I caught the early flight to Washington Dulles where my plan was to transfer to a flight to Norfolk, VA. From there it’s about a 2 ½ hour drive to Cape Hatteras, NC on the Outer Bank. Tomorrow begins the first of three consecutive Brian Patteson pelagic trips into the Gulf Stream. Back to back to back. There are five target birds that I’m hoping for – Cory’s Shearwater, Black-capped Petrel and Great Shearwater should all be expected, though Great Shearwater would be in small numbers and could possibly be missed though a miss is unlikely. The last two hoped for birds are White-tailed Tropicbird and Herald Petrel. Normally finding the tropicbird would be unusual, but Brian Patteson is quoted as saying that White-tailed Tropicbirds are being seen in “epic” numbers this spring/summer. Herald Petrel has also been seen in the area recently so hopes are high. And if a megararity shows up on any of the trips then so much the better!
Todd Deininger (Mario Andretti from Gambell) will be on all three boat trips and my brother, Bill will be on Sunday’s trip. Somehow he managed to schedule a family vacation to the Outer Bank; a timely coincidence considering that he’s poised to break through 500 year-birds on the boat trip.
Of course plans don’t always come out the way you want them. I missed two flights to Norfolk, VA (the perils of flying standby) and faced the option of being stuck in Washington DC and missing the first pelagic trip on Saturday…..or driving the three hundred miles to Hatteras. I chose the latter, problem was I then left during rush hour on Friday night. Washington DC rush hour is the worst in the country. It took me seven hours to drive to Hatteras. When I arrived I had no idea which room Todd Deininger was in and my cell phone died on Thursday (smart phone coming) so I pulled a Matt from Ohio and slept in my car….in the heat and humidity. The worse three hours of sleep I ever got.
Saturday’s pelagic trip with Brian Patteson was okay. Very hot and no rarities, but I did add three year-birds – Corey’s Shearwater, Great Shearwater and Black-capped Petrel. Some interesting people were on the boat including some pelagic birding fanatics. The trouble was it was so hot that everyone was rather listless. Also met Chris Hitt. Chris became the first person to ever break 700 in the lower 48 last year! Truly remarkable and a lofty bar to set for future big year challengers. Chris gave me some valuable pointers for my big year.
Today was better. Bill V joined us and very early stirred up our luck by latching on to a 25 lb. Wahoo on the ride out to the Gulf Stream.
Soon after that we came upon a Leatherback sea turtle. That was very cool. The weather was also cooperating; it was cooler than yesterday and cloudy. Sometime around 9:45 AM the cry went up from the back of the boat! “Tropicbird!” and a White-tailed Tropicbird had come in overhead to pay us a visit. He circled the boat twice then flew off only to return for one more passby. It’s very satisfying for me to get both of the tropicbird species regularly seen in ABA waters.
A storm rolled in around midday and everybody was on full alert. The cooler weather and waves got the petrels and shearwaters up and flying. I had a sense that one of the dark backed petrels would be spotted but it was not to be. I was impressed at how fast the Black-capped Petrels could fly in the wind, there wings cutting through the wind! Tomorrow is our last trip out and then I smell a road trip. Stay tuned.