Thursday, February 29, 2024

Feb. 24 and 26: Two Trips in Three Days! by Brian Patteson

 The weather is always a challenge for us in February, which is why we set up each trip with a backup day for weather, but for three out of four recently scheduled trips that was not enough! We missed two in a row, and then it looked like we would miss another this week, so I scrambled and put another trip on for Monday, which turned out to be a nice day offshore. On Saturday, we ended up going out east of the inlet, and we had really good birding in the cold water on the shelf, but not so much out around the shelf break. On Monday, it was more of the reverse. Once we got more than ten miles out, it was pretty dull for the next 20 miles, but there was a lot of life out in the deeper water near "The Point". We found most of that action near a sharp temperature break on Monday. There was no such condition east of the inlet on Saturday. The water was warmer, but not as warm as it was Monday (70 degrees Fahrenheit), and there was no current edge. 

Alcids continue to be the dominant attraction for us this month. Oregon Inlet is definitely a more consistent locale than Hatteras for seeing good numbers of the common species and so far this winter we have seen at least four species on each trip. Razorbills are usually the most numerous, but this year Dovekies have made a strong showing too. There were still a few puffins around, but not nearly as many as the week before. Common Murres might also be thinning out, but we had double digits each day. We did not find any Thick-billed Murres the last couple of trips.

On Monday we had our best numbers of Red Phalaropes so far this winter, which is not surprising as they do favor a sharp temperature break, and it was quite pronounced that day. Manx Shearwaters continue to be scarce- we only saw them on Saturday, and they were way inshore. It's always a treat to see Black-capped Petrel on a winter trip and we had good looks at one and more distant looks at a few more on Monday. There was hardly any wind, but the swell was pushed up by the Gulf Stream and the Black-caps were sailing around effortlessly on that. Little Gulls have been tough for us this year, but we did get onto one inshore and a couple offshore on Monday. The big surprise though, and the rarest find for us, was a first winter Black-headed Gull that Danny spotted on Monday. It was over 30 miles offshore and just inshore of the Gulf Stream change where there were many Bonaparte's Gulls feeding.  

On Saturday there was not much to report for cetaceans, but on Monday we had a good variety. We had both coastal and offshore Bottlenose Dolphins in small numbers, but we had an epic showing of Common Dolphins, with at least 500 seen! We also saw at least five Humpback Whales, and had distant views of a pod of Cuvier's Beaked Whales.

I would like to thanks everyone who joined the trips, especially those who were able to make it out here for Monday on relatively short notice. As usual our crew, this time Daniel Irons and Ed Corey, were ever attentive and made sure we didn't miss anything out there, and still managed to get some nice images of what we saw. The bird lists follow the photos below.

Red Phalaropes by Ed Corey

Atlantic Puffin by Brian Patteson

Razorbill by Daniel Irons

Dovekie by Ed Corey

Common Murre by Ed Corey

Little Gull by Brian Patteson

Glaucous x Herring Gull by Brian Patteson

Lesser Black-backed Gull by Ed Corey

Manx Shearwater by Daniel Irons

Northern Gannet by Ed Corey

Cuvier's Beaked Whales by Daniel Irons

Common Dolphins by Ed Corey

Bird Lists for Feb. 24/ Feb. 26

Black Scoter 0/15
Red-breasted Merganser 3/0
Red Phalarope 2/224
Atlantic Puffin 34/27
Razorbill 911/735
Dovekie 298/153
Common Murre 32/12
Little Gull 0/3
Bonaparte's Gull 174/759
Black-headed Gull 0/1
Ring-billed Gull 3/3
Herring Gull 320/220
Great Black-backed Gull 50/54
Lesser Black-backed Gull 24/21
Red-throated Loon 27/78
Common Loon 13/47
Black-capped Petrel 0/4
Manx Shearwater 3/0
Northern Gannet 670/137
Brown Pelican 4/3

On Saturday, Feb. 24 we also saw 6 coastal Bottlenose Dolphins, one unidentified large whale, one loggerhead Turtle and one Thresher Shark, which was breaching.

On Monday, Feb. 26, we also saw 8 costal Bottlenose Dolphins, 3 unidentified Bottlenose, and 29 offshore Bottlenose, at least 500 Common Dolphins, 5 Humpback Whales, 6 Cuvier's Beaked Whales, one Ocean Sunfish, and two Hammerhead Sharks.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Feb. 18, 2024; Alcids Aplenty by Brian Patteson

After a day of strong winds from the north on Saturday, I had high hopes for getting out on both Sunday and Monday, but it wasn't to be. Sunday was nice enough though, and we had good conditions for seeing alcids with slight seas and cloudy skies. Razorbills were not as abundant as they sometimes are, but we still saw over 200 by 0830. By 0930, we were about 24 nautical miles offshore and seeing plenty of Dovekies, as well as our first Atlantic Puffins. About 30 miles out, we had a close flyby Thick-billed Murre on the bow: our third for the season. I thought it would be a good idea to try to find some warmer water, so we kept charging offshore, arriving at "The Point" around 1100. The Point is a heavily visited area where there is a deep submarine canyon and typically good tuna fishing. We found several boats fishing there and catching both Bluefin and Yellowfin Tuna. The water was warmer, but only reached the low to mid 60s. The 70 degree Gulf Stream water was farther offshore and out of range on this day. Nevertheless, we did find a few hundred Bonaparte's Gulls near the temperature break, and also several Red Phalaropes and one adult Little Gull, which was not close or easy to see. There were also quite a few Humpback Whales. These have been scarce inshore this winter, and perhaps they have been out here for a while. The water depth was in excess of 600 fathoms where we were seeing them, but there was a lot of bait out there. The inshore tack was the best for puffins, and Danny counted 61 in half an hour during the best of it. There was also a first winter Little Gull, but it kept its distance too. Back inshore there were a few Common Loons and several small groups of Razorbills. 

Dovekie by Nate Dias

Atlantic Puffin by Brian Patteson

Common Murre by Brian Patteson

Thick-billed Murre by Daniel Irons

Red Phalaropes by Daniel Irons

Bonaparte's Gull by Daniel Irons

HERG and LBBG by Daniel Irons

Humpback Whale by Daniel Irons

Bird List for Feb. 18, 2024

Red Phalarope 25
Atlantic Puffin 146
Razorbill 276
Dovekie 390
Common Murre 6
Thick-billed Murre 1
Little Gull 2
Bonaparte's Gull 515
Herring Gull 142
Ring-billed Gull 3
Great Black-backed Gull 33
Lesser Black-backed Gull 26
Red-throated Loon 74
Common Loon 19
Northern Gannet 55

We also saw 3 Ocean Sunfish, 10 Humpback Whales, 2 Common Dolphins, 25 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, and 3 offshore Bottlenose Dolphins.

Thanks to everyone who came out for the trip and of course our crew: Daniel Irons and guest leaders Jeff Effinger and Nate Dias. 

Monday, February 19, 2024

February 15, 2024 Alcids Continue to Dominate by Brian Patteson

 Our second trip of the year was a mid week departure, and we chose to push back a day for weather. It was still a bit choppy on Thursday morning, but easy enough crossing the bar on an ebb tide, and then we headed to the south for a while for the best ride. It's always a bit tougher seeing alcids in a sea, but we had some great looks as Razorbills and Common Murres inshore. From there we eased offshore a few miles and started seeing Dovekies. Puffins were fairly scarce until we got over 30 miles out. We found the best numbers near the edge of the Gulf Stream, which was about 38 miles southeast of the inlet. We also found a few Red Phalaropes out there along with many Bonaparte's Gulls. Big gulls and gannets came to the chum, but not much else. We had a quick look at a pair of Manx Shearwaters. We came back a bit north of where we went out and that stretch was not very productive compared to the waters near Wimble Shoals. I feel like everything is farther south this year, but we haven't been out of Hatteras yet, so I don't know how much so. It's definitely a different situation from last year, when we had lots of alcids out on Platt Shoals and beyond to the east of Oregon Inlet. It will be interesting to see how things change over the next couple of weeks.

Razorbill by Daniel Irons

Razorbill by Daniel Irons

Common Murre by Daniel Irons

Common Murres by Brian Patteson
Atlantic Puffin by Brian Patteson

Red Phalaropes by Daniel Irons

Northern Gannet by Jesse Anderson

Lesser Black-backed Gull by Jesse Anderson

Species List

Black Scoter- 2
Red Phalarope- 20
Atlantic Puffin- 49
Dovekie- 209
Common Murre- 14
Bonaparte's Gull- 349
Herring Gull- 118
Great Black-backed Gull- 50
Lesser Black-backed Gull- 5
Forster's Tern- 3
Red-throated Loon- 302
Common Loon- 18
Manx Shearwater- 2
Northern Gannet- 120

We also saw 3 Common Dolphins, 2 offshore Bottlenose Dolphins, 3 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, one unidentified large whale, 5 Ocean Sunfish, and several Hammerhead Sharks.

Thanks to all who came out to make the trip possible, and also to our spotters Daniel Irons and Jesse Anderson.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Report from Alcid Alley, NC Feb. 10, 2024 by Brian Patteson

 We started our winter season a couple of weeks late this year, due to other commitments I had, so this was our first scheduled trip of the year. I took the boat up to the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center again this year because it is so close to the ocean and we are guaranteed to start in cold water, which is what we want for winter trips. Sometimes in Hatteras that means we have to run up past Diamond Shoals, so I decided I'd rather drive my truck an extra hour each way instead of the boat. Conditions at this famously sketchy inlet have also much improved, now that it gets dredged on an almost daily basis, and the new "100 year" bridge has multiple wide spans for easy navigation. We ran all of our winter trips up here last year, and we've found it to be very reliable for puffins and Common Murres, which were usually hit or miss from Hatteras. Hatteras actually has cold water at the moment, but as long as the swell isn't too big, we'll probably go from the Fishing Center. 

Approaching Oregon Inlet

Weather conditions were most favorable for our trip here on Saturday, with slight seas and light winds from the southwest. I pointed the Stormy Petrel II southward toward Wimble Shoals and it didn't take long to find a fair number of Razorbills. We also had five Common Murres during the first hour. It took a while longer to find some Dovekies, but we were seeing them in numbers within a couple of hours of crossing the bar. Most of the alcids we saw were a bit jumpy, but we still managed some good looks and a few photo ops. 

Common Murre by Brian Patteson

Dovekie by Brian Patteson

It was not exactly clear where we would find some warmer water, but it seemed like a good plan to go looking and I kept pushing offshore to the southeast. After marking 100 feet on the depth sounder we started to see a few puffins. Like the Dovekies, the puffins were pretty cautious around the gulls we had following us, but there were decent numbers of them and with some persistence, we got good views. We found the Gulf Stream about 34 nautical miles from the sea buoy in less than 30 fathoms. The sea surface temperature there reached about 70 Fahrenheit, which was over 20 degrees warmer than the adjacent water. There was a scattering of Dovekies and puffins there and a small number of Bonaparte's Gulls, the latter of which can sometimes be quite numerous at the temperature break some days. We had good looks at a pair of Red Phalaropes, but couldn't find any more despite spending nearly an hour along the change. 

Atlantic Puffin by Daniel Irons

Thick-billed Murre by Daniel Irons

Just inshore of the change, there were good numbers of puffins, and we had a Thick-billed Murre fly closely across the bow. A few minutes later, we had another Thick-billed Murre on the water. Our inshore tack took us in father north of where we had spent the morning, and it was not as birdy, but we did tally a few more Dovekies, Razorbills, and Common Murres. Numbers of gulls and gannets were fairly low, but our chumming did keep a small flock in tow. The much hoped for skua was a no show. But five species of alcids was good enough to make this day better than average and we didn't get too cold or wet either. 

Northern Gannet by Daniel Irons

Lesser Black-backed Gull by Daniel Irons

Thanks to everyone who drove out to the Outer Banks to make this trip happen and of course our crew: Daniel Irons and guest leader Jacob Farmer.

Bird List for Feb. 10, 2024

Black Scoter 2, Red-breasted Merganser 3, Horned Grebe 1, Red Phalarope 2, Atlantic Puffin 47, Razorbill 294, Dovekie 99, Thick-billed Murre 2, Common Murre 15, Bonaparte's Gull 102, Ring-billed Gull 3, Herring Gull 110, Great Black-backed Gull 25, Lesser Black-backed Gull 18, Forster's Tern 7, Red-throated Loon 158, Common Loon 7, Northern Gannet 85, Brown Pelican 1

We also saw a few coastal Bottlenose Dolphins, a couple of offshore Bottlenose Dolphins, and a few Hammerhead Sharks. 

There are more photos in eBird. Check out the Oregon Inlet Winter Pelagic Hotspot for our latest sightings, as well as what we have seen on previous trips: