Category Archives: Pelagic

Cruise Birding: Great Stirrup Cay

The itinerary of our Caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Spirit called for a day at sea on December 31, 2015. A group of 12 Brown Boobies followed the ship for a while and we watched them hunt flying fish and loaf on the water between feeding. A lifer for us.

Brown Booby
Brown Booby

The first day of 2016 found us on Norwegian Cruise Line’s private Bahamas island, Great Stirrup Cay. We walked the hiking trail a few times and found some birds and other creatures on the way. We added three lifers here: Bahama Woodstar (hummingbird); Bahama Swallow; and Black-faced Grassquit. There were gulls and terns loafing around the beaches and we even found a few overwintering songbirds: Gray Catbirds; Palm Warblers; Yellow-rumped Warblers; and an American Redstart.

Bahama Woodstar on Great Stirrup Cay
Bahama Woodstar

Black-faced Grassquit on Great Stirrup Cay
Black-faced Grassquit

Bananaquit on Great Stirrup Cay

Black Witch moth on Great Stirrup Cay
Black Witch moth

on Great Stirrup Cay
unidentified little friend

on Great Stirrup Cay
unidentified little friend

The hiking trail was overgrown in places and became hard to follow a few times. It’s really nice to have a nature trail to follow and we wish NCL would take better care of it.

Hiking Trail on Great Stirrup Cay
Hiking Trail on Great Stirrup Cay

We brought along our own snorkeling gear and did a bit of underwater exploring as well.

snorkeling Great Stirrup Cay
Arthur snorkeling

snorkeling Great Stirrup Cay

snorkeling Great Stirrup Cay
stingray sp.

The island can be crowded at the main beach but we found lots of places where we could relax in peace. It was a great, relaxing start to 2016.

NCL Spirit from Great Stirrup Cay
NCL Spirit and giant Laughing Gulls

NCL Spirit Cruise eBird Checklists: day at sea & Great Stirrup Cay
Boobies following ship
Great Stirrup Cay

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Posted in Bahamas, Cruise Birding, Holiday, Life List, Pelagic, Travel | Leave a comment

#SCBWF Pelagic January 27, 2014

On Monday my friend Kim and I boarded the Pastime Princess for the annual Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival (SCBWF) pelagic trip out of Ponce Inlet. I used the same method as last time to track our trip. The light gray dotted line along the bottom of the map on the left side shows the Volusia County border; we were within Volusia waters for the entire trip.

pelagic map
Click here for full view of map

Seas were extremely calm, which unfortunately meant that few birds were on the wing. The easygoing, relaxed ride made it simple for me to check our location every half hour or so. The dock (start/end point) is somewhere northwest of point A in the inlet. When calculating distance between points, I used a straight line. At our farthest we were just about 50 miles offshore and we traveled a total of somewhere around 150 miles. I added a table to the end of this post showing where we were at what time.

placid water

From about 8:45 to about 11:30 we saw zero birds. Two Audubon’s Shearwaters in the early afternoon and a pair of jaegers (one Pomarine and one Parasitic) as we approached land on the way back were the most exciting birds. Northern Gannets were in relative abundance closer to shore and we could study their plumage cycles. In total I recorded 28 species, most of which were found in the inlet at the start and end of the day. I entered six eBird checklists; see the links at the end of this post.

Northern Gannet immature
Northern Gannet, 1st cycle

Four washback sea turtles were released near beds of Sargassum. Two of the youngsters were from the Marine Science Center and two were from Sea World. There were three Greens and one Loggerhead.

sea turtle release
Michael Brothers holds baby sea turtles prior to release. Green on the left; Loggerhead on the right

We did see 6 to 8 adult Loggerhead Sea Turtles throughout the day. We also came across pods of Common Bottlenose (in the inlet) and Atlantic Spotted Dolphins during the journey. Twice we were lucky to have some spotteds join us as we clipped along at speed. They were a ton of fun to watch. Look for the baby in the below video.

Species list, January 27 2014 pelagic:

Black Scoter – Melanitta americana
Common Loon – Gavia immer
Audubon’s Shearwater – Puffinus lherminieri
Northern Gannet – Morus bassanus
Double-crested Cormorant – Phalacrocorax auritus
Brown Pelican – Pelecanus occidentalis
Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias
Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea
Green Heron – Butorides virescens
Black-crowned Night-Heron – Nycticorax nycticorax
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
American Oystercatcher – Haematopus palliatus
Ruddy Turnstone – Arenaria interpres
Purple Sandpiper – Calidris maritima
Pomarine Jaeger – Stercorarius pomarinus
Parasitic Jaeger – Stercorarius parasiticus
Bonaparte’s Gull – Chroicocephalus philadelphia
Laughing Gull – Leucophaeus atricilla
Ring-billed Gull – Larus delawarensis
Herring Gull – Larus argentatus
Lesser Black-backed Gull – Larus fuscus
Great Black-backed Gull – Larus marinus
Royal Tern – Thalasseus maximus
Sandwich Tern – Thalasseus sandvicensis
Black Skimmer – Rynchops niger
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major

Here are my eBird checklists from the day:

eBird checklist: 6:45AM, 45 minutes, 5.35 miles
eBird checklist: 7:30AM, 1 hour 15 minutes, 15.98 miles
eBird checklist: 11:30AM, 2 hours, 25.85 miles
eBird checklist: 3:00PM, 30 minutes, 5.87 miles
eBird checklist: 3:30PM, 1 hour 10 minutes, 14.06 miles
eBird checklist: 4:40PM, 1 hour 50 minutes, 22.67 miles

Here’s where we were, when:

Marker Time Latitude, Longitude Distance
A 6:47AM 29 1.38N, 80 54.53W
B 7:32AM 29 4.47N, 80 54.18W 5.35 miles
C 7:50AM 29 4.25N, 80 52.27W 1.92 miles
D 8:19AM 29 1.28N, 80 45.57W 7.56 miles
E 8:45AM 28 59.36N, 80 39.47W 6.50 miles
F 9:43AM 28 52.57N, 80 26.58W 15.07 miles
G 10:23AM 28 48.7N, 80 17.58W 10.17 miles
H 11:04AM 28 48.26N, 80 6.48W 11.25 miles
I 11:36AM 28 49.17N, 80 0.22W 6.38 miles
J 12:25PM 28 51.43N, 79 48.48W 12.15 miles
K 1:00PM 28 53.49N, 79 54.12W 6.21 miles
L 1:30PM 28 55.5N, 80 1.18W 7.49 miles
M 2:01PM 28 55.58N, 80 6.17W 5.03 miles
N 2:31PM 28 57.12N, 80 13.30W 7.40 miles
O 3:01PM 28 58.36N, 80 18.28W 5.23 miles
P 3:32PM 29 0.44N, 80 23.6W 5.87 miles
Q 3:39PM 29 1.56N, 80 27.54W 4.14 miles
R 4:40PM 29 3.39N, 80 37.14W 9.92 miles
S 5:03PM 29 3.58N, 80 43.51W 6.41 miles
T 5.31PM 29 4.52N, 80 51.45W 8.08 miles
return A approx 6:30PM 8.18 miles
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Posted in Pelagic, Space Coast Fest, Volusia Birding | Leave a comment

January Florida pelagic fun

I had a lot of fun on last week’s pelagic trip, the final event of the annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. I managed to track where we went just fine, but I missed a couple of great birds. Oops!

Going under the causeway

Shortly after we left the inlet, the boat slowed down and we heard over the loudspeaker that there was a possible Razorbill being seen at 3 o’clock (the opposite side of the boat from where I stood). I stumbled over, but the bird never resurfaced and we moved on. I had missed the bird but at least I heard and understood the announcement.

For the rest of the trip I swear I couldn’t understand anything coming out of the loudspeaker! Sometimes other birders would call out so the rest of us could get on a bird. At one point I honestly think I heard it announced that there was an “Audubon’s Bridled Phalarope at 3 o’clock.” WTH!?

shrimp boat
Shrimp boat with no gull groupies

I missed seeing a Brown Booby that was spotted from the opposite side of the boat. I ran over but the bird was gone by the time I got word. And during a comfort break I missed seeing a Bridled Tern perched on a buoy which was apparently giving crippling views. I had seen a distant but clear Bridled Tern earlier in the trip so this miss didn’t sting too bad — even though it was a lifer. The Booby would’ve been, too. Bummer. But really, I have to save some good looks and lifers for the next pelagic, don’t I?

preparing the chum
Chopping up fish for chum

Mates prepared chunks of fish to use for chum (pelagic standard operating procedure). For most of the trip, a disgusting slop was tossed out behind the boat to attract birds.


backlit gulls
Gulls attracted to the chum

Laughing, Ring-billed, Herring, and both Black-backed Gulls followed us several miles out.

Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull

Herring Gull
Herring Gull

Great Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull

Northern Gannets joined them, and we had the opportunity to study these large seabirds in their various plumages. The previous link goes to a slideshow of fabulous gannet photos taken by Laura Erickson, who was also on the pelagic trip. I was glad to have the pleasure to visit with Laura, albeit very briefly, before we reached port at the end of the day.

Royal Tern
Royal Tern

We were also treated to nice views of Royal Terns as they soared behind and beside the boat.

When we were at about 40 miles out, but on our way back in, we slowed to release a very young Loggerhead Sea Turtle. The turtle had been in the care of the Marine Science Center for the past several weeks and Arthur had the chance to look after it during some of his volunteer shifts. The youngster was released among some clusters of sea grass.

baby Loggerhead Sea Turtle
baby Loggerhead Sea Turtle

The rest of the trip back in was rather uneventful, bird-wise. People got to chatting and I moved around the boat, talking with some of the nicest birders I’ve ever met. Bruce Anderson brought out a small collection of study skins and gave an impromptu lecture on the identification of birds like kittiwakes, phalaropes, and the like. He even had a specimen of a young Razorbill, a casualty from the recent Florida invasion.

pretty sky
pretty sky

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse
Ponce Inlet Lighthouse

All in all, it was a fun day out on the water. I got sunburned (will I ever learn?). I got one lifer. I got a bunch of new county birds (number one on eBird, baby!). I got to talk to some of the best of the best in Florida birding. Oh, and I got to meet and bird with Greg Miller. Yes, the Greg Miller.

THE Greg Miller & me
THE Greg Miller & me

Yes, it was a great pelagic trip that will be hard to beat! Until next time! Haha!

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Posted in Festivals & Events, Pelagic | 2 Comments

Tracking a pelagic journey

Last Monday I joined the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival pelagic trip out of Ponce Inlet. This was my second trip on the Pastime Princess, following my first pelagic back in September 2011.

I wanted to try to track the trip on a map, so I looked into how to use the GPS on my iPhone without having network connection. I learned that if the area to be visited is cached in the iPhone’s native Maps app, the GPS will be able to find the present location on the map. (I am still on IOS 5.1.1 so I was using the iPhone Maps app powered by Google maps.) The day before the pelagic, I spent a few minutes zooming in and out of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Volusia and Brevard counties on my iPhone to get as much information into the cache as possible.

There are applications that can use cached maps in coordination with GPS to make a line that tracks a journey, but I figured this might be a battery drain. So instead, I planned to drop pins on the map as we went. However, I learned just a bit too late (on the boat, at sea!!) that the app won’t hold more than one pin. I could have saved locations as bookmarks, but that seemed cumbersome.

So, plan B. I checked our location every hour or so using the Maps app. It takes a few moments for the phone to fix a location using just GPS, so I had to be patient. Once I knew that our location was found, I went to the native Compass app and took a screenshot. At the end of the day I had a list of coordinates that I plugged into a Google map when I got home.


This map shows how we went. We actually started at Ponce Inlet which is by point N, but I didn’t start taking coordinates until we turned out to sea. For the first part of the trip we hugged the coast (so from N to A).

View Larger Map

This may be a very roundabout way of tracking the trip, but it worked great and I was pleased to see for myself how we went. Trip leaders often give out a very general idea of how the boat will travel, or the final mileage and approximate distance from the shore, but I think it’s neat to see more precisely how we traveled. The total journey from port to port was about 123 miles; at our furthest point we were about 48 miles offshore. And of course I was most pleased to see that we did not travel into Brevard waters, as was first indicated! 😀

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Posted in Festivals & Events, Pelagic, Space Coast Fest | 1 Comment

Two missed targets, two lifers

Brown Pelican
Brown Pelicans in the harbor at Mayport

On Sunday, February 5th, Arthur and I joined 25 other birders on a last-minute pelagic trip put together by Michael Brothers of the Marine Science Center. The trip was arranged after a Georgia whale survey reported seeing large numbers of Razorbills and other seabirds, along with impressive numbers of Right Whales, the week prior.

The trip left out of Mayport, near Jacksonville, at about 8AM, which meant that we had to leave our home in DeBary at o’dark thirty for the 2+ hour drive north.

Mayport Princess
Our boat was the Mayport Princess, a fishing charter

The seas were relatively calm, the skies overcast. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to see any Razorbills or Right Whales at all. We did find some good birds, though. We had good looks at Red Phalaropes, and saw tons of Bonaparte’s Gulls, up to 17 Manx Shearwaters (an impressive number for a Florida pelagic), and many Common Loons, some in loose flocks on the water. Manx Shearwater and Red Phalarope were both lifers for me.

Bonaparte's Gulls
Tons of Bonaparte’s Gulls

Bonaparte's Gull
A Bonaparte’s Gull in flight

Red Phalarope
Red Phalarope

Common Loon
Common Loon

The trip was a short one; we arrived back in Mayport before 3PM. Some birders surely headed straight home to watch the Superbowl, but Arthur and I stopped at Lake Woodruff NWR for a short walk, where I was happy to hear a new year / Florida / Volusia County bird: Eastern Screech Owl.

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My first pelagic birding trip!

Last Sunday, September 18th, I joined a pelagic birding trip on the Pastime Princess out of Ponce de Leon Inlet, Florida. The trip was sponsored by the Marine Science Center; there were 43 birders aboard.

There’s no turning back now!

We departed at about 5am and before we got out of the harbor a downpour drove everyone on the upper deck downstairs. I got soaked but dried off fairly quickly after the rain (the first shower of several throughout the day) stopped. As soon as we were out of the harbor the water got quite rough – well, more rough than I had expected anyway. The ship was rocking and rolling and I held onto my seat, scared to get up. The seas were pretty rough throughout the whole day, but I got used to it eventually and could walk around the ship once it was daylight. I saw at least seven different people get sick but luckily my one Dramamine and my laser-focus on the horizon throughout most of the journey kept my stomach settled. I also ate like a bird, and I’m sure that helped too. 🙂 The video below gives an idea of how the trip was – during a relatively calm part of the journey.

Distant rains
Rain in the distance. It reached us, eventually.


After the first rough patch of seas, the sun began to rise. My photos don’t begin to capture the beauty of the sunrise, but I remember thinking at the time that even if we didn’t see any birds, the trip was already worth it.


Ooh, aah!

One of the guides brought along a bunch of study skins of birds we hoped to see during the pelagic trip. These were really interesting to see and we got a nice explanation and close-up look at the skins during the last part of the trip.

Study skins
Study skins of pelagic birds

Study skins
More skins

I got six lifers on the trip. Remarkably, I didn’t have too much trouble picking up the birds in my binoculars. Taking photos of the birds, however, was a comedy of errors. Everything is on the move so just finding something in my viewfinder was a challenge. I only got shots of a few birds, all lousy. A couple of photographer birders on the trip got excellent shots of some birds, and I’ve linked to them in this list (my lifers): Black-capped Petrel; Cory’s Shearwater; Great Shearwater; Audubon’s Shearwater; Sabine’s Gull; Sooty Tern. I also saw potential lifers Wilson’s Storm-petrel and Red-necked Phalarope, but they were so tiny I can’t count them on my list. Incidentally, we ended up seeing a large number of Black-capped Petrels throughout the day for a conservative total of 45 birds – a one-day Florida record.

Cory's Shearwaters
Cory’s Shearwaters resting on the water

Cory's Shearwater
Cory’s Shearwater shearing

Sabine's Gull
Sabine’s Gull between the waves

Something really sad to see was a Black-throated Blue Warbler about 50 miles out from shore. This tiny bird circled the boat for a while and everyone was quietly rooting for it to land somewhere on the ship to take rest. At one point the bird even flew inside the main cabin, but it eventually left the ship. I read on the trip leader’s report later that at least two other warblers were seen during the day.

Besides the birders and guides, an employee from the turtle hospital at the Marine Science Center was aboard. She brought along some baby sea turtles to be released during our voyage. Baby turtles!! In the photos below, the ones with the light outline are Green Sea Turtles and the brownish ones are Loggerhead Sea Turtles. The babies were in the care of the Center for a variety of reasons, and were aged between three and four weeks.

Sea Turtle Release

Sea Turtle Release
So small!

Sea Turtle Release
Two Loggerheads and five Greens

We tried to find a large bed of sargassum for the release, but all we could find were long strings of the sea grass. Finally we found a suitable spot and the turtles were released. A baby turtle or two was placed into a net and they were lowered to the water. They all swam off immediately. This was very, very cool to see!

Sea Turtle Release
One Green to go!

Sea Turtle Release
Two Loggerheads overboard!

Birds were the focus of the trip, but we were also treated to several sightings of Atlantic Spotted Dolphin pods. I captured just a few pictures, but we saw dolphins on several different occasions and we were treated to many, many full breaches.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Always a treat to see dolphins!

Another non-bird sighting was a huge adult Loggerhead Sea Turtle, again very cool to see! The boat also scared up a lot of flying fish. I hadn’t seen these before and their quick flights made me giggle.

While most birders were either glued to a seat or hanging on to the railings during our time at sea, most everyone stood up during the leisurely sail back into port. We picked up quite a few day birds on the way in, including 60+ Brown Pelicans, Ruddy Turnstones and Caspian Terns.

Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse
The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse


I had a lot of fun on my first pelagic trip, although I was sad to go alone; Arthur wasn’t feeling well and decided to stay home. With the rough seas I am sure he made the right decision. I’m already looking forward to my next pelagic birding experience. 🙂

Pastime Princess
The Pastime Princess at the end of the day

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