Monday, May 31, 2010
Another Red Letter Day
Today was day 3 of my 4 days going out on pelagic trips from Hatteras, NC. Yesterday the weather was bright sunshine, 80's with some wind and easy seas. About an hour and a half out of the dock, we found a manx shearwater--a new year bird. I had not seen one back in February when I did my 2 days of pelagics from Hatteras. It is often easier to see the manx then, so I was very pleased to have one show up yesterday.
Unlike day 1, yesterday was not as birdy overall. We did, however, have several long looks at the band-rumped storm-petrel. They were easily the longest, closest views of this bird that I have had over the years. Mostly we saw the common wilson's storm-petrel (top photo above--remember to click on photo to enlarge it). These little guys love to come to the fish oil slick to eat. The photo shows them bouncing around, or pattering as the birders call it, as they feed. The band-rumped is a bit bigger but otherwise has similar markings.
Today was sunny again all day with even less wind and flatter seas. About 8 AM we had the good fortune of having a white-tailed tropicbird fly over the top of the boat. This was not only a new year bird, but also my 17th life bird of the year, thus the red letter day designation. I have gone out of Hatteras, and Manteo, NC close to 15 times in the spring and summer, but never saw a white-tailed before today.
But the tropicbird was not the highlight of the day for most of the birders on the boat. That came around 11 AM when a european storm-petrel was found feeding in with the wilson's. This bird was 1st documented off of Hatteras about 5 years ago, and now I believe that every year about this time at least 1 has been seen on these trips. This was a life bird for almost all of the birders, but not for me since I saw my first one 2 years ago.
The bird stayed around for over 30 minutes which gave all the photogs lots of good shots. I did not even try to get one because my camera is very poor at singling out a small bird on a rocking boat, and while the bird was around a long time, it never was close enough to the boat for my camera. The bird looks even more like the Wilson's than the band-rumped does, but once you get some time studying it you pick up on the differences (slightly smaller size, wing shape and beat, flight speed, and coloration).
The not so good news for today was that other than the 2 very rare birds, and the wilson's, we saw very few other birds. Sometimes pelagic birding is like that. But unlike land birding where you can decide to pack it in for the day, you are at least 2 hours from the dock here at Hatteras, so you keep putting out fish oil in hopes of attracting some more birds to look at. The long 2+ hours ride back into the dock is usually not very birdy either, but we did see a small hump-backed whale near shore.
The bottom photo above is of Steve Howell, one of America's premier birders, especially when it comes to seabirds, catching a few winks on the way in today. He is often the main spotter for Brian, and goes out every day for the duration of the late May to early June cycle that Brian offers each spring. After a long day of birding on the ocean in the wind and hot sun many birders will be snoozing while sitting up on the bench seats.
I have seen 11 of the 13 birds that I had a good probability of finding this week, and 2 of the 6 much rarer birds. The week total is now up to 79 birds, and the YTD number is at 605. Today is also the last day of month #5. 85 new year birds were added during May. I have one day more to find some more east coast spring pelagic birds. Stay tuned!