My Life’s Birds: #504
June 12, 2011 – off Hatteras, NC – One Tropicbird is fine. One Tropicbird is enough. We – Christopher Ciconne, Ali Iyoob, and I – had been looking for one Tropicbird for a couple days now. First at the Salt Pond at Cape Point, a shallow and notably freshwater lagoon in a depression left from years of mining dredge sand that’s become a reliably excellent birding location. A Red-billed Tropicbird, full adult with streaming tail, had been showing up there fairly reliably to briefly bathe for the two weeks prior. It was a longshot, dependent as it was on the internal clock of a famously nomadic seabird, and we failed, somewhat expectedly, at every turn. But with two days offshore coming up and stories of an epic Tropicbird spring, we all felt like our chances were as good as they could be to get one of these amazing birds. We just needed one.
The first day we did not see one Tropicbird. The sea was beautiful and expansive, but flat, almost listless. There were the birds you expect on a trip like this; Storm-Petrels of a couple separate species, many Shearwaters, the fabulous Black-capped Petrel. Great birds all, but no Tropicbird.
The advantage of going out to see on two consecutive days is that it doubles your chances almost guaranteed to see something different on each day. The disadvantage is that pelagics are exhausting, and it’s easy to underestimate how tired you’ll get keeping yourself upright on a rocking boat for 24 out of 48 hours. I had never done two in a row before, and I wasn’t sure how mu body was going to react to it. What was clear, several hours into the second day, was that the adrenaline that had fueled the first day was spent. I, and the rest of us on board, were less apt to jump out of our seats for Storm-Petrels and Shearwaters. Even Black-caps came and went little fanfare. The easy rocking, the unrelenting sun, the early morning all conspired to lead to drooping heads… and lowering eyelids…… and…
One Tropicbird. A White-tailed Tropicbird. Erupting from a cloud as if born in the sky above our heads. Then another. Then another. Three Tropicbirds. Circling the boat as curious as Magpies at a picnic table. Peering down not more than 15 feet above our heads. Then, having determined that nothing of interest could be found beyond shutter snapping, slack-jawed birders, heading off into the horizon and, as Tropicbirds are uniquely capable of doing, disappearing into a cloud before they get there.
One Tropicbird is fine, it’s enough. Three is epic.