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)

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