Sunday, June 8, 2014

700+ Club Reunion: Trip to Hatteras, NC

On Wednesday May 28th, Neil Hayward flew from Boston, MA and Dan Sanders and Doreene Linzell drove from Columbus, OH to Chapel Hill, NC to spend the night with me before we all headed out to Hatteras, NC for a reunion of the 700+ club.  The first ever gathering of those birders who had seen 700+ bird species in a calendar year in the ABA area happened back in December of 2012 in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  The catalyst for that first meeting was to welcome John Vanderpoel to the group.  With Neil Hayward and Jay Lehman both passing the 700 mark in 2013, we decided to have a reunion of the group, and to invite Neil and Jay to honor their big years.

Neil, Dan, Doreene, and I made a couple of stops on our way out to Hatteras on Thursday.  First we visited Howell Woods in hopes of finding Swainson's warblers.  The roads at Howell Woods have had a very tough winter, so unfortunately we could not drive all the way into the preserve.  We had a nice 3 hours walking the roads and trails with many sightings of prairie warblers (all photos in today's post were taken by Neil Hayward unless indicated otherwise.  Click on any photo to enlarge), but no Swainson's.  We also had only fleeting glimpses of a Kentucky warbler.

Our next stop was a place just north of route 64 on the way out to Manteo.  Dan and Doreene knew about Palmetto Peartree preserve from earlier trips out to Hatteras.  It is the furthest north location to see red-cockaded woodpeckers.  While waiting for the woodpecker to make an appearance, we did see prothonotary and yellow-throated warblers.

We also found a couple of brown-headed nuthatches with food for their young.

Finally, a red-cockaded woopecker flew into one of the nest trees.

We stopped in Nag's Head for dinner at Basnight's Lone Cedar Cafe where we all had the spring specialty--soft-shelled crabs.  Neil and Dan had never had them before, and found them "odd".  The huge pile of onion straws, and the key lime pie were definitely well received by all.   We drove the last hour down to Hatteras, stopping to get some provisions for the next 2 days of pelagic trips with Brian Patteson.  We ran into John Vanderpoel and a good friend, Doug Koch, who John and I first met at Hatteras during John's big year.

Friday morning we were all at the boat, Stormy Petrel II, at 5:15.  Other 700+ club members included Sandy Komito, Al Levantin (both were in the book The Big Year which chronicled their and Greg Miller's efforts in 1998), John Vanderpoel, Bob Ake, Dan, Jay, Neil and myself.  The rest of the birders on the boat were mostly veterans of pelagic trips, Kate Sutherland (Brian's long time "mate"), and some of the great spotters who join Brian for these trips (Todd McGrath, Dave Pereksta, Tom Johnson, and Bob Fogg). 

It generally takes about 2-2.5 hours to reach the gulf stream where the warmer water temps, and deeper waters attract the seabirds that bring hard core birders out for 12 hours of boat time to try to find a relatively small number of bird species.  Once we reached the gulf stream, Kate started chumming to attract the birds to follow the boat.  We saw a few band-rumped storm petrels, many Wilson's storm petrels, but none of the very rare European storm petrels on Friday.  We also had a couple of Leach's storm petrels come by the boat.

The one petrel species on Friday that was with us most of the day was the black-capped.

We also were visited regularly by a pomerine jaeger.  The day before Jay Lehman had seen his life white-tailed tropicbird which he had been trying to see for 40 years!  We were not blessed with any of the rarer birds, but did see 1 distant bridled tern, many Cory's and Audubon's shearwaters, and a few sooty shearwaters,

After returning to shore, the 700+ group went to Dinky's for dinner.  Left to right (Sandy Komito:  1987 (722) and 1998 (748); Bob Ake:  2010 (731); Al Levantin:  1998 (711); Jay Lehman:  2013 (733 + 2 provisonals); Neil Hayward:  2013 (747 + 3 provisionals);  Chris Hitt:  2010 (704, lower 48 states only); Dan Sanders:  2005 (715); and John Vanderpoel:  2011 (743 + 1 provisional) (photo taken by Doreene on my cell phone).  Missing from the group this year were:  Lynn Barber:  2008 (723); Greg Miller:  1998 (715); Bill Rydell:  1992 (714) ; Benton Basham:  1983 (711); Steve Perry:  1987 (711); and John Spahr:  2010 (704).

Saturday had us powering out of the dock about 5:30.  The day was similar weatherwise and windwise to Friday.  We saw pretty much the same bird species with black-capped petrels still all around us during the day. 

Late morning brought us the rarest bird of the day--a herald or trindade petrel that suddenly appeared out of nowhere, flying up the slick and by the boat.  We maybe had 30 seconds to enjoy it before it flew away--an all to common pelagic birding encounter!  This was a life bird for John Vanderpoel.

We returned to the dock with some rough water for the 1st hour of our ride home.  Dan, Doreene and I said our goodbyes to the group, and then drove back to Chapel Hill, stopping for one more dinner at Basnight's.  Key lime pie capped the meal again.

It was really nice for some of the 700+ group to get together a second time, and once again share the unique experience of doing an all out big year in the ABA area.  Who knows when another birder will cross the 700 species threshold in 1 calendar year.  What I know for now is that I began doing this blog in late 2009 in order to record my lower 48 states big year in 2010.  I have kept adding to it over the past 3+ years--either sharing my own birding trips, or talking about big year efforts.  I have enjoyed doing it, and hope that my readers over the years have also had a good time following what I have had to share.  While I will continue to bird, I have decided that it is time to at least take a break from doing Slowbirding.  There might be new posts at some point, but I do not know when, so instead of closing with "stay tuned", I will only say that you might occasionally check to see if there is anything new from me.