Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Final Day of 4 Pelagic Trips

It is 11:30 PM on June 1, and I am just back from my drive home from Hatteras. Today's pelagic trip started out very slowly under overcast skies, choppy seas and more wind than yesterday. We had to travel almost 40 miles to reach the gulf stream and deep water (3000 ft) where we would hope to find some "good" birds. The rare birds hang out in warmer waters (generally 80 degrees and above), so it is critical to be able to reach the gulf stream. Some days it is only 20 or 25 miles from shore, but other days it might be 70 miles out. On those days you are just plain unhappy because it is too far to travel, so you generally will not find very interesting birds, or even many birds at all.

About mid-day the sun broke thru for awhile, but then it clouded over again. This made for less sunburn, and a bit cooler birding. We still were not seeing very many birds, when suddenly Brian's voice booms over the intercom, "red-billed tropicbird just came up off the water in front of the boat!". Since Brian, the captain of the boat and leader of the trips, is not normally what you would call a very demonstrative guy, it is always a surprise when he gets fired up announcing a special bird. The red-billed--a 1st year bird which meant its bill was actually yellow--landed close by 2 more times, giving us a chance to study it a bit before it flew off.

Within an hour we had found another small group of birds, and were looking at a cory's and a greater shearwater, and a black-capped petrel arcing around the boat when Brian's voice boomed again, "Fea's petrel coming down the port side!". The bird circled the boat once, giving everyone a pretty good look. This bird is one of the very rare gadfly petrels that are seen off of Hatteras. It was the 1st of the season, and made for some very happy birders. One in particular, a fellow from South Carolina, took out a small bottle of red wine to toast seeing a life bird--the tropicbird in this case. I had noticed yesterday afternoon he had done the same thing after seeing the european storm-petrel. He told me he began this tradition of celebrating a new life bird many years earlier, and was obviously maintaining it. Too bad he didn't have a bigger bottle to share with others, nevertheless--Cheers!

As is always the case with the fish oil dripping off the back of the boat, we had many wilson's storm petrels following us. The photo above is of a few of them with a pomarine jeager in their midst (double click on photo to enlarge). The pomarine is the largest of the jeagers at 18 inches in length, and obviously dwarfs the much smaller wilson's.

The day's birding added 5 more new birds for the week, and the Fea's and red-billed tropicbird were both new year birds raising the YTD total to 607. I feel very good about the 4 days of pelagic trips since I had 19 target birds, 6 of which were rare, and ended up with 15 new year birds overall with 4 being in the rare category. I am home now until Saturday when I head out again, possibly back to Hatteras for 1 more day of seabirding. Stay tuned!

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