Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Getting sea-sick in the Gulf Stream: Hatteras NC Pelagic

Black-capped Petrel in Gulf Stream off Hatteras

I originally scheduled two pelagic trips out of Hatteras NC for May 23rd and 25th with Brian Patteson.  Storms canceled the first one, I took the one on the following day (Friday) as a "make up" but elected to skip Saturday's pelagic because of higher winds.  That pelagic went, but at 25-30 knot winds I don't regret not putting myself through that sort of hell for 12 hours.  The return trip back to Hatteras on the Friday trip was quite enough rough water for one spring.

My targets for the trip were lifers Black-capped Petrel and Band-rumped Storm-Petrel.  I got both of those but struck out totally on the "extras" I was hoping for like Fea's Petrel and Bridled Tern.  There was a decent showing of other shearwaters: mostly Cory's but also Sooty, Great and Audubon's along with good numbers of Wilson's Storm-Petrel.  In fact the one pelagic I went on had the fewest life birds of any of the ones that went out in that period.  C'est la vie.  Given the travel expense, lodging expense, and the fact that the pelagics are not cheap themselves it's not practical to do this sort of "double" again - I'd have to consult the marine forecast and do last minute bookings.  At the moment a west coast (Monterey) pelagic is more practical since there are quite a lot more semi-reliable pelagic species to be had over there in late-Sept/early-Oct.

On the rainy/stormy Thursday I visited Alligator River NWR where there were an absurd number of singing Prothonotary Warblers (several seen), many Indigo Buntings, Prairie Warblers, some Blue Grosbeaks, Black-throated Green Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and a small handful of singing Hooded Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler (none of these seen).  The rain mostly negated photo ops.  I also visited Pea Island NWR on the way back down to Hatteras and notched up a few common sandpipers and plovers: Sanderling, Dunlin, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers, a few distant Red Knot.  Least Terns were fairly common here, Royal Terns less so, and I snagged my first Black Skimmer  for the year.  But the weather was still rather frustrating - I skipped out on attempting to find Chuck-will's-widow or Black Rail in local habitat because I wanted to get to sleep early ahead of the following morning's pelagic at 0515.

Nothing much of note on the 8.5 hour drive down, but on the return drive on Saturday I did see a Black Bear at Alligator River NWR and stopped at Bombay Hook NWR for a mis-timed visit at low tide that nevertheless did come up with a bunch of shorebirds (Short-billed Dowitcher still being a year bird at that point), Seaside Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak and Orchard Oriole.

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