Saturday & Sunday June 11 & 12 ~ Last weekend of the spring! While we did not have much wind either day this weekend, we still had an incredible pair of trips! Most of our participants were with us both days, and the combination worked well for getting good looks at all of the species seen over the weekend. Black-capped Petrels were more numerous and came closer to the boat on Saturday, and the same was true of Band-rumped Storm-Petrels with only one seen on Sunday, but many close passes by four or five individuals on Saturday. Cory's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters were all seen well on both days, but on Sunday we had two encounters with Manx Shearwater on the water. The first individual sat on the water for close approach before flushing, and the second was sitting right next to an Audubon's Shearwater for a rarely seen comparison on the water, then in flight! Wilson's Storm-Petrels were with us each day, with lower numbers seen on Sunday. We had two close encounters with Bridled Terns on Sunday with great photo ops on flotsam and in flight. Pomarine Jaeger was seen each day, with one additional, unidentified jaeger also seen in the distance on Saturday. The highlight of the weekend came a little after 0930 on Sunday morning when one, two, then three White-tailed Tropicbirds flew right to the boat and stayed with us for multiple passes! We had our first Cuvier's Beaked Whales of the season on Saturday, then on Sunday we had a pod of 6 or 7 individuals that we saw twice, plus another group of 3 later in the day for a total of at least 9 or 10 on Sunday and 4 or 5 on Saturday! We found some Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins both days, a few Atlantic Spotted Dolphins on Saturday plus a small pod of Atlantic (prob. Short-finned) Pilot Whales. On Sunday we found a pod of Risso's Dolphins (also known as Gray Grampus) and spent at least 20 minutes with them, this was the best we have ever seen them on our trips! On the way in on Sunday, Brian spotted a Leatherback Turtle just a couple of miles from the inlet that stayed on the surface long enough for everyone to get a look at this ancient, elusive species!
Spring Blitz 2011
May 20 - June 6, 2011
Monday June 6, 2011 ~ Today we had winds from the east that we hoped would blow some birds in closer to shore, but when we slowed down this morning a little before 0800, there was not much life to be seen! The first good look at a bird was a Fea's Petrel at 0820! We had just seen a couple of Wilson's Storm-Petrels and no Black-cappeds yet! Leach's & Band-rumped Storm-petrels began to show up in the slick shortly after and were with us for most of the day. A treat for participants who were interested in honing their storm-petrel id skills! While we only saw 11 Black-capped Petrels over the course of the day, we still had great, close views of a few in the fish oil slick. Great Shearwaters showed up soon after we slowed down and followed us all day with up to five at once behind us! We had some Audubon's & a Sooty Shearwater on the water for a nice look in the morning, then later in the day an Audubon's and a Band-rupmed Storm-petrel on the water together! Cory's Shearwaters were seen throughout the day with one even hanging out in the slick with the Great Shearwaters for awhile! Pomarine & Parasitic Jaegers were both seen well and we had a South Polar Skua fly up the slick right before 1300! So while the numbers of individuals seen today were a bit on the low side, we had incredible views of each species...something that does not happen every day! As the day progressed, the wind fell out to just a light breeze and the seas flattened as well, great conditions for looking at flying fish, of which we saw many today! Just before we were ready to pick up in the afternoon, some cetaceans were spotted close by. We were in a pod of False Killer Whales (Pseudorcas)! Like the last pod we saw on May 29th, these came right in to the boat to play under the bow, vocalizing and checking us out! A perfect end to a great set of spring trips...now looking forward to the summer! Photos courtesy of leader Steve N.G. Howell - in order below, False Killer Whales, Wilson's Storm-petrels & Great Shearwater, Flying Fish
Sunday June 5, 2011 ~ This morning we had quite a list before we even slowed down for the day (we did slow to get looks at some of the birds on the way)! We had Cory's, Great, & Audubon's Shearwaters all make nice passes, plus a first summer Arctic Tern and some Wilson's Storm-petrels. A couple of Black-capped Petrels popped up when we slowed down a little after 0800. We had fair looks at a Bridled Tern and Leach's Storm-petrel followed by two Band-rumped Storm-petrels and Manx Shearwater. Some baits were trolling in the wake and a Blue Marlin came in just 30 feet behind the boat showing nicely as it took a bait and then thrashed around in the wake before throwing the hook! A great look at a little seen and much sought after pelagic fish. A little before 1030 we had a Brown Booby fly up the port side of the boat, peeling off and heading away, but everyone had a good look! This is not a bird we see here every year and also not one that is seen commonly, so it was a nice surprise! A bit past noontime a participant spotted a bird up in the sky that turned out to be a distant Red-billed Tropicbird! Our spotters kept an eye on it and when it went down to the water, Brian turned the boat and just headed in that direction. Imagine our surprise when it was spotted on the water just 10 yards ahead of us! It took off and flew around the boat a few times for great photo ops and views! (photo below by Steve N.G. Howell) The day continued with a close, first summer Bridled Tern that proceeded to sit down on a pallet for a close pass, finally a great look! Just before 1400, a Fea's Petrel came into the slick and made several close passes, photo below by Chris Sloan. Then just before we were ready to head in for the day, we spotted a Loggerhead Turtle just laying on the surface that had some Mahi mahi (or dolphin) swimming under it of which we were able to hook a couple to take home! Tomorrow is the last day of the Spring Blitz, so we'll see what we find! The final photo below is of a juvenile Band-rumped Storm-petrel taken by Steve N.G. Howell.
Saturday June 4, 2011 ~ There was a bit more easterly wind yesterday & overnight that brought us some Leach's Storm-petrels on the way out! We slowed down this morning to great looks at a couple of them before we had even recruited a Wilson's Storm-petrel to the fish oil slick! On the first drift of the morning, we also saw a couple of Black-capped Petrels and Band-rumped Storm-petrels. This was wonderful for studying the Leach's vs. the Band-rupmed with some Wilson's. The Leach's stayed with us in the slick for most of the day giving participants a chance to practice identification at a distance behind the boat. Cory's and Audubon's Shearwaters were both seen well throughout the day and we saw a couple of Great Shearwaters in the morning and then had up to four behind the boat feeding and following us in the afternoon. The last two hours and 30 minutes of the day were very productive beginning when Brian spotted a Bridled Tern sitting on a board ahead of the boat. This first summer bird let everyone get a great look at it before flushing from its' perch. Two Arctic Terns came in to the slick, an adult and a first summer bird, flying circles around the boat and landing on a board for some perched views! Then a little after 1400, Brian shouted to check out a bird coming in low at 10 o'clock - it was a South Polar Skua! It proceeded to pass us and head towards the Great Shearwaters in the slick. It landed next to two of them, then it started to harass one of them, pretty exciting to watch! A second Skua came in and they both sat on the water near the shearwaters for us to approach. While we were with the Skuas, a Pomarine Jaeger flew in to the slick and everyone had great views of it as well. On the way in there were some shearwaters spotted ahead on the water and when they flushed it turned out to be two Manx Shearwaters and two Cory's! Even though we were running at the time, just about everyone had a glimpse of the fourth shearwater species of the day! & just a note, the last Leach's Storm-petrels were seen in only 76 feet of water, very shallow for a bird typical of deeper water! Photos below: Leach's & Wilson's Storm-petrels by Chris Sloan; Skua by Steve N.G. Howell
Friday June 3, 2011 ~ Wind was with us today, but did not conspire to bring any rarities to us out there! We had northerly wind this morning, shifting to the north east at about 18-20 kts. There was not much current in the warmer water, so it was not too rough and we were able to search the deeper water for something different. The only Great Shearwater of the day came in well to the slick this morning. We also had good views of Cory's Shearwaters and the Audubon's were a little distant until we had one close by the boat later in the morning! We also had three Arctic Terns a little after 0800 that came in nicely for all to see! The first Black-capped Petrels were distant, but as the day progressed, they came in quite well on a few of the drifts. At 0915 we put out a slick and a bird had been seen harassing a Black-capped Petrel shortly before...a South Polar Skua popped up near the boat and came in to the slick for a couple of close passes! Wilson's Storm-Petrels were in attendance, but varied in number. We did not see our first Band-rumped Storm-petrel until after 1100, then we had at least two more individuals on a drift around 1300. Soon after the first Band-rupmed, there was a Leach's Storm-petrel in the slick, but by the time we slowed to get a better look, it had moved on with just those in the stern getting good views. We had a European - Starling that is! This was a first for one of our pelagic trips to see one hovering around the feeding flock of Wilson's Storm-petrels! On the way in, a Sooty Shearwater flew by the boat headed in the same direction as us, so those who were out in the salty spray caught a glimpse of it. Photo of Arctic Tern below courtesy of Steve N.G. Howell
Thursday June 2, 2011 ~ Today was a bit slow to begin, but the wind was just not cooperating to bring birds in to the slick. There was a nice flight of shearwaters this morning when we slowed down with Cory's, Audubon's, and Great Shearwaters plus a handful of Wilson's Storm-petrels and a Black-capped Petrel. Before 0830 we had a cooperative Leach's Storm-petrel in the slick and a first summer Arctic Tern, plus a Pomarine Jaeger! Midmorning the wind was still about 16 or 17 knots from the west with a forecasted shift to the north...but the shift did not come until later in the day, and it also did not come with the force we expected. We headed out to deeper water seeking Band-rumped Storm-petrels, but we instead encountered more Cory's & Audubon's Shearwaters and some Black-cappeds. Around 1230 we put out a chum slick and drifted a bit in the swift Gulf Stream current, a jaeger was spotted in the distance. When it popped up near the boat, it was a dark Parasitic Jaeger, something we don't see every year! There were a few sightings of larger storm-petrels later in the day, but we did not get a Band-rumped until after 1330! Then we had at least two individuals visit the slick, a Sooty Shearwater also flew in for a close pass here. Our final bird of the day came on the way in when a Bridled Tern was spotted flying near the boat. Brian was able to pilot the boat so that everyone could get a look at it as it flew along. Photo of Parasitic Jaeger courtesy of leader Chris Sloan.
Wednesday June 1, 2011 ~ The winds were light out of the east north east this morning and shifted throughout the day. While we did not encounter another European Storm-Petrel, we saw several species that we did not see yesterday. At 0805 a White-tailed Tropicbird flew in to investigate us and spent a short time near the boat, but was seen well by all. Then, a little after 0830, a large, dark bird was spotted flying towards the boat; it turned out to be a South Polar Skua that spent several moments making close passes & feeding in the chum. This bird reappeared in the slick several times over the course of the morning. Audubon's Shearwaters were very cooperative today with many seen on the water, and flying close by the boat. Cory's made some close passes with at least one nominate bird seen, but the most cooperative bird of the day was a young Great Shearwater that flew in and fed right behind the boat! We ended up with three individual Greats for the day! A Sooty Shearwater also came in on one of our drifts and spent time diving down for fish scraps next to the boat! Band-rumped Storm-Petrels came in well to the fish oil, but we did not see any Leach's today. Black-capped Petrels were cooperative with quite a few visiting the slick. A little before 1300, Todd McGrath shouted out "Masked Booby"! The third year bird flew into the boat on the starboard side and proceeded to circle us for a few minutes! We had a nice look at an Arctic Tern a bit before the Booby was spotted, and a Roseate Tern flew into the slick a little after 1330! This was the first time a Roseate has been seen on one of our trips since 2006! Overall a spectacular day! Photo of South Polar Skua courtesy of Captain Brian Patteson; Photo of Roseate Tern by Chris Sloan
Tuesday May 31, 2011 ~ We had wind today finally, it was from the west this morning becoming a bit more north as the day progressed. A Bridled Tern was spotted right off when we slowed down, and the first Band-rumped Storm-Petrel of the day was before 0830! Soon after, Chris Sloan shouted "European Storm-Petrel in the slick"!! The first for the season! We had at least two individuals, and there were sightings all the way through the 1200 hour. While everyone was looking at a European Storm-Petrel around 1030 in the slick, Ken Petersen spotted a Fea's Petrel in the stern! The pass was quick, but some had nice looks before it flew off at a high rate of speed. We had great looks at Cory's Shearwaters and a few distant Audubon's. Otherwise, we had two Leach's Storm-Petrels one of which stayed around and made several close passes, plus two non molting Band-rumped Storm-Petrels suggesting type 2 birds that are summer breeders. We had more Wilson's Storm-Petrels today than we've seen on any trip this spring with at least 450-500 individuals! Black-capped Petrels made close passes when we were drifting coming in well to the chum. The photo below is courtesy of leader Chris Sloan.
Monday May 30, 2011 ~ Where we slowed down this morning, the water was not quite as warm as what we encountered yesterday, so we jogged a little farther offshore. Finally at 0915 the water temperature jumped up 2 degrees. In less than 10 minutes, Ken Petersen shouted "Tropicbird"! An adult White-tailed Tropicbird flew in and proceeded to fly around checking us out for about 10 minutes! Many aboard were looking for this bird, and were pleased and amazed to see how closely the bird approached us. As we continued offshore, another tropicbird was spotted in the clouds at a distance, the species was not apparent. Overall, we saw the species expected with nice views of Black-capped Petrel, Cory's Shearwater, Audubon's Shearwater, Wilson's & Band-rumped Storm-Petrels. One of the Band-rumpeds was not molting suggesting a type 2 summer breeder. The first Arctic Tern of the season flew into the slick and passed closely by the boat for everyone to see. At 1240 we had another first for the season ~ some Mesoplodon europaeus or Gervais Beaked Whales! The photo below is courtesy of Steve N.G. Howell.
Sunday May 29, 2011 ~ When we slowed down this morning, it seemed a bit slow and we had little to no breeze to stir things up. Then, before 0900, Brian shouted to get a look at a small pterodroma in the glare flying up the port side - Fea's Petrel! We did not relocate the bird and continued on offshore. We had Leach's & Band-rumped Storm-Petrels in the slick before 1030 around a flock of resting Black-capped Petrels. While one was in the morning and the other in the afternoon, we encountered very cooperative Parasitic & Long-tailed Jaegers, with each coming in nicely to the slick before moving off. Cory's & Audubon's Shearwaters were in attendance with some nice passes throughout the day and good looks at one presumed nominate Cory's. A little before 1300, a flock of Black-cappeds was spotted on the water...Brian came over the loudspeaker...one of these is different, keep an eye out! And Fea's Petrel took off with the Black-cappeds!! It looked to be a different individual from the one this morning, but I have not checked any photos from our leaders! As we headed towards shallower water, we came into a pod of False Killer Whales, or Pseudorcas. Wow! They were very playful swimming under and around the boat, riding our bow wave, and leaping out of the water ahead! The group consisted of males, females, and some smaller, younger individuals. We have never encountered a group of Pseudorcas so willing to engage with us! They were with us for at least 30 minutes before we needed to move on towards home. While we were running in, leader Dave Shoch spotted a large, dark bird sitting on the water ahead at 11 o'clock. Brian headed for it and it was a South Polar Skua sitting on the water, first for the spring! It stayed put for us and we were able to approach closely, with it looking us over, before it took off. We had a great day overall and also saw some Pilot Whales, Bottlenose Dolphins, and Spotted Dolphins over the course of the day. Tomorrow the conditions will be similar, so we'll see what we turn up! Photo from Steve Howell of Black-capped Petrel & Fea's Petrel
Saturday May 28, 2011 ~ Wind was in short supply again today, but there was just enough to get the birds off the water! We had five species of shearwater, Cory's, Great, Sooty, Manx, and Audubon's. While we just had one each of Great & Manx Shearwaters, the Great flew in to the slick and made some close passes, and the Manx was on the water for a close approach before flushing. Jaegers were out there today with three species seen. Nice views were had of two Pomarines & one Parasitic while the Long-tailed seen early this morning was at a distance! There were some that were just too far out to id as well. A few Leach's streaked by the boat, and Band-rumped was seen well this afternoon on a drift - one individual was a summer breeder showing no molt, a type 2 bird. Black-capped Petrels were plentiful with many seen on the horizon all day! We topped our daily numbers for the season so far at about 75 individuals and had nice looks at both the white-faced and dark-faced types. The fairly calm seas allowed us to spot cetaceans quite easily with the list being as follows: Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Pilot Whale (prob Atlantic Short-finned), and Risso's Dolphins. Our surprise passerine of the day was a Bank Swallow, a first for the Stormy Petrel II!
Friday May 27, 2011 ~ Overnight there was a clear satellite shot of the sea surface temperature off of Cape Hatteras and the fast, hot water was about 35 miles to the south. While the run out was a bit longer than our usual course to the edge of the Continental Shelf, it was well worth the investment. There was not much wind this morning and thus not much activity when we got to the Gulf Stream current (running about 4 kts!). At about 1013 a White-tailed Tropicbird appeared out of nowhere, as they so often do! It made several close passes by the boat for amazing views, and had a nice, long, pinkish tail. Shortly after it sailed out of our range of vision, the same bird, or another, came in again. Brian remarked on the loudspeaker that over all of the years he has been running trips in May, there have been less than 10 White-taileds seen before the 30th of the month - total! So just to top it off, we had another individual White-tailed come in at 1244 showing a long, white tail (photo below by Kate Sutherland)! Otherwise, we encountered the usual suspects with great looks at Black-capped Petrels, and an informative storm-petrel session in the stern with both Band-rumped and Leach's Storm-Petrels making appearances in the slick. We had four jaegers today, so perhaps they are moving in and we'll see more in the days to come!
Thursday May 26, 2011 ~ It was not as windy today as predicted, but we did have a bit of breeze from the southwest. The trip out this morning was fairly quiet, but we did have a nice look at a Cory's Shearwater. When we slowed down, we were excited to find the first Great Shearwater of the season! As Wilson's Storm-Petrels gathered in the fish oil slick, we headed offshore. Audubon's Shearwaters were found in numbers, with many groups sitting on the water in scattered Sargasso Weed. Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were not very cooperative but we did see a few, and most participants were able to see them briefly as they flew by the boat at a high rate of speed. Black-capped Petrels were the most cooperative species of the day (besides Wilson's of course!) with one making close passes over the pulpit and around the boat on a drift. While we had just one Sooty Shearwater in the morning, there were some seen on the way in and they were spectacular in the afternoon light.
Wednesday May 25, 2011 ~ We headed out early with many participants from yesterday able and willing to come with us today. On the way out we had good views of a Pomarine Jaeger chasing some Royal Terns, we also had nice looks at Cory's & Audubon's Shearwaters. We slowed down before 0800 and about an hour later decided to put out a fish oil slick and drift. Suddenly an adult White-tailed Tropicbird sailed into view at 3 o'clock - CLOSE! It put on quite a show and leader Bob Fogg got this picture below! While Cory's Shearwaters were in short supply, we had the best looks at Audubon's Shearwater today we've had all spring! The Black-capped Petrel numbers exceeded what we have seen this year and many made perfectly close passes by the boat. Band-rumped Storm-Petrel was seen well on our drifts with 7-8 individuals for the list. Just as we were getting ready to pick up speed for the inlet, two Bridled Terns were spotted way back in the slick, what a nice way to end the day!
Tuesday May 24, 2011 ~ Weathered out...unfortunately the wind picked up overnight & is forecast to increase through the day, so we will try again tomorrow! Brian got a report this morning that a Red-billed Tropicbird was seen at Cape Point. We put the word out to our participants, but are not sure if it was spotted again! Maybe we'll find it tomorrow offshore...
Monday May 23, 2011 ~ Finally a trip with some wind! Once we started seeing Black-capped Petrels, we put out a chum slick that we drifted with for about 45 minutes. Wilson's Storm-Petrels were more numerous than we have seen, we had some nice passes by Black-cappeds, one Audubon's Shearwater that came to investigate, and a first summer Pomarine Jaeger that flew in and chased a Black-capped before coming in closer to feed on some chum! Some Atlantic Pilot Whales (most likely Short-finned) were seen around the slick too, a nice surprise on such a choppy day. We moved on from here and for the rest of the day we had numerous Wilson's Storm-Petrels following the boat in the fish oil slick. We finally had our first Leach's Storm-Petrel of the spring, followed by at least one additional individual! And we also had success finding some Band-rumpeds, but not in getting them to stay with us like yesterday. We also saw a handful of Cory's & Sooty Shearwaters.
Sunday May 22, 2011 ~ There were some better conditions reported by other boats yesterday to the north & east of where we had been, so we left the dock this morning at 0539 planning to run out to the deep. The wind was little to none and the seas were glassy as we headed out. Three Sooty Shearwaters were the first seabirds of the day flying along with us and the conditions were such that many turtles were spotted as well. We slowed to look at some Loggerheads and two Leatherback sea turtles were spotted, one of which allowed us to closely approach for spectacular views and photo ops! We found pretty water and our first Black-capped Petrel less than 20 miles offshore. We continued our course offshore and were rewarded with our first Band-rumped Storm-Petrel of the spring a little after 1230 and much to the delight of our participants it came in and made some nice, close passes so that everyone was able to see the molting bird well. Not even an hour later some cetacean blows were spotted ahead of the boat and as we approached, the mammal was easily identified as a small Sperm Whale! As we closed the distance and came closer to the individual, two more were seen lolling below the surface. One dove while the other surfaced then swam off. We saw one more before getting back on course to the northwest. A Black-capped Petrel flew by ahead of the boat and as we tracked it, another bird on the water was seen that turned out to be a first summer Bridled Tern! It did not flush from its perch until everyone had seen (& photographed) it well. Although we frequently see these tropical terns on our summer trips, they can be hard to come by here in the spring. A small group of acrobatic Spotted Dolphins rounded out the day!
Saturday May 21, 2011 ~ We left the dock again at 0545, a feat considering we had a full boat with 25 participants who were all treated to amazing looks at a first winter Glaucous Gull right on a piling at the dock! The conditions were calmer than yesterday and we had already seen Cory's Shearwater, Wilson's Storm-Petrel, and Black-capped Petrel before 0740! The first Audubon's of the day was seen soon after, a life bird for many aboard. Closer, more cooperative individuals were found later in the day. A close Sooty Shearwater approached the stern next as we gathered some Wilson's in our slick. About 30 miles offshore an Osprey & Snowy Egret gave surprise appearances and an adult male Yellow Warbler landed on the boat and checked out some of our participants a couple of hours later. A drift for larger (or smaller!) stormies turned up nothing but good looks at Wilson's and some curious Black-cappeds. We continued our course offshore, but found just the same species we had encountered previously until a strikingly large adult Parasitic Jaeger streaked by the boat towards an unsuspecting Cory's Shearwater! No new species were encountered for the rest of the day, but we had great looks at Black-capped Petrels, and thanks to our deckhand, Will Whitley, we caught 8 Mahi mahi (dolphin) in short order! Tonight the wind should shift a bit to the east (after a light northwest wind today) hopefully pushing some different species closer to shore for tomorrow!
Friday May 20, 2011 ~ We left the dock at 0545 with 15 eager birders aboard the Stormy Petrel II, some of whom had never been offshore and many who had never been out from Hatteras. We found good conditions near the edge of the Continental Shelf, so we decided to slow down at 0750 and put out some Menhaden oil. We were immediately rewarded with close looks at a Black-capped Petrel, Wilson's Storm-Petrels were common and we also encountered Cory's & Audubon's Shearwaters, plus a handful of Red-necked Phalaropes. By midmorning, activity was waning so we decided to head for deeper water and search out the faster Gulf Stream current which was a little further offshore than usual. Before we encountered the hot, fast water a Fea's Petrel came streaking up the starboard side of the boat, fairly close, but at a high rate of speed. Participants spilled out of the cabin for a glimpse of this fast-flying sprite of a tubenose. The hot, fast water did not yield as many birds as we had hoped for and the rest of the day was fairly quiet with scattered Black-capped Petrels and three species of shearwater including a Sooty Shearwater that was resting on the water at close range and seen well by all aboard. Jaegers and terns which are often found along the west wall of the Gulf Stream were notable in their absence but perhaps a shift to light easterly winds tomorrow evening will bring them into range.