Wednesday, January 21, 2015

January 17, 2015 by Brian Patteson

We ran our first winter seabirding trip for 2015 on Saturday aboard the Stormy Petrel II.  It was a private charter for Foysyth County Audubon and for several participants it was their first "pelagic" birding trip.  To call it a pelagic trip is a bit of a stretch because we spent most of the day in shelf waters, but this is often the case in winter, as we find the target birds in cooler water, which is often inshore.  It was a nice day for the trip.  It dawned clear, but it was a bit breezy early in the morning.  There was a little swell, but crossing Diamond Shoals was not a problem.  The coldest water we found - high 40s - was on the north side of the shoals.  This is where we found most of our Razorbills.  We had several small flocks buzzing around and we also enjoyed some close looks at Razorbills on the water.  We had two encounters with the highly sought after Great Skua.  Our first sighting was just four miles off the beach between Buxton and Avon (photo by Jeff Lemons)
and the second one was about eight miles out, where we found a blended change to warmer water with better clarity.  We also saw a couple of Dovekies and an adult Little Gull near this change (photo by Jeff Lemons).
As we worked farther south, the water warmed to the high 60s.  There were many Bonaparte's Gulls but no kittiwakes, phalaropes, or tubenoses of any kind.  We did, however, see several Hammerhead Sharks and Loggerhead Turtles in this water (photo by Jeff Lemons). 
We reached our farthest point out - about ten miles - near Diamond Tower and from there we steamed back to Hatteras Inlet.  The water temps held above 60 for most of the ride back, which was uneventful except for a "Nelson's" Gull (Glaucous x Herring hybrid) feeding on the chum (photo Jeff Lemons).
Thanks to Kate Sutherland, Jeff Lemons, and Nathan Gatto for leading the trip and thanks also to Cynthia Donalson, Nathan, and the Forsyth Audubon group for the charter.  Thanks also to Jeff for letting us use his photos for this post.  Our next trip is also a charter, but regularly scheduled open trips begin in February.  We still have plenty of space on February 7(8) and 21(22). 

For more info about these and other upcoming trips visit our website . Winter trips are hard to predict because the water temperature can change quickly on account of the Gulf Stream, but we have had good luck with Great Skua on both warm and cold water events.  We have done very well with alcids when the water was cold, but for what it's worth, we have seen two albatrosses on warm water days!!  That's two out of three EVER, just to put things into perspective, but we can always hope!

Razorbills are difficult to get close to, so we were very lucky to have a few surface nearby!  Everyone aboard had good views of these birds (photo by Jeff Lemons).
 Bonaparte's Gulls are often seen around Razorbills and will sometimes harass them for food (photo by Jeff Lemons).
 And they are nearshore!  Excellent photo by Jeff Lemons of a small flock of Razorbills flying with the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the background.
 Here is another shot of the Little Gull which was in a fairly small flock of Bonaparte's Gulls making it much easier to pick out for participants!  (photo by Jeff Lemons)
 Another shot of the first Great Skua we encountered (by Jeff Lemons) that was spotted by Theresa Schwinghammer.
Photos from the stern...  We had a nice flock with us for the entire day.  (photo by Kate Sutherland)
Two more photos of Northern Gannets (by Kate Sutherland)
"Nelson's" Gull spotted by Jeff Lemons in the stern!  (photo by Jeff Lemons)
 "Nelson's" Gull with a Herring Gull (photo by Jeff Lemons)
One of many adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls we had behind us over the course of the day Saturday (photo by Kate Sutherland).