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: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L10719823