March 5, 2006 Hatteras Trip Report and Bird List 

We ran our first trip from Hatteras aboard the Stormy Petrel on Sunday, March 5.  We had hoped for better weather after canceling the trip for Saturday, but after a brief calm spell Saturday evening, it breezed up again during the night, so that by morning, winds were 20 to 25 knots from the north.  Several local charter boats were heading out to the Gulf Stream for fishing though on Sunday morning, so we decided to give it a shot. 

There was a bit of a sea, but it was not a bad ride in the trough heading out toward Diamond Shoals Tower, about 25 miles east of Hatteras Inlet.  We had run up to Cape Point, hoping to entrain some gulls and gannets in our chum line, but that area was devoid of life.  We began to see some activity just outside the tower in 30 to 40 fathoms.  There we found a sharp blue-green color change at the Gulf Stream edge.  Surprisingly though, there weren’t really any pelagic birds there- just gulls and gannets.  I figured we could at least find some Black-capped Petrels a little farther out into the Gulf Stream.  On rough days, they are often fairly close to the edge, so I figured we wouldn’t have to go far.  As it turned out we did not go far, but we did not see any Black-caps either.  Just a short distance beyond the change, we found three knots of current running into the sea at an odd angle making for a big, somewhat confused sea.  I decided to return to the change where conditions were much better.  

Back on the change, we found a fair number of gulls.  Our chumming attracted two ICELAND GULLS- a first winter and adult- as well as an adult CALIFORNIA GULL, and several LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS.  Although we saw many Bonaparte’s Gulls, we did not find any Little Gulls.  Little Gulls are frequently seen offshore here, so that was a bit surprising.  After following the change for a while we started to see RED PHALAROPES in good numbers, and we also found some other interesting marine life, which included several LOGGERHEAD SEA TURTLES, a very large OCEAN SUNFISH, and a MANTA RAY.  On the way home we encountered many Northern Gannets resting on the water, which were consistently robbed by our entourage of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, which we had attracted with the chum.  The gulls were very effective kleptoparasites, and I kept hoping to see a skua, but it never happened.  We have seen up to three Great Skuas in a day here as late as March 3, so it did not seem out of the question.  Skuas are like a lot of other seabirds though, in being unpredictable in their occurrence from year to year.  Some years they may be found on every winter trip, and other years, they are strikingly absent. 

Alcids were also strikingly absent.  Even Razorbills, which sometimes linger around Cape Hatteras until April just did not come very far south this year, and puffins, which are quite regular off Virginia Beach most winters, were decidedly scarce on our two trips to the Norfolk Canyon last month. 

It was still great to get offshore though, and to see how comfortable the Stormy Petrel was in less than ideal conditions.  Our leaders did an excellent job as usual.  They were Jamie Cameron, Butch Pearce, and Kate Sutherland.  Ford Journigan was again our deckhand, and he worked hard on the chum.  I thank our participants for making the trip happen.


Birds of Note- 

Manx/Audubon’s Shearwater- 1

Northern Gannet- a few hundred

Red Phalarope- 208+  (hard to count b/c they kept flying ahead)

Laughing Gull- 2

Bonaparte’s Gull- several hundred

California Gull- 1

Herring Gull- n/c

Iceland Gull- 2

Lesser Black-backed Gull- 10

Great Black-backed Gull- n/c


Other Marine Life- 

Scalloped Hammerhead- 5 or 6

Manta Ray- 1

Ocean Sunfish- 2

Loggerhead Turtle- 17

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin- 6

Bottlenose Dolphin- 120 (inshore type) 

Other trips in early to mid March have found Northern Fulmar (over 500 in a day), Manx Shearwater (dozens), Great Skua (three in a day), Razorbill (over 200 in a day), Humpback Whale, Common Dolphin, and Harbor Porpoise.  So far, we have only ever run four trips off Hatteras in March, so there still much to be learned about the birding at this time. 

Trip participant (and sometimes leader) Jeff Pippen has posted some photos from the trip on his website-


Brian Patteson

Hatteras, NC