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)

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