Feb. 11, 2006 Trip Report and Bird List

We ran a very enjoyable pelagic trip from Virginia Beach, VA on
Saturday, Feb. 11, 2006 aboard our boat, the Stormy Petrel.  It was actually our first
trip on the new boat, and my first opportunity to run a winter trip
myself, after having organized and led over 50 chartered birding trips
in the winter between Ocean City, MD and Hatteras, NC over the last 18
years.  The marine forecast showed quite a bit of ambiguity, but with no
wind or rain yet at 0530, we decided to give it a shot.

As is often the case off the Virginia Capes, we had to run many miles
before we saw any real seabirds of note.  In contrast to the Cape
Hatteras area, where Razorbills can frequently be seen in numbers from
shore, the waters right off the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay are
generally loon territory with few alcids.   We often do not see
Razorbills in any numbers until we are 25 to 30 miles off Cape Henry.
Such was the case on Saturday, but we did find good numbers of
Razorbills upon getting there, and they were easy to spot under calm
cloudy conditions.  The first large alcid that we saw really well was
actually a THICK-BILLED MURRE about 25 miles out.

About 40 to 50 miles out, we found some nice feeding flocks of Bonaparte
's Gulls, and these were accompanied by several Razorbills and one
COMMON MURRE, the latter of which unfortunately took flight as we
approached and could not be relocated.  We were able to find two LITTLE
GULLS in this area, as well as one or two Manx Shearwaters, and a single
puffin was also seen flying by.  There were at least three medium sized
baleen whales seen briefly in this area, which may have been Fin Whales,
but they were spending most of their time underwater, and we did not
give them much of a look.  I saw quite a few big "marks" on my depth
finder here, so there was obviously a lot of bait of some sort which had
attracted the birds and whales to this area.  We were still about 20
miles or so from the shelf break and the Norfolk Canyon though, and not
knowing when the weather would change, I decided to keep steaming to the
canyon so we would have at least a little time there.

On the way to the canyon, I located a fishing trawler with my radar, so
we ended up steaming a bit north of the canyon in order to reach it.
Before we reached the trawler, I just about ran by an Atlantic Puffin,
but I quickly throttled down, and backed up to the bird so that everyone
got great looks.  Before we got underway again, we were maybe 20 feet
from the puffin!  Shortly thereafter, we closed in on the dragger,
slowed down to chum, and we finally began to gather some gannets and
Herring Gulls to the boat.  We drifted there for about a half hour,
hoping to lure in some real pelagics, but to no avail.  I then made a
quick transit of the canyon, which was basically a dead ocean except for
the gulls and gannets, which had come to our chum and followed us for
many miles.

I had allotted a little time on the way back to spend where we had seen
the whales and birds in the morning, but naturally three hours later
these waters were barren.  Though rain hampered our visibility somewhat,
and the seas were now choppy with 15 knots or so of easterly wind, we
did see a few Razorbills on the way back.  The biggest surprise of the
day, however, was an immature PARASITIC JAEGER, which came in to join
our gull flock about 30 miles offshore.  It was my first ever for a
February trip.

We arrived back to the dock inside Lynnhaven Inlet almost exactly 12
hours after leaving there.  In past years, many of our canyon trips had
taken 13 or 14 hours to complete.  Just being able to run three or four
knots faster makes a big difference in time on a long run offshore.  It
had been a great day, with excellent looks at nearly all of the birds we
saw.  I am a bit surprised that we did not see any Dovekies with such
large numbers seen south of New York the same day (over 1600!)  Perhaps
they will be here for our next trip on Feb. 18 or 19.

Our Feb. 18 (19) pelagic trip from Va. Beach is full, but if we get
enough registrants, we will run another trip there on Feb. 25 or 26.  We
are planning to run a trip from Hatteras on March 4 or 5, and we still
have space for more participants on that one too.  Generally, Hatteras
trips have been more consistent for Great Skuas and Red Phalaropes over
the years and Va. Beach trips have been better for numbers of Dovekies
and puffins, but each year is different.  It is important to remember
that these birds travel thousands of miles at sea, so there will always
be a quite a bit of uncertainty when trying to predict their arrivals
and departures (if at all) in our waters.

The bird list and cetacean list for Feb. 11, 2006

Common Loon- 220+
Red-throated Loon- 6
Northern Fulmar- 0 (none off NY same day either)
Manx Shearwater- 1 or 2
Northern Gannet- 400+
Red Phalarope- 0 (water probably too cold)
Great Skua- 0
Parasitic Jaeger- 1
Bonaparte's Gull- 250+
Herring Gull- less than 100
Great Black-backed Gull- 10
Dovekie- 0 (on the way?)
COMMON MURRE- 1 (more to come?)
Razorbill- 111
Auk-murre sp.- 3
Atlantic Puffin- 2

Balaenoptera sp- 3
Common Dolphin- 52+

I would like to thank Ned Brinkley and Butch Pearce for helping to spot,
identify, and chum birds on Saturday's trip.  Thanks also to my
deckhand, Ford Journigan for helping to chum and for keeping everyone

Brian Patteson