As a spotter charged with finding birds for paying customers these famines can seem interminable. There's nothing to do but keep scanning the horizons hoping to spot a distant feast.
Brian Patteson calls such bird swarms "Bee Hives." Schools of tuna force baitfish to the surface, which attract ravenous flocks of shearwaters. The arcing and swirling tubenoses on a distant horizon recall bees at a hive.
|Great and Cory's Shearwaters|
With one spotted, Brian slams the boat into gear and we race toward the action, stumbling upon straggling, loafing, satiated shearwaters that allow close approach.
...and reluctantly take wing.
|Cory's and Audubon's Shearwaters|
Over the two trips last weekend we found three "bee hives" of shearwaters some 35 miles from shore, and in one we found a ferocious hive queen.
|South Polar Skua with Great Shearwaters|
|South Polar Skua|
|South Polar Skua|
The skua was my favorite bird of the weekend (now I just need to find a Brown Skua, and I'll have seen all the world's Stercorariidae), but there were many other highlights.
On Saturday's trip we had, per Brian Patteson, one of the top 10 Leach's Storm-Petrel trips of all time.
My Band-rumped Storm-Petrel photos are even worse than the Leach's shot above, but I got some decent Wilson's Storm-Petrel captures.
We saw one or two Bridleds on Sunday as well, plus a Sooty Tern. These tropical pelagic terns are not very common off of Hatteras until August.
Finally, the smooth ocean made for some excellent marine mammal spotting conditions. We had Bottlenose Dolphins riding the bow, several good sightings of Gervais' Beaked Whales, and saw four Sperm Whales!
It was a fantastic weekend of pelagic birding. Brian's spring trips are more popular because of the chance of better diversity, but in the summer the numbers of birds seen are generally much higher. The trend held true this weekend and we had plenty of space on the boat and hundreds of birds to see.
Thanks again to Brian and Kate for having me along and to Kyle Kittelberger, who did a great job in his spotting debut. More info about these trips and the official counts and species list can be found on the Seabirding Blog; and additional (better than mine) photos here.
Brian says there's room on most of the trips this summer; see www.seabirding.com/ for the schedule and booking information.