September 15, 2007  Trip Report


We managed to slip in a pelagic trip from Hatteras on Saturday, Sept. 15
just as the cold front was arriving, and it was a great day to be out.
There was still a bit of swell from the south, so we left a little later
than usual, but we had a decent ride out to the Gulf Stream where a
moderate amount of current made for better conditions.

Along the Gulf Stream edge we were greeted by Sooty and Bridled Terns,
including the dark colored juvenile Sooties, which were still calling,
begging for food from their parents. Although we did catch a few
dolphin (mahi mahi) and a sailfish here, there was little else to
recommend staying at edge, so we continued steadily on a our way hoping
to make up for the late start. In about 1000 feet of water, we began to
see Black-capped Petrels, one of which was avidly pursued by a Parasitic
Jaeger. About the same time, the wind began to freshen from the north
and we soon saw Black-caps popping up all over the horizon ahead of us,
as far as we could see with our binoculars.

These seemed like ideal conditions for the menhaden oil to work its
magic, so we applied a copious amount of this sweet smelling stuff (at
least to me, and apparently to a tubenose) to the ocean's surface. We
soon had a steady procession of Black-capped Petrels passing close by,
and some Wilson's Storm-Petrels also found the scent in short order.
There were a few rain squalls around us, and this seemed to concentrate
the birds, which apparently avoid getting wet if at all possible. In
between these squalls, the sunlight on the birds was stunning, and this
made for a particularly memorable encounter. Though I've seen
Black-capped Petrels on hundreds of offshore trips, this day reminded me
what an awesome experience it was to be out there in the heart of their
range and to observe their aerial majesty. It also made me think that
anyone who has the means to get out and see the Black-capped Petrel and
has not yet done it should definitely do it. They are truly amazing
birds when seen in their element.

We followed the Black-caps out toward the horizon, and after a while
they seemed to settle down. At one point we startled a flock of nearly
30 birds from the water. Just because there is a breeze doesn't mean
these birds will stay in the air indefinitely. Anyhow, the sea was
getting a bit choppier, but it was still a decent ride even though the
wind was now blowing against the current. We saw a couple of more
jaegers: a Long-tailed and a Pomarine, which were interacting with the
Black-caps, meaning they were also pursued by the latter, which actually
happens quite a bit.

I was hoping maybe we would find a tropicbird out in the deep, but we
had no such luck. We did, however, have a rare encounter with another
denizen of the Gulf Stream. We hooked a small Blue Marlin. When I say
small, I mean as far as Blue Marlin go; this one was about one hundred
pounds. We actually reeled the fish to the boat in just a few minutes,
and after my mate grabbed the leader the fish took off jumping. Not
wanting to fight it any longer than necessary, we put some pressure on
it and soon had the leader again, this time releasing it. What I didn't
know at the time, and what I found to be amazing was that this fish was
possibly not much more than a year old!

As we worked back inshore from maybe 2500 feet of water, we found the
Black-capped Petrels to be fairly active again, and we had a quick look
at a Sabine's Gull, as it flew by at an incredibly high rate of speed.
We picked up our speed around the edge of the continental shelf and we
had a somewhat bumpy ride home as the north wind started coming on in
earnest. But great thing about Hatteras is that it is only about 25
miles in from the break, and you are heading toward a lee shore on a
north wind, so it does get better as you go!

We finished the day with a good variety of bird species, some fresh fish
for dinner, and having seen two spectacular billfish that many people
never get to see in life- a sailfish and a blue marlin. We also had a
nice encounter with some bow-riding Bottlenose Dolphin- the big offshore
type, though one was a just a tiny calf. All in all a great day- cool
temperatures, lots of action for most of the day, and some nice waves-
just rough enough to be fun and to put the birds into high gear.

We are hoping to run a trip here on September 22 or 23, but we don't yet
have enough people to do it. This is a great time to go. The terns
(Bridled and Sooty) should still be around, and it's a good time to see
jaegers, especially if the wind persists from the north and east this
week. Black-capped Petrels might not be as numerous, but they should be
around. Sabine's Gull is rare here, but we have seen up to three in a
day off Cape Hatteras in mid to late September. We have also seen
tropicbirds at this time, as well as Masked Booby, and Fea's and
Trindade Petrels. Bermuda Petrel could occur as well. Motel rates are
lower, and it's also a good time to camp out. The cost of the trip is
$135/person. If we get ten people signed up, we will run it.

To make a reservation, send an e-mail to brian@patteson. com or call
(252) 986-1363. More information about our trips is online at
http://www.seabirdi We also have trips planned for October,
November, and December, and we have some weekends available for private
charters for birding, fishing, photography, or a combination of these
activities. All of our Hatteras trips are run on our own 61' USCG
inspected vessel, "Stormy Petrel II." She is an ideal boat for these
trips and has a full walk-around layout with lots of space forward and
high rails all around. By running these trips ourselves, we are able
limit the number of passengers and provide an experience of higher
quality than was sometimes previously possible on chartered trips. If
you have not been out with us in the last two years, please come out and
see what I mean.

The bird list f/ Sept. 15:

Black-capped Petrel:- 146
Pterodroma sp.- 2
Cory's Shearwater- 8
Audubon's Shearwater- 5
Wilson's Storm-Petrel- 29
Red-necked Phalarope- 1
phalarope sp.- 1
Sabine's Gull- 1
Sooty Tern- 7
Bridled Tern- 5
Pomarine Jaeger- 1
Parasitic Jaeger- 1
Long-tailed Jaeger- 1
jaeger sp- 1

The shearwaters were scarce on this trip, but that could change over the
next few days. I also saw larger numbers of terns on Sept. 12 when I
spent most of the day fishing along the current edge.

I would like to thank Jerry, Doug, and Becky from the NC Museum of
Natural Sciences for gathering the core group for the Sept. 15 trip, and
my crew, Dave Shoch and Brian King, for helping w/ the birds and fishes.
Kate Sutherland couldn't make it out on this one, but she has been a key
to our success on trips of the year, and it has been an excellent year.
We've had some great trips and it's nice to finally have enough time to
hammer out a little report about one. We put the hours in during the
Spring and Summer.

Brian Patteson
Hatteras, NC
brian@patteson. com