Monday, May 26, 2014

A Grand-Slam at Sea

May 21, 2014
Gulf Stream off Hatteras, North Carolina

   We got up bright and early on the 21st of May, 2014. My brother, Dad, and I were just about to board the Stormy Petrel II for a day of pelagic birding with "Seabirding" off Hatteras, North Carolina. You could already tell it was going to be a rough ride - the waves were choppy and the wind was strong. I stepped onto the boat, recalling my first ever pelagic trip last summer. On that first trip, everything at sea was a lifer: Cory's Shearwater, Black-capped Petrel, Wilson's and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, Pomarine Jaegar, and Bridled Tern. This time, my second trip on the Stormy Petrel II, my one and only target bird was Fea's Petrel. By then, the engine roared and we were underway.
   It seemed that we had barely left the inlet when we began seeing our first Sooty Shearwaters of the day. The species was my 299th lifer, and I couldn't wait to see what my 300th lifer would be! I love these shearwaters with their dark brown plumages and silver under-wings. They wheel about in wonderful arcs and don't hesitate to ride the wind at full speed! The Cooper's Hawk is often described as looking like a "flying cross" in flight, but it doesn't seem to fit. "Flying cross" is a perfect description of a Sooty Shearwater when it turns its wings vertically in flight.
   As we were driving, an Audubon's Shearwater that had been floating in the wavy water quickly flew from the boat. It looked hilarious running on the water for take-off. This shearwater happened to be my 300th lifer!
   For about two hours we rode far out at sea. A couple of Wilson's Storm-Petrels flew past the boat as well as a single Black-capped Petrel and a Cory's Shearwater. When we got pretty far out, Kate Sutherland, first-mate on the Stormy Petrel II, put chum in a wire cage (like a giant suet cage) and tied it to the boat's rail. Within minutes, more Sooty Shearwaters, Wilson's Storm-Petrels, and Black-capped Petrels arrived. Pomarine Jaegars made a few passes also, one of which was an adult with a cool tail. But still we did not have the desired action, so we moved on.

Cory's Shearwater. This one is a borealis. (Note mostly dark primaries.)

 Above and below, Pomarine Jaegar

Sooty Shearwater

   More Wilson's Storm-Petrels trailed behind the boat plucking food from the slick. Suddenly, a Great Shearwater, lifebird #301, flew over the boat making a grand entry. This same individual followed us the whole day, coming very close to the boat and even landing on the water. Brian Patteson, captain of the Stormy Petrel II, called "Smaller gadfly petrel!" and birders rushed to see the bird. The ID was unknown - the bird was in bad lighting - but it was most likely a Bermuda Petrel or Trindade Petrel. Just seconds later, Kate Sutherland called "Fea's Petrel!" and again, birders rushed to see the Fea's. Only a few of us got on the bird, and unfortunately, I was not among them.

Above, several photos of a Great Shearwater

   Another chum block was thrown into the cage. Then, "European Storm-Petrel!!!" came an excited call from Kate. Now the birders really rushed to see this rare storm-petrel poorly pattering from the wake. The little storm-petrel was uncooperative for the most part, but fortunately everyone on the boat (including me!) got to see him. Wow! How cool! This was my 302nd lifebird. Soon, at least one Leach's Storm-Petrel, lifer #303, joined the other storm-petrels. He made several speedy passes by the boat. The European, Wilson's, and Leach's Storm-Petrels were later joined by a fourth storm-petrel: a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel. The Band-rump came very close to the boat a couple of times, allowing us to see him nicely.

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
   Things seemed to cool down, and then heat up again as Kate called out "Trindade Petrel!" Unfortunately, I didn't get on the Trindade.
    But that was just the beginning. Less than five minutes later, Kate (again!) yelled in an indescribably excited way "Bermuda Petrel!!!" The Bermuda Petrel was very close to the starboard side of the boat. He showed off his dark hood for a few seconds until he flew off into the distance. We birders were all-smiles as we exchanged high-fives after this awesome sighting. Bermuda Petrel was my 304th lifebird.
   The waves were becoming rougher in this part of the gulf stream, so we began the wet ride back to the inlet. We docked early, but that's ok - after all, we basically had a grand-slam pelagic day!

( '<>' )
(   ,  ,   )
   Back at our beach house, I was skimming through my pelagic photos and about to delete a pretty poor Sooty Shearwater photo when I noticed a storm-petrel in the corner of the screen. It had white under wings - a European Storm-Petrel!

Can you find the European Storm-Petrel?
Poor photo (cropped image), but two Wilson's Storm-Petrels (left and middle)
with a European Storm-Petrel (right).

See the post from our trip on the "Seabirding" blog here.
View my eBird checklist from the trip here.
You can see a folder of photos from my 2014 pelagic trips here.


  1. What a day! That Euro is impressive. I'll be going on the June 2nd Hatteras trip - finally getting out on a pelagic. I can only hope it's half as good as what you had.

    1. Awesome! I hope you have a great time. I must warn you though that (if you're like me) once you've gone on your first trip, you'll want to go on all of them! They are addictive! Good luck. :)