March 18, 2006 Trip Report and Bird List

We were able to run our second March trip this year on the Stormy Petrel this past Saturday.  It was actually only our fifth pelagic birding trip ever in March from Hatteras, so it is obvious that we are only scratching the surface in learning about the seabirds here at this time of year.  Thanks to the unflagging efforts of Nate Bacheler, we had an intrepid group of nearly twenty aboard, many of them young marine biologists.  Once again, we left the marina with 20 or more knots of north wind blowing, but so did many other charter boats. 

It was actually not that bad.  We ran out to the east in the trough toward Diamond Tower, but the water was much warmer inshore than it had been two weeks ago, and it was blended such that we did not cross a sharp change on our way out to the Gulf Stream.  Mercifully, the “hard current” of the Gulf Stream was well offshore, so we were able to explore the warm 70 degree water near the shelf break rather comfortably, though those who were seasick might argue that point.  

Compared to our trip here two weeks ago, this one was much better for pelagic seabirds.  We quickly found BLACK-CAPPED PETREL in the blue water, and before we reached the shelf break we found an amazing aggregation of 25 or 30 MANX SHEARWATERS feeding on baitfish.  We also found a SOOTY SHEARWATER there.  We released a small GREEN SEA TURTLE here, which we had been given by Christian Guererri of the NC Aquarium.  Out farther near the shelf break, the water cooled off a little bit and changed color.  It was not as productive in this dirtier water so we headed offshore until the water cleaned up and warmed up again.  We found the current edge in 500 fathoms, but there was no life there, so we headed back inshore.  We saw plenty of MANX SHEARWATERS again in about 30 to 40 fathoms, but that was about it. 

I knew by looking at the satellite photo there had been a sharp change inshore, so we headed that way.  We found the change about seven miles off Cape Hatteras, and the water went from about 64.5 degrees down to 57.5.  We promptly found some RED PHALAROPES on this break, as well as several LOGGERHEAD TURTLES and an OCEAN SUNFISH.  We followed the change for a few miles and tallied several hundred phalaropes.  By then it was way past time to go, so we headed for home. 

Birds of Note-

Common Loon- 3

Black-capped Petrel- 8+

Sooty Shearwater- 1

Manx Shearwater- hard to keep track of- 60+, possibly 100

Audubon’s Shearwater- 3

B/W Shearwater- 15+

Red Phalarope- 670

Northern Gannet- less than 200

Bonaparte’s Gull- 275

Herring Gull- n/c

Great Black-backed Gull- n/c


Other Marine Life- 

False Albacore- many seen, one caught

Ocean Sunfish- 1

Loggerhead Turtle- 9

Turtle sp.- 1

Bottlenose Dolphin- 12-13 offshore type; 4+ inshore type 

Thanks all of our participants for making this trip possible, especially Nate Bacheler for his recruitment.  Kate Sutherland assisted in spotting and kept tally, and Butch Pearce and Ford Journigan kept the chum going.

Brian Patteson 

Hatteras, NC