Saturday, May 31, 2014

Another Lifer

May 24, 2014
Gulf Stream off Hatteras, North Carolina

   Today I was going on my final pelagic trip of the week before we left for Tennessee the next day. This was also my last chance to find my much-desired Fea's Petrel. We left the dock with windy and slightly choppy conditions but nothing like the rough trip on May 21st. Again, we had hardly left Hatteras Inlet before we found our first Sooty Shearwaters of the day. A couple Audubon's Shearwaters flew close to the water's surface, only rising to make brief arcs in the air. A Pomarine Jaegar also trailed behind the boat.

Sooty Shearwater
Pomarine Jaegar

   Black-capped Petrels and Wilson's Storm-Petrels quickly arrived in the wake after the first chum block was tied to the boat. Despite the fact that in the past couple of days Black-capped Petrels made very close passes by the boat, I was unable to get a decent photo of one due to their unbelievable swiftness. But today I was happy to finally manage a good (well, in my opinion) photo.

Black-capped Petrel

Wilson's Storm-Petrels

   You don't just see tubenoses on these pelagic trips; there are often dolphins, whales, fish, and more. Today, we were very fortunate to observe Clymene Dolphins and False Killer Whales swimming around the boat. Clymene Dolphins are very rare; in fact, you are more likely to see a Bermuda Petrel than a Clymene Dolphin! False Killer Whales are also somewhat uncommon.

 Cymene Dolphin
False Killer Whale

   After the dolphins left, we were very surprised to find a Red-billed Tropicbird flying away from the boat. The tropicbird was my 306th lifer and my last lifer of the trip.
   Not too long after the tropicbird sighting, a dark morph Trindade Petrel arrived. This bird provided a nice comparison to the also present Sooty Shearwaters.

Not-so-great cropped photo of a dark morph Trindade Petrel.

   Several Audubon's and Cory's Shearwaters made passes by the boat. The Audubon's Shearwaters were the more stuborn of the two, making only brief, distant, and low passes. Cory's Shearwaters are much more cooperative, coming a lot closer to the boat and giving us passengers good looks.

   A couple hours later, a second (or possibly the same) dark morph Trindade Petrel flew by. Then, a light morph Trindade Petrel came in extremely close to the starboard side of the Stormy Petrel II. To wrap up the day, a second (or the same) Red-billed Tropicbird was found, though much more distant than the first.

A second, not-so-great cropped image of a Trindade Petrel. This one is a light morph.

   I really enjoy doing these pelagic trips, mainly because the challenges involved in identifying each species, and because each day brings its own thrills and unique adventures. Next year I'll be helping out as a junior leader/spotter on the Stormy Petrel II, so perhaps that will be a chance to meet some of my readers...??? We'll see!

View the post from our trip on the Seabirding blog here.
View my complete eBird checklist from the trip here.
You can see a folder of photos from my 2014 pelagic trips here.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Second Pelagic Trip

  May 23, 2014
Gulf Stream off Hatteras, North Carolina

   It looked as if today would be a calm, dry trip. At the dock, the ripples were only small - not choppy like just two days before. The Stormy Petrel II's engine roared and we began our ride into the Atlantic Ocean. The first Sooty Shearwater of the trip was spotted just thirteen seconds after leaving the inlet. This was the first of many Sooties still to come.
   About 25 miles out at sea, a chum block was tied to the boat. Wilson's Storm-Petrels, Black-capped Petrels, and Sooty Shearwaters, attracted by the fishy smell, were the first to arrive. Soon, a Pomarine Jaegar harassed the group. Lots of birds were in the slick now including the above birds and a brief, fly-by Cory's Shearwater. (The number of Cory's Shearwaters proved to be very low that day.)

Pomarine Jaeger

   Two days before, a Great Shearwater gave spectacular views to the passengers as it followed the boat throughout the day. Once again, a Great Shearwater tagged along in the slick for most of the day. A Band-rumped Storm-Petrel made an uncooperative appearance with the Wilson's Storm-Petrels around this time as well.
   Hours came and went with nothing new passing by. Suddenly, a light morph Trindade Petrel swooped in. Finally! This bird (my 305th lifer) was found by Dave Shoch (a spotter on the Stormy Petrel II) and gave spectacular views quite close to the boat.
   Thus concluded my second pelagic trip this spring - not as good as the May 21st trip, but still very fun. The highlight of the trip: the Black-capped Petrels. They were the most abundant species seen, aside from the Wilson's Storm-Petrels, and came extremely close to the boat, providing great photography opportunities.
View the post on the Seabirding blog here.
See my complete eBird checklist here.
You can see a folder of photos from my 2014 pelagic trips here.

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Grand-Slam at Sea

May 21, 2014
Gulf Stream off Hatteras, North Carolina

   We got up bright and early on the 21st of May, 2014. My brother, Dad, and I were just about to board the Stormy Petrel II for a day of pelagic birding with "Seabirding" off Hatteras, North Carolina. You could already tell it was going to be a rough ride - the waves were choppy and the wind was strong. I stepped onto the boat, recalling my first ever pelagic trip last summer. On that first trip, everything at sea was a lifer: Cory's Shearwater, Black-capped Petrel, Wilson's and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, Pomarine Jaegar, and Bridled Tern. This time, my second trip on the Stormy Petrel II, my one and only target bird was Fea's Petrel. By then, the engine roared and we were underway.
   It seemed that we had barely left the inlet when we began seeing our first Sooty Shearwaters of the day. The species was my 299th lifer, and I couldn't wait to see what my 300th lifer would be! I love these shearwaters with their dark brown plumages and silver under-wings. They wheel about in wonderful arcs and don't hesitate to ride the wind at full speed! The Cooper's Hawk is often described as looking like a "flying cross" in flight, but it doesn't seem to fit. "Flying cross" is a perfect description of a Sooty Shearwater when it turns its wings vertically in flight.
   As we were driving, an Audubon's Shearwater that had been floating in the wavy water quickly flew from the boat. It looked hilarious running on the water for take-off. This shearwater happened to be my 300th lifer!
   For about two hours we rode far out at sea. A couple of Wilson's Storm-Petrels flew past the boat as well as a single Black-capped Petrel and a Cory's Shearwater. When we got pretty far out, Kate Sutherland, first-mate on the Stormy Petrel II, put chum in a wire cage (like a giant suet cage) and tied it to the boat's rail. Within minutes, more Sooty Shearwaters, Wilson's Storm-Petrels, and Black-capped Petrels arrived. Pomarine Jaegars made a few passes also, one of which was an adult with a cool tail. But still we did not have the desired action, so we moved on.

Cory's Shearwater. This one is a borealis. (Note mostly dark primaries.)

 Above and below, Pomarine Jaegar

Sooty Shearwater

   More Wilson's Storm-Petrels trailed behind the boat plucking food from the slick. Suddenly, a Great Shearwater, lifebird #301, flew over the boat making a grand entry. This same individual followed us the whole day, coming very close to the boat and even landing on the water. Brian Patteson, captain of the Stormy Petrel II, called "Smaller gadfly petrel!" and birders rushed to see the bird. The ID was unknown - the bird was in bad lighting - but it was most likely a Bermuda Petrel or Trindade Petrel. Just seconds later, Kate Sutherland called "Fea's Petrel!" and again, birders rushed to see the Fea's. Only a few of us got on the bird, and unfortunately, I was not among them.

Above, several photos of a Great Shearwater

   Another chum block was thrown into the cage. Then, "European Storm-Petrel!!!" came an excited call from Kate. Now the birders really rushed to see this rare storm-petrel poorly pattering from the wake. The little storm-petrel was uncooperative for the most part, but fortunately everyone on the boat (including me!) got to see him. Wow! How cool! This was my 302nd lifebird. Soon, at least one Leach's Storm-Petrel, lifer #303, joined the other storm-petrels. He made several speedy passes by the boat. The European, Wilson's, and Leach's Storm-Petrels were later joined by a fourth storm-petrel: a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel. The Band-rump came very close to the boat a couple of times, allowing us to see him nicely.

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
   Things seemed to cool down, and then heat up again as Kate called out "Trindade Petrel!" Unfortunately, I didn't get on the Trindade.
    But that was just the beginning. Less than five minutes later, Kate (again!) yelled in an indescribably excited way "Bermuda Petrel!!!" The Bermuda Petrel was very close to the starboard side of the boat. He showed off his dark hood for a few seconds until he flew off into the distance. We birders were all-smiles as we exchanged high-fives after this awesome sighting. Bermuda Petrel was my 304th lifebird.
   The waves were becoming rougher in this part of the gulf stream, so we began the wet ride back to the inlet. We docked early, but that's ok - after all, we basically had a grand-slam pelagic day!

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   Back at our beach house, I was skimming through my pelagic photos and about to delete a pretty poor Sooty Shearwater photo when I noticed a storm-petrel in the corner of the screen. It had white under wings - a European Storm-Petrel!

Can you find the European Storm-Petrel?
Poor photo (cropped image), but two Wilson's Storm-Petrels (left and middle)
with a European Storm-Petrel (right).

See the post from our trip on the "Seabirding" blog here.
View my eBird checklist from the trip here.
You can see a folder of photos from my 2014 pelagic trips here.