Sunday, June 30, 2019

June 28 & 29, 2019 - Gadflies and Mesoplodons - by Kate Sutherland

This Friday and Saturday set turned out to be excellent for seabirds in spite of quite calm conditions and excellent for cetaceans because of the calm conditions!  Light to little wind and the hot, blue water of the Gulf Stream close to the shelf break made it feel like late July out there.  The water, though, was full of life with flyingfishes and scattered Sargassum all the way out to the deep.  A handful of large shearwaters were present on our way to the shelf break each morning, then we picked up all of the usual species offshore in our chum or sitting on the water: Black-capped Petrel, Cory's, Scopoli's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwater, plus Wilson's and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels!  Friday we also found Sooty Terns feeding over some mahi (Atlantic dolphinfish) and an adult Bridled Tern perched on some flotsam (photo by Kate Sutherland),
while Saturday's trip found Leach's Storm-Petrel and a second summer Long-tailed Jaeger - pretty nice list of our regular suspects for the two day set!

Friday's highlight came just after 0900 when Brian spotted a flock of Black-capped Petrels on the water ahead of us.  Leader Ed Corey, up in the bow pulpit, spotted a dark gadfly on the edge of the flock...  And as they flushed, a dark morph Trindade Petrel picked up from the water and flew right towards the boat!  It came in low, flew right down the starboard side, and away, no amount of chum would bring it back, but we had an excellent view (photo Kate Sutherland).
Saturday's highlight also came in the morning, but in the 1000 hour.  A beaked whale popped up right off the port bow!  As we searched for it to resurface, we saw at least four come up ahead of the boat!  Mesoplodon europaeus, commonly known as Gervais' Beaked Whale, is a species that we see regularly on our pelagic trips from Hatteras, but one that is not well known.  They are small, toothed whales typically found in deeper waters, and they dive for long periods of time, feeding at depth on squid and other deep water species.  We were lucky to catch this group as they surfaced and they were around the boat for at least 30 minutes before they sounded again.  The clarity of the water made it possible to see them well under the surface and for the first time, we had them come in under the bow when we were moving and "ride" the bow wave!  They were very curious about us, coming close and turning to look at us, swimming under the pulpit and checking out the stern (photo Brian Patteson).
It was the best encounter we have ever had with this species!  I want to make it clear that we were not chasing down or harassing these animals in any way, they came to us as we motored around and also sat and drifted.  In the time we spent with this pod, we moved about 1.5 miles over the bottom in the swift, Gulf Stream current, and the water temperature was about 84.5 degrees Fahrenheit.  There was at least one male in the group and his teeth were easy to see under water as were the fresh scratches on his back, presumably made by another male of the same species.  The other three individuals did not have visible teeth, making them females or young males.  It seemed that there were at least two adult females present, with one individual that looked larger than the others.  Their behavior was also interesting, they were turning over to show their bellies and sometimes swimming upside down or on their side at the surface (photo by Brian Patteson).
Perhaps one of the females was in estrus and this was why the male was present with this group?  Typically when we encounter groups of these animals they are all female or young individuals.  Who knows?  Little is known about the behavior of this species, so each chance we have to observe them is incredibly special.  As we watched the pod, a large container ship was approaching...a reminder of the intense noise pollution these whales face even out in the deep blue.

We have added a trip to the summer schedule next weekend, Saturday July 6, and the next scheduled trips will run at the end of the month: July 26 & 27, space is open on all three in addition to our August trips.  Join us!  Gulf Stream Trip Schedule

Thank you to Ed Corey for helping Brian and I lead these trips and contributing photos, and thank to also to David Miller for organizing and bringing a group with us on Friday's trip!

Species List June 28 / 29
Trindade Petrel - 1 / 0
Black-capped Petrel - 20 / 21
Cory's Shearwater - 5 / 5
Scopoli's Shearwater - 6 to 7 / 3
Cory's type - 26 / 29
Great Shearwater - 40 to 42 / 34
Audubon's Shearwater - 18 / 15
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 45 to 50 / 60 to 65
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 0 / 6
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 10 to 12 / 22 to 25
Sooty Tern - 6 / 0
Bridled Tern - 1 / 0
Long-tailed Jaeger - 0 / 1

Risso's Dolphin - 0 / 12
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin - 8 to 9 / 0
Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore) - 40 to 45 / 0
Bottlenose Dolphin (coastal) - 0 / 30
Gervais' Beaked Whale - 0 / 4

Dorsal view of the Trindade Petrel (Kate Sutherland)
Saturday we found some flocks with Black-cappeds and storm-petrels on the water, the stormies here are all Wilson's (Kate Sutherland)
& it was cool to watch them take off!  (Kate Sutherland)
We had a few that made nice passes by the stern to check out the chum as well!  Here is an intermediate individual above and a dark-faced individual below (Kate Sutherland)
Both Cory's (Ed Corey) and Scopoli's Shearwaters (Ed Corey, top, Kate Sutherland bottom) were seen well on each trip, though we had more Scopoli's on Friday!
Great Shearwaters followed us, diving and feeding in the chum on both trips! (Kate Sutherland, Ed Corey)
While we didn't see many Audubon's, we did have a few that sat on the water for us to approach, everyone had good views! (Ed Corey)
Wilson's were not around in large numbers, but we did attract a few to the chum each day! (Kate Sutherland)
Saturday we had a handful of Leach's (Ed Corey)
Band-rumped Storm-Petrels are beginning to show here in larger numbers, as is expected in the summer months!  (Kate Sutherland, bottom photo by Ed Corey)
The Risso's Dolphins were a treat, there were some young individuals in this pod!  We haven't seen this species in a couple of years.  Top photo by Ed Corey showing the scarring on and adult, blunt head shape seen in the middle photo by Kate Sutherland, and the diagnostic dorsal fin shape is seen well in the bottom photo by Kate Sutherland.  Also called Gray Grampus
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins put on quite a show inshore of the shelf break on Friday morning!! (Kate Sutherland)
And because we just cannot resist photos of these Mesoplodon is a small photo gallery:
top photo showing the erupted teeth of the one male individual, bottom and individual without teeth showing - likely a female, though young males do not show these teeth until they are mature (photos by Ed Corey).
The following photos are all by Brian Patteson.  Showing how close they came to us!  Pictured is Murray Scott of Australia who is birding with John Weigel for a few weeks here in the US.  Incredible to watch these whales for so long!
Here you can see the scaring of the male individual - which look to be marks from a shark!  Not another male.
A nice view of three surfacing
A female with the male swimming below
Gorgeous head on view
And a view, tail end, of one of the females on her back, showing her tail flukes (Kate Sutherland).  While it is not easy to see in this image, there is another whale below her.
And the flyingfishes...well, there were a lot of them out there over these two days!  Here are a couple of images (Kate Sutherland)

Sunday, June 9, 2019

June 7 & 8, 2019 - What a Difference a Day Makes - by Kate Sutherland

We usually recommend that participants join us for a set of trips when they travel to Hatteras to head offshore with us, it maximizes their chance for the most species, and every day is different here in the Gulf Stream!  Friday and Saturday were a nice example of that!  While we saw our target species each day, and had nice views of most, Friday was quite slow in terms of individual numbers and activity while Saturday was more what we expect to see out there plus a few unexpected visitors!  Weather was unsettled for both trips and we had some rain, but for some reason the showers on Saturday were a bit more bearable with more birds to watch!  A Fea's Petrel flew up our slick on Saturday just after 1230, making a few close passes and coming in to check out the chum with our shearwater and storm-petrel flock.  Here you can see how small the Fea's is (foreground) compared to a Great Shearwater (background)! (Kate Sutherland)
As we were watching the Fea's Petrel, a Masked Booby flew in right overhead!  Participant Frank Mantlik captured this image with both of our rare sightings in one frame!
Black-capped Petrels were around both days, though the numbers were much lower than we saw earlier in the spring.  Cory's type shearwaters are beginning to show up in higher numbers and we had excellent views of both Cory's and Scopoli's on each trip, though Saturday we found a flock of shearwaters feeding over some skipjack tuna that gave us incredible views of the Cory's plus Great and Audubon's! (Kate Sutherland)
The flock also attracted an adult Sooty Tern that came close to the boat as it swooped over the feeding birds, calling occasionally as it did so.  Storm-petrels were more cooperative on Saturday, though we had three species on both trips!  Our Wilson's flock was more ample on Saturday and Band-rumped and Leach's Storm-Petrels responded better to the chum giving everyone aboard a chance to practice identifying these larger stormies on their own!
Thank you to everyone who joined us for these trips, especially Mark Welter for organizing a group of Indiana birders for Friday!  We also want to thank our leaders, Phil Rusch and Michael Sandoz, for helping us out on short notice!  They both did a great job to make these trips a success.  Thank you also to participant Frank Mantlik for contributing photos for the blog post!

Species List June 7 / 8
Fea's Petrel - 0 / 1
Black-capped Petrel - 13 / 10
Cory's Shearwater - 21 / 36
Scopoli's Shearwater - 3 / 3 to 4
Cory's type - 7 / 31
Great Shearwater - 3 / 9 to 12
Audubon's Shearwater - 11 to 12 / 76
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 29 / 76
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 1 / 1
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 3 / 7 to 9
Masked Booby - 0 / 1
Sooty Tern - 0 / 1
Common Tern - 3 / 3

A few images of the Fea's Petrel.  This bird had a unique looking facial pattern with a whiter cheek than we typically see.  (first three photos by Kate Sutherland, final image by Frank Mantlik)
The Cory's and Scopoli's Shearwaters were very cooperative for us on both trips!  Here are a couple images each of Cory's (top) and Scopoli's (bottom) that illustrate the difference in head and bill size in addition to the underprimary patterns for each. (Kate Sutherland)
On Friday, the Great Shearwaters followed well behind the boat, diving and feeding on the chum!  This always makes for some great photo ops!  (Kate Sutherland)
Audubon's Shearwaters are finally around!  We saw more on Saturday than on any trip so far this spring!  Here you can see the variation in facial pattern on these birds.  (Kate Sutherland)
The Leach's on Friday flew by at a high rate of speed inshore of the shelf break, but on Saturday we had time to observe one flying around in the slick! (Kate Sutherland)
Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were also much more cooperative on Saturday!  Note the clean, white rump patch compared to the larger, split one of the Leach's above.  (Kate Sutherland)
And the short legs that cause Band-rumpeds to have a different feeding technique than the Wilson's!  (Kate Sutherland)
Masked Booby as it flew over the slick and away! (Frank Manklik)
Our Sooty Tern from Saturday morning showing the facial pattern and black underprimaries. (Kate Sutherland)
 We had Common Terns offshore each day! (Kate Sutherland)
& a final image of a skipjack!  There were small flyingfishes everywhere as well, perhaps the skipjack were feeding on these!  (Kate Sutherland)