Monday, March 6, 2023

February 26: Fulmar Finale by Brian Patteson

We've had a good winter boating season in February all things considered, and most of the trips haven't even felt like winter trips, but we definitely had more typical conditions for our last trip on February 26th.This trip, like the six others before it, also departed from the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center. Docking here makes for a short run to the ocean and it has saved me quite a bit of driving compared to docking in Wanchese, which we have sometimes done in the past. I'm not sure it's as good for skuas up here as Hatteras, but we definitely see more alcids up here, and we don't have to go far to do it.

Stormy Petrel II at Oregon Inlet Fishing Center

Oregon Inlet generally has one of the most treacherous bars on East Coast, and it is far more difficult to deal with than Hatteras Inlet during the winter because it gets more swell from the north. We had pushed this trip back a day because of weather, and while the swell was much less on Sunday, we still had to deal with breakers on the bar because it was about low tide when we crossed. Fortunately we have a big high bow on the Stormy Petrel II, and we took our time and made it across unscathed, but I think the passengers had a better understanding about it when they saw it firsthand.

As per usual, we didn't have to go but a few hundred yards to find some Razorbills, and there were also good numbers of gannets, which were eager to partake of our chum after some windy weather and tough feeding conditions. 

Northern Gannet by Brian Patteson
Northern Gannets by Ed Corey

After last weekend's epic showing of puffins 20 miles offshore, I was eager to get out there and see how many might be left. Sea conditions were not nearly as good on this trip for seeing alcids, but they were good enough, with about 15 knots of wind from the north and a 4 to 6 foot sea. Sure enough, the puffins were still in place and we had good looks at several less than two hours after crossing the bar.

Atlantic Puffin by Ed Corey

We even managed to see five species of alcids before 9:30, but the Dovekies and murres did not show very well. We had a Thick-billed Murre right off the bow, but it did a good job holding its breath and eventually gave us the slip.

Thick-billed Murre by Ed Corey

While conditions for observing alcids were subpar, we did have nice conditions for fulmars, which made their best showing in several years on this trip. At one point we had over 30 in view at once, and there was a mix of light and dark morph birds.

Northern Fulmars by Ed Corey

Clouds had prevented us from being able to get an up to date satellite photo (the west wall of the Gulf Stream can move in or out several miles overnight) so we just took a chance and headed father out hoping to find some warmer water. As it turned out, the edge had shoved offshore (and out of range) but our trip to the shelf break was not without some excitement when we found whales spouting all over in about 50 fathoms. These turned out to be Humpback Whales, a species we normally see much closer to the beach, I was surprised at first to see them 30 miles offshore, but less so when I looked at the echo sounder. There was obviously and bountiful harvest for them out at the shelf break.

Humpback Whale by Ed Corey
Headed to the feast by Ed Corey
A feast for whales

Moving farther offshore yet we found quite a few Red Phalaropes, which were jumpy and did not give us many photo ops. Neither did the Little Gull, which we saw with a small flock of Bonaparte's Gulls. We had much better luck with the Pilot Whales, which were logging on the surface in small groups. 

Pilot Whales by Ed Corey

The water never got above the mid 50s and we didn't have time to go much farther, so I turned around about 40 miles offshore in 600 or so fathoms. We saw the Humpbacks again on the inshore tack, and we had a good showing of puffins and fulmars on our way west. Back at the inlet there was a nice concentration of Razorbills, and we picked up on a couple of Manx Shearwaters sailing around just outside the sea buoy. There was still a bit of swell on the bar, breaking as the tide was ebbing, but we had an easy passage across, and we were back at the dock about 10 hours after having departed.

I would like to thank everyone who came along and made the trip possible. Our last three trips were all fully booked, but we also had some nice trips where we had room for more people. Thanks also to our mate, Captain Brian King, who dispensed the chum like a well oiled machine, and our spotters, Ed Corey. Jason Denesevich, and Larry Chen who worked ceaselessly to ensure we had the best trip possible. We had a good run, with seven trips in five weeks, the most winter trips we've done since 2018. 

February 26, 2023 Bird List

Surf Scoter- 2
scoter sp.- 8
Red Phalarope- 85
Dovekie- 4
Common Murre- 1
Thick-billed Murre- 1
Razorbill- 420
Atlantic Puffin- 34
Bonaparte's Gull- 235
Little Gull-1
Herring Gull- 150
Lesser Black-backed Gull- 9
Great Black-backed Gull- 40
Red-throated Loon- 55
Common Loon- 34
Northern Fulmar- 130
Northern Gannet- 350
Manx Shearwater- 4

Non Avian

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin- 11
Bottlenose Dolphin- 7
Dolphin sp- 4
Pilot Whale- 30+ (probably Short-finned)
Humpback Whale- 7 to 12
Ocean Sunfish- 2 

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