Monday, May 13, 2024

Westerlies - 10 & 12 May 2024 by Kate Sutherland

Our first trips of the season had prevailing westerlies...which as most of you know means birds get pushed a bit farther offshore here from Hatteras, NC! Add to that some odd conditions on Friday when the warm, Gulf Stream water was much farther offshore than usual, then a hard north blow Saturday that kept us onshore and you have an interesting first set of trips for the spring here!
Sunrise was gorgeous Friday morning and we had good running conditions once we made it across the Hatteras Inlet bar. As we ran offshore we began to see some Wilson's Storm-Petrels flitting by...then a few more...then we found a nice flock of phalaropes on the water right by the boat! Brian slowed down and we made a few laps around these Red-necked Phalaropes sitting on the water.
It was cool to see the Wilson's feeding around them! As we continued on our way to the shelf break we had a tubenose zip across the bow - a light form Black-capped Petrel! Definitely a nice start to the day. 
Black-capped Petrels made a nice showing 
and we saw our first Atlantic Cory's of the year, but we couldn't turn up an Audubon's. Though, admittedly, there was not much Sargassum out there on Friday. On our way back inshore, on the shelf, Brian suddenly pulled back the throttle and yelled "red one!" Sure enough, sitting on the water was a Red Phalarope with a couple of Red-neckeds. Thankfully it stayed long enough for us to see it well and get some photos.
Saturday morning we all turned up at the boat though it was blowing quite hard from the north (at least 25 to 30 mph)...and those of you who have been with us on a trip that has weathered out know I always am itching to go no matter how rough it will be and Brian has a more even toned approach. After checking with other captains to see if anyone else was going to give it a try, he decided safety dictated that we stay's never wise to be the only boat out there and even less wise to go when you know conditions could be unsafe for your passengers! Alas, we had to wait for Sunday...
While the winds shifted around a bit, they still had a westerly component by the time we headed offshore Sunday morning. Seas were a bit choppy with the swell leftover from Saturday, but again conditions were nice as we headed to the shelf break. Skies were clear and we had sun pretty much all day!
Red-necked Phalaropes were on the shelf again, but we didn't have nearly as many Wilson's Storm-Petrels and no Black-cappeds. However, our first Sooty Shearwaters of the spring appeared and it was great to see them rocketing by in the wind! 
The Gulf Stream was just offshore of the shelf break and it was glorious to be there! Audubon's Shearwaters were right there near the Sargassum and we even had nice views of Atlantic Cory's and a few Black-capped Petrels, all before 08:30 in the morning! 
Conditions were good for recruiting birds from the east with the chum and wind, so we set up camp on a slick for about an hour and watched Wilson's Storm-Petrels patter and Black-capped Petrels come in by twos or threes from the sun glare to the slick where they made some incredible passes! We also had Atlantic Cory's and Audubon's Shearwaters on this drift. Around 10:30 we picked up and headed offshore again. The Black-cappeds stayed with us and we picked up a Sooty Shearwater offshore who put on a nice show diving in the slick! 
During the 11:00 period Brian spotted a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel crossing the bow flying to the left. It quickly got away from us as it zipped by and for those of us on the deck it was tough to catch a glimpse between waves as it flew directly away from the boat. Unfortunately it did not respond to the chum and we didn't have another chance at one for the rest of the day. We did have some chances to photograph Audubon's Shearwaters, though, and after not seeing them on Friday's trip it was quite a treat to try our hand at these small birds. 
Wilson's Storm-Petrels were cooperative on both trips, and it is always a treat to watch these small tubenoses for hours in the slick behind us! 
Most individuals that we saw were pretty fresh looking, like this bird, likely one that just hatched over our winter, though we did see a few that looked like molting adults (see below).
A huge thank you to everyone who joined us out there this weekend, and a thank you as well to Steve Backus for helping Brian and me lead the trip! All images in the post are © Kate Sutherland and see our species list below for the numbers!

Species list 10 / 12 May 2024

Red-necked Phalarope 20 / 8
Red Phalarope 1 / 0
Red/Red-necked 2 / 0
Laughing Gull 9 / 10
Least Tern 0 / 5
Black Tern 0 / 1 possibly
Common Tern 1 / 11
Sterna sp 0 / 4
Common Loon 4 / 4
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 90 to 95 / 99 
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel 0 / 1
Large storm-petrel species 2 / 0
Black-capped Petrel 39 to 40 / 75 to 86
Atlantic Cory's Shearwater 1 / 5
Cory's/Scopoli's Shearwater 3 / 1
Audubon's Shearwater 0 / 16 to 17

Semi-palmated Sandpiper 1 / 2
Black-bellied Plover 0 / 5
shorebird sp 0 / 7
Barn Swallow 1 / 0 / 1

Nearshore Bottlenose Dolphin 0 / 2 to 5
Cetacean species - possibly dolphins 0 / 3
Shark species 0 / 1
Billfish species 0 / 1

A few more images from our trips Friday and Sunday!
Black-capped Petrels:
Atlantic Cory's Shearwater
Gorgeous view of the "tubenose" on this Atlantic Cory's!
Ventral view of an Audubon's Shearwater
Red and Red-necked Phalaropes flying together. The size difference alone is striking, not to mention the plumage differences and the much larger bill of the Red.
We had close to a hundred Wilson's Storm-Petrels each day! Looking forward to seeing more of these little tubenoses as we move into thee season.
On both trips we had Laughing Gulls feeding in the chum offshore!

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