Our trips from Oregon Inlet, NC over Labor Day Weekend were blessed with beautiful weather for the second year in a row, but this year we were somewhat cursed by the fact that the Gulf Stream was running eastward way south of Cape Hatteras rather than making that bend off Oregon Inlet as it usually does. Nevertheless, we did find a few Black-capped Petrels (very few, but better than missing them altogether like our trip on August 15). We also saw a lot of terns, mostly Black Terns, but we saw nearly a hundred Bridleds on September 5 as we followed a color/temperature change with Sargasso weed for several miles. What was really odd about that day was that the blue water (a spin-off from the current rather than the Gulf Stream proper) was on the NORTH side of the change! The calm conditions allowed us to find many phalaropes each day, but despite the large numbers they were all Red-neckeds, with not a single Red among them. A beautiful young pale Long-tailed Jaeger was a highlight of Sundays trip. A Peregrine also dazzled us that day as it chased phalaropes and terns close to the boat. We saw Bottlenose Dolphins and Pilot Whales each day, but the real stars were the Sperm Whales on Saturdays trip, one of them within a few feet of the boat. A first for me on these trips was a small Green Turtle that we saw on September 5.
On Sunday, September 13, we ran a very successful pelagic trip from Virginia Beach , VA (Lynnhaven Inlet) aboard the Nancy Anne with Captain Kevin Seldon. It turned out to be one of our best Virginia Beach trips ever with beautiful weather and a great diversity of birds. After having had to cancel our June trip in Virginia Beach due to lack of interest, it was a pleasant change to have a full boat (with many on the waiting list) for September. We were fortunate to have had some Gulf Stream water located over the edge of the continental shelf just south of the Norfolk Canyon that day, but Kevin deserves a lot of credit for being willing to spend a lot of time in that water. As a result we saw our best bird of the trip around 80 miles east of Lynnhaven Inlet in about 1000 fathoms (over a mile deep!) of water. That bird was a juvenile Sabines Gull, and it was a new Virginia bird for everyone on the boat except Ned Brinkley and myself, and a lifer for many. Interestingly, we found this bird sitting on the water, and I thought it might never fly and show us its signature wing pattern, but it finally did. Having seen the Sabines, as well as 28 Bridled Terns and a close juv. Long-tailed Jaeger, no one seemed to mind the six hour boat ride back! Heck, we got back to Cape Henry before dark, in time to see our third species of jaeger for the day, a Parasitic, beating up the terns in front of the lighthouses!
Fortunately for us, the Gulf Stream was getting closer to its normal position off the Outer Banks by September 14, so when we returned to Oregon Inlet that day to take out a party from the National Audubon Societys Board of Directors meeting, we had no problem finding dozens of Black-capped Petrels. We also found large concentrations of Corys Shearwater and many Audubons Shearwaters. But despite seeing at least 500 Corys, we did not see a single Greater Shearwater. The day before, about 100 miles to the north, off Virginia Beach, we had seen only twenty Corys, but also ten Greaters. Black Terns were still in good numbers, but 13 Bridleds was a pretty low count for mid September. We also saw just a few jaegers and most of them kept their distance from the boat. A young Herring Gull, on the other hand, did quite the opposite. It landed on the bow of the Country Girl, and after riding for several minutes, regurgitated everything that people had fed him onto the bow. The captain said that he must have gotten seasick!
Birds and Cetaceans- September 5/ 6/ 13(VB)/ 14
Pied-billed Grebe- 4 well offshore on 9/5!
Great Blue Heron- 1 well offshore on 9/14
Black-capped Petrel- 2/ 4/ 0/ 66 (not expected off Va. Beach)
Corys Shearwater- 126/ 190/ 19/ 501
Greater Shearwater- 2/ 2/ 10/ 0
Audubons Shearwater- 22/ 79/ 3/ 92
Leachs Storm-Petrel- 1 seen briefly on 9/13
Wilsons Storm-Petrel- 20/ 77/ 46/ 60
Northern Gannet- 1 on 9/13
Red-necked Phalarope-177/ 192/ 11+/ 35
Pomarine Jaeger- 0/ 3/ 1/ 0
Parasitic Jaeger- 1/ 0/ 1/ 1
Long-tailed Jaeger- 1/ 1/ 1/ 0
jaeger sp.- 2/ 3/ 0/ 2
Herring Gull- 1/ 0/ 4/ 1 (offshore)
Laughing Gull- 0/ 0/ 1/ 3 (offshore)
Royal Tern- 0/ 0/ 0/ 2
Common Tern- 100/ 19/ 26+/ 15
Arctic Tern- 1/ 0/ 0/ 0
Bridled Tern- 91+/ 24/ 28/ 13
Sooty Tern- 3/ 0/ 0/ 0
Black Tern- 250+/ 208/ 37+/ 108
Peregrine Falcon- 1 on 9/6
Merlin- 1 on 9/13
Eastern Kingbird- 0/ 1/ 1/ 0
Marsh Wren- 1 on 9/13 landed on the boat!
American Redstart- 2 on 9/5
Connecticut Warbler- 1 on 9/13 wasnt very interested in the boat!
warbler sp.- 2 on 9/5
Bottlenose Dolphin- 25/ 15+/ 2/ 20
Pilot Whale- 20/ 89+/ 47+/ 0
Cuviers Beaked Whale- 1 on 9/14
Sperm Whale- 2 or 3 on 9/5
Overall, I thought that the Oregon Inlet, NC trips were kind of disappointing, but a lot of that had to do with the absence of the Gulf Stream on the first two trips. Over the years, we have seen a number of rarities off the Outer Banks in September including both Trinidade (Herald) and Feas Petrels, White-tailed and Red-billed Tropicbirds, Masked and Brown Boobies, and Sabines Gull, the latter on several occasions. Nevertheless, we did have some great weather and enjoyed some good times with the birds and the birders on all four trips.