Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday May 29, 2017 - by David Shoch

A swell driving up from the southwest combined with a weak current made for a
choppy ride out to the Gulf Stream this morning. Still, winds had picked up from the
previous day, and surely the birds of the deep would be up sailing those currents.

The winged runners didn’t disappoint – our first Black-capped Petrel came to the
boat almost immediately after slowing down just past the shelf break (photo by Peter Flood).
Light but fairly consistent west winds continued through the day, and the Black-capped
Petrels were up and moving and in near constant attendance. Several birds lingered
and fed in the chum slick, and made repeated and obliging close passes at the stern.
Wilson’s Storm-petrels, strung out down the slick, built to flocks of 30-40 birds, and
Band-rumped Storm-petrels regularly cycled through, streaking through the crowd
on their long bowed wings.  (Photo of Band-rumped below by Steve Howell looks like a first summer bird, so likely a Madeiran type vs the molting Grant's type we mostly see)

A Manx Shearwater was a nice surprise out in the Gulf Stream water - an atypical
individual where feather wear had created the semblance of an Audubon’s
spectacles (photo by Peter Flood).
This bird offered excellent comparisons sitting and flying with several
accompanying smaller, slimmer-bellied Audubon’s Shearwaters.

In the afternoon, Chloe Walker spotted a small pod of Risso’s Dolphins. On a break
from their deep dives, the Risso’s lingered at the surface with us for a leisurely time,
though keeping their distance. From the uniquely scarred dorsal fin of one animal,
this appeared to be the same pod seen yesterday. (photo by Steve Howell)

Tomorrow we head out yet again to experience a new day on the Gulf Stream.

by David Shoch

Thank you to everyone who joined us today and a big thanks to our leaders Dave Shoch, Steve Howell, Sea McKeon, Peter Flood, and Chloe Walker - Sage Church was also a huge help!!  Thank you to Dave for the blog and Steve & Peter for letting me use their photos here... - Kate Sutherland

Trip List May 29, 2017
Black-capped Petrel  60
Cory's Shearwater  11-12
Manx Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  37-38
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  80-95
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  7-9
Oceanodroma sp.  2

Semipalmated Sandpiper  3-6

Risso's Dolphin  8
Bottlenose Dolphin  2

A couple more Black-capped Petrel photos by Peter Flood
We also had a nominate type Cory's Shearwater, aka Scopoli's, in the slick late in the day.  Steve easily identified it and Peter captured this image.
Manx & Audubon's Shearwaters by Steve Howell.  Note the slim body and long tail of the Audubon's (R) vs the heftier build of the Manx (L).  A Manx Shearwater weighs twice as much as an Audubon's, and the difference easily seen in this photo!  You can also see the toes projecting beyond the tail in the Manx and the white undertail coverts vs all dark in the Audubon's.
One more shot of the Risso's Dolphins by Peter Flood

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday May 28, 2017 - by Sea McKeon

Part of what makes the Gulf stream such a beautiful shade of blue is a lack of nutrients.  Few nutrients results in less phytoplankton, the little plants that make the water green and alive.  The blue waters of the Gulf Stream are essentially a desert, and the animals we get to see in this landscape are hardy survivors in a harsh land – their rarity speaks to what it takes to make a living here.   In the face of these odds everyone onboard the Stormy Petrel II got some amazing glimpses of life in the Ocean Desert today, with early distant looks at Cory’s Shearwater and Common Tern before the real specialty birds of the Gulf Stream put in an appearance.  As Kate laid out a fish-oil slick, Wilson’s Storm-Petrels began to gather in our wake.  We traveled up a windline of Sargassum, which tends to attract other species interested in shelter or a potential meal.  Today, the Sargassum lines were filled with jellyfish, flyingfishes, and  juvenile fishes of many types that would dash into the Sargassum as soon as they saw or felt the boat.   As if on cue, Black-capped Petrels began to sail into the lengthening slick, gleaming white on the underside and strikingly marked above (photo by Peter Flood top, Steve Howell bottom). 

By the end of the day Black-caps were making close passes by the boat, with one individual having a dark, almost ‘hooded’ appearance lacking the pale neck normally seen (photo by Peter Flood). 
Audubon’s Shearwater, a small bird that frequently hunts under and around Sargassum, supplied some great views both in flight (photo by Peter Flood)
and resting on the surface of the water.  Nearing our ‘turning point’ to work our way back inland, a pod of 15 Risso’s dolphin, a large blunt-headed and pale dolphin, put in an appearance diving underneath the boat as we approached, only to resurface several hundred meters away (photo by Peter Flood).
The afternoon sun did its best to lull everyone to nap in the shade, only to be shocked awake by the appearance of three Band-rumped Storm-Petrels resting on the water immediately alongside the boat (photo by Peter Flood).
Leaping to flight, the birds gave everyone a close view of the differences between this species and the Wilson’s Storm-Petrels foraging nearby.  While we are never entirely sure of what we will see on the Gulf Stream trips, these three species, the Black-capped Petrel, Audubon’s Shearwater, and Band-rumped Storm-Petrel form the core of our experiences off of Hatteras, and it was a delight to see them so well today.

Thank you to Sea for composing this blog post!  & thank you to Steve & Peter for contributing their photos!  Thanks to all three of them and to Chloe Walker for helping to lead the trip today!  We will be out there again tomorrow...  -Kate Sutherland

Trip List May 28, 2017

Black-capped Petrel  30-32
Cory's Shearwater  5
Audubon's Shearwater  16
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  60-65
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  7-8
Common Tern  2
Risso's Dolphin  15-20
A dark faced Black-capped (Peter Flood)

A ventral view of the same "hooded" looking individual from above in the blog post (Steve Howell)
One of the Audubon's Shearwaters on the water, yawning (Peter Flood)
& another flight shot of an Audubon's (Steve Howell)
The Band-rumped Storm-Petrels just after taking off (Steve Howell)
Here it is even easier to see the tall, falcate dorsal fins of the Risso's Dolphins (Peter Flood)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Saturday May 27, 2017 - by Kate Sutherland

I have always said, and truly believe, that any day you see a Black-capped Petrel is a good day - an amazing day - a special day.  So today was all of that, because we cannot forget how lucky we are to head offshore and pretty much expect to see a Black-capped Petrel, our signature Gulf Stream species.  The persistent westerlies of the past few days really cleared out some of the species we hope to see, but the Black-cappeds were there,
and we saw more of them than any other species, save Wilson's Storm-Petrel!  It was a beautiful day out there, with a bit of breeze from...well, the south west...but there was some grass out in the deep and we did find some beautiful, blue, warm water out there.  While Black-capped Petrels, both types, stole the show today, we did have good looks at a few Audubon's Shearwaters and a Sooty Shearwater that was feeding on the water allowed us to approach closely before flushing!
The Wilson's Storm-Petrels came in well to the slick and we even had some pretty nice views of a couple of Band-rumpeds, though they did not make any close passes for photos like they did last Wednesday!  Between 1130 and noon a Cliff Swallow flew towards the boat, coming right in over the stern before moving on, an interesting species to add to the offshore list!
Overall, it was what we would expect to find in the Gulf Stream, the numbers were just a little low.  But tomorrow is another day and we will be out there to see what we can find!

Thank you to everyone who joined us out there, especially those who spent two or three days on land waiting for the chance to get out there!  Thanks to Steve Howell, Sea McKeon, and Peter Flood for helping us lead the trip today!  All of the photos in the post today are by Steve, nice captures!

Trip List May 27, 2017
Black-capped Petrel  27
Cory's Shearwater  5
Sooty Shearwater  1-2
Audubon's Shearwater  5
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  40-50
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  2-4
Oceanodroma sp  1

Cliff Swallow  1
Laughing Gull  1

Black-capped Petrels
Audubon's Shearwater
And while there were not many birds out there, we did see a lot of shipping traffic!  Here is the Seaspan Alps with a Black-capped Petrel flying by...

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tuesday May 23, 2017 - by Brian Patteson

Today’s forecast called for some more wind and seas than we have had so far, but not until at least midday, so it seemed reasonable to run a trip. As it was, there were only about four other boats out from Hatteras fishing the Gulf Stream, so it was a day for the offshore enthusiast. The ride out was a little bumpy, but we took our time and still reached the Gulf Stream in short order. The water was a little greener than usual out in the deep, but there was Sargasso Weed and it did not take long to find some Audubon’s Shearwaters and Bridled Terns. I was able to find some pretty blue water by going a bit farther to the northeast, and there we found a good number of Black-capped Petrels (photo by Kate Sutherland).
Surprisingly, there were no jaegers to be found. Yesterday we saw three species and had jaegers constantly in view for several hours. Sooty Shearwaters were on the move offshore and we had a few come in and feed close to the boat on our chum, disappearing under the sea for up to half a minute. We had a fair number of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, but other storm-petrels were tough to find. We did have good looks at a couple of Band-rumps today (photo by Kate Sutherland) and a brief encounter with Leach’s. 

Unlike yesterday, when we made a long drift with the chum, today it was necessary to keep underway working into the current so that we would not end up too far north for the ride in when the southwester came on. The wind really picked up from the south around noon, and when it did, so did the Black-capped Petrels. The Black-caps followed us in to the greener water and before we picked up speed to run in, we had at least 25 in view around the boat!

Although we did not add any bird species to the list for this spring today we did pick up some marine mammals. In addition to Bottlenose Dolphins and Pilot Whales, today we saw a single Risso’s Dolphin offshore and a pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphin inshore on our way back to the inlet. The Spotted Dolphins put on a good show jumping and bow riding in the building seas this afternoon. I’m not sure if we’ll make it out tomorrow or not, but we’ll take a look at it in the morning and go from there. Thanks today to Kate Sutherland, Lev Frid, and Ed Corey for leading and all of our enthusiastic participants for coming out to sea with us.

Trip List for May 23, 2017
Black-capped Petrel  81-84
Cory's Shearwater  15
Great Shearwater  3
Sooty Shearwater 30-40
Audubon's Shearwater  6
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  120
Leach's Storm-Petrel  1
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  3-4
Oceanodroma sp.  2
Bridled Tern  4

peep sp.  2

Pilot Whale (prob short-finned)  8
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin  7-8
Bottlenose Dolphin  12
Risso's Dolphin  1

Trip list & photos by Kate Sutherland - it was a tough day for photos, but I got some photos of Black-cappeds & Band-rumpeds - two of our warm water specialties!  They were the most cooperative for views today - that makes us happy!

We finally had some close, white-faced Black-cappeds today
as well as some dark-faced individuals like this one below - nice underwing comparison!
White-faced individual
What I would call an intermediate individual
and a dark-faced individual
Record shot of our first Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - all of the birds we saw today looked to be the winter breeding type - presumably Grant's.
& some images of one of the other birds that flew in behind the boat to feed numerous times!
Risso's Dolphin by Lev Frid

Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday May 22, 2017 - by Brian Patteson

One of the benefits of running daily trips for a couple of weeks each spring is seeing what happens from day to day as the sea conditions change and the winds shift with the passage of weather systems. On Saturday we had southwesterly wind and on Sunday we had wind from the north. This morning we had wind from the southeast. Light to moderate southeasters are good for birding here off Hatteras. It was a little choppy as we were heading out, but the wind diminished somewhat as we cruised farther offshore. By the time we reached the shelf break, it was pretty nice and the clouds made for easy scanning.
It did not take long to find some jaegers today. We had several Pomarines before we saw much of anything else and they were eager to follow us out to the deep. Audubon’s Shearwaters also made an early showing. Black-capped Petrels were not as numerous as yesterday, but after we got out around 500 fathoms were found good numbers (photo by Brian Patteson).
Within less than an hour of slowing down we had a good diversity of birds following the boat, so we decided to stop and drift with the chum. The drift worked quite well and attracted a variety of tubenoses, jaegers, and terns. We found our first Long-tailed Jaegers of the season today, and one of the first terns to visit us was a Roseate, complete with the pink flush (photos by Brian Patteson).
Arctic Terns were not far behind. A Band-rumped Storm-Petrel came in briefly and gave good views. By 10:00 the slick was hopping with birds and we had seen about 10 species of seabirds on it. A smaller gadfly petrel had been taunting us for a while staying out of range. Finally curiosity got the best of it and we had good views of our first Fea’s Petrel for 2017 (photo by Brian Patteson).
We were in some of the bluest water we have found this spring and the current was the current was brisk. After a couple of hours of drifting, we decided to get under way because the birds were scattered and many had gone to rest on the water. Within minutes we were visited by the season’s first South Polar Skua and Leach’s Storm-Petrel! (photo by Lev Frid)
As we worked back in slowly to the shelf break over the next couple of hours, we had a nice parade of birds in tow. We also added Great Shearwater to the day’s list, along with a couple of Parasitic Jaegers. We finished up just east of Diamond Shoals and had a nice ride back to the inlet, where we were able to slip in the east side making for a sort run home.

I would like to thanks our crew for today: Kate Sutherland, Ned Brinkley, Lev Frid, and Ed Corey. We also had a great group of participants, including some from overseas. We have some unsettled weather coming this week, but I am looking forward to getting out as much as we can this spring.

Trip List May 22, 2017
Fea's Petrel  1
Black-capped Petrel  40-45
Cory's Shearwater  33 (at least two of these looked to be Scopoli's)
Great Shearwater  1
Sooty Shearwater  14-15
Audubon's Shearwater  35
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  170-200
Leach's Storm-Petrel  1
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  1
Oceanodroma sp.  3
Bridled Tern  4
Roseate Tern  1
Common Tern  2
Arctic Tern  9
South Polar Skua  1
Pomarine Jaeger  19-20
Parasitic Jaeger  1
Long-tailed Jaeger  3
jaeger sp.  1

swallow sp.  1

Pilot Whale (prob. Short-finned)  4-5
Bottlenose Dolphin  4
(List & captions by Kate Sutherland)
Ventral view of the Fea's Petrel (Brian Patteson)
Just to give you an idea of how close the Poms were... (Lev Frid)
Pomarine Jaeger by Brian Patteson
The Pilot Whales we saw were quite close, one large male even dove right next to the boat! (Lev Frid)
The afternoon was quite calm and we found some nice patches of sargassum, so we dipped some to see what we could find!  A large Sargassum Swimming Crab (Portunus sayi) was a nice one!  (Lev Frid)
Plus what I am quite certain are epiphytic hydroids visible on the sargassum (Lev Frid)
& one of the two species of shrimp, a Brown Grass Shrimp (Leander tenuicornis), that can also be found in the sargassum (Lev Frid)