We finally got a break in the weather and ran the pelagic trip we had originally scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday on Thursday the 29th. I did not expect much in the way of alcids because the inshore waters had been warmer than usual for a few days (after being cooler than normal in November!), and we found ourselves in 60 degree water for most of the day. The water was warm even to the north of Diamond Shoals, and we saw only nine widely scattered Razorbills all day: a quad near Hatteras Inlet in the morning, a trio at the Gulf Stream edge, and then a nice close pair a few miles east of Avon in the afternoon. On the other hand, we did have good diversity of tubenoses with two or three Great Shearwaters, a couple of Black-capped Petrels, a scrappy little Northern Fulmar, and a flyby Manx Shearwater. We found Red Phalaropes in low numbers but at three widely scattered locations, with most of them along a seven degree temperature break on the western side of the Gulf Stream. Such breaks can be good places to see other marine wildlife, and yesterday's most interesting non-avian wildlife were the Manta Rays we saw feeding at the surface along the color change.
Throughout the day we kept a steady procession of gulls and gannets behind the boat and it finally paid off in the early afternoon. From the wheelhouse I saw Ali Iyoob pointing skyward at a bird I could not see from the helm. I stuck my head outside and there it was - a Great Skua coming in high to ambush the gulls. In typical Bonxie fashion, it streaked by the boat quickly and briefly engaged some distant straggling gulls before disappearing from sight. It was number 743 for John Vanderpoel, who has been doing an ABA area Big Year. John's list so far is the highest of any that has not included a visit to Attu, and he is quite close to the all time record. I would like to thank John for wanting to search for a skua, and everyone else for having the faith that we would see some interesting birds even if it wasn't February, which is when we run most of our winter trips. I would also like to thank Kate Sutherland for her tireless work on the deck, dispensing the chum from start to finish, spotting birds, and no doubt answering a lot of questions from an excited group of birders who were happy to be out for the sake of a good day at sea and thankful for the birds we found along the way. It was a good mix of "regulars" and new participants, with more young people than most trips. Thanks everyone for making it happen. Maybe we can make it an annual event.
Our next trip is planned for January 14 or 15, which some people might find convenient because of the King Holiday that Monday. We also have several trips planned for February, but the double header on President's Day weekend is already fully booked for Day One. A lot can change with the water here over a couple of weeks, and with the recent news of Dovekies in the surf off Kill Devil Hills, it would not surprise me to see them here soon.
Updated January 6, 2012 for photos...
Some photos from one of our student participants, Ali Iyoob, North Carolina. As follows: Northern Fulmar, Red Phalaropes, color banded Herring Gull, and feeding Manta Rays!