Thursday, August 26, 2021

August 20 & 22, 2021 - Birding around Henri - Kate Sutherland

At first glance, it seemed that Tropical Storm Henri would send some swell our way...enough to help bring some seabirds in for us but not to disrupt our trips.  Little did we know the forecast was to change, as it tends to do with these tropical systems!  The National Hurricane Center had this system becoming a hurricane on Friday night into Saturday as it passed a couple hundred miles offshore of Hatteras Island.  Needless to say, this prompted us to cancel Saturday's trip on Thursday morning since a number of people were to join us from the Mecklenburg Audubon Society - quite a drive to turn around!  And it turned out we were right to do so since the swell was too large for us to get out of the inlet on Saturday morning, not a single vessel from Hatteras went out.  We did, however, get to do some pre and post seabirding on Friday and Sunday and it was an adventure for certain!
Friday morning we found some swell from the east as we headed offshore, so there was some wind out there somewhere!  But luckily there was not much with us and we had partly cloudy skies with some light winds from the south and southwest.  It was nice to see some Cory's type and Audubon's Shearwaters on our way to the shelf break and then we were lucky to find two Black-capped Petrels and a Sooty Tern just over the break.  As we worked our way out to deeper water in the 5 to 6 foot swell there were incredible flocks of Black-cappeds on the water - 40 or 50 in one that we found just after 0930! (Kate Sutherland) 
It's been awhile since we've seen them like that!  Without the wind birds were mostly sitting around, but we tried a short drift anyhow since there were certainly some storm-petrels around, and while we didn't have any larger stormies visit the chum it did attract a Bridled Tern that came in to feed.  Just as we were pulling out from the slick a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel made a brief appearance, but did not return for a nice pass.  Our large shearwaters were quite cooperative with good views of Great Shearwater feeding in the slick (Kate Sutherland)
and both Cory's and Scopoli's Shearwaters plus a number that were in between.  It's interesting that we see a number of Cory's type shearwaters that have some white in p10 but less than the 30% we like to call a Scopoli's.  There are a few that we can tease out using other characteristics, but just interesting to have so many occurring here.  On both trips I photographed almost as many of these 'tweeners as I did Scopoli's!  Our flocks on the water continued into the afternoon and we had another nice, large flock of Black-cappeds with at least 30 individuals plus some shearwaters and a nice group of stormies.  When the storm-petrel flock took off there were a couple of larger ones in there and one of these was a Leach's!  Most participants who were in the right place to see this flock caught a glimpse of this larger storm-petrel and its diagnostic, erratic flight style.  But the best was waiting for us at the shelf break!  I was up in the wheelhouse writing down our 1400 location which was just at the shelf break, and Brian shouted "what's this???  TROPICBIRD!!" as a White-tailed Tropicbird dropped in just off the port bow!  WOW!  It was an awesome view and the bird circled around us at least a couple of times before taking off.  An excellent pre-Henri sighting!! (Jason Denesevich) 
Sunday the weather was a bit more unsettled and the seas were confused with residual swell and wind.  I could see some squall lines offshore on the radar early in the morning when I checked, but they looked as though they might move by before we got out there.  Skies were partly cloudy to cloudy with winds from the south around 10mph as we headed offshore, again we had some shearwaters as we motored toward the shelf break.  Before we got there, though, we found a nice "grassline" (actually, an algae line composed of Sargassum!) that had some birds on it.  We took some time here getting our Cory's type, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters and also had some Bridled Terns fly by (Jason Denesevich).
By the time we reached the shelf break it was 0900 and a nice squall line with at least four waterspouts kept us penned in a couple hundred fathoms until we could find a safe break to get farther offshore.  This was a beautiful place, however, and the birds were flying much more than they had been on Friday.  A number of squall lines produced some incredible views of Black-capped Petrels and large shearwaters with our flock of following Wilson's Storm-Petrels growing to over 100!  Unfortunately we didn't turn up any larger stormies on Sunday, or smaller ones, or ones with white bellies!  Around noontime a group of Black-cappeds came in to visit the slick and we decided to deploy one of our last homemade chum blocks - lovingly crafted by Brian and Andrew earlier in the summer - and the birds loved it.  Black-cappeds and Wilson's fed excitedly on this and the shark liver we put with it (Kate Sutherland)! 
Winds picked up to a solid 20mph while we were out there, and we didn't get quite as deep as we had on Friday...but birding the squalls was incredible!  
Unfortunate that we didn't make Saturday, but we had a nice, solid set of trips and were able to get at least a few new birds for some of our Big Year Birders :)
Thank you to everyone who joined us and to Jeff Lemons and Jason Denesevich for helping us lead the trips - thank you also to Jason for contributing some of his images for me to use here in the blog as well!  Our next set of trips will run this Friday and Saturday, following that we have trips Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day Weekend!  See some of you all out there!

Species List for August 20 / 22
Black-capped Petrel - 116 to 128 / 44 to 52
Cory's Shearwater - 6 / 8
Scopoli's Shearwater - 14 / 14
Cory's / Scopoli's - 43 / 74
Great Shearwater - 7 to 8 / 14
Audubon's Shearwater - 4 / 8
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 100 to 105 / 150 to 160
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 1 / 0
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 2 / 0
White-tailed Tropicbird - 1 / 0
Red-necked Phalarope - 1 / 3
Sooty Tern - 3 / 3
Bridled Tern - 5 / 6
Willet - 0 / 2
Least Tern - 0 / 2
Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore population) - 0 / 45 to 55

Another view of the White-tailed Tropicbird! (Kate Sutherland)
A few more Black-capped Petrel images (Kate Sutherland)
Feeding in the slick!
What looked like a juvenile dark type individual
Jason captured these nice images of Cory's (back) and Scopoli's (front) together!  (Jason Denesevich)
A Cory's Shearwater (Kate Sutherland)
Here are a couple more Scopoli's images (Kate Sutherland)
And one of those Cory's types with some white in p10 but not quite 30%.  (Kate Sutherland)
Cory's (center), Cory's type, and Great Shearwaters showing some of the size variation (Kate Sutherland)
Great Shearwaters were very cooperative on both trips! (Kate Sutherland)
Wilson's Storm-Petrels were also showing off! (Kate Sutherland)
It was great to see both Bridled (top by Jason Denesevich) and Sooty (bottom by Kate Sutherland) Terns on both trips!  You can see white in the under primaries of the Bridled Tern that is not typically found in those of Sooty Terns.
Participant Trevor Sleight captured this awesome image of one of the offshore Bottlenose Dolphins as it was leaping from the water!
A flyingfish that came aboard on Sunday, it efficiently escaped from me and returned to the sea!  Photo by Charlie Bostwick and the species looks like maybe a young Bandwing Flyingfish!
And finally, two of our regular customers, Matthew Withrow (facing the camera) and Jamie Adams (back to the camera) with the moon setting in the background as we headed out on Sunday morning!  (Kate Sutherland)

Thursday, August 19, 2021

August 13 & 14, 2021 - Scrappy Summer Days Pay Off! - Kate Sutherland

The winds were our typical summer direction this past weekend, southerly / southwesterly, skies were sunny and the Gulf Stream water was quite warm!  At times these conditions can be a bit difficult, especially if the winds fall out and we're just searching for birds sitting around on the water.  Luckily we had a bit of breeze at some point on each trip and we were able to find some Black-capped Petrels (photo by Peter Flood)!
Those we saw on Friday were mostly distant and in flight while we were lucky enough to find some flocks on the water Saturday.  At one point we had as many as a dozen!  While they didn't come in to the chum (they must have been feeding well on squid and other prey items), we did get to see them take off and fly quite close to the boat more than once.  For those who were able to join us for both trips they certainly saw our signature species well!  Another deep water species that was more cooperative than usual, and responsive to the chum was Band-rumped Storm-Petrel.  We had around 40 individuals on Friday's trip which is certainly more than we typically find on a couple of trips.  Our first sightings were around 0930 that morning and we set out a chum block to see if we could attract some close to the boat...that was a success and our luck just continued from there.  One Band-rumped who was feeding on what looked like a squid sat very nicely for us as we approached (photo below by Kate Sutherland), and over the course of the weekend we passed a number of squid on the surface.  Which could help to explain the lack of interest in our chum! 

Friday's trip found all of the shearwater species we expect to see in the summer, Cory's, Scopoli's, Great, and Audubon's, some of these were in a nice little feeding flock over some skip jack tuna mid-morning so we has some nice views and comparisons!  Finding some beehives in the summer can be super productive, so we were lucky to see most of our shearwaters in these natural feeding groups.  As the tuna feed on baitfish they push it to the surface kicking the shearwaters into action, taking off and staying with the feeding school until they move deeper under water...then repeating the whole sequence again and again, tracking the feeding fish.  We even got to see one of these feeding groups form near our slick on one of the trips!
Since we didn't see any tropical terns over the feeding groups on Friday we were afraid they still hadn't shown up yet...but on Saturday we found them!  There was a nicer sign of Sargassum on Saturday's trip and first thing in the morning we found some terns working over a line of the floating, brown algae.  First to come into view were a couple of Black Terns, but then a Bridled Tern flew in!  And a couple more followed that one including our first juvenile Bridled Tern of the year!  As the adult and juvenile worked their way down the line we saw a few more tropical terns in the distance that turned out to be some Sooty Terns.  Not a bad way to start the day!  As we worked this nice condition an immature Long-tailed Jaeger came to join the others zipping by us in pursuit of an Audubon's Shearwater (photo by Ed Corey). 
 Before 0900 we had already added three species to the trip set!  Red-necked Phalaropes were another bonus on Saturday because while we had seen a couple on Friday's trip they were not nearly as cooperative as they were the following day.  
Saturday we also had time to dip some Sargassum, there was a lot more life in it than we've been seeing so far this summer and we were excited to see what we might turn up.  A few of our participants were interested in seeing if we could find a Sargassum Fish!  While one wasn't in the bit of floating algae we dip netted from the water, participant Ashwin Srinivasan photographed some of the patches near the boat and sent me this photo the following day!! (check out the bottom right if you don't see it right away!)
 Otherwise we found Sargassum Swimming Crabs, a gorgeous Sargassum Pipefish, Brown Grass Shrimp and a number of Planehead Filefish.  Just after returning the Sargassum and its inhabitants to the sea, leader Ed Corey spotted a large Leatherback Turtle near the boat!  A spectacular end to the trips.  And while birding was a bit scrappy out there with some lulls, 11 species is not bad at all for a couple of summer trips.
Thanks so much to everyone who joined us out there and a big thank you to our leaders, Peter Flood, Ed Corey, and Andrew Rapp.  They worked hard to make sure we didn't miss anything and also contributed photos for the blog!  Our next trips this weekend will have to contend with Tropical Storm Henri, hopefully it will bring us something exciting and unexpected, you just never know!

Species List for August 13 / 14
Black-capped Petrel - 13 / 54 to 64
Cory's Shearwater - 6 / 6
Scopoli's Shearwater - 10 / 3
Cory's / Scopoli's - 125 / 18
Great Shearwater - 18 / 3 to 4
Audubon's Shearwater - 15 / 11 
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 55 / 94 to 96
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 40 to 43 / 11 to 12 
Red-necked Phalarope - 2 / 27 to 28
Sooty Tern - 0 / 5
Bridled Tern - 0 / 4 
Black Tern - 0 / 4
Royal Tern - 0 / 1
tern sp - 1 / 3
Long-tailed Jaeger - 0 / 1
Barn Swallow - 0 / 1
Semipalmated Sandpiper - 1 / 0
peep sp - 1 / 0
Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore population) - 0 / 11 to 15
Leatherback Turtle - 0 / 1
Wahoo - caught 2 / caught 1
Wandering Glider - 0 / 1

Cory's Shearwater (Kate Sutherland) showing the dark under primaries with a Scopoli's pictured below (Peter Flood)

Great Shearwaters were not super cooperative, but the Audubon's were!  Not surprising with the calm conditions and Sargassum we found out there on Saturday.  (Kate Sutherland)

On Friday the long-legged Wilson's Storm-Petrels were pretty close to Band-rumpeds in number!  Not something that happens often (Kate Sutherland)
Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were unbelievably cooperative on Friday's trip! (Ed Corey)
Here is a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel front center with some Wilson's Storm-Petrels.  It was really cool to get some of these mixed flocks sitting on the water! (Peter Flood)

We had a number of Red-necked Phalaropes on the water later in the day on Saturday (Kate Sutherland top, in flight by Ed Corey bottom)

One of the offshore Bottlenose Dolphins we saw on Saturday (Peter Flood)

The impressive Leatherback Turtle we also saw on Saturday! (Peter Flood)
I was excited to see this flying fish with dark "wings" and Peter got a photo of it!  
And a few images from our Sargassum dip!  Top a Sargassum Pipefish (Syngnathus pelagicus) and bottom a Sargassum Swimming Crab (Portunus sayi) (both by Kate Sutherland)

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

August 6 & 7, 2021 - Kate Sutherland

After dealing with weather issues last weekend, we were glad to see that it looked like we would have a nice window to get offshore for our trips on the 6th and 7th.  Winds were light from the east/southeast on Friday and Saturday they were more southerly, with some thunderstorms in the forecast, but we were hopeful we could get out there and work around them, maybe even have some birds riding the edges of the squalls.  Friday we encountered all of our usual, Gulf Stream species, and while birds came in to investigate the chum they didn't really come all that close.  Saturday was the opposite and even our rarities - Brown Booby and Trindade Petrel - came in super close for excellent views!  Those participants who were able to join us for both departures saw 12 pelagic species plus some cooperative offshore Bottlenose Dolphins.  
Gadfly petrels were represented by almost 100 Black-capped Petrels over two days and one fearless, dark morph Trindade Petrel (Ed Corey). 
While the Black-cappeds kept some distance on Friday, Saturday they came in well to the chum and even dropped down to feed in the slick behind us.  We photographed at least two or three birds that recently fledged - always nice to get to see those sharp looking immature Black-cappeds! (Kate Sutherland) 

The Trindade Petrel popped into the slick right behind us a little before 1130 on Saturday, flew off, then circled back putting us in good light and coming in high to investigate.  It was a spectacular view for all aboard!
Shearwaters were cooperative as well with a nice, feeding flock of Cory's, Scopoli's, and Greats on Saturday morning.  It was a bit easier to get nice views of the two different Calonectris shearwaters when they were flying around us closely feeding, since they can sometimes be hit or miss in the slick.  We had a number of Atlantic Cory's in that group, but even more Scopoli's, plus a few individuals photographed that were truly in between.  As many of you know if you have been offshore with us, I am pretty conservative when it comes to slapping an identification on something we are still figuring out and a number of the Cory's / Scopoli's can still have us scratching our heads even when seen well!  Overlap in size and variation for each species can make it difficult to pin down every bird, and those that pass by in the distance, unless seen well and photographed, make it on the list as "Cory's types."  Currently the only feature that is considered diagnostic for separating these two species is the amount of white visible in the underside of the outermost primary, p10.  We differentiate them as Scopoli's having a white tongue of 30% or more and Cory's having little to no white.  Some fall in between and if there are other supporting features, like a slender / thick bill or small / large head, we could identify them as one or the other.  Regardless of how challenging these can be to identify, what is really exciting is that we see a lot of Scopoli's Shearwaters here offshore from Hatteras in the summer!  (Ed Corey) 
Great Shearwaters were cooperative both days coming in well to the boat, but Audubon's were a bit easier to find on Friday's trip and we are seeing both fresh, young birds that have recently fledged in addition to browner, more worn adults.
Wilson's Storm-Petrels were around in good numbers both days and came in well to the fish oil and chum.  It was an incredible opportunity to photograph them close to the boat and it's always exciting to see the yellow webs between the toes and to see them diving for small pieces of fish! (Kate Sutherland) 
We just had one Leach's over the two day set on Saturday, and it didn't show very well.  Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, however,  were super cooperative especially on Saturday!  Most of the individuals that were photographed looked to be growing p10 putting them into the group of winter breeding Band-rumpeds, presumably.
Saturday morning, after working the feeding flock of shearwaters, we decided to toss out a homemade chum block and see what we could entice to visit.  Black-cappeds, shearwaters, and storm-petrels, both Wilson's and Band-rumpeds, were all very cooperative!  A little after 1000 an adult Brown Booby decided to check us out, it must have seen the slick from a distance because it appeared right over the bow, looking down into the water, and flew off.  Obviously we didn't have anything alive to convince it to hang out for a bit and it moved on.  Not before everyone aboard had an awesome view of this sleek sulid! (Kate Sutherland) 
Tropical terns are still a week or two out I guess because if there were any around we might have found some over the shearwater flock on Saturday.  We did see one Bridled Tern in the distance on Saturday afternoon, so hopefully they will begin to show this weekend!  Summer is on the way!
Thanks to everyone who joined us out there and a big thank you to our leaders, Ed Corey, Jeff Lemons, and Andrew Rapp, for making sure that everyone saw the birds and had a great time!  Thanks to Ed for sharing some of his photos for the blog post.  While most of our summer departures are full, we do have space on our fall trips - you just never know what you might find out there! - Kate

Species List for August 6 / 7
Trindade Petrel - 0 / 1
Black-capped Petrel - 28 to 33 / 60
Cory's Shearwater - 6 / 13
Scopoli's Shearwater - 18 / 16
Cory's / Scopoli's Shearwater - 35 / 104
Great Shearwater - 18 / 36
Audubon's Shearwater - 23 / 6
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 150 to 170 / 130 to 145
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 0 / 1
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 4 to 6 / 11 to 15
Leach's / Band-rumped - 0 / 1
Brown Booby - 0 / 1 adult
Red-necked Phalarope - 3 / 0
Bridled Tern - 0 / 1
Common Tern - 1 / 0
Tern species - 3 / 0
Bottlenose Dolphin (offshore) - 15 to 18 / 0
Wandering Glider - 1 / 0

Another image of the Trindade Petrel (Kate Sutherland)
And a dorsal view of the Brown Booby (Ed Corey)
Black-capped Petrels made some nice passes!  Here is the dorsal of one of the fresh individuals (Ed Corey)
Black-capped Petrel ventral with pretty dark margins in the underwing coverts (Kate Sutherland)
Black-capped Petrel dorsal, this individual has a fairly pale face and nape (Kate Sutherland)
Atlantic Cory's Shearwater showing little white in the under primaries, specifically p10.  (Ed Corey)
Scopoli's Shearwater showing that diagnostic white in p10 (Kate Sutherland)
And one showing the more delicate bill (Ed Corey)
Here is one of those birds that is likely a Cory's Shearwater, but had a bit of white in p10 (Kate Sutherland)
And one that I left as a Cory's type that had some white in p10 but not 30% - this one is likely a Scopoli's (Kate Sutherland)
Great Shearwaters have a black bill, blackish cap, and a dark belly patch with mottled looking underwings when compared to Cory's type shearwaters above (Kate Sutherland)
Audubon's Shearwater - these small shearwaters are black above and white below (Ed Corey)
A few more images of Wilson's Storm-Petrels.
Their long legs usually are visible beyond the tail (both by Kate Sutherland)
They were feeding close to the boat on Saturday!
Band-rumped Storm-Petrels have much shorter legs than Wilson's (Ed Corey)
And their wings are much longer than those of Wilson's, compare to photos above! (Kate Sutherland)
Red-necked Phalaropes were fairly cooperative on Friday!  Here you can see the streaked back and fine bill characteristic of this species (Kate Sutherland)
And finally, a nice image of the Common Tern that visited us offshore of the shelf break on Friday! (Kate Sutherland)