Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Summer Seabirds - 26, 27, 28 August by Kate Sutherland

Our last three day set of the season went off without a hitch! It was nice to run our summer trips without interruption this year and while last weekend we had some abnormal conditions, this weekend had closer to normal Gulf Stream current on all three trips and we finally saw some nice conditions with Sargassum...which also means flotsam for Bridled Terns to use for perching! 
And food for many of the seabirds we find offshore, notably the Audubon's is a Sargassum specialist, but these Cory's / Scopoli's Shearwaters were pretty excited about it as well! 
While I never glimpsed any of the prey items they were feeding on, we did have a number of opportunities to see the aerialist pursuits of the Sooty and Bridled Terns. Small, cryptically colored fishes were under a number of dense Sargassum patches we passed on a beautiful line on Sunday. Here is a series showing how the tern picked up more than it bargained for and then drops everything to swoop back down and grab just the fish! 
Unfortunately for this individual, it was not quite quick enough to recapture its prey and the fish went back to hiding in the Sargassum! While Sooty Terns were around with their young last weekend, Bridled Terns were a bit harder to come by due to the lack of Sargassum and flotsam. Young Sooty Terns will sit on the water to be fed by their parents, while the young Bridled Terns need a perch. This weekend was certainly the best we've had for viewing and photographing Bridled Terns this year! Like this juvenile that flushed from a piece of plywood where it had been perched with a parent.
Or this year old individual that was very curious about our vessel and spent some time chasing a Wilson's Storm-Petrel in the slick that had some food!
Sooty Terns were also super cooperative over the three day set and we had wonderful opportunities to photograph both adults and their attending young.
The bird that stole the show this weekend, however, was not a tubenose or a tern, but a gull! This gorgeous adult Sabine's Gull came in high in the glare over the bow on Saturday where leader Sarah Toner got on it right away and put out the shout! Everyone had a chance to see it fairly close to the boat before a Black-capped Petrel escorted it away. Who knows what bugged the Black-cap about this bird, it was small and definitely not a threat...though it did land in the slick for a few minutes and may have been eating some food the petrel didn't approve of!
On Sunday we had another sighting with a flock of Sooty Terns, this one was a bit more distant, but it was also an adult Sabine's Gull that was seen by everyone aboard, albeit briefly. 
Jaegers were also a treat over the weekend with Long-tailed Jaeger seen on all three trips, juvenile birds on Friday and Saturday then a nice one year old bird on Sunday who put on a nice show chasing Sooty Terns and Audubon's Shearwaters! 
Friday's trip found all three species, with really nice views of young Parasitic and Long-tailed Jaegers. The Pomarine was one of the first birds of the day in the morning rain. 
Black-capped Petrels were seen well on Friday and Saturday with Sunday finding just nine individuals, though easterly winds are not always the best for finding our Gulf Stream specialty. We were excited to have really nice examples of both white-faced and black-faced birds over the weekend, as the images below illustrate! 
The expected summer shearwater species were out there in good numbers and we had a Manx zip across the bow Friday morning then a Sooty Shearwater fly by at a distance on Sunday. Otherwise, as you can see from the images below, we had both Cory's and Scopoli's, cooperative Greats, and some really cooperative (and numerous) Audubon's! 
August is when our storm-petrels get a bit scarce. We consider ourselves very lucky to see Band-rumped Storm-Petrels after about the 25th of August so we were in luck to get two on the 26th and one on the 27th! Sunday we didn't find any at all... One of the birds we saw Friday plopped down on the water just ahead of the boat and we were able to get everyone positioned on that side in time to see it on the water and to see it take off! What a treat!! 
Wilson's are beginning to slow down as well and while we had over 30 on Friday's trip, thee next two days found less than 20 each day. They did come by for us to get photos, however, so honestly? No complaints! 
As we move into the fall Red-necked Phalaropes are beginning to show up and Sunday we tallied almost 100 individuals in the shelf waters! I only captured some record shots, but maybe we'll have better luck this coming weekend if the conditions are right!

Thank you so much to everyone who joined us and made these trips some of the best attended of the summer! While we were sorry that George Armistead and Liam Heart of Hillstar Nature Tours couldn't join us to help lead the trips (due to illness), we are incredibly thankful to Daniel Irons, Sarah Toner, and Paul Laurent for being willing to help out on short notice! All of the photos for the post this time are mine, scroll down for a few more images from the three day set. 
~Kate Sutherland

Species List for 26 / 27 / 28 August 2022
Pelagic Species: 
Black-capped Petrel - 40 / 53 to 58 / 9
Scopoli's Shearwater - 8 / 6 / 17
Atlantic Cory's Shearwater - 10 / 5 / 1
Cory's / Scopoli's - 59 to 67 / 37 / 130
Great Shearwater - 32 to 35 / 11 / 15 to 16
Sooty Shearwater - 0 / 0 / 1
Manx Shearwater - 1 / 0 / 0
Audubon's Shearwater - 18 / 10 / 53 to 55
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 31 to 32 / 17 to 18 / 13 to 15
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 2 / 1 / 0
Red-necked Phalarope - 0 / 4 / 99
Sabine's Gull - 0 / 1 adult / 1 adult
Sooty Tern - 104 / 26 / 56
Bridled Tern - 8 / 4 / 24
Sooty / Bridled Tern - 2 / 9 / 9
Pomarine Jaeger - 1 / 0 / 0
Parasitic Jaeger - 1 / 0 / 0
Long-tailed Jaeger - 1 / 1 / 1
Other Species:
Blue-winged Teal - 0 / 0 / 2
Laughing Gull - 0 / 0 / 2
Royal Tern - 3 / 3 / 0
Common Tern - 19 / 41 / 19
Sterna species - 0 / 6 / 0
Black Tern - 4 / 14 / 14
Semipalmated Plover - 2 / 0 / 0
Least Sandpiper - 1 / 0 / 0
Semipalmated Sandpiper - 0 / 2 / 0
peep species - 1 / 0 / 1
shorebird species - 0 / 1 / 0
Prothonotary Warbler - 2 / 0 / 0
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin - 10 / 0 / 20 to 22
Coastal Bottlenose Dolphin - 2 / 0 / 0 
sea turtle species - 1 / 0 / 0
Scalloped or Carolina Hammerhead - 1 / 1 / 0
Sailfish - 0 / 3 seen / 0
Wahoo - 1 caught / 1 caught / 1 caught
Monarch - 0 / 1 / 0
A number of small moths / butterflies were also seen offshore

One more of the Black-capped Petrel & the Sabine's Gull from Saturday's trip!
When I went through my photos I saw that we had a sea turtle, likely a young Loggerhead, near the board that was a perch for a young Bridled Tern and its parent on Friday! You can see the back of it here to the left of the board and the tip of a flipper, then a shot showing gorgeous detail on the adult as it took off with the out of focus flipper (easily identified as a sea turtle!) nearby!
Another nice image of a Bridled Tern looking inquisitively at us and then taking off!
Black-capped Petrels put on a nice show for us all weekend, but especially on Friday & Saturday's trips when they came in well to feed!
Another white-faced individual from Friday.
Contrasting with the darker cap of this individual which is more typical of the birds we see at this time of year.
Some of the Scopoli's that we saw over the set
And Atlantic Cory's (borealis)
Another image of our Long-tailed Jaeger from Sunday's trip

Thursday, August 25, 2022

As the Gulf Stream Turns ~ 19, 20, & 21 August by Kate Sutherland

Three very different days offshore for this set! We started with east / southeasterly winds on Friday with rain and a low ceiling, moving to scattered light showers and more south / southwesterly winds on Saturday, then moving to partly cloudy conditions with westerly winds on Sunday - each day had something spectacular to offer and for those who were able to join us for all three trips they had an incredible list by the end! Three White-tailed Tropicbirds, including this juvenile, certainly made everyone happy! (Kate Sutherland) 

Typically in the summer we have the hot, Gulf Stream water close by offshore from Hatteras with the current up on the shelf at times. This long weekend we were presented with a bit of a different situation...down current and cooler, more greenish water offshore where we typically spend the bulk of our time. Water temperatures became cooler as we moved through the weekend with the water temp never reaching 80 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday! Crazy stuff for August here! Needless to say this type of aberration can change what we see in terms of bird life offshore. Sunday's trip found little rips and current edges popping up all over the place with very little Sargassum that would typically be present in more Gulf Stream influenced waters. From what we could intuit from the small bit we could see from sea surface temperature maps, it looked like the hot, fast water took a bend to the east down around Cape Lookout and without that movement here offshore from Hatteras we had more Labrador Current influenced water by Sunday. If only it could have delivered us a White-faced Storm-Petrel!

Friday had everything we hope to find offshore in the summertime...large, feeding flocks of Sooty Terns and shearwaters were the main feature! On the way offshore we hooked a wahoo, reeled in by Emma Price of NJ, and once it was landed suddenly there was a tropicbird overhead!! It looked quite hefty but turned out to be a presumed adult White-tailed Tropicbird that was just missing its tail (Kate Sutherland).
This bird was super interested in us and flew around giving us great views for a couple of minutes! Right over the break we found our first nice flock of shearwaters with its attendant Sooty Terns - we had eight pelagic species in that first group alone. We headed offshore to the deep and Black-capped Petrels and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were super cooperative with incredible photo opportunities for both species (Kate Sutherland).
Just after noontime another tropicbird dropped out of the clouds, this one was a juvenile White-tailed Tropicbird! This is not a plumage we see very often here offshore from Hatteras, maybe they usually spend their first summer somewhere else in the Gulf Stream, who knows? As we approached the shelf waters again in the afternoon we found the largest group yet of Sooty Terns (61 counted!) over another nice shearwater flock - these flocks were mostly composed of Cory's, Scopoli's, Greats, and Audubon's but also had Black-cappeds, Band-rumpeds and Wilson's! We finally had some nice views of the slighter, paler Bridled Terns in the afternoon as well! (pictured here with a Sooty Tern, Kate Sutherland)

Saturday's trip began with some squalls around offshore and we found similar species off the shelf with all of the large shearwaters plus a few Audubon's and Black-cappeds right away! And while the flocks were not as large as what we found Friday, we still had some nice feeding activity and had great views of both Sooty and Bridled Terns, one of the latter we were lucky to find on an overturned shoe (Kate Sutherland)! 

Around noontime again we had a White-tailed Tropicbird appear overhead, this one a nice adult with a long tail! It didn't stay around as long as the birds did on Friday but we were still able to capture some nice images (Kate Sutherland).
We also encountered a cooperative pod of offshore Bottlenose Dolphins with a number of small youngsters in the mix and had two sightings of Cuvier's Beaked Whales, a creature with the record for the deepest dive at 9,816 feet and a record of 222 minutes below the surface (NOAA)! Unfortunately we only glimpsed them a couple of times and not close enough for everyone to have good views. As we crossed the shelf in the afternoon leader Chris Sloan spotted another group of Sooty Terns so we went to check them out. Some of these large terns were sitting on the water as we approached and then the shout went out from the bow deck "Brown Booby!!" Sure enough an adult was feeding and diving right there with the Sooty Terns and Audubon's Shearwaters! Not a bad end to the day for sure! (Brown Booby by Chris Sloan)

Sunday we had partly cloudy skies and westerly winds giving us an entirely different experience offshore! As I mentioned earlier the Gulf Stream had taken a turn to the south of us and though we headed south over the course of the day we never got into the hot, fast water but did find places where the sea looked like it was influenced by the edge of that current, heaped up a bit. The birds were mostly along some current edges and rips so we concentrated our time along those and were able to accumulate a nice list for the day. However this was the one trip that did not find any Band-rumped Storm-Petrels and just a little over a dozen Wilson's! Late summer is when we start to see their numbers diminish, so not totally unexpected, but after having such a great showing on Friday so we were hopeful! Brian put out a squid chain to entice a tropicbird to visit us if one happened to be around and while we didn't have an avian visitor that was interested, we did have a White Marlin come in and try to take the bait! (Kate Sutherland) 
No hook, so we didn't see it jumping, but we did have great views of its long pectoral fins that can help to differentiate it from the larger Blue Marlin. Back on the shelf we found some Common Terns feeding on fish at the surface, this area also had a pod of at least a couple dozen Atlantic Spotted Dolphins cruising around and they put on an awesome show for us to top off the weekend! (Kate Sutherland)

Thanks so much to everyone who joined us out there Friday through Sunday and a huge thank you to our leaders, Chris Sloan and Peter Flood, for helping us lead the trip and also for their contributions of photos to this post! Our next trip with space is Labor Day Weekend, September 3 and 4th! Join us!

Species List for 19 / 20 / 21 August 2022
Black-capped Petrel - 56 to 58 / 41 to 46 / 24 to 27
Scopoli's Shearwater - 13 / 8 / 6
Atlantic Cory's Shearwater - 6 / 6 / 7
Cory's / Scopoli's - 202 to 207 / 23 / 41
Great Shearwater - 81 to 96 / 12 to 13 / 9 to 11
Audubon's Shearwater - 122 to 127 / 18 / 25 to 26
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 45 / 23 / 15 to 18
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 18 to 21 / 3 to 5 / 0
Leach's / Band-rumped - 3 / 0 / 0
Sooty Tern - 135 / 33 / 15
Bridled Tern - 6 / 5 / 10 
Sooty / Bridled Tern - 0 / 4 / 1
White-tailed Tropicbird - 2 - 1 adult 1 juvenile / 1 - adult / 0
jaeger sp.  - 0 / 0 / 1 likely Pomarine or possibly a large Parasitic
Brown Booby - 0 / 1 adult / 1
Common / Arctic Tern (offshore of the shelf) - 0 / 0 / 1
Black Tern (offshore of the shelf) - 0 / 0 / 1
Semipalmated Sandpiper (offshore of the shelf) - 1 / 0 / 0
peep species (offshore of the shelf) - 0 / 2 / 3
Sanderling (offshore of the shelf) - 0 / 0 / 1
Ruddy Turnstone (offshore of the shelf) - 0 / 0 / 1
shorebird species (offshore of the shelf) - 0 / 14 to 17 / 0
swallow species (offshore of the shelf) - 0 / 1 / 0
Cuvier's Beaked Whale - 0 / 2 to 3 / 0
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin - 0 / 35 to 40 / 4 to 6
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin - 0 / 0 / 25 to 27
Loggerhead Turtle - 1 / 0 / 0
shark species - 1 / 0 / 0
White Marlin - 0 / 0 / 1 seen
Wahoo - 1 caught / 0 / 0
Cloudless Sulphur - 0 / 2 / 1
Monarch - 0 / 0 /1

Black-capped Petrels gave us quite a show all three days! Here are a selection of images (top two by Peter Flood, bottom one by Kate Sutherland)
Participant Michael Todd of TN captured this awesome image of a Black-cap coming in to pick up some chum on Friday's trip
And once it had retrieved some...(Kate Sutherland)
We had some nice views of Scopoli's Shearwaters, here are a couple from Friday & Sunday (Kate Sutherland)
And Cory's, this one had a crazy pale bill (Kate Sutherland)
Some Cory's / Scopoli's on the water (Peter Flood)
Great Shearwaters are always a joy to have around the boat on our summer trips! (Peter Flood on the water - top, Kate Sutherland coming in for a landing - middle, Chris Sloan showing off the mottled underwing and belly patch - bottom)
Audubon's Shearwaters were out there in pretty good numbers! Here are a few photos of the more cooperative ones! Top - Peter Flood, others Kate Sutherland
We found one feeding on what looked like a small pufferfish of some sort!
Wow, the Band-rumpeds!! Most were in fresh plumage with our presumed "Grant's type" winter breeders having completed their molt. But we did have a couple of what we call "little" Band-rumpeds that are just a bit larger than Wilson's and can have a shape more like a European Storm-Petrel - photos by Kate & Peter Flood at the end of the images. Top image by Chris Sloan - head on!!
Typical looking Band-rumped (Kate Sutherland, top Peter Flood, bottom)
One that showed a little bit of a forked tail, could be due to molt in the tail (Kate Sutherland)
And one of the "little" Band-rumpeds (top Peter Flood, bottom Kate Sutherland)
Sooty Terns were super obliging on all three trips! Top image and first juvenile image by Chris Sloan, second by Peter Flood, last two juvie images by Kate Sutherland
Bridled Tern in flight (Peter Flood) and first summer bird taking off from the shoe (Kate Sutherland)
Saturday's adult White-tailed Tropicbird - image by Peter Flood
Another image of the Brown Booby (Kate Sutherland)
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins (top image Peter Flood, bottom two Kate Sutherland)
And finally, to finish it off, a flyingfish photographed by Chris Sloan on the last day, 21 Aug 2022!