SCBWF January 27, 2014: Pelagic Birding Trip

What event would make one get up at 4:00am, be ready to ship off at 6:30am and spend 12 plus hours on the open sea for just a handful of birds?

If you guessed the SCBWF Pelagic Birding Trip, you are a winner!

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Ponce Inlet Light before dawn. This is the second tallest lighthouse in the USA.

Although we waited out some rain while at the dock, by the time we headed out, the skies were clearing. It was a gorgeous day, and the seas were very calm.

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Brown Pelican at dawn.

Unlike last year, where we had 6 ft. seas with a 6 second period (leaving a large portion of our contingent moaning for their lives in the cabin), this year we had nearly flat seas and I didn’t see a single person contribute to the chum slick at the back of the boat.

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Herring Gull deciding if fish parts, oil and popcorn are totally worth it or not…

As glorious as the conditions were (the worse pitching we had was about 40 miles out when we had some 2-3 ft seas that pitched us around a bit for a few minutes), the birding was quite sparse once we got to the open sea. We had barely any followers at the stern either (unlike last year). To me it seemed that there was much less chumming of the water, but I can’t be certain of that. We had long periods of quiet cruising punctuated by minutes of excitement. I saw my first confirmed shearwaters (Audubon’s), whose appearance caused quite a stir, and some jaegers (Pomarine and Parasitic). In any case, the birds we did see before our approach back to Ponce Inlet, were worth the trip to me. I had a blast.

We saw about half a dozen sea turtles (not including the 4 rescued babies we had on board that we returned to some sargassum).

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Baby Loggerhead Sea Turtle.

We were visited by pods of both Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphins and Spotted Dolphins. Spotted Dolphins rode our bow wake at least a couple of times, and some of the mother dolphins even showed off their calves, which was a real treat.

My trip list (including the lagoon and inlet):

  • Brown Pelican
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Purple Sandpiper
  • Northern Gannet
  • Laughing Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Great Black-backed Gull
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull
  • Black Skimmer
  • Common Tern
  • Royal Tern
  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Common Loon
  • Audubon’s Shearwater
  • Pomarine Jaeger
  • Parasitic Jaeger
  • Black Scoter
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • American Oystercatcher
  • Osprey

We had hoped to see a Red Phalarope or maybe even a Razorbill, like last year, but we had no such luck. The action really picked up as we headed back in to the inlet. First, we saw many small groups of mixed-year Northern Gannets as we approached. Then, right near the jetty, we saw a feeding frenzy of gull, terns, gannets, and pelicans on schools of bait fish.

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Feeding frenzy at dusk.

It was a grand ending to a fun-filled and exhausting festival. Special thanks go to Laura Erickson, Corey Finger, Dave Goodwin and all the organizers, sponsors, trip leaders, and fellow briders for making everything so fun and successful.

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