Monday, August 1, 2011

2 Days of Pelagic Birding Out of Hatteras, NC

This year has been a phenomenal spring and summer for white-tailed tropicbirds off of the outer banks of NC. As a result, I decided to do 2 pelagic trips this past weekend on a boat captained by Brian Patteson that is based at Hatteras, NC. Like Debi Shearwater on the west coast, Brian is the predominant pelagic bird trip provider on the east coast. I have been out with him over 20 times in the past 10 years, including 9 days as part of my big year in 2010.

Even though I really do not like summer pelagic trips because of the intense heat and humidity I wanted to go out in hopes of finding a mega-rarity like black-bellied storm petrel. I also knew that John Vanderpoel who is doing a full ABA big year in 2011 would be on the boat. I have been following his blog and progress during his big year, and wanted the opportunity to be able to talk with him about it.

We left the dock at 5:30 Saturday morning with high expectations. John had his fingers crossed that he would get 5 or 6 new birds for his big year. The photo above is of a group of Cory's shearwaters with one smaller audubon's shearwater floating with them--click on any photo to enlarge.

During the day we would occasionally have bottlenose dolphins swim by the boat. Once the fish oil slick is started, which is usually about 8-9 AM, we begin to get a good group of wilson's storm petrels following behind the boat over the slick (photo just below). Your hope is that a rarer storm petrel will also show up. Over the 2 days we only had fleeting glimpses of a couple of band-rumped storm petrels.

We did get a fair number of great shearwaters (photo just above), and black-capped petrels. We had one fly by parasitic jaeger on Sunday. But the highlight of the 2 days was yesterday morning about 10 AM when a white-tailed tropicbird came into the boat, circled us a couple of times, flew off but quickly returned for one more loop before flying on its way. Unfortunately I was not able to get a photo of it, but if you use the link in the right column of my blog to go to John's blog (big year 2011) you can see the photo he took of the tropicbird.

John was quite pumped since this is the kind of very rare bird he needs to build up a big total number of birds seen during his big year. The tropicbird plus Cory's and greater shearwater, and black-capped petrel raised his year total to 690. Over the 2 days we had a chance to compare notes on our respective big years sharing some of our more memorable birding days.

John is out on the boat again today trying for more rarities. Then tonite he will be driving from Hatteras all the way to New York with 2 other birders in hopes of seeing a gray-headed gull that was found at Coney Island a few days ago--this gull is a South American bird, and is only the 2nd one confirmed to have visited the US. If the gull is reported again today I will be flying up to NY to join them. Stay tuned!

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