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Black-caps and Whitecaps

June 20, 2013

You know, the haters on Hatteras can put up as many ridiculous signs they want, but there’s no way they’re going to keep me away from that place. I spent all of last week on the Outer Banks, helping out with the ABA’s Seabirds of North Carolina IFO, one of the decided perks of doing some work for the American Birding Association. The situation on Cape Hatteras National Seashore with regard to beach access and anti-Audubon rhetoric continues to simmer, but I was happy that an entire week went by with a group of not-too-stealthy birders with no issues whatsoever. It seems that the majority of the heat is coming from a group of out of state internet commandos and very little from the people who are actually in the business of taking people’s money which is good and not too surprising. There are some ridiculous signs out there now, featuring a bird with a middle finger that are really pretty weak compared to the old Piping Plover ones, but they seem harmless to me.  I actually would encourage all birders on the island to get their pictures taken by a couple of the larger ones. I’m planning on it next time I go out.

Anyway, while the pelagic birding on this trip was pretty average to unspectacular (with the exception of one amazing life bird that was every bit the experience I wanted from this species), I did manage to final get my best ever photos of that classic NC tubenose, the amazing Black-capped Petrel. Which I’ll share with you here because I’m lazy and my brain is spent.

Black-capped Petrel - off Hatteras, NC

These are all of one bird that circled the boat several times so you can see how different lighting conditions can make the cap and the back look lighter or darker. That white rump is flashy though, and gives the bird away at a very long distance.

Black-capped Petrel - off Hatteras, NC

Every Black-cap we saw was in pretty heavy molt. These are Caribbean nesting birds, found exclusively in the high cliffs on the islands of Hispaniola and newly discovered on Cuba. They breed during our winter, so these are adults who have recently finished breeding and are now in the process of replacing all those old feathers. Take a look at the primaries on this bird. Some of them are pretty raunchy.

Black-capped Petrel - off Hatteras, NC

Black-capped Petrel - off Hatteras, NC

So the Black-caps were incredible, as they always are, but the sighting of the week was a different Pterodroma, one that has been on my most wanted list for a long-time.  That of the Trindade Petrel, the Atlantic subspecies of what is now the cosmopolitan Herald Petrel. Oddly enough, the experience was almost precisely what I had envisioned. I did spot the bird on my own. Yes, it was a dark phase bird. But I didn’t think for a second it was a jaeger, because Pterodromas look nothing like jaegers at sea (oh, poor inexperienced younger me). My first impression was of a weird, skinny, dark, Black-cap. I quickly realized it didn’t have any white on it, and it was about that point I freaked out. Not everyone on the boat saw it as it only made one pass and we had a minor radio malfunction that kept Brian Patteson from hearing Alvaro Jaramillo and me as were were yelling about this bird and running up the starboard side of the boat.

But I saw it, and that was enough for me.

Next time, I guess I can go back to checking out the Black-caps.

One Comment
  1. June 20, 2013 8:51 am

    Wonderful! I grew up in Morehead City so I still visit Hatteras and also the islands of Shackleford and Core Sound often.

    Arthur, Raleigh, NC

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