Tuesday, August 25, 2020

August 21 & 22, 2020 - Blue Planet Special - by Kate Sutherland

Wow.  These were two days of incredible variety, differing conditions, and a lot of life offshore!  Both days had some rain and clouds, but also some sun, so we finally had those gorgeous sunrises we love to see on our way out in the morning!  Both days also found little current offshore in the deep, the Gulf Stream was moving at less than a knot.  Friday had light and variable winds, mostly from the north and northwest, and some swell from the south southeast.  Saturday there was more wind than they forecast, so it was up to 15 mph at times from the south west, falling out in the afternoon, also with an underlying swell from the southeast.  Saturday morning we slowed down just offshore of the shelf break and put out the chum, about 8 minutes later participant David Kirschke and leader Chris Sloan started shouting about a bird coming in up high...and a light morph Trindade Petrel zipped into the slick - right behind the boat!  Needless to say, Brian made a rare appearance on the deck and captured this gorgeous image!  

Saturday was also much better for Black-cappeds than Friday had been, just reinforcing the fact that these winged runners like the wind.  We tallied almost 60 of them that day!  Our storm-petrels also responded differently each trip with only 4 Wilson's (yes, you read that correctly FOUR) on Friday, 9 Band-rumpeds and 2 Leach's!  None of whom came into the chum and all of these large stormies were sitting on the water, here is one of the Leach's with an Audubon's (Kate Sutherland). 

Saturday was a bit more typical with Wilson's following in the slick most of the day, though we still turned up some Band-rumpeds on the water!  Here are a couple taking off (Kate Sutherland) :  
Bridled Terns were super cooperative on Friday and we saw two on Saturday...but Sooty Terns were not around like they were last weekend!

Unlike our petrels and storm-petrels, shearwaters were incredible on both days!  Friday's calm waters allowed us to see natural slicks all over it seemed, some held cetaceans, like the Mesoplodonts, Short-finned Pilot Whales, Kogias, and Offhsore Bottlenose Dolphins, while others held squid and fish!  All of them had shearwaters!  They were in tight groups that responded as food came to the surface.  Saturday the seabirds were a bit more spread out with arcing shearwaters in all directions, though a few times we got into some nice concentrations!  Scopoli's Shearwaters seemed to be the dominant species

with some Atlantic Cory's and Great Shearwaters around as well.  Audubon's were a bit more scattered, but we had some excellent views of these small black and white shearwaters foraging around the sargassum each day!  Saturday one of these feeding flocks attracted a young Pomarine Jaeger that pursued an Audubon's before being pursued itself by a Black-capped Petrel!  Another species that we spotted while spending time with a group of shearwaters was a young Brown Booby!  We saw this bird from the wheelhouse and unfortunately it flew directly away from us.  Hopefully everyone got their eye on this sleek sulid before it was too far to see!  We captured some record shots, but that was it.  That's how it goes somedays!

Friday we had an incredible experience that I cannot help but share!  As we approached the shelf break we encountered another group of about 50 or 60 feeding shearwaters.  A Black-capped Petrel was with them initially, but peeled off when we pulled up to the group.  We could see some type of tuna breaking the surface and as we pulled closer to the activity, Chris Sloan mentioned he saw some fins in the water and what looked like blood!  I photographed about two minutes of activity and was so perplexed in the field with the shapes and colors of what was in the water.  Then I saw one tuna, they turned out to be blackfins, with some tentacles sticking out of its mouth - these were squid!  When I sorted my photos that evening I realized I had a series of a Great Shearwater capturing a squid and flying off with it! 

I could also see that what looked like blood was actually squid ink as these creatures tried to avoid capture!  I wish we had our underwater camera - what a Blue Planet moment!  I have put some photos into an album on Flickr, the link is here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/138110919@N07/albums/72157715628019828    And we finally got to sample some sargassum, see photos of our finds at the end of the photo spread!

Thank you to everyone who joined us out there, those who were able to be with us for two days had quite the experience!  And thank you to Chris Sloan, who took the time to join us for the last three sets of trips!  He also contributed photos for our eBird lists and these blog posts!

Species List August 21 / 22
Trindade Petrel - 0 / 1
Black-capped Petrel - 19 / 57 to 61
Cory's Shearwater (Atlantic) - 16 / 4
Scopoli's Shearwater - 18 / 6
Cory's type - 140 / 363 to 373
Great Shearwater - 59 / 166
Audubon's Shearwater - 20 / 24
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 4 / 45 to 60
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 2 / 0
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 9 / 7
Leach's / Band-rumped - 1 / 2
Brown Booby - 0 / 1 immature
Red-necked Phalarope - 4 / 8
Bridled Tern - 4 / 2
Sooty / Bridled - 3 / 1 to 2
Royal Tern - 0 / 1
Pomarine Jaeger - 0 / 2
Black-bellied Plover - 2 / 0
Barn Swallow - 5 / 0
swallow species - 2 / 1

prob Pygmy Sperm Whale - 2 / 0
Gervais Beaked Whale - 6 / 0
Short-finned Pilot Whale - 8 to 12 / 0
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin - 12 to 15 / 10 to 12

A few more Trindade Petrel images!  How could we not?!  Top by Chris Sloan, bottom two by Kate Sutherland
Black-capped Petrels did not come super close this weekend, but we did manage to entice some into the slick on Saturday!  We had a couple of white-faced birds (see below), but most that we saw were either dark faced or intermediate. (Chris Sloan)
Atlantic Cory's were around both days, note the dark underprimaries on this bird and also the dark feathering in the leading edge of the underwing.  The bill and bird are also hefty! (Kate Sutherland)
Versus the much more slender bodied and billed Scopoli's here - note the white in the underprimaries and also the paler feathering in the leading edge of the underwing. (Kate Sutherland)
Great Shearwaters came in close to us each day!  (Kate Sutherland)
Here is an Audubon's flying over a Short-finned Pilot Whale on Friday's trip! (Kate Sutherland)
A couple more Band-rumped Storm-Petrel images (Chris Sloan ventral, Kate Sutherland dorsal)
Bridled Tern and its reflection on Friday afternoon (Kate Sutherland)
The sequence of Pomarine Jaeger and Audubon's Shearwater followed by the Black-capped escorting the Pom out of the area...!  (Kate Sutherland)
Dipping Sargassum with my new, smaller mesh net was productive!  We had a haul of the usual shrimp (Latreutes species) and swimming crabs (Portunus sayi) plus two cool fishes!  One was the planehead filefish (Stephanolepis hispidus) photo Kate Sutherland
And the other was a small sargassum fish (Histrio histrio)!  Can you find it in the sargassum?  Maybe the photo following will help!  (Kate Sutherland)

Monday, August 17, 2020

August 15, 2020 - by, Kate Sutherland

Westerlies are not something we look forward to...many times birds are pushed farther offshore and might not be hungry enough or close enough to follow the scent trail to our boat.  We've had some west winds this summer and while Friday had some brisk southwest winds (and a lot of heat filled storms offshore...so many that we didn't even chance going out), Saturday had some north westerly wind in the forecast.  But that morning, just more westerlies.  The swell, however, was from the southeast...that was a plus.  And there were some squalls still around offshore...another plus.  So we headed out to see what we could find - we were not disappointed!!

Just over the shelf break we started seeing shearwaters and Black-capped Petrels!  A small group of Red-necked Phalaropes zipped by.  By 0900 we were with a nice flock of feeding birds over some skipjack tuna.  We saw Sooty Terns up high that led us to the shearwaters and petrels and we were able to work this group of feeding birds for over an hour watching Black-capped Petrels, Cory's, Scopoli's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters feed together and then settle down repeatedly as the fish pushed to the surface again and again.  A Bridled Tern visited the group (photo by Chris Sloan)

and our first Band-rumped Storm-Petrel of the day flew through!  Just after 1030 a Tiger Shark swam by the boat, identified by its blunt snout and coloration, leader Chris Sloan was even able to see the diagnostic stripes that are visible on younger individuals like this one!  It was 7-8 feet in length, adults can reach over 12 feet!  This is the second tiger shark we've seen out in the deep this year.

Around 1130 a nice squall line formed nearby and Brian let it approach as close as he safely could!  Black-capped Petrels seemed to appear out of thin air as they rode the winds along the front! (photo by Kate Sutherland) 

It was an awesome sight to look back and see close to 20-25 individuals arcing into the sky, riding the wind as only they can do!  Shearwaters and storm-petrels were also zipping around in the slick, a Sooty Shearwater and Pomarine Jaeger joined the flock, the latter giving us a quick but satisfactory view as it zipped across the bow!  We jogged ahead of the storm front to another group of birds and the same or another Sooty appeared and fed right next to us for incredible, if rainy, photo ops!  (photo by Kate Sutherland) 

Just before 1230 Chris Sloan and Jamie Adams spotted a Fea's Petrel zipping up the slick towards the boat!!  Everyone got on it and even though it came in to the chum, it didn't stick around in spite of the delicious morsels I put out to entice it to make another pass.  At least we got some record shots of this sleek gadfly!  (photo Kate Sutherland) 

During that same period a young Great Black-backed Gull joined the flock behind the boat and we had a quick visit from a Leach's Storm-Petrel in the slick!  Not a species we usually see on a westerly wind, but maybe that swell and the squalls played a role it its appearance!  More Sooty Terns and a couple more Bridled Terns joined us in the slick and a small pod of Short-finned Pilot Whales popped up nearby!  We were able to move with these animals for at least 15 minutes or so and observed at least one larger male and a number of smaller individuals with some calves that looked downright tiny! (photo Kate Sutherland) 
As usual with pilot whales, they didn't seem at all bothered by us and spent time logging on the surface and swimming under and around the boat!  The rest of our time offshore of the break allowed us to study our shearwaters and stormies with the occasional Black-capped moving through.  Overall an incredible day offshore, not one that we ever would have predicted in the morning!

Thanks to everyone who joined us out there and thanks to those from Friday's trip who were able to stay on for Saturday!  The reward was nice!  We still have space on a number of trips this summer: August 21, 22, 28, 29, and September 5.  A big thank you to Chris Sloan and Jacob Farmer for helping us lead the trip and contributing photos!

Trip List August 15, 2020

Fea's Petrel - 1
Black-capped Petrel - 51 to 58
Cory's Shearwater (Atlantic) - 13
Scopoli's Shearwater - 6
Cory's type - 86 to 91
Great Shearwater - 20 to 21
Sooty Shearwater - 1 to 2
Audubon's Shearwater - 7
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 70 to 80
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 1
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 10
Red-necked Phalarope - 20 to 21
Sooty Tern - 35
Bridled Tern - 4
Sooty/Bridled Tern - 2
Pomarine Jaeger - 1

Common Tern - 5
Black-Tern - 1
*Lesser Black-backed Gull - 1* originally thought to be a GBBG, photos showed it looked more like a LBBG

Tiger Shark - 1
Short-finned Pilot Whale - about 20

A couple more photos of the Fea's Petrel (top Chris Sloan, bottom Kate Sutherland)
Cory's were around in good numbers!  But photographing them all to check for type was a lot of work!  So we did our best...  Atlantic Cory's (Kate Sutherland)
Scopoli's Shearwater (Kate Sutherland)
Another Scopoli's by Chris Sloan showing a bit less white in p10.
Cory's types on the water, perhaps two Atlantic Cory's (Kate Sutherland)
We had nice numbers of Great Shearwaters (Kate Sutherland)
Wilson's Storm-Petrels were quite attentive in the slick even if we didn't have large numbers! (Chris Sloan)
Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were a bit tough to get on at first, but then stuck with us giving everyone a chance to see them well!  (Kate Sutherland)
Chris Sloan captured this awesome image of a Sooty Tern!
A couple more photos of the Short-finned Pilot Whales by Kate Sutherland

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

August 7 & 8, 2020 - by Peter Flood

We ran back to back trips on Friday, August 7 and Saturday, August 8 and sailed under delightful weather conditions on both days.  Winds were rather light out of the southwest for the set which kept airborne shearwaters and petrels to a minimum with many lounging around on the sea waiting for some wind. (On the way out Saturday morning by Kate Sutherland) 

Most of our activity on Friday and Saturday seemed to be in the shelf waters as we came up on several Skipjack Tuna feeding frenzies with attendant Sooty Terns plus Cory's, Scopoli's and Audubon's Shearwaters. On Friday we tailed an impressive 150+ Sooty Terns mostly on shelf waters and suspect that many of these terns were perhaps returning south after being displaced to the north by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Isaias earlier in the week.  (Sooty Tern by Kate Sutherland) 

Friday was also "Myth Busting Friday" aboard the Stormy Petrel II as we were able to photographically document four Sooty Terns sitting on the water preening! Not something you see every day and has only been documented off Hatteras on a couple of other occasions.  Curiously, we have yet to document a Bridled Tern sitting on the water off Hatteras.  (Sooty Terns on the water by Peter Flood) 

And speaking of Bridled Terns we had a very cooperative first summer Bridled Tern on Friday doing what Bridled Terns do best - sitting on pieces of flotsam in and around some Sargassum seaweed lines.  (photo by Kate Sutherland) 

On Saturday, a new tropical tern for the year in the form of a Brown Noddy was hanging tight with a foraging group of Sooty Terns and was enjoyed by all.  (photo by Peter Flood) 

We were able to pull out a few Scopoli's Shearwaters on both days that were in and among some of the lounging Cory's Shearwaters. (photo - Chris Sloan) 

Chumming was not particularly successful on Friday with near windless conditions at times.  Saturday fared a little better with some light breezes that dispersed the scent of our chumming efforts more effectively and attracted some moderate numbers of Wilson's Storm-Petrels as well as a few Band-rumped Storm-Petrels. Saturday's Band-rumps made some really nice, close passes by the boat which allowed everyone on board to see them well.  (photo by Chris Sloan) 

Like the shearwaters, most of the Black-capped Petrels were sitting around on the water on both days and did not offer great looks. Their tolerance for approaching boats is far less than for shearwaters and they often take flight significantly sooner on approach. There was at least one Black-capped Petrel however that made a very close pass off the bow that appeared quite fresh and uniform and was perhaps a juvenile. (Photo by Peter Flood) 

Risso's Dolphins are not very common off Hatteras and showed well on both days as did a few pods of Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins.  (Risso's dolphin by Kate Sutherland) 

Odonata (Dragonflies and Damselflies) were also well represented on both days with unprecedented numbers of Wandering Gliders flirting with the boat with many found well offshore. 

Thanks to everyone who joined us on Friday and Saturday.  Thank you to our leaders Chris Sloan and Peter Flood for helping Brian and I on both days and sharing photos and to Peter for writing the blog.  We have space on the rest of our August trips!    

Trip Lists August 7 / 8

Black-capped Petrel 52 / 34 to 36
Cory's Shearwater (Atlantic) 18 / 14
Scopoli's Shearwater 6 / 8
Cory's type 36 / 29
Great Shearwater 2 / 4
Audubon's Shearwater 32 / 11
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 35 / 54
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel 4 / 6 to 8
Red-necked Phalarope 2 / 31
Brown Noddy 0 / 1
Sooty Tern 151 / 46
Bridled Tern 2 / 1
Common Tern 0 / 16
Black Tern 0 / 7
Least Tern 3 / 0
Pomarine Jaeger 0 / 1
Barn Swallow 2 / 0
Northern Waterthrush 0 / 2

Risso's Dolphin 30+ / 25 to 30
Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore) 32+ / 0

Wandering Glider 7 / hundreds! there was no way to keep count!

Black-capped Petrels were found in larger numbers on Friday but we had better views of them on Saturday because they were flying a bit more!  (Chris Sloan)
Cory's and Scopoli's Shearwaters taking off (Chris Sloan)
A Cory's type eating some food not provided by us!  Looks like a nice squid!  (Chris Sloan)
Audubon's Shearwaters were incredibly cooperative each day since the seas were so calm! 
Feeding and with a small fish from the sargassum (Kate Sutherland)

In flight (Chris Sloan)
We also found some incredibly cooperative Red-necked Phalaropes on some of the sargassum lines we encountered!  You can see the streaked back and fine bill in this photo (Peter Flood)
In flight (Chris Sloan)
A couple more Sooty Tern images - with the moon (Peter Flood) and in a flock (Chris Sloan)
Common Terns taking off from the water in the Gulf Stream (Chris Sloan)
Risso's dolphins showing the diagnostic dorsal fin shape and blunt head (Kate Sutherland)
An Atlantic Patchwing (Kate Sutherland)
One of the Wandering Gliders that landed on the boat!  I can't ever remember seeing so many offshore here!  (Kate Sutherland)