Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Saturday, March 6, 2021 - by Brian Patteson

This winter has been a tough one for running boat trips down here off the Outer Banks for a number of reasons. Fortunately, lack of participation has not been an issue, so we added a trip to the schedule to accommodate our faithful customers who were not able to get out with us last month. After a very warm day offshore last weekend, our most recent trip certainly felt like a winter boat trip! We had temperatures in the 30s when we headed out and the water temps near shore were in the mid 40s. The wind was brisk from the north. This made for a choppy sea, but the ocean was full of birds just outside Oregon Inlet. 

As soon as we crossed the bar, there were dozens of Razorbills buzzing around and there were also a few hundred Bonaparte's Gulls feeding close by. I don't think five minutes passed before someone spotted a Little Gull, but it moved on. A few minutes later we found a couple more Little Gulls and had good views for everyone aboard (Brian Patteson).

Not a bad start! Fortunately adult Little Gulls stand out from the Bonaparte's at a good distance, so we able to spot a couple more and we approached the flock to try for some photos. It was choppy, but the birds were so close that you didn't need a binocular to pick them out when we caught up with them. Many photos were taken and provided evidence that this flock of Bonaparte's contained at least seven adult Little Gulls (photo below Kate Sutherland)! There was also a first winter bird that most of us didn't get on, but at least eleven Little Gulls in that area!

As we tacked offshore, Razorbills eventually began to thin out and we started to see a few Dovekies. The water temperature increased steadily as we ventured out beyond ten miles or so, and it was a bit warmer than last weekend by the time we got to 20 fathoms. We were not having any luck with puffins, but it's not too unusual to see them in warmer water, so we kept going. Northern Fulmars began to show, however, and seemed to be more widespread than last weekend (Kate Sutherland).
Winds were forecast to abate somewhat in the afternoon, so I figured we might as well check out the shelf break. We found water in the high 60s out near "The Point", a submarine canyon about 38 miles southeast of Oregon Inlet. Most of the charter fleet was out there, and they had been catching the occasional Giant Bluefin Tuna. There was also a large pod of Common Dolphins there and the put on quite a show right beside the boat (Ed Corey).
Bird-wise, there wasn't much to recommend it, but we did see a Manx Shearwater briefly, and there were a few more fulmars among the gulls and gannets. A couple of the fulmars were close and gave good photo ops while they scrapped with gulls for some fish guts. It was breezier out there and very choppy, so chances for spotting puffins seemed bleak. Taking this into consideration, I started tacking back to the west, hoping for slighter seas.

It took a while, but the wind did die down a bit and we found a couple of puffins back inshore (Kate Sutherland).
We also saw more Dovekies on our inshore tack than we had seen all morning. There was also a close Ocean Sunfish and a rather lethargic Loggerhead Turtle that allowed us close looks. And one more Manx Shearwater made a quick close pass on the bow. Sometimes we see quite a few Manx Shearwaters on these winter trips, but lately they have been scarce. We kept a sharp eye out for a murre all the way back, but all the large alcids proved to be Razorbills. Unlike last weekend, we didn't have to contend with any fog, so I don't think we missed much on the return trip. We had a decent flock of gulls eating our chum for most of the day, but sunny days aren't the best for skuas, and we never caught a glimpse of one all day. There might still be a few Great Skuas around, but our next crack at them will probably be several months away. 

I would like to thank everyone who came out with us on this trip, and I hope you will be back soon. As usual our crew was top notch and on this trip it included Kate Sutherland, Ed Corey, and Steve Backus. Our next trips will be in early May. See www.seabirding.com for a list of available dates from May to October.

March 6, 2021 Species of Interest
Dovekie - 41
Razorbill - 518
large alcid sp - 1
Atlantic Puffin - 2
Bonaparte's Gull - 730
Little Gull - 10 adults 1 first winter
Northern Fulmar - 22
Manx Shearwater - 2
Northern Gannet - 90+

Short-beaked Common Dolphin - 2-300
Bottlenose Dolphin - 19
Loggerhead Turtle - 2
Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) - 3
Hammerhead Shark (Scalloped of Carolina) - 3-4

A couple of Dovekies on the water (Kate Sutherland)
A young Razorbill that gave us some incredible photo opportunities! (Kate Sutherland)

Another photo of one of the Little Gulls (top) with some Bonaparte's Gulls. (Ed Corey)

And yes, a few photos of Northern Fulmars!  They put on quite a show for us!  (dorsal view - Kate Sutherland, Ed Corey on the water, Kate Sutherland bottom image)
While there were not too many gulls out there, Ed and Steve were able to recruit a fairly nice flock to follow us offshore!  Here are a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gull images by Ed Corey and some of their larger cousins fighting over fish guts by Kate Sutherland.
Another awesome image of one of the Short-beaked Common Dolphins by Ed Corey.
And the dorsal fin of one of the Hammerheads that we saw in that same area (Kate Sutherland)

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Sunday February 28, 2021 - by Kate Sutherland

Finally after fixing some mechanical issues with the boat and then being weathered out...we made it offshore!  Our trip this weekend ran from Oregon Inlet to the north and we had such a perfect window with the weather to make it out there.  Winds were light from the north west for most of the day, with a nice swell from the east / southeast.  Skies varied from overcast (with a little rain) in the morning, to partly cloudy with some rays of sun midday, then dense fog in the afternoon!  What variety...!  It worked well for us, though, with an adult Little Gull fly by just offshore of the inlet!  Razorbills were on the water and in flight as we headed to the southeast, with the first Dovekies flying by just after 0800!  We were so happy to have this warm welcome in the cooler waters to the north.  Just before 0900 the shout went up from leader Ed Corey in the stern - "Skua!!!  Great Skua coming in!!  Six o'clock!!!"  And just like that, the day was made, even in the rain! (photo by Liam Waters) 

This bird stayed with us for over three hours as we cruised south, offshore of Hatteras Island.  It was not in view all of the time, but periodically we would see our gull flock gather up high in a tight group and here it would come...from below, charging up to choose a victim!  It was not like our usual sightings where a bird flies by back in the flock, this skua flew by us again and again!  Over the pulpit, over the stern, by the port and the starboard - we were super lucky!!  We thought we might find more individuals when we looked at our photos, but this bird had a white feather in the left underwing that helped us to identify it in photos from around 0900 to noon (photo of underside by Kate Sutherland).

1000 brought us our first view of an Atlantic Puffin! 

We saw at least seven over the course of our time southeast of the inlet.  Dovekies were also very cooperative and we had a number of photo opportunities throughout the day!  Brian Patteson captured this awesome image of one just popping off the water!
Northern Fulmars were around in the morning, but fleeting views were all that we had.  As we reached our turning point about 15 miles offshore of Avon, we found a few more, then as we moved back to the north we were lucky to find six working a natural slick!  These compact tubenoses zipped around beside the boat, sat on the water for us, and brought a lot of smiles to those aboard. 
What an awesome day!  Though we ended a little earlier than planned due to a dense fog.  This cut our visibility down to almost nothing for the last hour and a half we were out there - not the best for spotting alcids on the water - needless to say, we didn't turn up any murres.  

Thank you so much to everyone who joined us this weekend!  This winter has been a challenge for us, so we were super excited to finally make it out there!  A big thank you to Ed Corey and Jacob Farmer for helping us lead the trips (and for being such great chum masters!!).  Thank you also to Liam Waters for spotting birds and sharing his photos for this post!  We have space on the trip this weekend, so let us know if you want to join!  - Kate Sutherland - cahow1101@gmail.com

February 28, 2021 Species of Interest
Great Skua - 1
Dovekie - 109
Razorbill - 167
large alcid sp - 2
Atlantic Puffin - 7
Bonaparte's Gull - 160
Little Gull - 1 adult
Thayer's Gull - 1 first winter
Northern Fulmar - 15
Northern Gannet - 70+

Bottlenose Dolphin - 3+
Loggerhead Turtle - 2
Thresher Shark - 1
Portuguese Man-of-War - 1

Great Skua with Herring Gull (Liam Waters) - we got to see a lot of this!

One more dorsal image - Great Skua
A couple Dovekie images!  (Top Liam Waters, bottom K. Sutherland)
A flock of Razorbill on the water first thing in the morning, plus one in flight (K. Sutherland)
Record shot of the Little Gull (K. Sutherland)
Young Thayer's Gull (Liam Waters)
Northern Fulmar on the water and in flight (K. Sutherland)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (K. Sutherland)
Northern Gannet in the afternoon fog (K. Sutherland)
One of the Loggerhead Turtles we saw! (Liam Waters)

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Sunday January 24, 2021 - Kate Sutherland

Water temperatures near and offshore from Hatteras Inlet, around Cape Hatteras, and up to Oregon Inlet have been warm over the past week, so we were not sure what we might find on our first pelagic trip of the winter season.   A good sign of Dovekie and Razorbill beginning in early January gave us hope that we might be able to find something out there...  And we managed to pull it off!  While Great Skua was not in our fortunes, rarely is it ever on the bluebird days, we were able to find some Atlantic Puffins in the warmer water to the east of Diamond Shoals.  (record photo Kate Sutherland) 

Dovekies were buzzing by near the inlet and we had steady numbers over the course of the day until we were back inshore in the afternoon.  A few of these cuties sat on the water for us to observe at close range!  (photo Ed Corey) 
Razorbills didn't disappoint, but we didn't have any super close to the boat and certainly none that were as well behaved as this Dovekie!  While we hoped to find a nice temperature break, the water was more blended, but we did find about a ten degree increase from the inlet to where we had the puffins offshore.  The bluer water was about 66 degrees Fahrenheit.  The color difference is pretty clear in the puffin photo versus the Dovekie!  Just after we had our first puffin of the morning, an adult Pomarine Jaeger flew in to investigate our flock!  First it flew off behind us and we thought it was gone...but it came back for some crowd pleasing passes!  (photo Kate Sutherland) 
Participant Jamie Adams spotted our only tubenose of the day in that area too, a distant Manx Shearwater.  The usual winter beauties, Northern Gannets and Bonaparte's Gulls, were both around in good numbers and we had a nice flock of following gulls when we were nearshore.  As we worked back towards the inlet in the afternoon a near adult Kumlien's Gull (Larus glaucoides kumlieni) showed up in the flock!  These birds have varying degrees of dark in their primaries that is not present in true Iceland Gulls (Larus glaucoides glaucoides).  It stayed with us and fed for at least ten minutes so that everyone could have a nice view and a photo op if they desired.  Here you can see the smudging in the under tail that indicates it is not quite an adult!  (photo Kate Sutherland)
Nice way to end the day!  Loggerhead Turtles also put in a nice show around that time with two large individuals paying us no mind as they relaxed on the surface before diving.  Bottlenose Dolphins were also around and we had some luck in enticing a handful of them to bow ride nearshore - not something we see often!  Usually it's their larger, offshore cousins who like to join us to surf our bow wave.

A big thank you to everyone who joined us offshore!  Thank you also for paying attention to our public health guidelines, not the most fun to wear a mask on a boat...but everyone did a great job.  Thank you so much to our leaders Ed Corey and Steve Backus for joining us and helping everyone get on the birds (and for helping me with the chum!).  I also want to thank Ed for contributing photos for this post!  Our next trip on February 6 (obligatory weather date of the 7th) has space open, and following that we have space on the February 20(21) and 27(28) trips.  Let me know if you'd like to join us - Kate Sutherland (252) 473-9163 cahow1101@gmail.com

January 24, 2021 Target Species List

Common Loon - 2
Red-throated Loon - 18
Manx Shearwater - 1
Northern Gannet - 221
Bonaparte's Gull - 262
Kumlien's Gull - 1 sub adult
Dovekie - 45
Razorbill - 172
Atlantic Puffin - 9
Pomarine Jaeger - 1 adult

Other species of gull encountered were Laughing, Ring-billed, Herring, Lesser Black-backed, and Great Black-backed

Bottlenose Dolphin - 45 to 50
Loggerhead Turtle - 5
Sea turtle species - 1
Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) - 1

Northern Gannets are always fun to watch and photograph!  We had a number of young individuals, but adults like this one were the dominant type!  (Kate Sutherland)
The Kumlien's Gull was quite photogenic as well!  We were lucky it was hungry and we had some good food for it to eat.  (Kate Sutherland)
When it could keep away from the Great Black-backed Gulls!  (Kate Sutherland)
Lesser Black-backed Gulls (top) and Laughing Gulls (bottom) were mostly with us in the morning!  (Kate Sutherland)
Another Dovekie photo, this bird was quite content to swim around right next to the boat.  Their feet are placed far back on their bodies so you can see them in a number of the photos as it paddles around (see Ed's above as well!)!  These little auks feed on small prey items like crustaceans (ie copepods) and other zooplankton or small fishes.  (Kate Sutherland)
Another image of the Pomarine Jaeger.  I wanted to include this image because it shows the Diamond Shoals Light Station in the background!  (Kate Sutherland)
Ed Corey captured this nice photo of the sunfish - Mola mola!  

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Spring 2020 - Pandemic Pelagics by Kate Sutherland

Flexibility and uncertainty - two words that defined our Spring 2020 season and continue to play a role, likely into 2021.  There are a number of challenges we face living in and running trips from Hatteras, NC - but a global pandemic was a new one.  First we faced cancelations from customers, then a closure of our county to visitors, then the guidance from NC Governor Roy Cooper letting us know how and when we might take passengers offshore.  Brian and I formulated a plan, fine tuning it a number of times, and we were able to run reduced capacity trips starting on May 27!  (We already limit our participants to 50% of our licensed capacity, and we reduced it even more...)  Once people saw that we could offer them a chance to get offshore, we were off!  All birding tours come with some type of risk, there is no way to guarantee that no one will contract the novel coronavirus traveling to Hatteras, staying here, or on our vessel.  But we also know that personal responsibility and respect for others play a huge role in this pandemic.  And for the most part?  This was observed aboard the Stormy Petrel II.  And being outside?  With an ocean gale, I mean, breeze?  Quite possibly a good way to minimize risk while giving yourself a chance to see something cool offshore!

Though we got a late start, May 27 vs. May 7, and only ran eight trips, instead of 20, we still managed to find 21 pelagic species this spring!  Definitely an awesome run even losing two trips to weather!  One of those weather days produced a White-winged Tern at Cape Point, though, spotted and identified by some of our participants (Ruben & Victor Stoll).   Weather was interesting this spring and over the course of a couple weeks we had every wind direction imaginable.  Some days it was choppy, some downright rough, and some quite pleasant!  Easterlies were a big component here and to the south of us plus we had nice shots of north and south winds bringing us a nice variety of birds.  Rain squalls were common, which also can make for some excellent birding!  Following, I will cover each type of bird we saw, with notes about how many we had and on how many trips out of 8 they were encountered.  The Spring 2020 Species Tally is here: https://patteson.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Spring-2020.pdf and there are some photos at the end with labels, in order mentioned in the post!  Thanks everyone for making these trips possible!  Big thanks to Kyle Kittelberger, Ed Corey, Peter Flood, and Justin Bosler for all helping us lead the trips and contributing photos for our blog posts!  
- Kate Sutherland

Gadfly Petrels
Black-capped Petrels were out there for every trip, as we always hope they will be!  We found white-faced and dark-faced types plus some intermediate birds.  They came in well to the chum for the most part and our high count was on May 31 with 37 individuals.  

Trindade Petrels put in quite an appearance with at least 11 individuals on five trips, high count was at least 4 on June 1!  Dark morph individuals are most commonly seen on our trips here, and most of the birds were this type.  We did have some intermediate birds and Kyle Kittelberger and Jeremy Dominguez had one light morph on May 27.  Fea's Petrels visited us twice over the eight trips, June 1 and 6, and each time they were super cooperative!  On June 5 we had two Pterodroma petrels that eluded us, one seen by Ned Brinkely and Brian Patteson looked like it could have possibly been a Bermuda Petrel!  The other looked like a possible Fea's Petrel.

Starting trips in late May was interesting!  Great Shearwaters were already here!  And we still had some Sooties around to watch, so it didn't feel like we missed much, even though we know we did!  Cory's Shearwaters were the most numerous with a tally of about 485 over eight trips.  Scopoli's Shearwaters were just starting to show up as we moved into June and we had some nice encounters with them in the slick.  Hopefully we'll start to see more as we move into summer.  

Great Shearwaters were seen on all but one trip and we even had some adults tuck in behind us a couple of times!  Sooty Shearwaters were just off the beach on a couple of days that the swell and wind pushed them inshore, otherwise we had some visit the chum with our Greats and a few times we had nice studies of Sooties and Trindade Petrels, one after the other and vice versa.  Manx Shearwater was photographed on May 31 and we saw three on June 1, glad this species didn't give us the slip this spring.  Audubon's were easier to find on the calmer days and on days that we had Sargassum offshore, so while we saw them on all of our trips, May 30 was notable with 307 individuals counted!  

Wilson's Storm-Petrels were seen on all eight trips, as expected, and their numbers were about average for the spring with some days being much better for recruiting them to the chum!  Overall we saw about 1,150.  It was a great spring for Leach's Storm-Petrels, perhaps due to the easterly component of our winds and swell over the course of the short period we had to operate.  We saw them on all but two trips with a high count of 25 on May 27.  Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were seen on all of the trips this spring, it helped that we started late as they can sometimes be scarce before May 25.  Most individuals were actively molting and presumed to be Grant's type birds.  We did have a few of the non-molting, "little Band-rumps" that are presumed to be Madeiran Storm-Petrels.  A few trips gave us some incredible views of these Band-rumpeds feeding in the chum with Wilson's Storm-Petrels allowing for size comparison and also allowing for some great photo ops!  I was hoping to make a trip to Madeira this spring to photograph some Madeiran Storm-Petrels there, but yes, the pandemic happened.

Following some southerly winds on June 3 and 4 we found a Masked Booby up on the shelf the afternoon of June 5!  This bird was incredibly cooperative, or we just found it where it wanted to be!  We watched it on the water, in flight, and most spectacularly, diving near the boat!  Seeing it's white body slice into and under the water was awesome.

After being skunked by the White-tailed Tropicbirds last year, not a one was recorded on our 2019 trips, we had two individuals in one day on May 29!  Overall we had three encounters with the birds and they were pretty spectacular, hanging around the boat for well over 30 minutes combined!  On June 2 we had a group with us from MO and some of the guys up on the top deck spotted a tropicbird in the distance!  We were able to get eyes on it and while it never came close, we were able to tell it was a Red-billed Tropicbird.  So awesome to get both species this spring!

Sargassum was in short supply this spring as was flotsam, so as you can imagine we did not see many Bridled Terns.  We had one fly-by on June 5.  On May 29, a day with some southerly movement, we had four tropical terns fly over that looked like Sooty Terns though they were not seen well enough for a positive identification.  Hopefully we can turn up some tropical terns this summer!  We did have at least one Arctic Tern on June 2 and a few Common/Arctic types over the course of the trips.  Can we take a moment to include the White-winged Tern here?  What a treat for us and for our participants to see!  It stuck around for at least a week!

Skuas & Jaegers
With two South Polar Skuas on our first trip, it seemed like we might have a good spring for them but perhaps we missed them earlier because we didn't turn up any more after May 27.  Fortunately we were able to find all three species of jaeger, which is not something that happens every spring!  Two trips found Pomarine Jaegers and they followed well in the chum on June 2, one was even chased by a Long-tailed Jaeger that came in that day!  We had just one Parasitic Jaeger on May 29 and we had Long-tailed Jaegers on June 2 and 6.

Gervais' beaked whales graced us with their presence on two trips out of eight!  Not bad!  We had a couple on May 30 then a pod of at least seven on June 2.  Each time we had nice views as they surfaced near the boat.  Otherwise our mammal sightings were a bit lean, with some Atlantic spotted dolphins and some of the offshore bottlenose dolphins encountered on a few trips.

Other Marine Life
We had a very cool encounter with a tiger shark around our chum block on our June 1 trip!  It was swimming around and under the block for a good ten minutes and we even got to see some evidence of it's desire to get in our chum cage when we pulled it in!  I captured an image of it with what looks to be a gray triggerfish in its mouth!  Pretty cool!  For us, not the triggerfish!  One ocean sunfish was seen on June 5 and we had a number of Portuguese man-of-wars, 11 were counted but I am sure there were a few we missed!