Hatteras Pelagic Trip (February 1999)

On February 13, I took one of Brian Patteson’s pelagic trips out of Hatteras, North Carolina. My main targets were Great Skua, Northern Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, and Red Phalarope. Since the weather reports weren’t favorable, I waited until the last minute to depart. I called Brian on Friday night to check on the weather situation and left at 9:30 pm. I completed the 325 mile drive at 3:30 am and got a little sleep before the 6:30 am departure. The trip was uncertain up to the last minute. I was relieved when we left the dock. It was cold and windy and the water was rough.

We went north from the inlet up to the Hatteras lighthouse before moving away from the coast. We soon began seeing Northern Gannets, which I had only seen once before at a great distance. These magnificent birds were in various plumages and came very close to the boat. An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull swung past the starboard side where I was sitting and joined the flock of gulls that were following the boat. Several other Lesser Black-backed Gulls showed up during the trip. While scanning the horizon, I noticed a large dark bird. Then it turned and showed white on its wings. It was my first Great Skua. It was a treat that I was the lucky one who spotted it. We all got great looks as it swung by to investigate our chum line and then harassed one of the gulls.

While watching the skua, a large wave came over the side and soaked me and gave me a mouthful of seawater. A Manx Shearwater showed up a short time later, but I was too busy shivering and didn’t get a very good look at it. I went inside and laid down for a while trying to get warm after being drenched. A Little Gull was spotted, but I wasn’t able to get out in time to see it. I managed to get a good look at the next Manx Shearwater that showed up. On the way in, I enjoyed throwing out chum to the assembly of Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, and Brown Pelicans. Due to an electrical problem, I wasn’t able to run the heater in my car and shivered the whole way home.