Sunday, August 20, 2023

19 August 2023 by Kate Sutherland

Our trip Friday 18 August had to be cancelled due to high seas and winds forecast offshore, so we were excited to finally get back out there on the 19th after a couple of weeks! (Sunrise with happy seabirders by Kate Sutherland)
Seas were calm, with just a bit of swell from the south, and winds were light from the west as we headed offshore in the morning. Reports from other boats that had made it offshore earlier than us indicated there was not much Gulf Stream current, just over a knot, and there was a lot of life on the shelf and just offshore a bit north of where we typically go. Usually strong Gulf Stream current will dictate that we head to the south just so we don't get too far north as we move slowly offshore, over the shelf break and into the deep. This flexibility allowed us to pick up some nice feeding activity on the shelf with some small tuna chasing flying fish attended by some Sooty (top) and Black Terns (bottom, Kate Sutherland)!
We also had a super cooperative small pod of young Atlantic Spotted Dolphins on the shelf in the morning.
As we moved over the shelf break and into deeper water we began to find groups of shearwaters, mostly Cory's / Scopoli's, feeding on flyingfishes pushed to the surface by small Blackfin and Skipjack Tuna! (Kate Sutherland)
These feeding flocks were attended by tropical terns and in the first hour we had both Sooty and Bridled Terns in view plus a number of the smaller Black Terns. Juvenile Sooty Terns are striking with mostly dark brown plumage (pictured in photo gallery below) and seeing them circling and calling with their parents was a treat! Later in the morning we found a juvenile Bridled Tern as well. A large pod of offshore Bottlenose Dolphins came to check us out in that first hour as well, these were the first we've seen so far this summer.
Moving offshore we left a lot of the activity closer to the shelf but wanted to see if we could find more Black-capped Petrels and Band-rumpeds. We did see some Black-cappeds but they were not very interested in the slick, most moving by at a distance, and luck was with us that we found at least one Band-rumped Storm-Petrel! It flew by on the starboard side by itself giving everyone a brief, but satisfactory view. We had the same bird or another follow in the slick for a short period of time but our attempts to get one to come close and feed on the chum were unsuccessful. The westerly wind overnight had pushed a lot of shorebirds offshore and in addition to those we saw one young Brown-headed Cowbird, a Great Blue Heron, and even an American Bittern was spotted by leader Daniel Irons from the top deck! The latter two were way offshore where the water was over 7,500 feet deep. 
We did have great views of both Cory's and Scopoli's Shearwaters and Wilson's Storm-Petrels also were cooperative (Kate Sutherland),
Great Shearwaters were out there but we certainly didn't turn up as many as we saw a couple weeks ago and we didn't find any Audubon's Shearwaters at all. Audubon's are typically associated with the floating brown algae in the genus Sargassum which was also absent, so that likely explains our inability to turn one up!
Numerous flyingfishes were seen as well (Kate Sutherland),
and we even had one Sailfish leap clear out of the water a few times right next to the boat! So while diversity may have been on the low side, we certainly had excellent numbers of birds and got to experience a lot of life out there in the Deep Blue!
Thanks so much to everyone who joined us out there and thank you also to Ed Corey and Daniel Irons for helping Brian and me lead the trip. We are taking the boat up to Wanchese now to begin our set of trips from Oregon Inlet! Looking forward to seeing a lot of you up there and also really excited to explore the waters up there on dedicated seabirding trips in the summer for the first time in about ten years! I won't have time to do proper blog posts each day since it is a bit of a drive, but we'll keep you posted on our FaceBook page and with some eBird trip reports. ~Kate Sutherland

Species List for 19 August 2023
Black-capped Petrel - 22
Scopoli's Shearwater - 8
Atlantic Cory's Shearwater - 15
Cory's / Scopoli's - 305 to 310
Great Shearwater - 12 to 15
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 34
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 1 to 2
Sooty Tern - 66 to 71 including 7 or 8 juveniles
Bridled Tern - 9 including 1 juvenile
Sooty / Bridled Tern - 2
Black Tern - 30
Common Tern - 18
Royal Tern - 10
Tern species - 1
Sanderling - 1
Least Sandpiper - 1
peep sp - 5
large shorebird sp - 6 to 7
small shorebird sp - 25
Great Blue Heron - 1
American Bittern - 1
Brown-headed Cowbird - 1

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin - 5
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin - 40 to 50
Sailfish - 1 seen

We did have some Scopoli's Shearwaters on the water a couple of times which was super helpful in showing them to participants! Here is one of those instances (Kate Sutherland)
The young Sooty Terns are incredibly striking! (Kate Sutherland)
And they are easy to tell apart from the young Bridled Terns! (Kate Sutherland)
This Bridled Tern found some type of katydid out there in the deep! Already learning to take advantage of any opportunity... (Kate Sutherland)
You can compare this Bridled Tern pictured below to the Sooty Tern in the text above - note the whiter head and grayer back in addition to the whiter under primary feathers in the Bridled Tern (Kate Sutherland)
It was really cool to see the big, offshore Bottlenose Dolphins! Some of them have really diagnostic dorsal fins like this one that could be used to identify it as an individual. Cetacean researchers regularly use images like this to build catalogs of different animals that they see. (Kate Sutherland)
This wouldn't be complete without a couple more flyingfish images! In the lower one you can see how they use their caudal fin, or tail, to hit the water and give them lift! (Kate Sutherland)
On our way back in we saw this interesting looking vessel. It is a supply ship for offshore tugboats or other work vessels, it left Key West, FL on 7 August. It was originally used by the U.S. Navy as you might imagine from the gray hull with white numbering. (Kate Sutherland)

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Seabird Spectacle 4 & 5 August 2023 by Kate Sutherland

August 4 and 5th mark the beginning of our summer schedule which only has four departures from Hatteras Inlet. Fortunately the weather was cooperative and we got out there both days to find that this summer things are looking good for seabirds here in Hatteras! On the shelf Friday as we headed offshore we picked up Pomarine Jaeger, Cory's / Scopoli's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters in addition to catching a King Mackerel and a Wahoo. Black-capped Petrels and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were just over the shelf break in the deeper water offshore. During the 09:00 period Brian spotted a Masked Booby in the distance, but there was no luck getting closer for a better look. Then things really started to happen! A light morph Trindade Petrel flew in to investigate the slick and just after that Brian spotted a White-faced Storm-Petrel ahead of the boat, close on the bow! (Daniel Irons)
It turns out this same individual stayed with the boat, following back in the slick for almost three hours, thank goodness for photos! In addition to these excellent sightings there are finally good numbers of Audubon's Shearwaters beginning to show up here offshore. (Daniel Irons)
A nice mixture of birds of the year and adults are around! Just after noontime another Trindade Petrel was spotted, this one a dark morph, and a couple of Pomarine Jaegers visited the boat. How could this day ever be topped?

Well, Saturday we didn't have much on the shelf but there were flocks upon flocks of shearwaters just over the break as we moved into the deeper water offshore. (Kate Sutherland)
We didn't even start really chumming until after 10:00 because we were just moving from flock to flock that would appear as Blackfin Tuna and other species pushed baitfish to the surface! One flock had mostly Scopoli's Shearwaters, including one that was super bleached (Kate Sutherland),
another a lot of Atlantic Cory's, while another had about equal numbers of Great and Cory's type shearwaters. All had small numbers of Audubon's associated with them which were likely undercounted as they zip around so close to the water and can really blend in! Sooty Terns were associated with a few of these flocks, it's nice to see them finally showing well here offshore. (Brian Patteson)
There were not many storm-petrels or Black-cappeds associated with these feeding groups, however, and we decided to keep moving offshore to the deep. Out there we finally found some nice blue, Gulf Stream water with a few more Black-capped Petrels, but it was a bit slow - only a few Wilson's in the slick and just the occasional shearwater moving by. Just after we began our inshore tack I spotted a blow in the distance behind us with a small beehive (feeding flock) that looked like a Sperm Whale! We don't see them very often, so always a treat, but it was far...Brian circled back and we headed that way just as we saw one dive and show its tail flukes - a deep dive. But then another was blowing right there! So we made it in time to observe one on the surface, showing us that left angled, bushy blow that is diagnostic of the species, before it dove! (Kate Sutherland)
It seems this little back track put us in the right place at the right time because just a little over 30 minutes later Daniel Irons shouted from the top deck "White-faced Storm-Petrel in front of the boat!!!!" Wow! Two days in a row we were treated to these little pogo-stick stormies! This one was a different individual from Friday's and stayed with us for some incredible views, everyone who had not been on Friday's trip (myself included!) was hoping we would find one on Saturday, and what a reward. (Kate Sutherland)
When this little beauty showed up it was like a switch was flipped! All of the sudden we had Band-rumpeds and Wilson's right there as well, with shearwaters and Black-caps coming in also to feed in the slick. As we moved back onto the shelf a South Polar Skua was spotted in a flock of shearwaters - yes!! (Daniel Irons)
Overall a very very successful first set of the summer!

Thank you so much to everyone who joined us out there, making these trips a go, and huge thanks to Daniel Irons and Jeffrey Effinger for helping as leaders for both! Brian also did a great job without me on Friday (I was offshore on a research cruise), and I was super excited to make it back in time to contribute on Saturday! 

Next trips are from Hatteras on the 18 & 19 of August - there is space on the 18th but the19th is FULL. After that we take the boat up to Wanchese, NC to run ten trips from Oregon Inlet! Space is still available on all of these.

Species List for 4 / 5 August 2023
Trindade Petrel - 2 (light & dark morph) / 0
Black-capped Petrel - 47 / 19
Scopoli's Shearwater - 6 / 309
Atlantic Cory's Shearwater - 4 / 371
Cory's / Scopoli's - 92 / 496
Great Shearwater - 16 / 605
Audubon's Shearwater - 27 / 133
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 40 / 44
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 23 / 10
Leach's / Band-rumped - 0 / 1
White-faced Storm-Petrel - 1 / 1
Sooty Tern - 2 / 23
Bridled Tern - 0 / 2
Masked Booby - 1 / 0
Pomarine Jaeger - 3 / 1
South Polar Skua - 0 / 1
White tern species - 0 / 2
Sanderling - 0 / 5

Sperm Whale - 0 / 2
Scalloped / Carolina Hammerhead - 1 / 0
Wahoo - 2 / 1 caught
King Mackerel - 1 / 0 caught

A few more images from the set! 
White-faced Stormie anyone?? What a treat to have them on back to back trips! (Daniel Irons top, two below Kate Sutherland)
Black-capped Petrels were around and we had both light and dark faced birds, here is a light form above and a more intermediate looking individual below. (Kate Sutherland)
Audubon's were also pretty cooperative! (Kate Sutherland)
And Great Shearwaters were as well! (Brian Patteson)
Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were super cooperative over the two day set (Daniel Irons top, two below Kate Sutherland)
The skua was super exciting to see - participant Lucas Wilson spotted it in a flock of shearwaters! (Kate Sutherland)
And the Sperm Whale that was still on the surface - wow! The dorsal surface and also markings on the animal can help identify an individual for people studying them! (Kate Sutherland)