Monday, July 29, 2019

July 26 & 27, 2019 - Summer Northeasterlies - by Kate Sutherland

Brian has said many times, northeasterly winds during July and August can bring incredible diversity here offshore of Hatteras.  The weather leading up to this pair of trips at the end of July had us progressively more excited as Friday approached.  The wind shifted to the north Wednesday, and it blew all day Thursday - really blew - so hard that we were a little worried there might be too much wind to make Friday happen.  But checking the Diamond Shoals Buoy at 0400 that morning, we were relieved to see that the peak wind speeds had fallen enough for us to say "oh yeah, we can make it!"  Game on!  And what a couple of days they were!  Epic.  Fifteen pelagic species over two days.  End of July.

Friday was a stormy-petrel kind of a day.  Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were super cooperative in the chum and we had a steady stream all day, both the Grant's type and some of the "little band-rumps."  Just after 0900 leader Ned Brinkley spotted a White-faced Storm-Petrel in the slick! (photo Kate Sutherland)
Usually these birds are fleeting visitors for us down here, but this bird was hungry so we stopped and put out more food, which enticed it to stay around for over 20 minutes!  Later in the morning, when we were out in deeper, warmer water, we were just picking up from a drift with the chum when Brian spotted a Fea's Petrel coming in hot on the starboard side!  It flew down the side of the boat, bow to stern, closest bird, then shot away behind a few parting arcs before moving out of view!  Some days this is how it happens, other days these birds will come back to some fresh chum and spend more time...but for those participants who were in the right place at the right time, the view was stellar!  Shearwaters were not out in huge numbers, but we saw the expected species - Cory's, Scopoli's, Great, and Audubon's - and our Black-capped Petrels put on quite a show all day!  (photo by Brian Patteson) 

Saturday the wind was not blowing quite as hard, so the run offshore was a bit smoother than Friday's.  Near the shelf break we found water that was blended and greenish, there were few birds to be seen.  Finally we reached an area with some activity and our slick began to attract a few birds, soon they were popping up all around us in the breeze!  Sooty Terns were around and we had a number come in to visit the boat, making incredibly close passes! (photo Kate Sutherland)
Shearwaters came in nicely to the slick and we had Cory's, Scopoli's, Great, and Audubon's all feeding behind us with the Wilson's!  At times, even the Black-cappeds were feeding with them!  (photo Kate Sutherland)
Thanks to the calmer conditions we were able to make it out farther than Friday, and we found a nice current edge lined with Sargassum out in the deeper water.  Out past this, Brian spotted a dark tern up ahead, there were some Sooty Terns around, but this one looked more noddy-like.  We did our best to get everyone on it and snapped a few photos, it was indeed a noddy!  It seemed to be heading back toward the edge we had previously crossed, so we headed back that way.  Just after noontime the bird of the day flew in, the shout came from the wheelhouse "Get on this petrel!!  Right here!  10 o'clock!  Right behind the Cory''s a BERMUDA PETREL!!"  Organized chaos followed as the bird came in to check out our slick, flying by close, then away, then back for a couple more passes.  WOW! (photos by Brian Patteson)
Incredible views, best since our May 25, 2015 bird!  The fresh plumage at this time of year indicates an individual that just fledged a month or two ago.  Not even a few minutes later, Brian again shouted, this time it was "White-faced Storm-Petrel!!"  Sure enough, another one of these incredibly dynamic stormies came hopping across the slick.  We had quality time with this one as well, then it revisited the boat over an hour later! (photo by Kate Sutherland)

Leach's Storm-Petrels were seen on each trip, though the birds on Saturday were a bit more cooperative.  A young Long-tailed Jaeger came in on Saturday as well to harass our storm-petrels in the slick.  It was in turn harassed by a Black-capped Petrel!  A Red-necked Phalarope made a quick fly-by on Saturday as well.  It was an incredible set of trips - truly epic.

Thank you to Ned Brinkley for helping Brian & I lead these trips, and thanks to everyone who joined us for this set!  Those who came for both trips really had an amazing experience and were rewarded for sticking with it for two bumpy days out there!  The days that are tough for humans are almost always excellent for seabirds, we proved that again!  Our next trips are August 9, 10, 16, 17, 23, 24, 25 - join us!

Species List for July 26 / 27
Fea's Petrel  1 / 0
Bermuda Petrel  0 / 1
Black-capped Petrel  44 / 94
Cory's (type) Shearwater  20 / 30
Scopoli's Shearwater  2 / 2
Great Shearwater  9-11 / 20 -22
Audubon's Shearwater  2 / 8
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  90-105 / 100-110
White-faced Storm-Petrel  1 / 1
Leach's Storm-Petrel  1 / 4
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  28-32 / 9-10
Red-necked Phalarope  0 / 1
Brown Noddy  0 / 1
Sooty Tern  0 / 17
Long-tailed Jaeger  0 / 1

A few more Cahow photos, what a bird!  (Kate Sutherland)
Black-capped Petrels really put on a show for us in the slick both days! (Brian Patteson)
They were feeding on the chum with the Great Shearwaters, allowing a nice study of these two species together!  (Kate Sutherland)
Any day you get to see a Black-capped Petrel is a good day!  The tags deployed at the beginning of the spring are still tracking birds - check the map out here:  (Kate Sutherland)
On Friday the shearwaters kept their distance, but Saturday we were able to get some better views of the Scopoli's (Kate Sutherland)
and we had Great Shearwaters right next to the boat plucking pieces of fish from our chum cage! (Brian Patteson)
They were scurrying along the surface to snatch pieces and looked like they were just walking around out there! (Kate Sutherland)
Audubon's were scarce on Friday, but we didn't find any Sargassum to speak of, so having them follow us on Saturday was quite a treat!  Most that we saw were young birds like this one.  (Kate Sutherland)
Wilson's Storm-Petrels came super close to the boat both days!  (Kate Sutherland)
& the White-faced Stormies!!  Top two images are Friday's bird (one with a Band-rumped), the following are from Saturday (one with a Wilson's)! (Kate Sutherland)
As I mentioned in the trip report, the Band-rumped Storm-Petrels on Friday were just incredible!  Though we had really nice passes on both trips!  (Brian Patteson - top, Kate Sutherland - bottom)
It was really cool to see the Band-rumpeds flying with the White-faced Storm-Petrel on Friday!  (Kate Sutherland)
Record shot of the Brown Noddy (Kate Sutherland)
Sooty Terns passing by the boat, all of the individuals we saw were adults.  (Kate Sutherland)
And a photo of the Long-tailed Jaeger (immature).  (Kate Sutherland)

Monday, July 8, 2019

Saturday July 6, 2019 - Storms and Seabirds - by Kate Sutherland

Sunrise was spectacular Saturday morning,
and while we ran through about 30 minutes of heavy rain on our way to the shelf break, we were hoping that would be all we saw for the day!  Not so, unfortunately, we had a number of squalls to deal with offshore as well.  But the seabirds were out there and they were hungry, so showing our Gulf Stream birds to a group that was seeing them for the first time was a treat regardless of the weather!  Sooty Terns and Audubon's Shearwaters were found just over the shelf break, feeding around some Sargassum.  And in the 0830 period we added Black-capped Petrel, Cory's type and Great Shearwaters, Wilson's, Leach's, and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels!  Not a bad start to the day.  We had at least three Great Shearwaters following us,
feeding on the chum right behind the boat while we were out there and it was nice to show our participants the difference between these shearwaters and the more energetic and acrobatic Black-capped Petrels!
Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were also attentive to the slick and by the end of the day just about everyone aboard could pick one out as it flew by or fed behind us with the Wilson's.  The Leach's Storm-Petrels were a nice treat and we had a couple that spent some time behind the boat, so everyone could observe not only how they differed from the smaller, shorter-winged Wilson's, but also from the Band-rumps.
Just after 1230 when I stepped into the wheelhouse for a minute, a shout went up from the stern: "BOOBY!" I glanced out the window and, sure enough, a Masked Booby was checking out the boat before it flew directly away from us!  Chris Haney kept his eyes on this bird and saw another one join it in the distance!  As he watched, at least one sat down on the water - the location was reported to Brian and we headed in that direction, hoping to relocate them.  A few minutes later, I spotted them sitting on the water to our port and we were able to approach the pair of them.
Most Masked Boobies we see here are subadult individuals, so it was nice to see an adult, but two adults??  That is a new sighting for us!  As we pulled away from the boobies it began to rain again.  Visibility became limited and we were back in some thunderstorms, so about 20 past 1:00 we picked up our chum and began to motor for the inlet.  The rain lasted until just beyond the shelf break where we saw a few more Sooty Terns and another Audubon's.  Everyone was relaxed and chatting on the starboard side, out of the spray, and suddenly there was a tropicbird off the starboard bow!!  This was the first tropicbird of the year for us, and it was quite close at first, before it began flying away and gaining altitude.  Close enough to see that it was a subadult Red-billed Tropicbird and for all of us to get a quick view!
What a day!  I always associate squall lines with wind addicts like gadfly petrels, but instead we found boobies and a tropicbird!  You just never know what you'll find out in the Gulf Stream...
A huge thank you to Dr. Chris Haney for bringing a group from the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, he was teaching a course called Marine Birds and Mammals of the Southeastern US that culminated in a trip offshore!  So while conditions were not the best for cetacean spotting, the seabirds were just spectacular!  Our next trips are July 26 and 27th and we have space open on both!  All photos today are by Kate Sutherland.

Species List for July 6, 2019
Black-capped Petrel - 22 to 24
Cory's Shearwater - 6
Scopoli's Shearwater - 1
Cory's type - 6 to 7
Great Shearwater - 13
Audubon's Shearwater - 22
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 65
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 3 to 4
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 17 to 21
Red-billed Tropicbird - 1 imm
Masked Booby - 2 ad
Sooty Tern - 5
Sooty/Bridled Tern - 1

Some of our intrepid crew as we approached the first line of storms in the morning!
Another record shot of the Red-billed Tropicbird
And a few more photos of the Masked Boobies!  Incredible!
Black-capped Petrels came in well over the course of the day!  Here is an intermediate individual (top) and dark-faced below.
We had a number of Cory's type shearwaters that had intermediate amounts of white in their underprimaries, though some of these looked like they could have been Scopoli's.  Here is a typical Atlantic Cory's (top) and a record shot of the Scopoli's we saw (below).
The storm-petrels were super cooperative for photographing!  Here is a Wilson's I captured as it pattered on the water, the yellow webbing of the feet is visible just under the surface in the top image.
A different individual Wilson's in flight
The ventral view of a Leach's, its forked tail is obvious at this angle!
Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were around us just about all day!  The most we had at once with us was five individuals.
The Sooty Terns were a treat to see as well, hopefully they will be around for the rest of the summer!