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!


  1. Wow, that is one of the best photo sets I've seen on the blog. Did everyone upgrade rigs or were the birds that cooperative?? :)

  2. Thanks so much for this terrific outline of our day with you. It was an incredible experience for my husband and me, something we'll never forget. Kate, your enthusiasm for these pelagics is inspiring and you were so patients with those of us encountering the birds for the first time. Thanks again!