You Belong In A Boat Out At Sea

October 10, 2017

The much anticipated and alway fun pelagic birding trip, run by The Marine Science Center, disembarked from Port Canaveral on board the Canaveral Princess.

Promotional photo from

I love pelagic trips. Even during the long stretches with no birds in sight, I enjoy the waves and sun (and even the rain, when it’s not been too cold). This trip, we had great weather, and the seas were only moderately rough.

By far, the bird of the day was the Corey’s Shearwater. As a group, we saw over 200 of them (I recorded 77). We perhaps saw more Common Terns, but Shearwaters are obligate pelagic species – that means they are (barring severe weather events, like hurricanes) only found on the open ocean.

A Corey’s Shearwater resting on the ocean’s’ surface. Note the nasal tube, or narnicorn, that some oceanic birds use to help remove salt from their systems.

The initial leg out of the port was very smooth, and it wasn’t until we started passing some of the off-shore buoys that we started to feel the 6-foot (2-meter) seas. Buoys also provide places for birds to roost and use as a look-out.

Magnificent Frigatebird taking advantage of the view.

The majority of the shearwaters we saw were Corey’s, we also did see the Great and Audubon’s species (I’ve seen all these shearwater species on my whale watch in New England, last summer.)

Shearwaters run on the water’s surface to get up to take-off speed.

Unlike most of the previous pelagic trips I have been on, we did not have many dolphins visiting us. Just one rode our bow wake as we left the port. We did see a couple of sea turtles, including a large Loggerhead Sea Turtle getting attacked by a Tiger Shark! The shark was unable to get a good angle on the turtle, and gave up as we drew closer. The turtle had it’s front flippers held straight up in the air to keep the shark from being able to grab or bite them. After a couple of minutes, the turtle dove out of view.

We also saw a Leatherback Sea Turtle. It was enormous and attended by several large Cobias and some remoras.

It’s hard to get a sense of scale, but this turtle was over 4 feet long, but still not full adult in size.

Before too long, I did run into some equipment problems. My current camera – a much loved Fujifilm Finepix S990W – has been having some glitches lately. The back-side buttons would activate without being pressed, or when pressed would cycle quickly through various options on their own. This escalated on Saturday, and the camera started changing settings and formats, as well as locking up entirely. I gave up fighting it, especially after taking a spill near the bow when trying to reach for the railing while protecting my camera. There wasn’t much reason to be holding on to a camera that wasn’t working.

The rest of the trip was fantastic. We came upon large flocks of terns, most of which were Common, but interspersed with Black and Sooty Terns. I saw what probably were some species of storm-petrel, but they were gone behind waves before I could really get a good look. Several Peregrine Falcons cruised by, over 30 km (50 miles) from land.

Here’s my complete eBird list for the trip. The “official” list for the trip, via Michael Brothers has a much higher count and some species I missed (and one species not recorded officially).

My eBird list for the entire trip, there and back again:

“Official” list, via e-mail from Michael Brothers:
Blue-winged Teal 56
Cory’s Shearwater 235
Great Shearwater 5
Brown Pelican 8
Brown Booby 3
Magnificent Frigatebird 6
Parasitic Jaeger 8
Pomarine Jaeger 1
Black Tern 111
Common Tern 419
Royal Tern 41
Sandwich Tern 16
Laughing Gull 9
Sabine’s Gull 1
Short-billed Dowitcher 3
Wilson’s Snipe 1
Red Phalarope 6
Red-necked Phalarope 21
Peregrine Falcon 4
Barn Swallow 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 1
Warbler sp. 1

Despite the camera glitch and my fall on the deck, I had a spectacular time. I am already looking forward to next year, circumstances willing. I’ll post the few remaining photos that didn’t make the blog, soon.


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.