Sunday, March 22, 2015

Winter 2015 - Thanks, Thoughts, & More Pics

Kate and I would like to thank everyone who helped us to have a successful run of winter boat trips.  We ran five trips altogether, including one charter in mid January.  We missed one trip because of wind and sea conditions.  All of the trips were well attended, and we continue to appreciate the enthusiasm our participants have for these trips.  We are also fortunate to have a dedicated crew of trip leaders and deckhands.  Returning crew this winter included Jeff Lemons (4 trips), Todd McGrath, Dave Pereksta, Dave Shoch, young Chloe Walker, and Capt. Will Whitley.  Nathan Gatto helped us on the Forsyth Audubon charter in January and Ellison Orcutt helped out on one of our February trips.

It was a good winter for seabirds here, and although what we saw varied a bit from trip to trip, there were several highlights.  After a modest sign in January, it turned out to be a good Dovekie year here.  Colder water temps in February were good for both Dovekies and Razorbills.  We also found large numbers of Bonaparte's Gulls on most of the trips and we had some great looks at Little Gulls on three trips.  We also found a few Iceland Gulls and one Thayer's Gull offshore this winter.  Generally speaking, there was plenty to see on all of the trips we ran, and there were some great opportunities for photography as usual.  Here are some more photos from February that we did not get a chance to share in the previous reports.

Atlantic Puffin (Dave Pereksta)
I was a bit surprised that we only saw one puffin this winter, but it was a good look.  Puffins are regular in numbers off the Virginia Capes most winters, but sporadic here.

Color Change (Todd McGrath)
We found some sharp temperature breaks on a few of the trips.  In most cases, these were loaded with birds.

Dovekie (Todd McGrath)
We had about as many close looks at Dovekies as I can remember this February.

Great Skua (Dave Pereksta)
We saw them on two trips.  This one was just three miles from shore.  In 2012 we saw them on all of our trips but the water was warmer and we only saw two Dovekies that winter!

Iceland Gull (Jeff Lemons)
This is the most likely "white-winged" gull for us and we had good looks.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Chloe Walker)
Now a common species on the winter trips here.

Little Gull (Jeff Lemons)
When Bonaparte's Gulls are numerous, Little Gull is a reasonable possibility here.

Little Gull (Dave Pereksta)
We had great looks at Little Gulls feeding along temperature breaks on February 14 and 16;  at least five per day!

Manx Shearwater (Todd McGrath)
I was surprised that Manx Shearwaters were absent on February 7, numerous on February 14, and scarce on February 16...but that's how it goes.

Northern Fulmar (Chloe Walker)
There were a few fulmars around but they were generally scarce this winter.

Northern Gannet (Chloe Walker)
No winter pelagic trip is complete without some close, squawking gannets in the wake.

Northern Gannet (Todd McGrath)
Most of the younger gannets - especially first year birds - head farther south for winter.

Northern Gannet (Todd McGrath)
Looking very intent, as usual.

Northern Gannet (Dave Pereksta)
Nice close up

Razorbill & Dovekie (Jeff Lemons)
A nice size comparison.  February was great for both species.

Razorbill (Jeff Lemons)
On February 14, we saw nearly 2000 Razorbills west of Diamond Shoals!

Razorbill (Todd McGrath)
Many of the Razorbills we see here are younger birds, so it is always nice to see some adults.

Red-necked Grebe (Dave Pereksta)
We had a big influx of Horned Grebes, but just a few Red-necked Grebes when the cold temps hit in mid-February.

Red Phalarope (Brian Patteson)
Actually a crop from a picture we showed a few weeks ago, but I like how it shows the feet.  We had large numbers of phalaropes on February 7, but they thinned out when it got cold.

Thayer's Gull (Todd McGrath)
We don't see Thayer's Gull every winter, but we do get this "species" from time to time.  We also see California Gulls on these trips occasionally.

Great Black-backed Gull & Horned Grebe (Todd McGrath)
Horned Grebes made a big showing in the ocean off Cape Hatteras when the cold air arrived in February.  Some of these stressed birds fell prey to gulls.