June 1-3 NC Pelagics (OR 'Cahow I missed Bermuda Petrel!')

Earlier this month I was joined by Frank Mantlik, John Oshlick, and Phil Rusch for three days of seabirding off Hatteras, NC with Brian Patteson. We had a nice turnout, as expected for the date, with a full boat on June 1 and most spots filled on the following two days. Top-notch seabirding, as usual. Here is a brief day-by-day summary with some accompanying photos. Thanks to Kate Sutherland for the official numbers.

June 1
Today was warm and rather calm, perhaps too calm (if there is such a thing). The lack of wind kept many birds low or on the water, but there was enough breeze to disperse the scent of our chum slick for the storm-petrels. It was a beautiful and comfortable day to be in the Gulf Stream. Diversity was quite high, with several notable species seen. The final highlight of the day came on the ride home when Brian intercepted a pod of FALSE KILLER WHALES. Awesome.

Black-capped Petrel  4
Cory's Shearwater  63-73
Great Shearwater  7
Sooty Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  38
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  205-210
Leach's Storm-Petrel  2
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  9-10
Parasitic Jaeger  1

South Polar Skua

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (non-molting)

Arctic Tern

False Killer Whales

June 2
Day #2 was windier, which meant more birds in the air, including a great showing of Wilson's Storm-Petrels. Since this is the time when European Storm-Petrels have been known to appear here, we were paying particularly close attention to the Wilson's. No luck though. Despite lower species diversity today, numbers of the featured Gulf Stream species, such as Black-capped Petrel and Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, were higher today with some nice looks to boot.

Black-capped Petrel  9-10
Cory's Shearwater  120
Great Shearwater  4-5
Audubon's Shearwater  43
Leach's Storm-Petrel  1
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  5-7
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  340-410
Pomarine Jaeger  3
prob. South Polar Skua  1

Pomarine Jaegers

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (molting)

Cory's Shearwater ("Scopoli's")

Cory's Shearwater (borealis as ID'd in the field) feeding on Snowy Grouper carcass
Black-capped Petrel (white-faced)

June 3
Our final day on the water was windier yet, as we had a strong cold front approaching from the west. The wind got birds flying quickly and quite high. This is the way to see Black-capped Petrels. They really amaze you with their speed and agility under these conditions. As the day wore on, ominous clouds approached, the winds kicked up even more, and the birds were swarming ahead of the front. We all had the feeling that something rare would appear soon.

And, eventually, it did.

Steve Howell got on a distant Pterodroma that he spotted just in time to call a BERMUDA PETREL as it was arcing on the horizon, moving further and further away. But he would be the only person on board (far as I know) to see the bird well enough to identify it. By the time I got on the bird, it was a distant speck. In fact the only reason I figured I was looking at the right bird was that it was moving exactly the way Steve was describing it. So close yet so far...

Although we were a bit bummed that the Cahow didn't want to play with us, it did not put a damper on the day, which was pretty awesome overall. The only bad moment of the day came when it was time to head back to shore! You hate to leave birds out there.

Another moment of excitement came as we were approaching the marina in a thunderstorm, when an immature MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD was spotted hanging over land.

BERMUDA PETREL 1 (Howell only)
Black-capped Petrel  18-20
Cory's Shearwater  130
Great Shearwater  11
Sooty Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  67
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  400+
Leach's Storm-Petrel  5-6
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  5
Common Tern  3
Pomarine Jaeger 5

Cory's Shearwater ("Scopoli's")

Black-capped Petrel (white-faced)

Black-capped Petrel (dark-faced)

I can't wait to get back down there for more high quality seabirding. I hope to have enough time to put up a greater selection of photos of the feature Gulf Stream species that are worth a closer look: Black-capped Petrel (white-faced versus dark-faced), Cory's Shearwater (borealis versus diomedea), and Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (molting versus non-molting).

 - Nick


  1. Nice post! I'll be doing my first trips out there in August, really looking forward to it.

  2. Enjoy Steve, you'll have a blast. I was hoping to help out down there in August but it doesn't look like our schedules align. Hope you do well!

  3. Great post! Just went out on a pelagic here in Miami-Dade yesterday and picked up some neat birds like Brown Noddy but nothing compared to Bermuda Petrel haha. I am hoping to make it next year for a Hatteras pelagic.


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