Travis hits the open ocean

Last weekend some of the Nemesis Bird crew was heading down to southern NJ for some fall birding and to go on the overnight trip run by See Life Paulagics. We thought it would be a fun idea to bring Travis along with us since there were a couple pelagic species missing from his Big Year list.

Our boat left from Wildwood Crest at 10pm so there was not too much birding to be done on the way out to deeper water. We did pick up some night-herons but the most notable sighting of the night was the launch of  a five-stage Minotaur V rocket from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Perched atop the rocket was NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), the first lunar launch from Wallops. We ended up perfectly situated to see the rocket launch in the distance and travel straight over us while going through several stages and leaving a huge contrail. After that it was nap time, as we only had about 4.5 hours of sleep until we would start laying out a thick chum slick to try to pull in storm-petrels early in the morning.

I slept like a baby due to the soft rocking of the boat on the calm water and was up with Travis, ready for the birds, before it was even close to getting light. That was fine because the chum was already bringing in some neat squid to the boat and, as with any respectable pelagic, there was caffeine readily available. Eventually, there was a tiny bit of light coming over the horizon, enough that dedicated scanning would bring up some distantly darting storm-petrels. Most of them were assumed to be Wilson’s Storm-Petrels but as the sun came up we picked out some Leach’s nighthawking their way across the waves and 1 or 2 Band-rumped Storm-Petrels flying fast and straight.

Storm-petrel flock, we only identified Wilson's Storm-Petrels in this flock but they were far from cooperative (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Storm-petrel flock, we were only able to identify Wilson’s Storm-Petrels in this flock but they were far from cooperative (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

 

Throughout the day we had numerous Cory’s and Audubon’s Shearwaters (both new for Travis) that would get up off the water as we approached and sometimes gave us good shows. We were especially excited to be able to pick out a couple of the Mediterranean subspecies of Cory’s Shearwaters Calonectris diomedea diomedea, also known as Scopoli’s Shearwater.

Scopoli's (Cory's) Shearwater  (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Scopoli’s (Cory’s) Shearwater (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

 

We also ran into 5 different Bridled Terns during the trip, another new species for Travis. The first one got us really excited even though it was far up ahead of us and seemed to stay ahead no matter how hard the captain tried to keep up. It was alright though, because eventually we came across several others, including one perched on some floating debris. We had excellent views of this bird as it refused to leave its perch even when we drift right past.

 

immature Bridled Tern (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

immature Bridled Tern (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

 

Bridled Tern (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Bridled Tern floating on debris (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

A fun part of this trip was nailing the jaeger trifecta, with great looks at both Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaegers. You can read more about them on Alex’s post. Travis already had all the jaegers from west coast birding but we were able to pick up five new species for his Big Year list.

Notable on this trip were the many cetaceans that we encountered. We ended up getting good looks at four species of dolphin (Risso’s, Striped, Common, and Offshore Bottlenosed Dolphin) and 2 species of whale (Pilot and Cuvier’s Beaked). Many of the whales and dolphins were cooperative and gave us great views. We also ended up seeing some interesting fish such as Mola Mola and Marlin as well as Leatherback and Loggerhead Sea Turtles which looked like trash until we got close enough.

 

Here’s the results by species:

Cory’s Shearwater – 29
Audubon’s Shearwater – 11
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel – 179
Leach’s Storm-Petrel – 3
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel – 1
Least Sandpiper – 2
Red-necked Phalarope – 31
shorebird, sp. – 4
Herring Gull – 2
Great Black-backed Gull – 2
Bridled Tern – 5
Sterna sp. – 1
Pomarine Jaeger – 1
Parasitic Jaeger – 1
Long-tailed Jaeger – 1
jaeger sp. – 1

Cuvier’s Beaked Whale – 9
Pilot Whale – 25
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin – 120
Striped Dolphin – 500
Common Dolphin -

Loggerhead Sea Turtle – 6
Leatherback Sea Turtle – 1
Ocean Sunfish (Mola Mola) – 2
marlin sp. – 2