Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Sunday September 13, 2020 - Shelf Life - by Kate Sutherland

 Our hopes were very high going into our trips over the weekend, winds had been marching across the Atlantic all week!  Who knows what they might carry over to us?  We met at the dock Saturday morning, Brian checking the conditions offshore one more time before heading out, and the wind and waves were much higher than forecast.  So we made the decision to cancel Saturday and try for Sunday!  It was the right choice, we watched the weather reports all day and it was not anything we should have been out in!  Sunday there was still some wind, but not quite as much, and we headed out with a few clouds in the sky.  Typically the shelf waters are pretty dull in terms of bird life, but Sunday morning we found a flight of Cory's type Shearwaters and a couple of feeding flocks!  We took the time to check these out and had incredible views of adult and young Sooty Terns plus Cory's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters.  A few Black-capped Petrels even put in an appearance before we reached the shelf break! (Chris Thomas)
Life offshore and out to about 500 fathoms (3,000 feet) was pretty exciting as well with Black-capped Petrels attracted to the chum, by late morning we had up to fourteen following us!  They made some incredible passes and we saw both light and dark faced birds, plus a number that were in between.  Great Shearwaters also fed well in the chum and at times we had them just about flying over the stern!  Seas were quite large when the wind waves and swell hit the warm, fast moving Gulf Stream and this allowed us to really get a feel for what it means when birds "ride the swell!"  Tubenoses would appear then drop down in the trough and just disappear!  Frustrating, but also incredibly cool to see!  At one point we had a small Calonectris shearwater fly by that we thought might be a Cape Verde Shearwater, but photos showed a more yellow bill than we think one would have and the dorsal coloration was also not quite right for it was more likely a Scopoli's.  We also had some high flying birds in the distance that we gave chase to, one turned out to be an Osprey and perhaps the other was as well, we were just unable to gain enough ground to get a good look!  Another Osprey dropped in later in the afternoon and we had some young Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Ed Corey) and a young Herring Gull also visit us offshore.
Brian had reports of hundreds of shearwaters on the shelf in the afternoon, charter boats were catching yellowfin tuna around them, so we headed back into the shelf waters to see what we could find!  And yes!  Hundreds of shearwaters, Cory's, Scopoli's, Great, and Audubon's were around!  There was Sargassum scattered around that was full of life so the shearwaters were feeding on whatever they could find in there!  (Brian Patteson)
A Manx even turned up with these flocks, that was a nice bonus!  So while we didn't find the rarity we hoped for from across the Atlantic, we did have an awesome day!  

Thank you to everyone who joined us to make this trip possible and a big thank you to Ned Brinkley, Ed Corey, and Jacob Farmer for helping Brian and I lead the trip!  Photos today are thanks to Brian Patteson, Ned Brinkley, Ed Corey, and participant Chris Thomas!  My memory card somehow became corrupted mid-day so I am very bummed to not contribute much in the way of photos.  While our next trip is full we added another to the schedule which is filling steadily - that will run on October 24 (obligatory weather date of the 25th).

Species List for September 13

Black-capped Petrel - 43 to 48
Cory's Shearwater (Atlantic) - 16 (verified by photo)
Scopoli's Shearwater - 17 (verified by photo)
Cory's type - 342 to 352 (not identified to species by photo)
Great Shearwater - 219 to 224
Manx Shearwater - 1
Audubon's Shearwater - 21 to 23
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 2
Red-necked Phalarope - 1
Sooty Tern - 16
Bridled Tern - 1
Sooty / Bridled Tern - 2
Pomarine Jaeger - 5
Osprey - 2
Merlin - 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 2
Herring Gull - 1

Short-finned Pilot Whale - 8 to 10
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin - 7
Unidentified Dolphin species - 2
Loggerhead Turtle - 2

Cloudless Sulphur - 2
butterfly species - 1

A few more Black-capped Petrel photos courtesy of Chris Thomas.  We saw some sharp looking white-faced Black-cappeds
Some that looked darker, this bird has a large chest spur but the face is not incredibly dark, so more intermediate. (Chris Thomas)
And another that looks more white-faced. (Chris Thomas)
We had good views of both Cory's (Ed Corey) and Scopoli's (Kate Sutherland) Shearwaters over the course of the day!
It can be interesting to see the variation in molt and feather wear this time of year in the Cory's type Shearwaters! (Brian Patteson)
Scopoli's (R) and Cory's (L) on the water with feeding shearwater group (Ned Brinkley)
Cory's type preening (Kate Sutherland)
And Great Shearwaters were seen well also! (Brian Patteson)
The Manx, seen here behind a feeding group of larger shearwaters (Brian Patteson)
Audubon's were very obliging in the afternoon! (Ed Corey)
And we had some incredible photo ops of the Pomarine Jaegers that came to visit the slick offshore!  (top Brian Patteson, bottom 2 Poms with LBBG by, Ed Corey)
Somehow I captured a Cory's type with what looks like a young Loggerhead Turtle!  Scopoli's on the water observing and one flying by in the second photo as well!  (Kate Sutherland)

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

September 5 & 6, 2020 - Beehives - by, Kate Sutherland

This weekend we went from slick calm on Saturday morning to the high seas on Sunday with northeasterly winds up to 20 mph with higher gusts!  There were birds feeding up on the shelf Saturday morning, so we had our first Black-caps in about 160 feet of water!  We also found a number of shearwaters in there as well, Sunday was totally different and we found the birds farther offshore.  Both days the Gulf Stream produced nice, feeding flocks of shearwaters with Black-capped Petrels, Sooty Terns, and jaegers.  But our flock on Sunday was really magical!  Hundreds of shearwaters were swarming around, small bunches of them bickering on the water as they dove beneath sargassum to feed (Kate Sutherland),
other groups pulsing into the air over feeding skipjack tuna.  We stayed with our flock on Sunday for over an hour and a half.  They took us to the south a few miles, then back to the north again and we were able to find TWO Trindade Petrels (photo of first individual by Kate Sutherland) in this flock plus a Sooty Shearwater.  Epic birding for us here in the Gulf Stream offshore of Hatteras!

Saturday we had a Trindade Petrel as well!  An intermediate morph buzzed close by the stern while we were running, heading to a small beehive (feeding group) of shearwaters that we spotted on the horizon.  Brian slowed down when the shout went out, but the bird flew away from us and we just got the one pass, at least it was a close one!  The feeding flock, when we arrived, had over a hundred shearwaters, some Sooty Terns - adults and this year's young - plus a couple of Pomarine Jaegers and a Parasitic!  The Parasitic even sat on the water for close approach, though it flew off into the glare, much to photographers' dismay!  As the day went on the winds picked up from the north and birds really started flying!  Black-caps responded well to the chum and we had over 20 feeding behind the boat by early afternoon.  It was quite a show with some harassing shearwaters for food, and nice views of some really dark faced individuals! (Kate Sutherland)

Sunday's trip added five more species to the weekend list with Sooty Shearwater, Red-necked Phalarope, Bridled Tern, South Polar Skua, and an adult Sabine's Gull!  It was windy on Sunday, did I mention that?  And leader Ed Corey still spotted a Bridled Tern sitting on some timber out there!  It sat patiently for us to approach and stayed put on its perch as we pulled away.  The phalaropes were all quick fly-bys, though there could have been some sitting around on the water, conditions made it a bit difficult to find them there!  The Sooty Shearwater zipped through our large feeding group where we had the Trindade Petrels, a nice bird for us to find late summer!  Early afternoon as we worked our way back into the shelf a young Herring Gull joined our Black-cappeds and shearwaters in the slick.  Just a few moments later, a South Polar Skua dropped in as well!  It circled us and then flew off to chase something ahead of the boat - it was an adult Sabine's Gull!! (Ed Corey) It's been years since we've seen a Sabine's Gull on one of our trips!
Then a second skua dropped in!  What a show!  It was awesome to watch these birds working our followers while Black-capped Petrels buzzed them and the Herring Gull!  When we picked up to continue toward the shelf break we realized that the skuas really crashed the party!  The feeding flock was a bit diminished after their visit.

We had incredible views of Cory's, Scopoli's, and Great Shearwaters in the feeding flocks as well as in the slick both days!  Audubon's were very cooperative coming in close to the boat and feeding in the slick with some of the Wilson's Storm-Petrels we were able to entice to follow.  Sooty Terns were also cooperative near the feeding flocks and we again saw an adult drop down to feed a youngster on the water!  This pair did this a couple of times that we saw! (Kate Sutherland)

Thank you to Ed Corey for helping us lead the trips and contributing photos!  Also thank you to John Mark Simmons and Will Babb for organizing groups to come offshore with us on Sunday!  We had awesome participation both days and look forward to seeing what we can turn up out there this weekend!  We still have space on September 12 and 13 and we added another trip to our fall schedule - October 24 (25)!  Join us!

Species List September 5 / 6

Trindade Petrel - 1 / 2
Black-capped Petrel - 80 to 84 / 53 to 57
Cory's Shearwater (Atlantic) - 15 / 14 (verified by photo)
Scopoli's Shearwater - 16 / 22 (verified by photo)
Cory's type - 279 to 281 / 285 (not identified to species by photo)
Great Shearwater - 69 / 312 to 317
Sooty Shearwater - 0 / 1
Audubon's Shearwater - 11 to 13 / 25
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 9 to 10 / 6
Red-necked Phalarope - 0 / 7
Sabine's Gull - 0 / 1 adult
Sooty Tern - 10 / 11
Bridled Tern - 0 / 1
Sooty / Bridled - 1 / 0
South Polar Skua - 0 / 2
Pomarine Jaeger - 2 / 2
Parasitic Jaeger - 1 / 0
jaeger sp - 3 / 1

Herring Gull - 0 / 1
Osprey - 1 / 0
Blue-winged Teal - 2 / 0
duck species - 1 / 0
passerine - 6 / 0

Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins - 0 / 4 to 5

A couple more images of the Trindade Petrels!  Record shot of the Saturday bird by Kate Sutherland and photos of the first and second Trindade Petrels on Sunday by Ed Corey!  You can easily see we didn't have any repeat visitors!
Black-capped Petrels were really showing off in the wind both days!  It was exciting to have a young, white faced looking individual sit on the water long enough for a photo-op on Saturday! (Kate Sutherland)
An intermediate individual (Kate Sutherland)
Perhaps the same or similar individual showing off its feet!  I'm not sure I've seen them do this before...!  (Kate Sutherland)
Kleptoparasitic chase?  I saw a few Black-cappeds quarreling with shearwaters in the slick on Saturday (Kate Sutherland)
Mobbing behavior?  One of the skua was being pursued by up to three Black-cappeds at one point on Sunday! (Kate Sutherland)
Scopoli's seemed to be around in larger numbers than Atlantic Cory's (Kate Sutherland)
On Sunday I captured an image of one with a flyingfish!  It looked like our Atlantic four-winged flyingfish, aka our Atlantic Patchwing! (Kate Sutherland)
Our flock on Sunday, here you can see two Atlantic Cory's to the right up high and a Scopoli's to the left (Kate Sutherland)
This ratty looking Scopoli's stayed with us for a long time on Sunday! (Kate Sutherland)
A couple Great Shearwater images - dropping in to feed (top - Kate Sutherland), with a prey item (possibly a planehead filefish? Ed Corey)
It seemed like both days we had Audubon's Shearwaters with Wilson's Storm-Petrels in the slick! (Ed Corey)
Another record shot of our Sabine's Gull!  (Kate Sutherland)
Our Bridled Tern that Ed found for us on Sunday morning, with a bit of Sargassum!  There was a lot of life under its perch!  (Kate Sutherland)
A couple photos of a couple of South Polar Skuas (Kate Sutherland)
One of the Pomarine Jaegers we saw on Sunday (Kate Sutherland)
And just so you can see how calm it was on Saturday morning, I captured some nice images of our wake! (Kate Sutherland)

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

August 28 & 29, 2020 - by Kate Sutherland

Wind was present for us this past Friday and Saturday...perhaps a bit more so on Saturday when we had to shorten our time in the deep to make it back inshore before it really started howling!  We thought we saw shearwaters on our last set of trips??  We blew those counts away on Friday!  There were shearwaters flying a few miles past the shelf break.  Cory's types and Greats, we ended up with the latter taking the day almost 2:1.  Nothing like we saw over twenty years ago, but some nice numbers of shearwaters compared to our recent history!  Many of the birds we saw were moving by in a steady flight, but around 1030 we found a feeding flock with over 30 Sooty Terns above!  Many of these were sleek youngsters begging as they flew around behind their parents and also super curious about us! (Kate Sutherland) 

I even saw one land on the water to be fed by an adult, taking off a moment later, not something I've ever seen before!  

Black-capped Petrels, our winged runners of the Gulf Stream, were in their element on both days and responded well to the chum!  Especially some of the juvenile birds that were around!  We had nice views of adults who had completed their molt and then the juvies, who had fresh and gorgeous pale edged feathers on their mantle!  Not to mention that wide-eyed look of youth. (Kate Sutherland) 

As hard as we tried, we didn't turn up any other gadfly petrels, but we did see both light and dark faced types, plus many intermediates, in our Black-cappeds over the two days out there.  

Friday's trip turned up two species that were unexpected and much appreciated!  First thing in the morning participant Basko Eszeki spotted a large, dark bird in the wake of a ship we had just passed astern.  I didn't get on it right away, but it turned out to be a Brown Booby!  It flew off to the south as we continued offshore, frustrated that we didn't have the best views.  Just after slowing down as we passed the shelf break, and as I was beginning to dispense the chum, another Brown Booby flew by!  I didn't get an eye on this one, but it also looked to be an immature individual, same as the first?  Who knows, it would have had to make a horseshoe turn and come back to possible, but without photos of both, no way to tell!  Later in the afternoon we had an adult buzz by the boat fairly close on the starboard side, that one I did get to see and even snapped a few record photos! 
Even later than that, in the 1400 period, participant Frank Hawkins spotted a jaeger flying toward us.  It was a Pomarine that was pursued by a Black-capped Petrel...then a South Polar Skua showed up!  What a show!  Though I wish it were a bit closer so we could have captured it in more detail...but who was chasing whom??  The Black-capped pursued both the skua and the jaeger, then they turned back on the petrel - at one point the skua was "yelling" down at the petrel while the jaeger observed from above!  There was a lot of back and forth, but you get the picture!  Pretty exciting way to end the day on Friday!!  In addition to these skuas, we had another pair of immature jaegers earlier in the day: a Pomarine chasing Audubon's and a Long-tailed chasing some Sooty Terns (Kate Sutherland).  Overall, quite a bit of excitement!

Saturday we didn't find the same high numbers of shearwaters offshore, but we did have excellent views of both Cory's and Scopoli's Shearwaters close to the boat and some cooperative Great Shearwaters in the slick!  Audubon's were not as easy to see, but we had our first Manx Shearwater of the season, sitting on the water with a flock of Great's and Cory's types!  It was very worn, so looked quite brown, perhaps a one year old bird.  We had great views of it on the water and in flight!  What a treat!  In addition to these expected shearwaters Brian spotted what he described as a "pygmy Cory's" just after 0930 in the morning.  The bird seemed to have flushed from a flock in the glare and flew across the bow and directly away from us, low on the water.  When I glassed the bird I saw it had dark under primaries and the size was closer to a small Scopoli's than a Cory's.  I did my best to get a few photos as it flew by, as did leader Ed Corey. 
Size and shape were right for a Cape Verde Shearwater, as are the dark under primaries.  I wish we'd had a better look or that the bird and sea conditions were more cooperative...but we all know that's a lot to ask for on a pelagic trip.  More often than not we don't have optimal conditions when we encounter a bird we might want to take a longer look at!  We will gather more opinions, but it looks like a Cape Verde Shearwater crossed paths with us on Saturday...!  We'll keep you posted!

Thank you to everyone who joined us on these Seabird adventures and a huge thank you to Ed Corey and Jacob Farmer for helping Brian and I lead the trips and for sharing their photos!  We added a couple more trips to the fall schedule and will be running on September 12 and 13 in addition to this coming weekend (September 5 and 6).

Species List August 28 / 29

Black-capped Petrel - 70 to 80 / 47 to 50
Cory's Shearwater (Atlantic) - 9 / 2
Scopoli's Shearwater - 17 / 4
Cory's type - 233 / 90
*small Calonectris species - 0 / 1 - likely Cape Verde Shearwater
Great Shearwater - 427 to 447 / 34
Manx Shearwater - 0 / 1
Audubon's Shearwater - 14 / 9
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 7 / 1 to 3
Brown Booby - 2 to 3 / 0
Red-necked Phalarope - 2 / 6
Sooty Tern - 37 / 4
Bridled Tern - 4 / 3
Sooty / Bridled - 0 / 4
Black Tern - 1 to 2 / 1
South Polar Skua - 1 / 0
Pomarine Jaeger - 2 / 0
Long-tailed Jaeger - 1 / 0
Least Sandpiper - 0 / 1
Purple Martin - 1/ 0
shorebird species - 4 / 0
peep species - 2 / 0

Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin - 4 to 5 / 5 to 6

shark species - 1 / 0

Monarch Butterfly - 1 / 0
Sulphur sp (prob Cloudless) - 2 / 0

A few more Black-capped Petrels, the young ones first! (top Kate Sutherland, below Ed Corey)
And we had some fresh looking adult birds (Kate Sutherland)
What looks like two pale faced birds, the one showing the underwings is one for certain!  Look at that fine (vs. thick) black line in each underwing! (Kate Sutherland)
We had some decent photo ops for Cory's types (haha!! They were actually pretty good!), not much white in p10 on this bird, so likely an Atlantic Cory's?  Seems a bit in between, so we'll just leave it as a type! (Jacob Farmer)
And also for Scopoli's Shearwaters (Kate Sutherland)
Jacob Farmer captured this nice angle on a Great Shearwater in the sargassum
Manx Shearwater on the water with Cory's types and in flight (Kate Sutherland)
A couple of Red-necked Phalaropes on the water on Saturday (Kate Sutherland)
Sooty Terns with Long-tailed Jaeger (Ed Corey)
One of the Bridled Terns we found over the two days! (Ed Corey)
A few images from the South Polar Skua / Pomarine Jaeger / Black-capped Petrel interaction (Jacob Farmer)