Monday, February 6, 2012

Feb. 4, 2012 Hatteras Pelagic Trip on Stormy Petrel II

Kate Sutherland and I went to sea with a small group on Saturday for the first pelagic trip here since late December. Water temperatures have been remarkably high all winter, so I did not expect to see much in the way of alcids south of Diamond Shoals. With this in mind we decided to check out the west wall of the Gulf Stream first and then make a northwesterly tack to inshore waters a bit north of Avon. We found good numbers of gannets just a few miles offshore, but these birds were mostly heading to the southwest. I figured there would be more gannets to the north of the shoals, so I stuck with the game plan. We found a ragged edge with water temperatures up to about 70 degrees just a few miles SE of Diamond Tower. I was hoping to find a number of Bonaparte's Gulls and Red Phalaropes along this condition, but that did not pan out. We saw a couple of phalaropes where we landed on the change, but the next ten miles was, unfortunately, devoid of phalaropes. There were several Northern Fulmars working around the change, however, and we had great looks as they landed repeatedly on the water nearby and circled the boat. Kate's chumming attracted a lone Great Shearwater, which put on a show diving for bait the gulls could not reach. A single Manx Shearwater made one pass up the starboard side of the boat at medium distance. We also saw at lest half a dozen Manta Rays feeding along the change. The change became more diffuse as we traveled northward, so I gave up on looking for phalaropes and Dovekies offshore. Working back in to the beach, it was fairly quiet, but we did find a small concentration of Boneys feeding around some foamy water. Closer to the beach, within five miles or so, we found good numbers of gannets, dozens of Bottlenose Dolphin and a few Loggerhead Sea Turtles. A few of us got a look at a distant skua that was rapidly heading north. I decided to head south and I hoped for another skua sighting around Diamond Shoals. We saw a few Razorbills along the way south, all flying birds. Around the north end of the shoals, a pair of Great Skuas crossed our bow heading offshore in the same direction as most of the gannets in the area. We jogged offshore for a little while, hoping they might circle around and harass some birds, but it never happened. Across the shoals, it was fairly quiet back to Hatteras Inlet, but we did have nice looks at a swimming Razorbill. The wind was picking up from the southwest when we got back to port, and it made me think about how lucky we had been with the weather. The only whitecaps we saw were small ones at the edge of the Gulf Stream, and there had been no spray all day! It had been a great day to explore the ocean and take photos, even if the birds were a bit sparse. We found out the skuas were there, and now we'll see if they want to play on Feb. 11!

Seabirds & Marine Life ~

Red-throated Loon - I only saw one close to the boat, probably more closer to the beach
Common Loon - 17; several well offshore
Northern Fulmar - 15+; could have been a few more
Great Shearwater - one
Manx Shearwater - one
Red Phalarope - 3; one inshore
Great Skua - 3; not interested in our feeding flock today
Iceland Gull - one first winter, followed the boat
Razorbill - 26; mostly flying birds, good looks at one

Loggerhead Sea Turtle - 7; a few well inshore
Manta Ray - 6; all along "the change"
Bottlenose Dolphin - dozens of dozens; best numbers off Avon and near Hatteras Inlet
Little Tunny (False Albacore) - many seen chasing bait at surface inshore of Gulf Stream

Images from the day: Razorbill on the water, Great Shearwater after a dive, Northern Fulmar on "the change", & Iceland Gull

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