Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Back At It: February 5, 2023 by Brian Patteson

 It was pretty obvious a few days ahead of time that we wouldn't make it out on Saturday, so we pushed the trip back a day. Saturday was pretty cold, with the coldest air in over a month, but it didn't last long. The wind fell out on Saturday afternoon, so by Sunday morning there was essentially no swell, and it was what will probably turn out to be the calmest trip of the winter. It was a bit cloudy when we headed out, but we like some clouds. It makes it easier to identify birds all around the boat.

Oregon Inlet by Brian Patteson

We crossed the Oregon Inlet bar a little before 7:00 AM, and it was wasn't long before we spotted some Razorbills. There was a good flight of northbound Red-throated Loons as well. Many of the Razorbills were on the water this week, and with less wind they were pretty easy to see from a distance, and also easier to approach.

Razorbill by Brian Patteson

We had better luck with Common Murre on this trip, and we didn't have to go far to get one. Nate Dias spotted the first one before 7:30

Common Murre by Brian Patteson

My buddy Captain Brian King was working the deck and he soon chummed up a good number of gulls and gannets. Gannets are actually easier to photograph with some clouds because the highlights don't blow out.

Northern Gannet

Gannets take four or five years to reach definitive adult plumage and we saw a good mix of age classes, including some less than a year old.

Northern Gannet by Brian Patteson

We eased offshore, hoping to see some Dovekies or puffins, but there were none to be found, and we certainly had ideal conditions for spotting alcids. The satellite photo by Rutgers from the night before showed there was a temperature break within range, so I kept heading offshore until we came across it, a little more than 20 miles from the inlet.

Image from Rutgers RU Cool

We hit the change and soon found water temps increase from the low 50s to mid 60s. We had been in high 40's most of the morning. There were a fair number of Bonaparte's Gulls, but no phalaropes. We had seen many hundreds of each as soon as we found the warm water last weekend. We did see the obligatory Hammerhead Sharks and a couple of Ocean Sunfish, as well as a wayward Long-tailed Duck. There were not many Razorbills, and most of those we saw were floating belly up. A couple of Manx Shearwaters buzzed by, but kept their distance. Our first Sooty Shearwater of the years did just the opposite and headed straight to the boat, feeding on the chum for several minutes.

Sooty Shearwater by Brian Patteson

After following the change inshore for a bit, I doubled back and tracked it out to the east for a few miles. We eventually found some Red Phalaropes. This was a lifer for at least a couple of folks and photos were taken. We did not notice it at the time, but there was at least one Red-necked Phalarope mixed in. This is our first documented record of a Red-necked Phalarope offshore in winter! They were both lifers for Liling Warren who got a cracking shot of the Red-necked.

Red Phalaropes 

Red & Red-necked Phalaropes by Liling Warren

Red-necked Phalarope by Liling Warren

As we tracked the temp break offshore, we began to see several schools of Little Tunny and many more Bonaparte's Gulls. 

Little Tunny by Brian Patteson

Right around noon we got to an area with hundreds of Boneys and over a hundred phalaropes. We soon saw an adult Little Gull there, but it didn't linger. Then the wind breezed up suddenly from the south, so we decided we should tack inshore. Within ten minutes we had three more Little Gull sightings as we headed northwest!

Little Gull  

The conditions just inshore of the change were markedly different. It was blowing about 20 knots in the warm water, but nearly calm winds in the cooler water less than a mile away. The wind stayed offshore for the next couple of hours and we had an easy ride back to the inlet. Along the way we had our flock of over a hundred gulls and gannets. There was some intermittent light rain, but it really wasn't much. 

Northern Gannet by Brian Patteson

So far we have yet to see a Kumlien's or Glaucous Gull this winter, but we did see a least a portion of Glaucous heritage this trip when a Nelson's Gull (Glaucous x Herring) showed up. It looks like a jumbo Thayer's Gull with a Glaucous type bill.

Nelson's Gull by Brad Sale

Nelson's Gull by Brad Sale

We saw a couple of Hundred Razorbills on the way back in, along with at least four more Common Murres. Many of these auks were diving frequently but we did did great looks at a Common Murre near the end of the day, about a mile and a half from the sea buoy! Unlike Razorbills, which show of their long tail on a deep dive, with a murre you see more of the feet.

Common Murre by Brian Patteson

Common Murre by Brian Patteson

Winter trips can sometimes be tough, so I was happy to have a pretty easy day, with birds all around from start to finish. A big thanks to all of our participants who traveled out to the Outer Banks for this trip and also to our deck crew: Brian King, Nate Dias, and Brad Sale.

Species Totals for February 5, 2023

Long-tailed Duck- 1 or 2 
Red-necked Phalarope- 1
Red Phalarope- 150
Common Murre- 5
Razorbill- 225
Alcid sp- 1
Bonaparte's Gull- 1650
Little Gull- 3 or 4 adults
Ring-billed Gull- 10
Herring Gull- 120
Lesser Black-backed Gull- 11
Great Black-backed Gull-40
Forster's Tern- 5
Red-throated Loon- 220
Common Loon- 26
Sooty Shearwater- 1
Manx Shearwater- 7
Northern Gannet- 85
Brown Pelican- 1

Hammerhead-8 (Scalloped/Carolina)
Ocean Sunfish-2
Little Tunny- school after school along temp break
Loggerhead- 1
Bottlenose Dolphin-53
Humpback Whale- 1
Portuguese Man of War- 1


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