Monday, May 31, 2021

Monday May 31, 2021 - Kate Sutherland

Weather kept us ashore for two days, May 29 and 30, so today we finally continued the Blitz.  Winds were from the north west this morning and we ran offshore under cloudy skies.  Not much was flying between Hatteras Inlet and the shelf break, and even after the break we didn't see much reason to slow down until we started to see some birds.  The oil had barely begun its drip when Brian came on the loudspeaker to say that a nearby charter boat had seen a Masked Booby!  I thought at first it was somewhere far from us, because that's how it usually goes...but then he announced it was flying toward the boat at 11:00!  Sure enough, a first summer Masked Booby came to investigate the Stormy Petrel II, in poor light, and proceeded to dive a couple of times nearby.  Incredible start to the day and the first booby for our Spring Season.  
Black-capped Petrels and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were both cooperative for viewing today, which was nice because Band-rumps have been a bit hit or miss so far this spring.  We had excellent views of all the birds we saw and it make the day super interesting and exciting, especially since we had a nice flock of Wilson's and searching for that European Storm-Petrel is always fun.  Great Shearwaters are beginning to show up and it was nice to have some in the slick most of the day.  
Audubon's were out in the Sargassum in good numbers and we even had one on the water right next to the boat.  Cory's, Scopoli's, and those individuals in between were also around and made some nice passes.  Overall it was an incredible day out there!
Thanks so much to Ed Corey and Andrew Rapp for helping Brian and I lead the trip - and a huge thank you to everyone who joined us out there today!  We'll see what we can turn up tomorrow!

*all photos today by Kate Sutherland

Species List May 31, 2021
Black-capped Petrel - 23 to 29
Cory's Shearwater - 30
Scopoli's Shearwater - 2
Cory's / Scopoli's - 20
Great Shearwater - 7
Sooty Shearwater - 5
Audubon's Shearwater - 19 to 21
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 260 to 275
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 4 to 6
Masked Booby - 1
jaeger sp. - 1
Bottlenose Dolphins (offshore population) - 12
Flying Squid - 40 to 50 !!

Black-capped Petrel shearing the water, not a commonly captured moment!
One of the intermediate Black-cappeds we saw today
An example of a Cory's type - a bird with some white but not really enough to be a slam dunk Scopoli's - the bill, though, is also slender and there is not as much dark in the leading edge of the underwing as we sometimes see in Atlantic Cory's.
We were lucky to have one nice Scopoli's come to the slick!
Great Shearwaters are always fun to photograph and having them around all day means they get photographed a lot!  All of the individuals we saw today were completing molt.

This image has a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel to the right, but the Great Shearwater stole the focus!
A couple more images of the Masked Booby

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Friday May 28, 2021 - Seabirds in their Element - Kate Sutherland

Today we headed more to the south, into the waves, anticipating the current we had yesterday and giving ourselves space to more a bit move to the north.  We didn't find much on our way to the shelf break but did find a nice color change with a temperature break just inshore of there.  Not much life on this break compared to yesterday, but we were able to get some nice views of Audubon's Shearwaters!  While we didn't have many Wilson's Storm-Petrels, they can be scarce on a southwester, the Black-capped Petrels were hungry and feeding in our slick on the chum.  We decided to stop and drift with the chum for a bit and these magnificent "winged runners" came right in (George Armistead).

Participants were treated not only to the Black-cappeds feeding right in front of us and showing off their bicolored feet (Kate Sutherland, below), but also to their calls!  George Armistead heard some calls he didn't recognize while we were on the drift and sure enough, it was the Black-cappeds calling as they squabbled over pieces of chum.  What a treat to be with these birds in their element, zipping effortlessly around us while we are gripping the rails, dropping elegantly down to pluck a piece of food from the sea's surface, generally doing what they do out there while we get to watch.  It was awesome, though I could be a bit biased!

Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaegers both visited the slick in the late morning and at least six or seven Black-cappeds were seen "escorting" the Pom from the slick.  Yes, we have bouncers here sometimes around the Stormy Petrel II and they are not fond of skuas or jaegers.  Perhaps they want the right to steal from the birds in our slick themselves as some have imagined, or maybe they just don't enjoy the proximity of birds that are a threat to them.  Or maybe it is none of the above, since we're not Black-cappeds all we can do is take notes and imagine what the purpose may be.  They could just be exhibiting their mastery of the skies to these seemingly less skilled seabirds, who knows? (Kate Sutherland)

A bit before noontime, on our inshore tack with the sun on the stern, I noticed a grayish looking bird coming toward the slick from the port side.  It didn't come very close and stayed low as it crossed astern showing a white belly occasionally.  I thought at first it would be a Fea's Petrel with the color of the dorsal surface, and took a few photos once it became obvious it was going to blow right past us like our Trindade Petrel yesterday.  It turned out to be a light morph Trindade Petrel!  Perhaps the reflection of the sun on its feathers gave it that sheen suggestive of a Fea's Petrel, who knows?  But a handful of participants saw it before it flew away.  (record shot Kate Sutherland)

It was a salty day out there with the wind picking up a bit earlier than forecast and the Gulf Stream current falling out a we did our best!  Thank you to everyone who joined us out there, and a big thanks to George Armistead who also contributed photos for this post, and Andrew Rapp for helping Brian and I lead the trip today.

Species List for May 28, 2021
Trindade Petrel - 1 light morph
Black-capped Petrel - 42 to 46
Cory's Shearwater - 35
Great Shearwater - 5 to 6
Sooty Shearwater - 16
Audubon's Shearwater - 25
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 75 to 80
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 4
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 2
Band-rumped / Leach's - 2
Sooty Tern - 1
Pomarine Jaeger - 2
Long-tailed Jaeger - 1
Loggerhead Turtle - 1

A few more dark morph individuals by George Armistead

And some feeding in the slick by Kate Sutherland

Great Shearwater skimming the waves by George Armistead
Some of our Wilson's Storm-Petrels feeding on the chum by Kate Sutherland
At first I thought this Band-rumped was going to be one of our "little" Band-rumpeds, but it has a couple of old primaries indicating a winter breeder (Kate Sutherland)
Our Long-tailed Jaeger by Kate Sutherland

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Thursday May 27, 2021 - Birding the Break - Kate Sutherland

There was some wind overnight, and then some in a squall line that moved through early this morning - this made for some choppy conditions running offshore this morning.  It took us awhile to reach the shelf break, but once we were there we found a gorgeous color change just offshore.  This break had a nice blue green color change edged in sargassum. 
The warmer, blue water had some Gulf Stream current while the cooler, green water had less.  The temperature change was almost 3 degrees Fahrenheit.  There were Black-capped Petrels, Cory's, and Audubon's Shearwaters all working this break and a few Wilson's Storm-Petrels as well, though we could have brought some of them with us in our slick!  Our first Bridled Tern of the Blitz (and the spring!) was on this break and while it was flying ahead of us at first, it finally settled down on a piece of flotsam so we could all have a great view!
After about an hour with this awesome feature, we continued offshore.  
Black-capped Petrels were super cooperative and we had more than we've seen on the past couple of trips.  Cory's, Sooties, and Audubon's Shearwaters all showed well and made some nice passes in good light!  A little before 1100 George and I were in the stern and he spotted a Trindade Petrel rocketing across the slick!  It was on a mission and did not come any closer to the Stormy Petrel II, a number of participants did catch a glimpse of this much sought after gadfly petrel.  A little after 1100 Andrew spotted a skua heading toward the boat - it came in close enough to see it was a South Polar - and then it flew directly away.  Not nearly as cooperative as our three yesterday!  Leach's Storm-Petrels were cooperative for us while Band-rumpeds were not, and we had close and excellent views of these large stormies as they flew around the boat and fed at point blank range for us.
Thanks to everyone who joined us out there today and thanks to the SBC who joined us for four trips this spring, you'll have to try again for the White-tailed Tropicbird and Cahow!  We look forward to having you back!  Thank you also to George Armistead and Andrew Rapp for helping Brian and I lead the trip today.

*all photos today are by myself, Kate

Species List for May 27, 2021
Trindade Petrel - 1
Black-capped Petrel - 33 to 35
Cory's Shearwater - 36 to 37
Cory's / Scopoli's Shearwater - 3
Great Shearwater - 2
Sooty Shearwater - 13 to 15
Audubon's Shearwater - 19 to 20
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 150 to 180
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 3 to 4
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 2
Bridled Tern - 3
Bridled / Sooty Tern - 1
Common Tern - 2
Arctic Tern - 1
Common / Arctic Tern - 2
South Polar Skua - 1
jaeger / skua - 1
Barn Swallow - 1
Bottlenose Dolphin (Offshore population) - 12
Dolphin sp - likely Atlantic Spotted Dolphin - 5
Leatherback Turtle - 1
Loggerhead Turtle - 1
Portuguese Man of War - 2

A couple of Black-capped Petrels - a light form bird above and a dark form below just beginning primary molt

Cory's Shearwater head on!  We didn't see any Scopoli's today.
A cool view of a Leach's Storm-Petrel (R) zipping in to the chum with a Wilson's flying by on the left.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Wednesday May 26, 2021 - Kate Sutherland

Our typical wind here in Hatteras is southwest, and today we got to have our first day with a good, stiff southwest breeze since we began the Blitz.  It was an interesting day out there in the blue water, it took a little while to gather some birds in the slick but Black-capped Petrels (George Armistead) 

and Wilson's Storm-Petrels were very cooperative and we had a nice, steady stream of Cory's and Cory's type Shearwaters throughout the day.  In spite of choppy conditions we had at least three Gervais' Beaked Whales surface near the boat during the 1000 period!  While I didn't lay eyes on them myself, they were seen at least three times!  Scopoli's have only been seen a handful of times so far this spring and we had nice views of at least one today. (Kate Sutherland) 

Otherwise we mostly had Cory's Shearwaters, the Atlantic breeders, and at least one Great Shearwater visited the slick in the afternoon.
A highlight of the day for many was a gorgeous first summer Arctic Tern that came in to feed in the slick for almost two hours! (George Armistead) 

Following that leader Ed Corey spotted two skuas heading toward the boat from the sun glare...these two South Polar Skuas came right to us, harassing our followers and making some awesome circuits around the boat!  A third joined us about 30 minutes later.  In the midst of all of this, perhaps between the Arctic Tern and the skuas, we had an adult Long-tailed Jaeger fly right down the side of the boat. (George Armistead) 

Certainly a treat to see all of these birds so well.  Leach's Storm-Petrels were also cooperative today sticking with us in the slick and feeding right next to the boat on the chum a few times when we turned back to check the stormies.
Overall another great day offshore!  Thanks to everyone who joined us and a big thank you to our leaders, George Armistead, Ed Corey - who just finished five days with us! - and Andrew Rapp.

Species List for May 26, 2021
Black-capped Petrel - 22 to 23
Cory's Shearwater - 75
Scopoli's Shearwater - 1
Cory's / Scopoli's Shearwater - 9
Great Shearwater - 1 to 2
Sooty Shearwater - 13
Audubon's Shearwater - 3
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 220 to 250
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 4 to 5
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 2
Red-necked Phalarope - 5
South Polar Skua - 3
Pomarine Jaeger - 3
Long-tailed Jaeger - 1 adult
jaeger sp - 4
Arctic Tern - 10
Common Tern - 4
Common / Arctic Tern - 4
Gervais' Beaked Whale - 3

A couple more Black-capped perspectives (Kate Sutherland)
Cory's type Shearwater (George Armistead)
Leach's Storm-Petrel - touching down showing off its short legs and long bill (George Armistead) and in flight (Kate Sutherland)

A couple of South Polar Skua images (George Armistead)

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Tuesday May 25, 2021 - Kate Sutherland

East winds always make us think about species that could be out in the deep.  It blew pretty hard from the east last night so there was some swell out there as we headed offshore this morning and the wind was still blowing a bit from the east southeast.  There was a small flight of Sooty Shearwaters just outside of the inlet and South Polar Skuas were also in the nearshore waters with two individuals flying up behind us to investigate the Stormy Petrel II!  So lucky right off the bat!  (Kate Sutherland)

I was hoping we'd have a nice flight of Leach's Storm-Petrels and we did see at least two on our way to the shelf break...not quite what I was thinking but nice to see.  We found another four over the course of the day and with the size of the swells, we certainly could have missed a few.  A drift with the chum began our time in the deeper water offshore and we had a nice storm-petrel flock gather with both light and dark form Black-capped Petrels visiting the slick plus at least one Band-rumped and one Leach's.  (Band-rumped photo Kate Sutherland) 

The inshore tack was very successful and we had close to 300 Wilson's in the slick at once with Black-cappeds and Cory's types flying through in addition to a handful of larger stormies that would show well periodically.  We found one spot that had some jaegers and before long we had at least two Poms, one Parasitic, and one Long-tailed working our flock!  What a treat to have all three and get to study them right there!  A couple of Leach's made some nice passes as well and just before we got back in to the shelf a Great Shearwater joined our slick.  Then we had some Red-necked Phalaropes on the way inshore - pretty nice way to wrap up the day.

The Gulf Stream current was running a little less than 3 knots where we were in the deeper water and there was some scattered Sargassum.  The temperature was in the high 70s and for the most part the water looked nice and blue.  As we moved inshore in the afternoon we were treated to a nice blue / green color change with more organized patches of sargassum - pretty cool to see and the temperature difference was at least 5 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit.

Thanks so everyone who joined us out there today and thank you also to our leaders, Ed Corey and Andrew Rapp, for helping us lead the trip!  Ed also contributed some photos for the blog tonight.  Tomorrow they will be with us again and we'll have another guest leader joining, George Armistead!  

Species List for May 25, 2021
Black-capped Petrel - 28 to 32
Cory's Shearwater - 33 to 34
Scopoli's Shearwater - 2
Cory's / Scopoli's Shearwater - 7
Great Shearwater - 1
Sooty Shearwater - 36
Audubon's Shearwater - 8 to 10
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 300 to 350
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 6
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 9 to 11
Red-necked Phalarope - 7
South Polar Skua - 2
Pomarine Jaeger - 4
Parasitic Jaeger - 1
Long-tailed Jaeger - 6
Arctic Tern - 2
Common Tern - 2
Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore population) - 15 to 20
Hammerhead shark (likely scalloped) - 2

Black-capped Petrels - intermediate individual by Ed Corey (top) and pale individual by Kate Sutherland (bottom)

Atlantic Cory's (top) and a record shot of a Scopoli's (bottom) by Kate Sutherland

Our single Great Shearwater from today by Ed Corey

Our Wilson's Storm-Petrels were super excited about the chum on our drift this morning!  (Kate top image, Ed Corey bottom image)

Leach's Storm-Petrel (Kate Sutherland)

Band-rumped Storm-Petrels from today featured mostly Grant's type (above in text) but also at least one non-molting individual (Kate Sutherland)

One of our Pomarine Jaegers (Ed Corey)

And a nice shot of our offshore Bottlenose Dolphins (Ed Corey)