Summer 2011 Trip Reports

Saturday September 10 ~ Jamie Cameron, one of our leaders, chartered the boat for a fishing trip today and even though Hatteras is still closed to visitors, Brian was able to run the trip from Wanchese.  He had a good bird report for the day with many Black-capped Petrels on the change, which was pretty close this morning.  Shearwaters, mostly Cory's Shearwaters, but a handful of Greats & Audubon's were seen over the course of the day.  Bridled & Black Terns were out there in numbers and a few Sooty Terns and Long-tailed Jaegers were seen as well.  Jamie had a close Fea's Petrel on the stern! 

Sunday September 4 ~ The weather looked good for a trip on Sunday and we were able to get ten people to make the trip to Wanchese where the Stormy Petrel II was back in the water following Hurricane Irene, so Brian & I got on a ferry bound for Stumpy Point (about 30 minutes from Wanchese) at 0530 Saturday morning.  The storm had mixed up the waters offshore and we ran through bands of warm and cool water on our way to the Gulf Stream in the morning.  There was much debris offshore from the storm and we found some dead shearwaters 35 miles out;  at least three in a quarter mile.  Not many birds were found inshore where we had seen large flocks of shearwaters just 12 days prior on the Free Range Adventure trips.  While numbers of Cory's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters were low, they were widely scattered from the shelf break out to the deep.  Black-capped Petrels were seen, but we were only able to turn up four individuals way offshore.  We had two young Long-tailed Jaegers in the morning chasing Wilson's Storm-Petrels, and had great looks at Bridled Terns throughout the day!  The highlight came after 2pm with an adult Sabine's Gull flying into the slick after we had hooked a small Mahi mahi!  The bird landed on the water so we were able to circle back on the slick and get some great looks and it then followed us for another 20 minutes.  While this species is regularly encountered on fall pelagic trips from the west coast, it is a very difficult bird to find in the Western North Atlantic with our last encouter here in 2007.  We had good luck with other marine life seeing some Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins and over 50 Atlantic Short-finned Pilot Whales.  A Leatherback Turtle showed well in the morning, and we had two more encounters with these impressive animals in the afternoon.  One Loggerhead, looking a bit sluggish, allowed us to approach closely in the afternoon and more were seen on the trip in, easily spotted on the calm seas.  A highlight for many aboard was an Ocean Sunfish, or Mola mola, near the surface with some pilot fish swimming near it's mouth.  Overall a very enjoyable and successful September day offshore, thanks to everyone who made it possible!  (Photo: Sabine's Gull ~ Kate Sutherland)


Hurricane Irene August 26~28 ~ The winds finally abated early Sunday morning, but Brian had already taken 3 Cory's Shearwaters to our local wildlife rehabilitator, Lou Browning, in Frisco on Saturday!  All three were found on beaches in Frisco, and Brian reported no dead birds on the beach.  I went out to the beach in Hatteras on Monday and there were at least 25 dead Cory's in about a 1/2 mile stretch.  Who knows how many more perished that were not seen.  We saw one Cory's drying out in the Pamlico Sound near the shore, but we did not see really any seabirds of note from the storm.  I found one more live Cory's on Monday that Brian took up to Lou, and then found two more on Wednesday!  The first was not in good shape and quite waterlogged, and the second just appeared to be beached and hungry, it was not soaked as most of the birds found after the storm had been.  The photo below is of the two found on the 31st;  the closer bird is an Atlantic Cory's (Calonectris diomedea borealis) and the second is a Mediterranean bird also known a Scopoli's (Calonectris diomedea diomedea) confirmed by the underwing comparison.  The size difference between the two is obvious, even though the smaller bird is waterlogged.  Both of these also made it to Lou, thanks to Brian.  He reported that he had 16 Cory's brought to him after the storm, and only two so far had perished.  Hopefully we will be able to take the survivors out to sea soon!  We would like to thank Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation's Lou Browning for all he does for our island's wildlife, especially our pelagic species!


August 22, 23, 24, 2011 ~ The Free Range Adventure trips ran for three days this week and while there was a little turnover in our daily passenger list, we had a great, core group for the set.  Monday we ran to the Gulf Stream for the day and found a nice diversity of seabirds plus great cetaceans!  We saw good numbers of Black Terns on the way out in the morning, and had seen some Bridled Terns, Cory's & Great Shearwaters, and Wilson's Storm-Petrels all before we even slowed down!  The warm water current was moving swiftly and we finally started seeing some Black-capped Petrels a little after 1030.  The afternoon was very productive with a South Polar Skua just after noon followed by a pod of Cuvier's Beaked Whales!  We also turned up a Manx Shearwater sitting with a flock of Cory's & Great Shearwaters, and saw our first young Sooty Tern of the season with its parent close behind.  A Pomarine Jaeger came in well and young Long-tailed Jaeger came into the slick to harass some of the Wilson's Storm-Petrels!  Tuesday and Wednesday we headed east of Oregon Inlet since the winds were right to get some storm-petrels stirred up and maybe bring us a White-faced!  While we did not encounter a White-faced Storm-Petrel either day, we were surprised to see a handful of Black-capped Petrels very well on Tuesday and we found another, more cooperative Manx Shearwater on Wednesday.  The highlight of the set was a Masked Booby that came right in to the boat and circled us many times on Wednesday, close to 2 pm!  While we saw just a few Audubon's Shearwaters each of the three days, we were able to approach many of them closely on the water, and Red-necked Phalaropes were also seen on Monday and Tuesday.  Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins were seen daily and we had an energetic group of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins as well on Wednesday.  In addition to the Cuvier's Beaked Whales already mentioned, we saw Short-finned Pilot Whales on Tuesday and Wednesday.  A close Loggerhead Turtle stayed on the surface for all to see on Tuesday and we had some that dove too quickly on the way out on Monday!  Overall an excellent set of trips!  Thanks to everyone who made them possible and special thanks to our leaders who helped us out, Bob Fogg, David Shoch, and Ned Brinkley.  We had the Stormy Petrel II taken out of the water when we got in to the dock on Wednesday afternoon, so hopefully she will be safe when Irene gets here!  (Photos: Masked Booby Aug 24 ~ Kate Sutherland; Long-tailed Jaeger ~ Bob Fogg; Audubon's Shearwater ~ Brian Patteson; Stormy Petrel II on her way to higher ground ~ Bob Fogg)

August 20, 2011 ~ We took the boat up to Wanchese on Friday August 19th and ran today's trip from there out of Oregon Inlet.  The wind was light and variable so we had a beautiful day offshore and visibility was perfect!  The plan was to run south east of the inlet to the blue water of the Gulf Stream, but we began seeing shearwaters just miles after leaving the inlet!  So instead of just running out, we took time to check out shearwaters, which were resting on the water in large flocks.  Before 9 am we had seen hundreds of shearwaters, two Pomarine Jaegers, a South Polar Skua, and a Masked Booby!  The Masked Booby was spotted in the distance, but we were able to run a little closer and clinch great views of the bird for all aboard!  Flocks of shearwaters were comprised mostly of Cory's and Great Shearwaters with the latter outnumbering Cory's 2 to 1.  A handful of Audubon's Shearwaters were seen over the day and we had a surprise sighting of a Sooty Shearwater in a flock on the water, a rare find for us in the summer!  We finally reached the Gulf Stream a little before 11am, slowed down, put out the fish oil slick, and the first Black-capped Petrels of the day began to show as we gathered Wilson's Storm-Petrels behind the boat.  One Band-rumped Storm-Petrel made a quick, close pass by the boat before noon, but it was the only individual we were able to turn up for the day.  Bridled Terns with their attendant young were out in numbers, and we had great looks at a few Sooty Terns as well.  We found a grass line in the afternoon that was holding many of these terns and six Red-necked Phalaropes!  The water was so calm on the way in that nothing on the water escaped our attention, turning up another South Polar Skua in the afternoon!  The conditions were also perfect for turtles, we had three incredible looks at Leatherback Turtles with one close to the boat in the afternoon that just swam along under the water for us to watch!  We also had a Loggerhead Turtle, and curious Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins and some Atlantic Spotted Dolphins over the course of the day.  Overall, an amazing day, especially for the many passengers we had who were new to seabirds!  We had great looks at everything we saw today, and have high hopes for our next few trips from Wanchese!  We will not be able to update the website for our trips on Monday-Wednesday, but will post sightings on Twitter!/Seabirding , and will post the trip report on Thursday or Friday.  (Pictured below: Masked Booby - Kate Sutherland; South Polar Skua - Kate Sutherland; Bridled Terns adult & young - Kate Sutherland; Leatherback Turtle - Brian Patteson)

August 13 & 14, 2011 ~ Another excellent summer weekend offshore!  While we hoped to encounter a rarity (don't we always?), our searching turned up the usual suspects, but in good numbers and with great looks!  Our passengers ranged from those who had never been out with us before, to those searching for Black-bellied Storm-Petrel, the last one being seen from Hatteras one year ago on Sunday.  We had south east winds for the weekend, with a bit more from the south on Sunday.  The full moon over the weekend contributed quite a bit to the birds being settled on the water, especially on Sunday when the wind fell out in the afternoon.  Black-capped Petrels were seen well on each day with close passes in the slick.  We had great looks at Cory's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters but did not find any big concentrations of feeding birds, nor did we have extremely high numbers as have been seen on previous trips this summer.  There were more Wilson's Storm-Petrels around this weekend than last, with about 200 on Saturday and half as many on Sunday.  While Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were not as prevalent as last weekend, they came quite close on each day and were great for photos!  Fleeting glimpses were had of Red-necked Phalaropes each day, and we did have a couple of very cooperative Bridled Terns on Saturday with another seen in the distance later that day.  Sunday we had two jaegers, both not really close enough for positive identification, were either Pomarine or Parasitic Jaegers.  Marine mammals were limited to a few Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins each day that came in very well to the boat, and a small group of playful Atlantic Spotted Dolphins that we encountered on our way in Sunday.  Overall, it was an excellent weekend for seeing our specialty birds and getting some great photos!  (Pictured below: Band-rumped Storm-Petrels; copyright Kate Sutherland)

August 6 & 7, 2011 ~ We just had a couple of more good pelagic trips from Hatteras on August 6 and 7.  On August 6 we saw hundreds of shearwaters and several jaegers, as well as the regular deep water birds- Black-capped Petrel and Band-rumped Storm-Petrel.  I had high hopes for South Polar Skua as we had seen a few in the area on Friday during a fishing trip on our boat, but no such luck.  The wind breezed up a bit by Sunday morning, and the shearwater flocks had dispersed.  We started chumming near the shelf break and at 8:48 a light morph Trindade Petrel came zipping in the sniff the slick.  It remained in view for a couple of minutes.  For the next three hours or so we tacked offshore, chumming along the way and stopping occasionally.  Birds were sparse at times, but Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were with us most of the time, along with just a few Wilson's.  Black-capped Petrels also made several visits to the slick, and around 11:15 another Trindade Petrel, darker than the first but not as dark as some, came in and made a nice pass.  This one stayed in view for a few minutes as it circled around with a small flock of shearwaters a few hundred yards out.  The inshore tack was still good for Band-rumps, and we had them all the way back to the shelf waters.  What a difference from the previous weekend when there were hundreds of Wilson's but hardly any Band-rumped Storm-Petrels!  I was a bit surprised not to see any Bridled or Sooty Terns all weekend, but we did not see much flotsam in the scatterd Gulf Weed, and that is a big factor for Bridled Terns.  We did see a few Bridleds on Friday, August 5, and there should some moving northward now, both adults and young of the year.  (Photo on home page!)

August 5, 2011 ~ Well, we had a fishing charter today, but the birds were notable enough to warrant an update here!  We never even made it to the shelf break, we did not even make it to 250 feet, but it was a great day for birds!  The shearwaters are here, and even though we did not keep a regular count, we saw at least 550 to 600 Cory's & Great Shearwaters (with about 5% Greats).  There were 10-12 Audubon's Shearwaters seen as well, and Wilson's Storm-Petrels were present.  Most notable of the day - 3 or 4 South Polar Skuas!  Plus one Pomarine Jaeger, and the Bridled Terns are here with at least 5 spotted over the course of the day.  We did have a few Red-necked Phalaropes and we were surprised to see yet another Red Phalarope with a bit of color retained out there today!  Hopefully the luck will hold thru the weekend for our birders!

July 30, 31, & August 1, 2011 ~ We headed offshore on Saturday morning with a hazy horizon, heat, & humidity;  there was a heat advisory until 9pm that evening, and yes, it was hot!  Sunday was also a bit warm, but we found some squalls in the afternoon that brought us some air conditioned northerly wind that felt like we had stepped into a cooler, and some great looks at birds!  Monday we left port in the rain, but by the time we reached the Gulf Stream it had cleared up.  None of the trips had much wind to speak of (other than around squalls), so it was calm, but the breezes we did have were mostly from the south & east so we felt good about our chances of seeing a tropicbird or Trindade Petrel.  While the latter eluded our sights, we did have a very cooperative White-tailed Tropicbird fly in to check us out on Sunday (July 31) at 0943!  This was the only individual seen over the three day set and it hung around for a few minutes so that everyone had a great look!  Over the three days we saw seven species of tubenose, two storm-petrels, one tropicbird, two species of jaeger, and two species of phalarope.  Black-capped Petrels were seen on all trips with the highest count on Sunday when they really got up and flying in the afternoon breeze from the storms around us.  We had great passes on all three days though, with curious and hungry birds coming in well to the chum and fish oil slick.  Shearwaters were seen in decent numbers on all trips, but on Monday we saw the largest flocks of Cory's & Great Shearwaters that we have seen for a long time!  We started the day with a flock of 400 birds and by the end of the day we had counted over 1100 Cory's Shearwaters and almost 300 Greats!  Audubon's Shearwaters were seen well every day even though the number of individuals was a little low, and we approached Manx Shearwater on the water closely on Saturday & Monday for nice views.  Wilson's Storm-Petrels were around in good numbers for the summer with 350 to 400 individuals on Sunday & Monday.  Band-rumped Storm-Petrel was seen each day, but most were fleeting glimpses until Monday when a few cooperative individuals were seen by all aboard.  We had a good look at a first summer Parasitic Jaeger on Sunday and a couple of immature Pomarine Jaegers on Monday.  Red-necked Phalaropes were seen on Saturday's trip, and we had a surprise Red Phalarope on Monday, not something we typically see at this time of year!  The only marine mammals seen were Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins and we had great views of them on all three trips.  We were very lucky to see Leatherback turtles on Sunday and Monday!  While we had just one individual each day, they stayed at the surface long enough for everyone to have a great look at this rarely seen, massive sea turtle! Thank you so much to everyone who made it possible for us to run three trips on this long weekend!  (Photos: White-tailed Tropicbird~Bob Fogg; Cory's & Manx Shearwaters~Bob Fogg; Red Phalarope~Kate Sutherland; Shearwater flock~Kate Sutherland; Leatherback~Brian Patteson)   

Saturday July 16 & Sunday July 17, 2011 ~ This weekend of trips followed a few days of wind from the north & east.  We headed out on Saturday knowing that it would be a little bumpy, especially in the blue water of the Gulf Stream where we found almost 4 kts of current running against 15 to 20 kts of wind from the east early with a little north to it later in the morning.  Sunday the wind fell out a bit so even though there was still some swell, it was a much nicer ride than Saturday.  Shearwaters were present in numbers on both days with good, close views of Cory’s, Great, Manx, and Audubon’s and some nice feeding flocks encountered on Sunday.  Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were more numerous on Saturday than Sunday, but we had close passes by Band-rumped Storm-Petrels and a single Leach’s each day.  The Leach's Storm-Petrel on Sunday was easier for passengers to get on than the quick, fleeting glimpse of one flying away in the swells the previous day.  Black-capped Petrels were seen each day with a few more individuals seen on Sunday.  Saturday we had two small, young Pomarine Jaegers with a larger, more typical individual seen on Sunday.  Sunday morning, Brian had a report of two tropicbirds from a charter boat captain near where we were headed, so our hopes were high for an encounter.  At 0927 we found two White-tailed Tropicbirds (well, they found us!), and that was just the beginning of an epic summer day!  A flock of shearwaters was spotted on the horizon in about 500 fathoms, so we headed in that direction and a light morph Trindade Petrel flew in to check us out at 0948!  We decided to try our luck there, sitting on the slick and putting out some more chum.  We waited less than 30 minutes before an intermediate morph Trindade Petrel flew in to the slick at 1012!  A cetacean blow was seen ahead of us, so Brian turned towards it seeing the diagnostic Sperm Whale blow.  The 40’ animal allowed us a very close approach and even pushed its’ head out of the water on one occasion and showed a tail fluke as well.  One of our passengers spotted a South Polar Skua flying in to the boat soon after leaving the Sperm Whale.  It came in and landed on the water, so everyone had nice looks at the only individual seen over the weekend.  The next hour or so was a bit slow for birds, so it was nice to have a small group of Atlantic Short-finned Pilot Whales come in to the boat!  At 1320 another White-tailed Tropicbird flew in!  This individual had a much longer tail than the two we saw in the morning and it spent much more time with us, buzzing passengers in the pulpit and getting too close for many of those with cameras to photograph!  At one point it splashed down to the water and picked up some food from the slick, or from a patch of grass, and flew back up into the air.  As we watched, our jaws dropped as a Black-capped Petrel flew up above the tropicbird and drove it down to the water!  This chase ensued for minutes with both birds flying up quite high in the air with the petrel in pursuit of the tropicbird, attempting again and again to drive the tropicbird down to the water!  Thirty minutes later, another White-tailed Tropicbird flew in behind the boat.  Photo analysis shows that this was yet another individual!  It flew off to join another White-tailed Tropicbird in the distance.  Since we cannot know for sure that this fifth sighting was a new individual, our total for the day was 4 to 5.  Overall, an amazing summer weekend!  (Pictured below ~ Black-capped Petrel pursues White-tailed Tropicbird in the distance; close Sperm Whale)         

Monday July 11, 2011 ~ A family booked us for a private birding charter today, so our first trip of the summer was a little bit ahead of our regular schedule.  We did not leave the dock until a little after 0700, but even with light winds from the East, it was still a surprise when one of the first birds of the day was a South Polar Skua that came right in to the boat for a nice pass!  The morning continued with Cory’s, Great, and Audubon’s Shearwaters and a few fleeting glimpses of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels.  At 1023 Brian spotted a white bird taking off from the water mid distance on the starboard side, as it gained altitude, it was easily identified as a Red-billed Tropicbird!  Less than an hour later we started picking up more Wilson’s Storm-Petrels in our fish oil slick and finally found the first Band-rumped Storm-Petrel of the day a little after 1100 and we had some close views over the next two hours.  A large, dark bird was spotted just after 1330 flying and as we approached to see it was a South Polar Skua, another was seen on the water, feeding.  We pulled up to the feeding bird to see its’ prey was a freshly killed Black-capped Petrel with feathers all over the water.  This is the first time this has been seen on one of our trips, of all the perils the Black-capped Petrel faces and the knowledge we have about how tough life offshore can be, it was still sad to see.  We rounded out the day with a few Mahi mahi we caught along a grass line back inshore.  A nice pod of Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins visited us midday with one individual that spy hopped in front of the boat for almost 30 minutes!