Saturday, May 29, 2010

Day 1 of Pelagics from Hatteras

Yesterday I drove out to Hatteras, NC to begin 4 consecutive days of pelagic birdwatching trips. Pelagic birds are seabirds that only come to land when they breed, otherwise they spend all their life out over the ocean.

We left this morning at 5:45 AM on the Stormy Petrel II which is owned and captained by Brian Patteson. As I wrote back in February, Brian is the man when it comes to east coast pelagic trips. The weatherman said we were supposed to get some rain today, but instead it was overcast until it got sunny mid-afternoon. The seas were not too rough, and the winds were not too strong. A good thing since we spend 11 hours out there birding.

Just after clearing the inlet, we saw our first good bird of the day, a sooty shearwater. Not long after we found the group of shearwaters in the photo above (remember to click on photo to enlarge it). The group was mostly cory's shearwaters, with 2-3 sooty plus 1 greater shearwater (dark capped bird with a black bill at the edge of the group in the lower center of the photo). We also were beginning to see some wilson's storm-petrels. All 4 birds are new birds for the year. This boded well for the coming day of birding.

We then found what was first called a red-necked phalarope in non-breeding plumage. By the end of the day after photos were studied of the bird, it was concluded that it was in fact a red phalarope. The latter I had already seen on my pelagic trip in March out of Oregon, so I was disappointed that it was not a red-necked. What is significant about all this is that even some of the best birders in the country sometimes make a miscall. But with the age of digital photography, a review can be made to confirm initial impressions. Once in Alaska a small shorebird that had been initially called a red-necked stint was later determined after looking at photos taken of it that it was in fact a little stint. As a result, about 30 birders trekked out at midnite to find the bird again so that everyone could add it to their life list.

In general today was pretty busy mostly with lots of wilson's storm-petrels, and a few leach's and band-rumped storm-petrels (both new year birds) mixed in. The fish slick that trails behind the boat is where the wilson's hang out. It also attracts other birds like jeagers (both pomarine and parasitic made an appearance today), and petrels like the black-capped (another new year bird), and the shearwaters. Probably the most common shearwater seen today was the audubon's (another new year bird). At one point a south polar skua (new year bird) showed up briefly to harass the shearwaters.

The last new year bird for the day, an arctic tern, made a late afternoon appearance which brought my YTD total up to 602 birds. The week's list of birds after 2 days is at 72.

A comment made after my last post asked what comes next once I reach 600 birds seen for the year. As I posted a few weeks ago, I am a bit surprised to have reached 600 birds already. It means that the rest of the year will be much less intense on a day to day basis, but I still plan to continue to look for more birds. My best estimate is that there are another 60-70 birds that I should be able to see over the next few months. If some more rarities show up, and I am able to visit where they are found, then I could hit a bit higher number.

As for this week, I came to Hatteras knowing that there were 13 pelagic birds that I should see over 4 days, and on day 1 I already saw 10 of them. There are also 6 other much rarer pelagic birds that can be seen here, and if I am fortunate I will see some of them too. So tomorrow I will be out there again all day enjoying the birding, and hoping to add to the YTD total. Stay tuned!


  1. This opens with streaming confetti- !!***!!!***!!
    and the sound of a champagne bottle uncorking- *POP*, and a toast to you.

    Well Done Sir!

    600 birds and it's not quite June. We are so very happy for you.

  2. Well put Pam! Nice article in the Chapel Hill News of Chris' big year! Congratulations to you! xo