2019 - by Brian Patteson

January 26, 2019

We got out on our first regular winter trip of the season with a full boat of eager participants. We were again blessed with good weather, but the water had warmed up a few degrees as a result of southerly flow in recent days. Instead of water temperatures in the mid to high 40s, we had low to mid 50s. The water inshore looked about the same as last week, but there were not as many birds- especially Razorbills. 

I thought it might be worth checking out the edge of the Gulf Stream in hopes of finding some Red Phalaropes and maybe a kittiwake, but our foray offshore was pretty much a bust. We made it out a couple of miles past the shelf break and found water just over 70 degrees, but no birdlife except for what followed along with us.  Our trusty flock included a first winter Iceland Gull, which ended up spending most of the day in our wake (photo by Kyle Kittelberger).
We did see some marine life as we got into the warmer water: a pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins came in and rode our bow wave, and we saw several Hammerhead Sharks just inshore of the current edge. There was strong current where we turned around over 20 miles southeast of the Cape.

Having struck out on the south side of the Cape and offshore, I jogged back inshore toward Avon. Bird activity picked up again in the cooler water there. We had a quick look at a single Red Phalarope a couple of miles inshore of a ragged temperature break, and we finally started getting some better looks at Razorbills, which were both flying by and scattered around sitting on the sea (photo by Brian Patteson).
We also started to see a few Manx Shearwaters well inshore, and we ended up with seven for the day. We did not see any last weekend, so it was nice to find them on this trip. There were good numbers of gannets on the north side, and some were feeding. We still had a good following of gulls, and shortly before 1330, they attracted the attention of a Great Skua, which came charging in and made an attack only to soon lose interest and drift away. It seems like that’s how we see them on bright sunny days. I don’t think they waste much time flying around, and if they aren’t close, it’s hard to figure out how far away they have gone before they land on the water. Anyhow, it was one shot and it was gone: a lifer for some and a better view desired for others.

There was a lot of life all the way to Diamond Shoals- hundreds of gannets, large numbers of Bottlenose Dolphins, and good numbers of Bonaparte’s Gulls and Razorbills feeding. It thinned out when we crossed the shoals and did not pick up again until we got close to Hatteras Inlet. A Little Gull quickly crossed out bow on this leg of the trip, but it did not slow down enough for most people to see it. This is a species that we actually see with some frequency on these trips, but unless they are feeding they can be tough to get on.

I would like to thank everyone who joined us on this trip. It was a great showing and people came a long way to go with us. I would also like to thank Kate Sutherland for all her hard work on the deck as usual, and also our guest leaders, Kyle Kittelberger and Nick Newberry. I’m not sure what next weekend will bring, but possibly colder water again, so maybe more auks. There are currently good numbers of puffins in the shelf waters off the Virginia Capes and maybe a few will get down here in the days and weeks to come.

Target Species List January 26, 2019
Common Loon  4
Manx Shearwater  7
Northern Gannet  1125
Red Phalarope  1
Little Gull  1 adult
Bonaparte's Gull  300
Iceland Gull (kumlieni) 1 first winter
Forster's Tern  8
Great Skua  1
Razorbill  150

Bottlenose Dolphin (coastal)  88
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  15
Loggerhead Turtle  1
Hammerhead sp.  10

Some additional photos from the trip!
We saw all age classes of gannets, first winter bird (Kyle Kittelberger) with a second winter individual below (Nick Newberry)
Some Bonaparte's Gulls with a Razorbill on the water (Kate Sutherland)
A couple more photos of the Iceland Gull (Kate Sutherland)
Razorbill in flight with a sport boat in the background (Kate Sutherland)
We saw at least 200 Lesser Black-backed Gulls over the course of the day!  Here are a couple images of adults (Nick Newberry top, Kyle Kittelberger below)
We also had some young Brown Pelicans that followed us offshore, but most of the adults were closer to the beach (Nick Newberry)

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Friday January 18, 2019 Carolina Bird Club Winter Pelagic - by Brian Patteson

We usually do a winter boat trip for the Carolina Bird Club when they have their winter meeting in Nags Head, which has been every two or three years, but we couldn’t do it in 2017 because we were installing new engines in the boat, and in 2015, we had a trip planned but we got weathered out. As such we were very keen to run this trip, and as luck would have it the weather turned out to be beautiful (sunrise by Kate Sutherland). 

We also had an incursion of cold water south of Cape Hatteras, the likes of which is uncommon in mid January. This meant we did not have to start out north of the Cape, which is sometimes the case. A high tide in the morning also meant we were able to bypass the regular channel and slip out the east side of Hatteras Inlet, saving us about 20 minutes.

We found good numbers of Bonaparte’s Gulls and Razorbills not far outside the inlet, and between 7:30 and 8:30 AM we counted over 400 Razorbills! Razorbills have been here in force since late December, which is a bit earlier than usual. Cape Hatteras has been a wintering site for thousands of Razorbills for at least 25 years now, and this winter is no exception (photo of a young Razorbill by Kyle Kittelberger).

The water inshore was cold- in the mid to high 40s- but it was ugly looking. Nevertheless, it was teaming with life and we also found good numbers of gannets and a huge concentration of over 200 Bottlenose Dolphin feeding heavily (photo by Kate Sutherland). 

We steamed offshore looking for better water clarity, but did not find it until we got about 20 miles out. There we found a temperature break and water up to 60 degrees, but it was not a sharp change. There were quite a few Bonaparte’s Gulls there, but not the phalaropes, Dovekies, or puffins we had hoped to find. We did see a few Ocean Sunfish, including one that was cell phone close, and we also found a couple of Loggerhead Turtles. We followed the change out to the east into 50 fathoms, but there was nothing much to see there, so we headed northward. Working back into the cold water, we began to see more Razorbills again, and we stopped to look at a distant breaching Humpback Whale and a reported Razorbill on the water. The Razorbill turned out to be a Common Murre and most of the people aboard added a new species to their North Carolina life list (photo by Ed Corey). 

Continuing northward an immature Black-legged Kittiwake decided to join our flock of feeding birds and spent a long time with us, occasionally feeding on the chum. I had hoped for more kittiwakes, after a big showing on the Cape Hatteras Christmas Bird Count, but those birds must have moved on. Fortunately it only takes one, like the Great Shearwater, that joined us earlier in the morning and followed us for many miles. Unfortunately, that turned out be the only tubenose of the day. Usually we see Manx Shearwater and frequently Northern Fulmar but not on this trip. I expect an onshore wind might have sent those species our way, but instead we had light westerlies and a flock of Brown Pelicans that followed us over 20 miles out (photo by Ed Corey)!

Fair weather is good for landlubbers though and we had a pleasant trip and a boat full of happy people. We have several more trips to run and I expect we will see some more species as we go along. Last winter we saw Great Skuas on all of our winter boat trips, so I guess we were overdue to miss it on this one. They can be tough when it’s calm because they are less likely to be airborne, and they are always a low-density winter visitor here. I would like to thank everyone who came along to make this trip possible and also Christine Stoughton-Root of the Carolina Bird Club for helping us with the booking and promotion. Our experienced team of guides worked like a well-oiled machine: Kate Sutherland, Kyle Kittelberger, Ed Corey, and Jeff Lemons did an excellent job as usual.

Species List January 18, 2019
Common Murre  1
Razorbill  1509
Black-legged Kittiwake  1 immature
Bonaparte's Gull  1272
Laughing Gull  3
Ring-billed Gull  3
Herring Gull  185
Great Black-backed Gull  135
Lesser Black-backed Gull  32
Forster's Tern  23
Red-throated Loon  8
Common Loon  4
Great Shearwater  1
Northern Gannet  3860

Humpback Whale  1
Bottlenose Dolphin  305
Loggerhead Turtle  3
Ocean Sunfish (Mola)  6

A few more photos!  
Another image of the Common Murre!  (Ed Corey)
A couple of adult Razorbills on the water (Kate Sutherland) and one of the first cooperative birds we had in the morning (Ed Corey)

A couple photos of the Black-legged Kittiwake (Kyle Kittelberger)

We had a handful of Bonaparte's Gulls that still had varying degrees of black on the head like this individual (Kate Sutherland)
This Great Shearwater stayed with us, feeding in the chum with the gulls, for awhile! (Ed Corey)

The gannets were around in good numbers almost all day!  In the afternoon we got to watch them raining down over a pod of feeding Bottlenose Dolphins, all in view of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse!  (Kate Sutherland)
We were treated to all age classes of gannets!  It seemed like there were more first winter birds that we typically see, though this first trip is a bit earlier than our usual winter trips so who knows?  (First winter bird by Kate Sutherland - top / adult by Kyle Kittelberger - bottom)
A few of the gulls that showed well in the chum (all photos by Ed Corey)!  Top Great Black-backed Gull, middle Lesser Black-backed Gull, and bottom Laughing Gull
A closer image of some of the Bottlenose Dolphin dorsal fins with mesoparasitic copepods (likely of the genus Penella) attached (Ed Corey)

And finally, a photo of one of the Loggerhead Turtles we saw!  (Kyle Kittelberger)