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)