Considering all the windy and frigid weather of late, we got lucky with a couple of brief lulls and were able to run two boat trips over the long weekend. We had very pleasant conditions on Saturday morning and an abundance of birds close to shore (the calm conditions can be seen in the photo below by Kenneth Kelly).
Razorbill numbers were most impressive. We saw hundreds within half an hour of clearing Hatteras Inlet. A little farther out we began to see Dovekies, and when we found a sharp temperature break (19 degrees F!) less than ten miles out, we had a steady procession of sought after target species. In addition to the plentiful Razorbills and Dovekies, there were Manx Shearwaters, Northern Fulmars, Red Phalaropes, and Little Gulls in numbers. Our chumming attracted large gulls and gannets for close looks and great photo opportunities. Careful inspection of the trailing flock got us an adult Thayer's Gull,
a first winter Iceland Gull,
and one Glaucous x Herring hybrid (above photos by Kate Sutherland). Brisk southwesterly winds cut our trip a bit short, but the birding was so good we saw more diversity than we sometimes encounter over the course of a long day at sea.
The puffin we saw right beside the boat is the only one so far for 2015! (photo by Brian Patteson)
Gale force winds from the northwest snuffed out any chance to run a trip on Sunday and these winds brought us some very cold arctic air and subfreezing temperatures, which are rare here, even in February. It was only 23 degrees F when we left the dock on Monday morning, but there was intermittent sunshine and the wind had fallen out somewhat from overnight. I picked a course that kept us in fairly calm water as much as possible. We headed east from the inlet and traveled for several miles through some fairly quiet water, which was in the low 50s. Just a little bit west of Diamond Shoals, we found a sharp color change where this relatively clear, green water (55 degrees) collided with dirty water from the shoals, which was in the mid 40s. This turned out to be a great area and we saw many Razorbills along the change (photograph by Brian Patteson).
The air was full of Red-throated Loons and we also saw a number of Horned Grebes, mostly on the water along the color change. Our junior superstar, Chloe Walker, spotted a Red-necked Grebe here and everyone got to see it (photo by Brian Patteson).
We were also lucky to find a Great Skua resting on the water, but it soon took flight and headed toward the shoreline. We were only three and a half miles off the beach, so one of the landmarks I used to point it out was the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. I wish it had been interested in our chum, but everyone had a good look nonetheless. We followed the color change for several miles to the south and turned up many Razorbills, Dovekies, hundreds of Bonaparte's Gulls, and at least five Little Gulls (photo of one from Cape Point on Sunday by Brian Patteson).
There was some warmer water that butted up almost perpendicularly to what I will call the shoals change when we got out around 20 fathoms. There were many Bonaparte's Gulls feeding along this edge, along with a few Red Phalaropes and one Manx Shearwater. Surprisingly, we did not see a single fulmar. With the extreme cold, the warmer 60 some degree water was smoking (photo by Brian Patteson).
It was the first time we had seen this "sea smoke" for a number of years. The ride back from about 15 miles out, was chilly, but pleasant. The white caps had gone away and it would be a few hours before the next gale would commence. Back in Pamlico Sound, a flyby Harlequin Duck was a first for our winter boat trips here.
Thanks to Kate Sutherland, Todd McGrath, Dave Pereksta, Jeff Lemons, and Chloe Walker for leading, spotting, chumming, and keeping track of numbers, which was a challenge with so many birds. Thanks also to Kenneth Kelly for allowing us to use a couple of his photos for our blog post!
We saw 161 Dovekies on Saturday & 107 on Monday (Brian Patteson).
Another photo from Saturday morning showing how calm it was! Razorbill with reflection by Kenneth Kelly.
A couple of Razorbills in flight (Kate Sutherland). We saw about 1,430 on Saturday & 550 on Monday!
We had many Lesser Black-backed Gulls in our flock each day, though there seemed to be more with us on Monday (Kate Sutherland).
Whenever we have a nice flock of gulls behind us, there is always a chance of seeing scenes like the one below (Brian Patteson). We saw at least three Dovekies get eaten each trip (sure there were more), and we came upon some young Great Black-backed Gulls arguing over this Horned Grebe on Monday.
The Northern Gannets are always exciting to watch and photograph (Kate Sutherland).
There were quite a few younger birds on these trips (Kate Sutherland).
A couple shots of one of Monday's Little Gulls (Kate Sutherland).
Another shot of the Iceland (Kumlien's) Gull - looking up! (Kate Sutherland)
Another shot of the sea smoke along the change on Monday with Red Phalaropes and Bonaparte's Gulls (Kate Sutherland).