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-