Friday, February 24, 2012

More on the Hatteras pelagic...

To give my last post a bit more context, the Black-browed Albatross will be only the fifth formally accepted record of the species for the United States (once the NC records committee gets a chance to vote on it) with 10 or so other unconfirmed reports over the years (source). And it is only the second report of any kind from North Carolina waters with a first being a sight record of two birds seen in the 70s .

Obviously the Black-browed Albatross, for its incredible improbability and stunning beauty, stole the show from what had already been fabulous winter pelagic trip off Hatteras.

The weather was mild and the sea was calm (at least by afternoon). Our first rare bird of the day appeared almost instantly: an Iceland Gull, not 15 minutes out of port in the sound. I had seen a few of these on the pelagic trip I took February last year and got some great photos, so like lack of sunlight and photo opportunity didn't bother me.

Moments later we cruised by a flock of about 60 Brant, a goose species found on salt water that can be elusive within North Carolina (NC bird #302!).

Out on the open ocean we weren't finding the incredible density of alcids that we had last year; one Dovekie skittered away from the boat and I saw small groups of Razorbills here and there. But we found almost all the typical winter pelagic species that I had missed last year including a few Manx Shearwaters (lifer #1546), Great Skuas (lifer #1548), one lone Northern Fulmar (lifer #1549), and several groups of Red Phalaropes.
Red Phalaropes (lifer #1547!); so cool to see shorebirds at home on the open ocean

The phalaropes were working along an obvious contrast between warm blue gulf stream water and cold green water.

more phalaropes with a Bonaparte's Gull; at a distance these two birds can look remarkably similar
The confluence of nutrient-rich cold water and the gulf stream drives a hotspot of primary productivity, attracted fish and other marine macrofauna. Not-birds included Bottlenose and Spotted Dolphins, but most impressive were the abundance of Loggerhead Sea Turtles.
Loggerhead Sea Turtle
We noticed 30 to 40 bobbing past and several that exhibited some really odd behavior...turtles swimming on their backs with flippers out of the water. One even craned its head out of its shell above water and opened its mouth showing its beak. I guess this was some sort of threat display because it proceeded to approach our boat and bite at the hull! Weird. I hope some turtle experts can offer some interpretation.


  1. You certainly made me jealous with all those great birds and the turtles. I only wish that I had been on that boat. My two lifers of the year so far are, Yellow-billed Loon and Gray-crowned Rosy Finch, #1,589, and #1,590.

    1. John, It was indeed an amazing trip that earned me the envy of many a birder. Congrats on your lifers. Hope the year brings you many more!