Monday, October 26, 2020

Saturday October 24, 2020 - Swell Birding - by Kate Sutherland

Hurricane Epsilon passed by us far to the east earlier in the week, resulting in some nice swell - a bit too nice to make it out on Friday, so we were hopeful that it would be just right to cross the Hatteras Inlet bar on Saturday morning for our trip offshore.  And as luck would have it, just right!  Plus we were treated to a gorgeous sunrise (photo by Kate Sutherland) and light winds from the north. 
As we headed to the south southeast Brian spotted a Leatherback turtle, not up long enough for anyone else to see, but definitely a notable sighting!  Our first hour at sea was quiet, but then shearwaters began popping up and we found a few small feeding groups on the water, mostly Cory's (photo by Brian Patteson) but a few Greats were with them as well. 
We took our time heading to the shelf break allowing us to investigate a nice Sargassum line in about 200 feet of water.  It was here that our first Scopoli's Shearwater of the trip was photographed and we found a nice ocean sunfish (Mola mola) swimming along the surface!  A nice tree and some coconuts were in the Sargassum along this current edge, but we failed to turn up a Bridled Tern.  

We reached the shelf edge just after 1000 and like magic, there were the Black-capped Petrels!  The first individual was a bit distant, but the second bird was much more cooperative, zipping toward the port side, across the bow, and down the starboard before flying off.  We promptly put out some chum blocks to see if we could lure a few more in while the light was nice!  The views of these freshly molted birds were stunning and we had a number check us out during our time in the deeper water (photo Kate Sutherland). 
Less than an hour later I spotted two high fliers and it turned out a Black-capped Petrel was pursuing a Pomarine Jaeger!  We watched them for a few minutes before they headed back toward the sea and out of sight.  Two Poms joined us near the boat just a few minutes later, one may have been the one we saw with the Black-cap, but it was tough to tell from the earlier, distant photos.  These two birds were very cooperative, sitting on the sea and flying around the boat for photo-ops.  Black-cappeds and Pomarine Jaegers were the highlight species in the deep, and while we had a few shearwaters out there, most of them were in on the shelf.  Surprisingly we did not find any Audubon's Shearwaters even though we did see a lot of Sargassum, we could have missed them in the swell, or they just might out in the deep.  

The Pomarine Jaegers we saw mostly looked adult-like with one young individual who hatched last year.  In addition to the mostly light morph individuals we saw, we had two dark morph Poms, one still had tail streamers while the other, though a bit more distant, did not seem to have much of a tail.  A few of these adult-looking birds were in mid-primary molt which is not unexpected for adults in late October, but also could be near adult individuals.  At least one adult type bird had a few barred coverts in the underwing, indicating perhaps a third year.  The only bird we could age with certainty was the one in its "first summer" or second year, with completely barred underparts just beginning its second pre-basic wing molt (Howell 2007) (photo Kate Sutherland). 

Black-cappeds were definitely the stars, though, as they rode the swell, chased jaegers, and made some incredible passes by the boat!  We had both white faced and dark faced types over the course of the day.  Another treat came in the form of a pair of Sooty Terns that flew in to check out the chum and then moved on, an adult and its attendant juvenile.  Some offshore Bottlenose Dolphins, with a number of young individuals, came in to bow ride as we headed back inshore to the shelf break, some Atlantic Spotted Dolphins had done the same in the morning on our way out.  Quite a day for late October!

Thank you to everyone who joined us and made this trip a go!  Brian and I appreciate all of your support so much, especially this year.  Our next trip in November is full, but we should have our 2021 schedule posted just after that and perhaps we will even add a trip in December!

Species List October 24, 2020

Black-capped Petrel - 34 to 35
Cory's Shearwater (Atlantic) - 12 (verified by photo)
Scopoli's Shearwater - 3 (verified by photo)
Cory's type - 70 to 71 (not verified by photo to one species or the other)
Great Shearwater - 26 to 27
Sooty Tern - 2
Pomarine Jaeger - 8 to 9
jaeger sp. - 1

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin - about 25
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin - about 30 to 31
Leatherback turtle - 1
sea turtle sp. (prob Loggerhead) - 2 spotted by participant
Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) - 1

We also saw a number of moths and a small red butterfly offshore of the shelf break, then a sulphur on the shelf in the afternoon.

A dark faced Black-cap riding the swell. (Kate Sutherland)
Black-capped Petrel (l) with a Great Shearwater (r) (Kate Sutherland)
A couple more Cory's Shearwaters images - on the water and taking off showing the dark under primaries (a Scopoli's will show white in the under primaries).  Compare the yellow bill and pale head with the Great Shearwater below.  (Kate Sutherland)
Great Shearwaters were cooperative in the slick, as they usually are! You can see the black bill and dark cap plus the mottled underwing and dark belly patch in this photo.  (Kate Sutherland)
Brian was quick enough to capture an image of our young Sooty Tern!  (Brian Patteson)
And now for the Pomarine Jaegers!  We covered the first summer bird up above, so now let's take a look at the others we saw.  At least a couple looked like this bird, adult-like, in mid primary molt with fresh looking central rectrices and dark underwing coverts.  (Brian Patteson) 
We had at least one bird with a longer tail, but upon inspection of the underwings there were some barred coverts remaining indicating a possible third year individual.  Its primary molt was similar to the other birds we saw.  (Kate Sutherland)
While the water was a little choppy for seeing the Mola mola underneath, I did capture a bit of the fin out of the water.  This creature is the world's heaviest bony fish, and produces more eggs than any other known vertebrate!!  An estimated 300 million!  (Kate Sutherland)

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Saturday October 10, 2020 - by Kate Sutherland

Typically when we run this October trip we have winds that are northwesterly or westerly, so having south / southeasterly winds for our trip Saturday was such a treat!  Skies were overcast as we headed offshore and we were hopeful that conditions would be favorable to find some seabirds offshore.  Cory's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters were around as we headed toward the shelf break and we even had some curious Atlantic Spotted Dolphins come in to ride the bow for a few minutes!  Just after 0900 we had a Black-capped Petrel zip by, then a second one!  (photo Peter Flood)
Brian called out some cetaceans around the boat around the same time - and some False Killer Whales popped up!  At least four and perhaps six individuals surfaced a few times nearby before heading off to the northeast.  Wow!  We see them regularly in the spring but have never seen them in the fall, nor heard from any fishermen about them being around in the fall.  Quite a cool addition to our October species list!  There were a number of other Black-capped Petrels in this area as well and maybe they were with these blackfish (the False Killer Whales)?  Who knows, we just know we went ahead and started the chum a few miles inshore of the break!  Definitely an excellent start to the day!

Just before 1000 we reached the shelf break and had a distant high flier that turned out to be a skua!  We watched it flying up high, saw it harassing a shearwater, and could tell from photos that it was a skua, not a jaeger.  Looking at the pictures on a computer, it was probably a South Polar Skua - the nape was pale and the color dull, not warm like we would expect on a Great Skua.  Black-cappeds and all three shearwaters were attentive in the slick as we worked offshore and we even turned up a Wilson's Storm-Petrel that stayed with us in the slick for awhile, not a species that is really very common here in the fall like they are earlier in the year, so a good find for October! 

Fishermen were chatting about all of the birds they were seeing, so we generally worked that way, a bit to the south and offshore, and finally found some shearwater flocks a little before 1.  The first flock we found was incredible!!  There were more Audubon's Shearwaters than Cory's and Great combined! (photo Brian Patteson) 
There was a jaeger associated with this flock that was not very cooperative, but we did see it flare up as it chased shearwaters and photos indicated it was likely a young Pomarine Jaeger.  The second flock we found was about an hour later and was again mostly Audubon's with Cory's and just a handful of Greats.  One of the Cory's Shearwaters we photographed in this flock was banded!  (photo Kate Sutherland)
Many of the Audubon's looked to be fresh youngsters, and we tried to turn up a Manx among them, but to no avail!  Having such incredible numbers of shearwaters in October was reward enough.  Black-capped Petrels and Great Shearwaters put on quite a show as we chummed our way back to the shelf break before picking up to head back to shore.  One more stop to put out what we had left brought Black-capped Petrels right by the boat, in sleek, fresh plumage lit up by the afternoon light!  Incredible! (photo Brian Patteson) 

Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible by joining us in the fall!  And thank you to Peter Flood and Ed Corey for helping Brian and I lead the trip.  All four of us contributed photos for this post!  At this time we just have one space on our next trip - October 24 (25) - and four spaces on our November 14 (15) trip.  We're super excited to get out there twice more this fall!

Species List for October 10, 2020

Black-capped Petrel - 53 to 56
Cory's Shearwater (Atlantic) - 54 (verified by photo)
Scopoli's Shearwater - 2 (verified by photo)
Cory's type - 244 to 245 (not verified by photo to one species or the other)
Great Shearwater - 101 to 111
Audubon's Shearwater - 508 to 563
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 1 to 2
Pomarine Jaeger - 1
skua sp. (prob South Polar) - 1
Common Tern - 3

False Killer Whale - 4 to 6
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin - 6

Our Black-capped Petrels were quite cooperative for photos!
A number were dark-faced birds (Peter Flood - top - and Ed Corey - bottom)
We had at least three or four individuals that were white faced types (Peter Flood)
Here is an intermediate looking bird above with a white-faced bird below (Kate Sutherland)
One more image with a darker individual's underwing (Kate Sutherland)
In the shearwater flocks it was nice to show everyone Cory's vs Great Shearwaters on the water!  The yellow or straw colored bill of Cory's vs black of Great, plus the paler head of the Cory's vs the darker head seen on Great.  Here you can also see the clean underwing of a Cory's vs the mottled underwing of a Great!  (Peter Flood - Cory's top, Great bottom)
A couple more images of Cory's Shearwaters (Brian Patteson - top - Kate Sutherland - bottom)
As I sorted through photos I did uncover at least two Scopoli's Shearwaters, here is a record shot of one (Kate Sutherland)
Great Shearwaters were super cooperative!  We had some individuals that looked fairly fresh and others that were a bit rattier looking!  (Kate Sutherland)
And yes, the Audubon's!!  They were incredibly cooperative, not something we can usually say about these small black and white shearwaters!  (Peter Flood)
And sitting on the water with a Cory's (Kate Sutherland)
Here is a wide shot of a portion of the first flock (Kate Sutherland)
Zoomed in a bit by Peter Flood
And here is our record shot of the skua (Peter Flood) you get the picture!