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.
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).
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)
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)