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Pelagica etcetera

June 24, 2011

It’s been two weeks since I went offshore, and I’ve still got stuff to share?  Damn right!  A combination of two fantastic days offshore and the summer doldrums onshore leaves me with photo folders runneth over with images from that weekend.

My friend Christopher Ciccone (of Picus Blog) was supposed to be joined in this Outer Banks-travaganza with former Bloggerhead Kingbird Patrick of Hawk Owl’s Nest.  Family concerns conspired to keep him home last minute, but Ali Iyoob, one of my young birder friends (who also writes at North American Birding Blog) jumped into the breach with no hesitation.  So the three of us, a motley crew if there ever was one, headed out to eastern Carolina with birds on our minds.

We made a couple stops for some land birds, picking up a couple Mississippi Kites within the city limits of Goldsboro and hearing but not seeing a Swainson’s Warbler in Croatan National Forest, but for the most part time got away from us and getting to the ferry to Hatteras itself was the major concern.

I’ve already covered many of the highlights from the boat rides.  The whales were impressive and the White-tailed Tropicbirds were nothing short of 100 proof awesome.  But there were lots of other things to see, and this is the post where I kind of throw them all together into a pelagic tossed salad.

Black-capped Petrels are one of my favorite birds ever.  Pterodromas in general are impressive birds, and the rare ones, which show up occasionally, are the sort of birds that haunt your dreams.  But even if you don’t see those, the Black-caps are practically worth the price of admission.  They’re really hard to get sharp photos of, however…

One of the more interesting birds we had on the second day was a Manx Shearwater sitting tight on the water.  We saw several Audubon’s on both days, but to have a Manx, never a common bird any time of the year, was a pleasant surprise.  Note the white undertail coverts and the “cute” expression. Later we flushed a pair of bird soff the water that turned out to be a Manx with an Audubon’s.  It was a great opportunity to compare and contrast, or, in my case, try to compare and contrast.  Pelagic birding is hard…

Great Shearwaters were expected and ubiquitous.  They tend to reach their peak numbers later in May and into June, and because of this I’d always missed them in my earlier in the calender trips.  I sort of arranged to do pelagics in mid-June specifically to nail down this long overdue species (and have a better shot at Tropicbirds, which turned out to be a good move).  It’s funny how each Shearwater species has it’s own personality; the languid Cory’s, the frantic Audubon’s, and the free-wheeling, bruising Greats, who spent much of each day barging clumsily into groups of Storm-Petrels and sending them scattering.

There’s something to be said for their grace as well though.  They can certainly turn on the charm.

The tubenoses are the big draw, but other pelagic species are possible too, notably the Caribbean nesting terns.  Adult birds are on territory far to the south, but first years are scattered far and wide across the southern Atlantic.  You can typically find them along the lines of Sargassum weed that stretch for miles along the continental shelf.  Flotsam tends to congregate here, and the terns can often be found perched atop junk floating in the ocean.  This bird was on what appeared to be a piece of treated lumber, but one that had been out to see long enough to build up a crust of barnacles so it looked a little more authentic so long as you ignored the corners…

So a couple great days out on the ocean!  Thanks Christopher and Ali for making it so much fun!

One Comment
  1. July 3, 2011 11:34 am

    Hi Nate, I just got back from 6 days in the Sable Island/Gully area south of Nova Scotia by 100 miles. As you say the Greater Shearwaters are ubiquitous now but we also had a lone Manx and I appreciate your picture. I also appreciate your description of the different “personalities” of the shearwaters which actually is not a bad way to ID them from afar. We also had So. Polar Skua and Great Skua as well as the two morphs of Fulmar and of course on Sable Island we had the endemic Ipswitch Sparrow. The great Ian McLaren who did the definitive studies on the sparrow there was with us on this private trip. Oh, and did I mention all the cetaceans?! Wow.

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