As I look toward the 35th anniversary of the first winter trip I organized and led (Jan. 31, 1988- off VA Beach), I am pleased to say that we are off to an earlier start than last year, and we saw thousands of birds on Saturday off Oregon Inlet. We had fine weather and slight seas with about 10 to 15 knots of wind from the WSW, and a good bunch of eager participants. We left from the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center this time instead of Wanchese, so we had a very short run to the ocean. The newly dredged channel was a little but longer than it used to be but it led to the the high part of the bridge, and this year the entire route was marked with buoys!!!
There was a scattering of large gulls and gannets just off the beach and after a while our chumming lured them close to the boat. In addition to the menhaden I had cut into chunks before leaving the dock, we had some small whole butterfish and these were just right for the gulls to fight over.
Last year we found hundreds of puffins close to shore under somewhat similar circumstances, but that was well into February, and we had yet to see the first puffin. It seemed more likely that we would find some phalaropes and Bonaparte's Gulls out there, and that's exactly what we encountered.