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!

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