Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hatteras, NC Pelagic!

Northern Gannett

Liam and I just got back from an epic trip to Hatteras, NC for a Pelagic birding trip. We went out Sunday with "Seabirding Pelagic Trips" with Brian Patteson and Kate Sutherland. http://www.patteson.com/

The day before was tremendously windy and the ocean was covered in whitecaps. It was supposed to calm for Sunday but I was nervous that it would still be rough enough to get me seasick. Less worried about Liam overall, I was still concerned that if the seas were rough enough even he may get sick. The morning was much more calm than the day before but the water and wind were still grumbling and my main concern switched to me. The morning swells must have been 30 -40 feet(6ft) and I did get sick! It was rough. I spent the first hour feeling terrible and agonizing over how I would make it through another 10hours. Finally I let it go so to speak over the stern and felt much better. After a rest in the cabin I felt good enough to enjoy the rest of the trip. While I was at my sickest Liam was having a blast watching Bottlenose Dolphins and Loggerhead Turtles! A special thanks to Kate for taking him under her wing while I was down! Far beyond her job description but if you meet Kate you will understand that is how she is; beaming with energy, caring and concern for the world around her. One of those people that it is a true pleasure to meet!

The trip was rather uneventful for the most part but we picked up some good birds. Lesser black-backed Gull, a rather elegant and subtly beautiful gull, life looks at Northern Gannett, Razorbill speeding by.

Uneventful that is, until Kate screamed SKUA! SKUA! with the energy and excitement of a battleship general quarters! I mean truly from the deepest reaches of her being she yelled SKUA! and the boat erupted in excitement and we all got great looks at a Great Skua! This bird really made the trip worth not paying the electric bill to go on. Not only is it a Code 3 bird, but it is also an awesome bird to behold shrouded in mystery and mystique for its powerful presence and life at sea. It would fly low across the water under the horizon and then shoot into the air as if it was playing, trying to see if it could create enough speed to glide higher straight into the air than the last run. At one point it harassed a large gull and showed its large size and bad boy attitude seemingly harassing the gull just for the fun of it. What an experience! I mean Liam is 10 years old and has experienced a Great Skua! I am so grateful to be taking this journey with him!
After the excitement the trip returned to its standard of watching the birds from the back chasing the chum. Later, while sitting in the cabin having a snack with 3 or four others, Kate screamed SKUA again and the boat exploded with excitement once more. One poor fellow tripped backwards out of the cabin and rolled on his back like a turtle trying to get up. My split second decision to leave him lying there while going out the other door, I like to think, was based on the decision that he was not injured and would be embarrassed if I made a deal out of it and tried to help him up. In reality I think I just cared more about seeing another Great Skua than helping him up. Sorry buddy.
This was the end of our excitement for the day other than the spec of a Dovekie in the distance that was not counted by us. Hardly an identifying look. We will get a better look at one sometime this year.

Liam had the time of his life, I learned how to i.d. Lesser black-backed Gulls well AND we saw 2 Great Skuas!!

The "Blackbeard" of birds. Great Skua!

We found all the Double-crested Cormorants. This view went around us almost 360deg coming back into Hatteras.

Liam diagnosing an ill sea turtle at the Roanoke Aquarium

The "Stormy Petrel II" after our trip. Look at that glassy water! I could stay out for days watching the gannetts dive like arrows into the sea on water like that!

Entrance of the Roanoke Aquarium in Manteo, NC

Brown Pelican

Kate showing Liam how to Chum!

Gulls like the chum. Mine, mine! Mine! Mine!

Liam enjoying the day!

The amount of dark showing through the underwing, it slight build and yellow legs all help i.d. this as the Lesser-black backed Gull

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