On August 9-13 the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology had an out-of-state field trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. A total of 35 participants ventured down to NC for several days of land birding followed by two days of pelagic trips out of Hatteras, NC. Part 1 of this trip report series covered some of the land birding, this post covers the two amazing days we had on our pelagic trips on the Stormy Petrel II with Brian Patteson.
On Monday our group met Brian, Kate Sutherland, Bob Fogg, and John Puschock at the dock and a short time later headed out the the Gulf Stream. On the way out we saw several Cory’s and Audubon’s Shearwaters to kick off our pelagic birding. Activity was good, with numbers in the morning already better than the regular trips Brian had run on the three days prior to our two trips.
We arrived out at the Gulf Stream a bit after 8am and quickly began seeing Black-capped Petrels along with many Cory’s and Audubon’s Shearwaters (see our recent post on Black-capped Petrels here). Some of the birds came in quite close and offered excellent looks. Kate started to lay a chum slick behind the boat and we were soon joined by many Wilson’s Storm-Petrels.
The day continued to get even better with 3 to 4 Trindade Petrels at the boat in an hour! One of the birds came in hot, flying directly at us, only to adjust its course at the last second, flapping uncharacteristically in order to avoid colliding with the boat. Andy was able to capture the moment and the excitement in a quick video clip, forthcoming. Another one coursed back and forth several times right in front of us. Quite amazing looks!
Throughout the day we continued to see large numbers of Black-capped Petrels and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels. There were a couple of rather cooperative Band-rumped Storm-Petrels at the stern of the boat, which provided excellent comparisons to the more common Wilson’s. Other shearwaters present in decent numbers for most of the day were Cory’s, Great, and Audubon’s.
The highlights of the afternoon were an immature Long-tailed Jaeger and the tropical terns along a Sargassum seaweed line, which is typically a feature of the western boundary of the Gulf Stream. We had distant looks at a few terns before getting great looks at a Sooty and then later a Bridled, which both came right past the boat! For more on the terns and jaegers, please see our separate post on them here. A few Red-necked Phalaropes were also seen, usually foraging near little clumps of Sargassum.
One of the exciting aspects of pelagic journeys far offshore, is that you can have bizarre and memorable encounters with land birds and coastal birds that are well outside their comfort zones. We had such an encounter with an apparently lost Great Black-backed Gull. Someone observed that it had been following a commercial shipping vessel, until it spotted us and flew over to join us. It stayed with us for well over an hour, and seemed to make the small storm-petrels a bit uneasy.
On Day 2 of the pelagics we had much heavier seas and needed to work a bit harder for some species. However, with the stronger winds, the numbers of Black-capped Petrels observed were much higher– simply amazing. Seeing so many Black-caps gave us a great opportunity to observe their impressive plumage variation. We had a few surprises like this Sooty Shearwater, which is a pretty rare bird for August in the Gulf Stream!
Although things were a bit slower the second day we were lucky enough to also get an intermediate type Trindade Petrel. The bird passed very close to the boat and gave everyone very nice looks!
Although we saw only one Great Shearwater on day 2 we got some excellent looks at it, along with many Black-capped Petrels and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels that were hanging out near the boat.
Of course, to get all the the pelagic participants from Pennsylvania on Trindade Petrels was quite awesome! It was a memorable adventure and although some did get seasick, after the trip they mostly raved about the lifers they saw, not how sick they were! Here are a few photos of us birding on the boat.
Throughout the course of the two days, we managed to get some excellent looks at every species encountered, as well as seeing all the expected species plus some added bonuses! Here are some additional images of the birds seen on the trips….