Feb. 18, 2006 Trip Report and Bird List by Brian Patteson

We were able to run our second pelagic birding trip of 2006
from Virginia Beach, VA on Saturday, Feb. 18.  Twenty-two intrepid souls
joined leaders Ned Brinkley and Butch Pearce, deckhand Ford Journigan
and myself aboard the Stormy Petrel for yet another winter trip to the
Norfolk Canyon, some 65 miles off Cape Henry.

We departed Lynnhaven Inlet in the darkness at 0530, and, as as is often
the case off the Va. Capes, we did not see any birds of note until we
were over 40 miles offshore.  Along the way, we had been lucky enough to
have a RAZORBILL tag along for about five minutes, crossing the bow
repeatedly at ridiculously close range.  About 50 miles out, we found a
few gannets and a few hundred Bonaparte's Gulls in the same general area
where we had seen them the previous Saturday.  Just as I was about to
slow the boat down for the Boneys, a fast flying tubenose caught my
attention.  Incredibly enough, it was a BLACK-CAPPED PETREL, a most
unexpected species over the 47 degree water there.  Black-caps usually
inhabit the Gulf Stream exclusively, and the Gulf Stream was about 60 to
70 miles southeast of our position.  To put the record into context, it
was only my second sighting of a Black-capped Petrel in perhaps 70
pelagic trips off Virginia Beach since 1986.

A careful inspection of the Bonaparte's Gulls revealed a couple of
LITTLE GULLS- an adult and a first winter bird.  Though the young bird
gave us the slip, the adult lingered in the area for good views.  We
also saw a few Razorbills in the vicinity, but unlike the week before,
we could not turn up any murres.  After about 40 minutes of searching,
we picked up speed again, and I set a course for the tip of the canyon,
hoping to find some puffins along the way.  We had not been underway
very long when a DOVEKIE buzzed by in front of us.  Unfortunately, we
did not find any more of its kind on our way to the Norfolk.

We had a fair number of gulls and gannets follow us to the canyon, but
they failed to attract any really pelagic seabirds.  Nor were there any
fishing trawlers to be found.  In past years, we have often seen skuas
around trawlers in about 40 fathoms.  Starting around 1030, we cruised
down the north wall of the canyon, and after over an hour- just before I
was going to cut across to deep water- we found an adult ATLANTIC
PUFFIN, which we observed quite closely.  In the past, it has sometimes
been possible to find 20 or more puffins here in short order.  We
actually had decent conditions for seeing them, not optimum for sure,
but the puffins were obviously not much in attendance this day.  Around
noon we were over the mouth of the canyon in 500+ fathoms (1000 meters;
3000 feet) where I hoped to find a SPERM WHALE, if nothing else.
Amazingly enough, the Sperm Whale materialized, as if on cue, a couple
of hundred feet from the boat.  The animal was just logging on the
surface for several minutes, and we drifted up quite close to it, so
close in fact, that I expected someone to get doused with whale snot.
It finally got into action and fluked up, headed down on a deep dive,
perhaps all the way to the bottom, if it were so inclined.

We were about 70 miles off Cape Henry when the Sperm Whale left us, and
most of the bird life that we had seen was 40 to 60 miles out, so we
headed back "inshore."  We hadn't gone too far when it began to breeze
up with snow, sleet, and rain.  We did run across one more puffin and
Dovekie on the way back, but the big flocks of Boneys were nowhere to be
found.  Inside 50 miles, the weather moderated a bit, but we saw nothing
new for the day.  We arrived back at the dock almost exactly 12 hours
after we had left, not a bad time for the amount of ocean we had

It had been a rather dull day for pelagic birding, but the Black-capped
Petrel- a first winter record for Virginia- will always be remembered,
and some participants had their first encounters with a number of new
species on the trip.  We know that there are Dovekies a couple of
hundred miles or the north, but where the fulmars are this winter
remains a mystery.

Most of the day was cloudy and cool, with air and water temps in the
40's.  The water off Cape Henry was 44 and at the canyon it was 49.
Some years it is 55 or 60 at the canyon. Winds started out northeast at
10 knots, and increased to 15 to 20 out of the northwest during the

Bob Wallace, who stayed most of the day on the bow w/ Ned, got some
photos to document the trip, and has shared them on the web-

The bird and mammal list for Feb. 18:

Common Loon- several, but not nearly as many as Feb. 11, when early morning seas were very smooth

Black-capped Petrel- one (first winter record f/ VA)

Northern Gannet- low numbers offshore

Little Gull- 2 (1 ad. , 1 first winter)

Bonaparte's Gull- hundreds

Herring Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull- 3

Great Black-backed Gull

Dovekie- 2

Razorbill- 52 (111 last week)

Atlantic Puffin- 2 (low)

Fin Whale- 1

Balaenoptera sp.- 1

Sperm Whale- 1

Common Dolphin- 57