I drove to North Carolina and Uncle Jim and I birded Lake Mattamuskeet, Pea Island and the Outer Banks (to be covered in another blog post) on the way to Cape Hatteras where at daybreak on Saturday, we boarded the Stormy Petrel II, owned and operated by Brian Patteson and his wonderful staff.
We left dock at 6:00am to head to the gulf stream (a two hour and twenty minute top-speed ride). Lots of fun, if a bit damp. The only time I got queasy was when I went into the bathroom. The enclosed space and the rocking motion made for a bad time, but once out in the fresh air where I could see the horizon, I was just fine. I even managed to eat lunch without getting sick.
Once we got out to the gulf stream, we saw dozens of Wilson's storm-petrels (they soon became the trash bird of the trip - they stayed with us the entire time we were on the gulf stream). They danced and fluttered on the ocean partaking of the menhaden oil that the Stormy Petrel II staff spread on the water to attract more birds. Wilson's storm-petrels dip their feet into the water as they feed, "paddling" to either hover over the food source or perhaps stir up more food. It gives an impression of seabird butterflies. Beautiful and magical. White-rumped storm-petrels soon joined in. I could not tell the difference between the two - the field guides say that the white-rumps have a divided rump patch, but with the speed of the birds and the rocking motion of the boat, all I could see was a brown bird with a white rump.
Suddenly, there was a big ruckus at the front of the boat. A group of six false killer whales was spotted. They gave us great looks as they swam close to and under the boat, almost playing with us. Dolphins, sunfish and flying fish rounded out the ocean wildlife for the day. Then, sooty and manx shearwaters flew in. Awesome - two more lifers for a total of 8 pelagic species for the day.
After a seafood dinner and a good night's sleep, we left for Ocraoke Island and the Cedar Island ferry, making our way back home. Thanks to Uncle Jim and the crew of the Stormy Petrel II for a fabulous time.