Feb. 19, 2005 Hatteras, NC pelagic trip

Seabirds of Note (does not include loons, cormorants, gannets, most gulls, etc.)

Northern Fulmar- 86

Black-capped Petrel- 2 

Manx Shearwater- 2

Red Phalarope- 60

Great Skua- 2

Little Gull- 2 ad.

Iceland Gull- 1 ad.

Black-legged Kittiwake- 3

Dovekie- 4

Razorbill- 612

Atlantic Puffin- 31 (new high for NC)

Other Marine Life of Note

Loggerhead Sea Turtle- 3

Humpback Whale- 2

Common Dolphin- 500+

Bottlenose Dolphin- 30+ (inshore)

I would like to thank everyone who participated in our pelagic trip from Hatteras yesterday, Feb. 19.  It was a pelagic trip in the sense that we did venture out to the deep in search of seabirds, but most of the birds we saw were actually concentrated close to shore in a rather narrow band of cold water.  Our brief foray to "the Point," a submarine canyon over 50 nm northeast of Hatteras Inlet where the water was about 68 degrees Farenheit, did yield a couple of Black-capped Petrels and Manx Shearwaters, as well as a fantastic group of Common Dolphins.  The dolphins were in a dense group several hundred strong and were probably working a big bait ball under the surface, as we recorded some impressive "marks" under the surface with our electronic depth sounder.  There was a good breeze out there in the blue water, and the dolphins put on quite a show surfing down waves, a dozen or so abreast.  This is a species which we seldom see except on our winter trips, as they seem to avoid the Gulf Stream waters here during the warmer months.

Inshore of the Point, there was a broad "dead-zone" spanning several miles as the water became gradually cooler the closer we came to the shore.  We found most of the birdlife concentrated in water with a surface temperature between 40 and 50 degrees.  The birding highlight for many was probably the presence of several Atlantic Puffins, a species which is annual in numbers off the Virginia Capes but often scarce or absent on Hatteras trips.  In contrast to my experience off Virginia, where we usually find them 50 to 65 miles out in over 150 feet of water, all of these birds were in water less than 100 feet deep, and many were within sight of the shore, the last bird being less than 2 nm south of Frisco!  More expected were the many Razorbills seen here- over 300 between the Cape Hatteras lighthouse and Hatteras Inlet!  Dovekies were disappointingly scarce, and all our encounters were rather brief.  A Great Skua put on a good show chasing gulls, albeit rather distantly.  Our efforts to chum it in failed as our gull flock was too well fed to be worked up into a sufficient frenzy, I suppose.  Another skua was later seen briefly in the distance as well.  Fulmars were with us most of the day, and a couple of the scarce dark morph were seen quite well.  Gull highlights included Little and adult Iceland. 

It was a great day to be offshore, or nearshore for that matter, and I would particularly like to thank our spotters, Jamie Cameron (the most decorated newsman in in NC at the recent press awards in Raleigh) and Butch Pearce, who kept the chum going and a sharp lookout astern.  Diane Andre kept careful tally of the birds and other marine life seen.  Captain Spurgeon Stowe got us to the birds and back safely on aboard his magnificent Miss Hatteras, and his son Nelson was most helpful in keeping us supplied with freshly cut chum- menhaden- the bait of choice here, caught just hours before the trip by a local fisherman.- BP

Feb. 26, 2005 Virginia Beach Trip

Northern Fulmar- 136+

Iceland Gull- 1 adult

Black-legged Kittiwake- 2 or 3

Dovekie- 281+

Razorbill- 5! (no, we weren't sleeping)

Atlantic Puffin- 14+

Hundreds of gannets, and many dozens of gulls (GBB and Herring).  Bonaparte's Gulls, which are often present, were missing (but quite common a weeklater, see below)

Marine Mammals-

Common Dolphin- 85+

Sperm Whale- 3

Fin Whale- 3

I would like to thank everyone who participated in last weekend's pelagic trip from Virginia Beach aboard the Nancy Anne.  We had ideal weather for a long run offshore, which was what we needed to find the birds.  In sharp contrast to our Hatteras pelagic a week prior, where most of the seabird action was within sight of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, we saw almost no pelagic seabirds of note until we reached the Norfolk Canyon, over 60 miles offshore.  We did, however, enjoy the company of many gannets along the way.  They put on a great show diving astern for some of the 200 pounds of menhaden we took for chum.

When we reached the canyon, our gulls and gannets were joined by dozens of Northern Fulmars.  We saw several more puffins rather well, but we struggled to get good looks at Dovekies, which came whizzing by the boat in increasing numbers, but had little interest in spending much time on the water until about 2:00 P.M.  Up to that point, we had seen around 250 Dovekies, which were all on the wing.  Fortunately, they started to settle down a bit before we got too far inshore, and we did enjoy some nice views of them resting on the water.  As usual, many folks were surprised as to just how tiny these birds are. 

It was a good day for cetaceans.  Before we left the canyon, we came upon three Sperm Whales, and enjoyed some nice long looks at them including their flukes.  Common Dolphin were widely distributed in the deep water, and we also saw a small group bow-riding some fast moving Fin Whales about ten miles inshore of the canyon.

Great Skua was nowhere to be found, but we did enjoy nice looks at an adult Iceland Gull far offshore, as well as both adult and immature kittiwakes.  It is not unusual for kittiwakes to be very scarce in late February, so we were lucky to have them so close to the boat.  What was surprisingly scarce were Razorbills.  We all looked hard all day long, including the hours coming and going, and we only saw one small flock all day.  A week prior, I had counted over 300 in an hourís time between the Cape Hatteras lighthouse and Hatteras Inlet.  Puffins, which were all found in less than 100 feet of water off Hatteras a week ago, were not seen until we reached 150 feet of water off Va. Beach- over 50 miles out!

I would like to thank Butch Pearce for chumming all day long, and George Wheaton for helping me with all of the numbers from the bow.  As usual, the crew of the Nancy Anne, her skipper Kevin Seldon, and deckhand Kyle, did a super job. -BP

March 5, 2005 Virginia Beach Trip

Northern Fulmar- 34

Little Gull- 2 adults

Black-legged Kittiwake- 4 (all tarrocks)

Dovekie- 10

Razorbill- 44

large alcid sp. (what DuMont would call an auk-murre)- 2

Atlantic Puffin- 5

We also saw good numbers of Common Loon, Northern Gannet, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, and Bonapartes Gull, as well as at least two Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Marine Mammals-

Atlantic White-sided Dolphin- 14

Common Dolphin-110

Fin Whale- 9+

Our March 5 trip aboard the Nancy Anne started with partly cloudy skies, light westerly winds, and air temperatures in the mid 40's.  By the afternoon, rain showers had turned to snow showers and the temperatures were in the mid 30's with a brisk north wind.  Our best birding was at our farther spot offshore, naturally, where hundreds of Bonapartes Gulls fed around a group of Fin Whales.  Alcids were hard to spot on account of the choppy conditions. -BP