Wednesday, February 19, 2020

February 16 & 17, 2020 - Epic Winter Birding! by Kate Sutherland

After our first trip of the winter season last weekend, we decided to run the boat up to Wanchese and spend Presidents' Day Weekend to the north!  The weather was cooperative in the respect that it stayed true to the forecast and we knew we would run on Sunday and Monday by midweek, allowing our participants to schedule accordingly!  Sunday the seas were fairly calm allowing us to check a number of locations for seabirds, we headed down to Wimble Shoals, then to The Point offshore of Hatteras Island, back up and a bit farther offshore, then back to Oregon Inlet.  Monday was the polar opposite and we were dealing with choppy seas so we headed pretty much straight out front from the inlet and then back.  Over the two days we tallied four species of auk, two tubenoses, phalarope, and Great Skua plus three rare species of gull!  Yes, it was an incredible set of trips for those who were able to join us for both!  (sunrise by Kate Sutherland)

Sunday morning was gorgeous as we headed under the new Marc Basnight Bridge to Oregon Inlet and we found over a hundred Bonaparte's Gulls right out front with at least one adult Little Gull!  A bit later we had another!  Razorbills were flying with over 500 tallied before 0830 and we also had a Common Murre fly by the boat, close!  Definitely a super start to the day, and the seas fell out to slick calm by the end of it.  Brian saw the first Atlantic Puffin of the day from the wheelhouse just after 0900 and we saw at least 91 over the course of the day, many close like the one pictured below (Peter Flood).
Dovekies were also around where we found the puffins and many of them were cooperative for photos as well! (Peter Flood)
It was cool to see how the alcids were segregated and the Razorbills were not out where we found the puffins and Dovekies.  While it took some time, we were able to coax some gulls to follow us in the early afternoon where we found the gill net fleet from Oregon Inlet.  These feeding birds did a great job and just after 1pm we had a Great Skua come in!!  It put on quite a show chasing gulls and sitting on the water a number of time for us to approach.  Some of the passes it made were fairly close and the coloration was easy to see on the back and nape (Peter Flood). 
As we were watching the skua, we saw that a Glaucous Gull had joined the gull flock, at first I thought it was an adult since the light made it hard to see the bill color, but it still had some smudging on the belly and while the mantle looked close to adult coloration, it was not complete.  As we headed back toward the inlet, tallying puffins and dovekies as we went, a Northern Fulmar came by the stern and up the starboard side (Kate Sutherland)!
Then as we crossed a shoal around 3:30, Brian spotted a Common Murre on the water!  Excellent views were had by all, though it did not allow us to get very close (Kate Sutherland).

Monday was breezy!  Since the wind had just picked up overnight, we had some choppy seas out there that made viewing alcids a bit of a challenge...but we still found our first puffin just after 0900!  Outside of the inlet gulls and gannets were flying and we were able to attract a nice flock with our chum that stayed with us all day.  Again, this paid off and we had at least one, possibly two, Great Skuas visit us just after noontime!  Neither of these sightings looked like the individual we had on Sunday, though the same Glaucous Gull came to visit the flock again (Peter Flood).
In addition to this we had a first winter Iceland Gull follow us for hours, many times flying close to its pale winged cousin!  Razorbills and Dovekies were on the move again Monday, but while we tallied more Razorbills on Sunday, Monday afternoon we could barely keep count of all the Dovekies moving by and our total count of 731 is likely low!!  It was a spectacle and we easily saw over 300 in less than thirty minutes!  Manx Shearwaters were around both days in small numbers and we had nice views of these small black and white shearwaters on each trip.

Our trip this weekend will run from Wanchese, and we have a couple spaces open on that, otherwise we have added another date to the schedule, February 29 (Mar 1 weather date)!  So join us!  We would like to thank everyone who joined us this holiday weekend and a huge thank you to our leaders, Peter Flood and Jacob Farmer, for helping us with the boat, helping everyone get on the birds, chumming, and letting us use photos here on the blog!

Species of interest February 16 / 17

Red Phalarope - 8 / 2
Great Skua - 1 / 1-2
Dovekie - 272 / 731
Common Murre - 2 / 0
Razorbill - 729 / 230
Atlantic Puffin - 91 / 3
Little Gull - 2 / 0
Glaucous Gull - 1 / 1
Iceland Gull - 0 / 1
Northern Fulmar - 1 / 0
Manx Shearwater - 4 / 5

Minke Whale - 1 / 0
Bottlenose Dolphin - 50+ / 0
Loggerhead Turtle - 3 / 2
shark species, possibly a Mako - 1 / 0

*We also saw Bonaparte's, Herring, Lesser Black-backed, and Great Black-backed Gulls, Red-throated and Common Loons, and Northern Gannets.  We had three Brown Pelicans offshore on Monday!

Another angle for Sunday's Great Skua (Kate Sutherland)
But mostly we saw things like this... (also by Kate Sutherland)
The Great Skua from Monday (Peter Flood)
Dovekies on the water (Peter Flood), one taking off (Kate Sutherland), and one in flight (Peter Flood)
There were some Razorbills beginning to show a dusky head like the lead bird here (Kate Sutherland)
A couple more Atlantic Puffin images, it was just amazing to see so many of these out there on Sunday!!  (Kate Sutherland)
Glaucous Gull in a compromising position going in for some chum!  (Kate Sutherland)
The Glaucous Gull on Sunday sitting with a Herring Gull (Kate Sutherland)
And a Herring Gull throwing back a nice piece of Menhaden (Kate Sutherland)
The young Iceland Gull that spent time with us in the stern on Monday (Kate Sutherland)
And we had some nice photo ops with Northern Gannets feeding behind the boat first thing on Monday morning! (Kate Sutherland)
One of the Loggerhead Turtles from Sunday (Kate Sutherland)
We captured some images of what I initially thought was a Basking Shark pushing water on the surface, but upon inspection, the back and dorsal fin shape point more to a Minke Whale!  You never know what you'll turn up out there!  Pretty exciting to find after the fact!

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