Monday, October 24, 2022

Fall Finale - October 15 2022 by Kate Sutherland

The weather was super cooperative for our final trip of the year, a treat after a fall of storms and challenging conditions! Swell was from the east / southeast with some light winds from the north under a sunny sky as we headed offshore in the morning.
Sunrise as we headed toward Hatteras Inlet (KES)
Reports of shearwaters on the shelf had us heading to the break a bit north of where we might usually cross and the slight adjustment was definitely worth our while as we found not only a Leatherback Turtle but all of the shearwaters we were looking for plus a couple of Black-capped Petrels! Once we crossed the shelf break we did encounter some nice, blue Gulf Stream water and had a chance to study all of these species plus Wilson's Storm-Petrels in the slick behind us!
A nice following! (KES)
A couple of drifts brought the birds in well and we had stunning views of Black-caps in their freshly molted plumage.
Black-capped Petrel (KES)
Black-capped Petrels are just beginning to return to their nesting burrows on Hispaniola Island and Grupo Jaragua is ramping up their monitoring program to hopefully document some successful nesting this season. While many birds nest in the Dominican Republic, the majority are found on the Haitian side of the island and as most of you know, the turmoil there is even greater than usual this year - so we hope our friends who live and work in Haiti stay safe and well as they work to protect our awesome Black-caps during their breeding season. You can always keep an eye out on EPIC and Birds Caribbean to follow any reports from the field. They are also on FaceBook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Cory's and Scopoli's Shearwaters both were very cooperative on this trip and we got to take the time to study them and point out similarities and differences to participants interested in learning how to tell these cryptic species apart. At least a few Scopoli's spent some time feeding in the slick behind us and showed well!
Scopoli's Shearwater (KES)
Cory's were also following behind us but were not quite as cooperative as the Scopoli's. A few Great Shearwaters were hungry enough to spend some time feeding on our frozen fish pieces so we had time to study them next to the more compact Black-caps who are sometimes listed as a similar species in field guides. Looking at them side by side it can be really obvious that one is a shearwater and the other a gadfly petrel!
Shearwater right, Gadfly Petrel left! (KES)
It was really nice to have a number of people aboard who were just learning these species so they had a lot of practice identifying them and had a good understanding of our basic visitors and knew a little more about their life histories by the end of the trip!
On our way in we finally got to see some Spinner Sharks who have been in the area for a few days and we had hoped to see in the morning! These sharks reach about 9' in length and feed by "spinning" through schools of fish, snapping on all sides as they surface and not slowing when they reach the top! So we saw them leaping out of the water all at once, a couple at a time, and a few singles for at least ten or fifteen minutes south of Cape Point. They can leap as high as 20'! Definitely a cool experience...
Spinner Shark with Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the background (KES)
We also had a handful of Loggerhead Turtles, and a couple were even cooperative enough to be seen by participants as we passed. Bottlenose Dolphins were the only cetacean we encountered today but we had excellent views of both the Coastal and Offshore populations. Overall an excellent day offshore, thanks to everyone who joined us out there! And a big thank you to Jeff Effinger for helping Brian and I lead the trip and for contributing a couple of pictures. Next trips will be in January 2023 - we look forward to seeing some of you then!

Species List for 15 October 2022
Black-capped Petrel - 67 to 71
Atlantic Cory's Shearwater - 26
Scopoli's Shearwater - 6
Cory's / Scopoli's - 108 to 111
Great Shearwater - 48
Audubon's Shearwater - 48
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 28 to 31
Red-necked Phalarope - 8
Red / Red-necked Phalarope - 2
Northern Gannet - 3

Other Species:
Mourning Dove - 1
Wilson's Snipe - 2
Laughing Gull - 36
Herring Gull - 13
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 15
Great Black-backed Gull - 1
Common Tern - 5
Royal Tern - 38
Sandwich Tern - 2
Brown Pelican - 1
American Kestrel - 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) - 7
passerine sp - 1

Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin - 7 to 8
Coastal Bottlenose Dolphin - 75 to 85
Leatherback Turtle - 1
Loggerhead Turtle - 4
Spinner Shark - about 20 to 24

And as always, a few more images from the day!
Black-capped Petrels (KES)
Black-capped Petrel with an Atlantic Cory's Shearwater (KES)
Scopoli's Shearwater dorsal and ventral views of the same individual (KES)
Great Shearwater showing off that dark belly patch (Jeff Effinger)
And one likely getting rid of some salt water via its tube nose (KES)
A couple of Audubon's - it was super nice to see them so well in spite of some swell! (KES)
We were even able to capture some Wilson's Storm-Petrel images, usually they're starting to clear out by this time so it was nice to have such a following! (KES)
And the Red-necked Phalaropes sat still, but just for a minute... (KES)
Jeff & I both got some photos of the Coastal Bottlenose Dolphins! Jeff Effinger top, Kate Sutherland bottom
And some fishes to round it out! Flyingfish top and some additional photos of the Spinner Sharks below (KES)

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Swell Challenges! 24 September 2022 by Kate Sutherland

Hurricane Fiona swept past North Carolina some 550 miles to our east last Thursday night / Friday morning reserving her wallop for Bermuda, we hope the Cahow nesting islands there did better than expected! (Image from NOAA NHC website Thursday evening)
Since she was such a fast moving storm we were able to get offshore on Saturday in some residual swell, but without the wind to make it too challenging. We can tell fall is here by the number of different species we see on the shelf! Saturday we found a lot of terns, including over 160 Black Terns, and some gulls on our way offshore plus a Great Blue Heron, a couple of Great Egrets, and a Peregrine Falcon. As we approached the shelf we found ourselves already swept up in some Gulf Stream current with about 1.5 knots closer to the break and a nice, long period swell of about 6 to 7 feet. This swell made birding a challenge! We would see a bird arc up then down into the trough never to be seen again... So, once everyone got acclimated to how to bird the swells, we were in business! Here is an Audubon's in front of a swell for perspective:
Right over the shelf we saw our first Black-capped Petrels. 
Cory's and Scopoli's Shearwaters were the most abundant birds of the day and while most were not able to be narrowed down to one or the other, we did see some representatives of both well. Here are images of an Atlantic Cory's (top) and Scopoli's (bottom).
Great Shearwaters were not very cooperative until later in the day when at least a couple came to check out the chum. The small Audubon's Shearwaters were difficult to get everyone on since they tend to stick close to the surface of the water in less windy conditions and were easily lost in the swell - but we finally had some excellent views of them too! We were pleasantly surprised to find a number of Wilson's Storm-Petrels coming in to check out and feed in the slick right off the bat
there were even some in passing on the shelf in the morning and afternoon. Really nice views of these small tubenoses flitting around and dropping their long legs down to patter on the water. The highlight of the day for me was finding a couple of flocks on the water in the deep, with nice numbers of Black-caps - one group had at least 25! Another had Black-caps, Cory's / Scopoli's, and Wilson's Storm-Petrels.

Back on the shelf in the afternoon we had reports of some shearwaters a bit to the north so we jogged up there to take a look and found Cory's, Scopoli's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters feeding on bait fish pushed to the surface by some false albacore. Scattered about were small feeding flocks of Black and Common Terns as well. Just after 2:30 I spotted a Bridled Tern ahead in one of the flocks, we had a glimpse, but unfortunately it did not show well and flew away. Leader Jason Denesevich had a couple that were closer less than an hour later. 

Overall it was a successful day out there! We found everything we expected to see and were able to have some great looks at them, plus we had the thrill of experiencing a big swell offshore - and observing how our incredible seabirds are so well adapted to this environment!
Thanks to everyone who came offshore with us and thank you also to our leaders, Jason Denesevich and Matthew Withrow, for helping Brian and I lead the trip. All photos today are mine.
~Kate Sutherland

Species List for 24 September 2022
Black-capped Petrel 72 to 76
Atlantic Cory's Shearwater - 11
Scopoli's Shearwater - 12
Cory's / Scopoli's - 94
Great Shearwater - 9 to 10
Audubon's Shearwater - 25
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 36 to 38
Red / Red-necked Phalarope - 1
Bridled Tern - 3
Sooty / Bridled Tern - 1
Jaeger species - 1 to 2

Other Species:
Laughing Gull - 9
Herring Gull - 3
Great Black-backed Gull - 4
Black Tern - 190
Common Tern - 175
Royal Tern - 10
Great Blue Heron - 1
Great Egret - 2
Peregrine Falcon - 1
Warbler species - possibly a Palm Warbler

Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin - 17 to 20
Coastal Bottlenose Dolphin - 18 to 20
Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola ) - possibly seen by participant Dick Veit
Seaturtle species - possibly seen below the surface by participant Alina Martin
We also saw a number of Cannonball and Moon Jellyfish

As always, it was awesome so see the variation in Black-capped Petrels out there, and we had some really nice dark individuals like this one below:
This can be compared with the paler individual pictured in the text above. That same bird is pictured here coming straight at us in the stern!
Dorsal view of a Black-capped Petrel
And while not the sharpest image, I love seeing the feather in the bill of this individual!
It was cool to see a few Scopoli's Shearwaters in the afternoon on the shelf with an Audubon's
And though the light was tough and super bright at times over the course of the day, I got at least one nice diagnostic image of a Great Shearwater
Here is one of the Audubon's we found on the shelf in the afternoon. You can see the white face and long tail on this small black and white shearwater!
And oh the Wilson's! They were pretty cooperative for us photographers especially for a day with such large seas!
A mangled looking dorsal fin of one of the Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins we saw
And some images of the Sailfin Flyingfish (Parexocoetus hillianus) whose colors are a bit more teal than other species we find offshore from Hatteras and today perfectly matched the water they were in!

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Shelf Birding - 3 & 4 September 2022 by Kate Sutherland

Easterly winds were with us on both trips this weekend with a bit of north added to the mix on Sunday. This can be good for birds on the shelf as we head to the deep in search of Black-caps and storm-petrels! This set once again proved that late summer can be a good time to find nice feeding flocks on the shelf and less than 30 minutes from Hatteras Inlet on Saturday we had excellent views of a young Long-tailed Jaeger and another jaeger that looked to be a Parasitic! Another 30 minutes and we were showing everyone five species of shearwater in a nice flock, Manx was a nice treat plus we had good views of both Scopoli's, Cory's, Great, and Audubon's. Common and Black Terns were feeding over this group and we also had some Red-necked Phalaropes on the water in this area as well (Kate Sutherland).
A couple of Sooty and Bridled Terns rounded out the shelf list for Saturday morning. 

Once we reached the Gulf Stream birds were a bit more scarce, but we found our first Black-capped Petrels and Wilson's Storm-Petrels as we continued into deeper water, plus we saw more of the species we had earlier in the day. Interestingly just after noontime we saw a Bridled Tern perched on something odd we got closer we saw it was a dead Blue-winged Teal! (Kate Sutherland) 
A species that we do see way offshore at this time of year, but it was the first time we'd ever seen a dead one used as a perch by a tern! As we approached the shelf again in the afternoon a Sabine's Gull flew up behind us and overhead, continuing on away from us ahead of the boat - WOW - two weekends in a row and three sightings. Not bad for this species here offshore from Hatteras! (Record shot by Kate Sutherland) 
Sunday morning we found that the hot, fast waters of the Gulf Stream had pushed in overnight and were up on the shelf. This can be a difficult condition for everything, tough for fishing and tough for birding, even on an easterly wind. But before we reached the current we had some nice feeding flocks right in with the fishing fleet and got some good views of Cory's / Scopoli's, Atlantic Cory's, and Great Shearwaters plus Common and Black Terns (Ed Corey)
- and we even had a nice look at a Pomarine Jaeger! A pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins were feeding under the shearwaters and terns and a few of these came in to check us out under the bow pulpit. We continued offshore into the river moving northeast and slowly turned up more of our target species like Bridled Tern, Black-capped Petrel, and Wilson's Storm-Petrel. Some of the awesome things we found out in the deep were a Long-tailed Jaeger sitting near a float that gave us all good views (Kate Sutherland),
and a flock of 11 Black-capped Petrels on the water that allowed us to approach them closely, for Black-caps, that is! (Kate Sutherland) 
This was the largest group of Black-cappeds we found over the two day set. A couple of Sooty Terns and a dark Pomarine Jaeger rounded out our time offshore and we picked up to head to the north where some boats were reporting birds along a rip. This was near the Diamond Shoals Light Tower, decommissioned but still standing, and we found a beautiful color change where the warmer water butted up against some cooler water forming a nice condition for some food to aggregate...meaning also a good place for some hungry birds to aggregate! Red-necked Phalaropes were in the area in addition to a number of Sooty and Bridled Terns. The only Audubon's Shearwaters we found were also along this rip. (Ed Corey) 
Overall we had a very successful couple of trips! I wish we could have had more people join us out there, but we thank those who did and also thank our leaders, Ed Corey and Jacob Farmer, for helping everyone get on the birds we did see! We had to cancel our September 10 (11) trip due to swell from Hurricane Earl, but we'll be back at it on the 24th of the month. Hope to see some of you then :)

Species List for 3 / 4 September 2022

Pelagic Species: 
Black-capped Petrel - 7 to 8 / 27
Scopoli's Shearwater - 8 / 7
Atlantic Cory's Shearwater - 7 / 4
Cory's / Scopoli's - 38 to 39 / 102 to 103
Great Shearwater - 48 / 75
Manx Shearwater - 2 / 0
Audubon's Shearwater - 11 to 14 / 18 to 20
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 17 to 18 / 16 to 17
Red-necked Phalarope - 26 / 42
Red Red-necked Phalarope - 0 / 1
Sabine's Gull - 1 / 0
Sooty Tern - 5 / 15
Bridled Tern - 8 to 9 / 13
Sooty / Bridled Tern - 5 / 0
Pomarine Jaeger - 0 / 2
Long-tailed Jaeger - 1 / 1
jaeger species - 1 likely Parasitic Jaeger / 0

Other Species:
Laughing Gull - 0 / 1
Common Tern - 268 / 171
Sterna species - 0 / 1 possible Roseate Tern
Black Tern - 14 / 83
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins - 0 / 12 to 15
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin - 14 to 17 / 0
Loggerhead Turtle - 0 / 1

And as usual a few more images from the weekend!
Black-capped Petrel from Saturday - at least one made a nice pass! (Kate Sutherland)
Another shot of the birds that we found on the water taking off on Sunday (Kate Sutherland)
Saturday morning we had some really nice feeding behavior! Following are a few images from that. First one that shows the Common Terns above with a Cory's (left) and Scopoli's (right) feeding, followed by one with some Great Shearwaters with food. (Kate Sutherland). 
Awesome capture of one of the Common Terns (Ed Corey)
We had good views of Scopoli's (2), Greats (also 2 images), and Audubon's here as well as the phalaropes pictured above in the blog! (Kate Sutherland)
Wilson's Storm-Petrels were a challenge, but I did manage to capture at least one on Saturday! (Kate Sutherland)
In contrast to some other weekends, Bridled Terns were much more obliging and even more numerous for this set. Like this juvenile bird by Ed Corey, followed by another one by Kate Sutherland.
We also had some nice encounters with adults, like the one perched on the teal, and this one perched on some flotsam. (Kate Sutherland)
Or this one with some food for its chick! (Kate Sutherland)
A couple images of the Long-tailed Jaeger on Sunday (Kate Sutherland)
Plus a Cory's / Scopoli's with the Diamond Shoals Light Tower in the background from Sunday (Kate Sutherland)
One of the offshore, or pelagic, Bottlenose Dolphins we saw on Saturday by Ed Corey
A cool look at a Tripletail next to a float we found on Sunday! (Kate Sutherland)
And to wrap it up a couple of flyingfish images - one of what we call "grasshoppers" or "Sargassum flyingfish" (likely juveniles of known species) and some Sailfin Flyingfish - also known as Odd Spot Midgets (SNGH). (both by Kate Sutherland)