Just back from a quick three day trip to North Carolina and Virginia. It's been a long time (15 years?) since I've managed to get down to do a Brian Patteson Pelagic Trip, but inspired earlier this year, I signed up for two trips last weekend with Alvaro Jaramillo (who also made it easy to link and pay online).
Thursday mid day saw me sneaking away from work and running out to LaGuardia for a flight to Norfolk, Virginia. Once there, I grabbed a rental car and drove down to Hatteras, North Carolina. The weather was crappy - thunder storms all the way down - and it was a long drive - but I was optimistic that it couldn't last all weekend so I checked into my hotel, sorted my kit and set the alarm for 4am Friday morning, super excited to get out into the gulf stream for the first time in many years.
Friday morning was windy and raining but I headed over to the dock and when I saw people loading chum onto the boat I figured we'd probably go out. Brian appeared shortly thereafter and confirmed that we were going, so after a quick orientation we were soon heading out to sea. The sea in question was pretty rough though and, even though I took my dramamine I was soon throwing up as we plowed through 'snotty' waters for two hours (I'm just not a good sailor what can I say). Over the years I've got used to this sort of start to the day - praying for death at dawn and throwing up for an hour or two, then my body eventually gets used to it and I'm finally glad I came. It's sort of an act of faith but as I always say, 'you don't look, you don't see' and in the case of pelagics 'if you don't suffer, you don't see'. This morning's crew was serious, with Alvaro Jaramillo, George Armistead, Naeem Yusuff (of Brookline Bird Club Pelagic fame), Nick Block, and half of the top birders from Chicago on board ... a very capable crew and a good sign for some interesting birds. So I slogged my way though the waves and the sea-sickness knowing that it would probably all be worth it in the end .... and it was.
Soon enough (well perhaps not soon enough at the time) we reached the Gulf Stream, the waves died down, and we got started with the birding thing. As it turns out we got started quickly, as not long after we arrived in the calmer 'blue' waters someone shouted "Tropicbird!" and all eyes went up as a juvenile RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD came over boat. Not a bad start!
|Red-billed Tropicbird - a crappy photo of a really cool bird and an ABA Bird for me.|
We also got some Bridled and Arctic Terns and some cool cetaceans (Short-finned Pilot-Whales and 'Offshore' Bottlenose Dolphins). I simply love it out in there - flying fish, sargassum, leaping Mahi Mahi, lots of birds, simply awesome.
|Bridled Tern - one of three we saw over the weekend.|
|Arctic Tern - always a good bird on the East Coast.|
|Audubon's Shearwater - we saw lots of these on both days.|
Today's birds were not quite as good, in fact it was pretty flat compared to the day before. We did see lots of Black-capped Petrels, quite a few BAND-RUMPED STORM-PETRELS, but no terns, no Tropicbirds, and in fact the birding was almost dull for those of us who'd been out on Friday (although our fresh faces doing a one-day tip were thrilled with the birds we saw).
|Black-capped Petrel (2 shots) - the only Pterodroma we saw over the weekend,|
but we saw lots of them and no-one ever gets tired of watching the amazing wind-surfers.
|Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - easy to ID once you have your 'eye in'.|
|Leatherback Turtle Photo: Alvaro Jaramillo (used with permission)|
|False Killer-Whales (2 shots) Photo: Jim Gould (used with permission)|
Sunday morning was supposed to be a bit of a let-down after the pelagics but it actually turned out to be pretty good. An early morning stop at Pea Island NWR produced a juvenile Reddish Egret, a Wilson's Plover and a nice selection of shorebirds including Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet. Then off to the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia, where despite 'Alaska-quality' blood-sucking bugs, I was happy to add SWAINSON'S WARBLER along with lots of Hooded and Prothonatory Warblers and an Acadian Flycatcher.
Special thanks to Alvaro and George for putting this together and all the expert spotting on the boat, and of course thanks to Brian and Kate for running this amazing operation. A truly great trip, very glad I came. Remind me to do this more often ....