Category Archives: Space Coast Fest

#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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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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Random Space Coast shots

Arthur and I had a blast at the 2012 Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival, our first. I had wanted to attend the festival for years but we only got the chance this year, about 6 months after moving to central Florida. Since we’re semi-local, for the most part we eschewed the field trips aimed at finding Florida specialties. Instead we attended trips to lesser-known spots and classroom presentations focused on local wildlife with which we are still becoming acquainted. We had a great time meeting new friends (although I am disappointed that I managed to miss meeting several online friends who were at the festival) and birding the Space Coast of our new home state. Here are some random photos from the festival.

Eastern Meadowlark
Eastern Meadowlark @ St Johns NWR, Black Rail trip, January 25

Looking for Black Rails
Looking for Black Rails @ St Johns NWR, Black Rail trip, January 25

Birding Hatbill Road
Birding Hatbill Road, North Brevard Hotspots trip, January 26

Richard Crossley
Richard Crossley signing his ID Guide, January 27 [photo by Arthur de Wolf]

Golden Silk Orb-weaver
Female Golden Silk Orb-weaver @ Enchanted Forest Sanctuary, Forest Biodiversity Hike, January 28

Gopher Tortoise
Captive Gopher Tortoise @ Enchanted Forest Sanctuary, Forest Biodiversity Hike, January 28

GHOW on old OSPR nest
Great Horned Owl sitting on an old Osprey nest @ Merritt Island NWR, January 28

Corn Snake
Me with a Corn Snake, Cold-Blooded Critters presentation, January 28

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“422 photos”

I became ill shortly after the Gull Fly-in on Thursday night (NOT from the gull-watching, though!) and I continued to feel green all day Friday. I was so incredibly sad to have to miss an entire day of the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival – what a lousy time to get sick! I missed a field trip and a few classroom presentations and I was so bummed.

I felt like myself again on Saturday and had a great day at the festival. And as a consolation to missing Friday, Arthur and I signed up for an extra day, Sunday. Our first presentation wasn’t until 10am Sunday morning, so we decided to make a rather mad dash to Merritt Island NWR and take a spin around Black Point Wildlife Drive.

It was incredibly birdy, and it was also quite naturally crowded with birders. We had a hard time getting off the main road because of a gaper’s block right at the entrance. A mixed flock of White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, and others were delighting several cars-full of birders.

Roseate Spoonbill

We squeaked along, delighting in the delight of all the out-of-state birders gawking at Florida specialties. All along the road we came across clumps of birders standing on the road, looking at and photographing great birds. We pressed on, slow but steady. Once we crept by a pair of photographers pointing their cameras into a ditch close to the road. Arthur looked down as we slowly passed and whispered to me, “Bittern!” I pulled over and we carefully, quietly walked towards the photographers to get a look at the American Bittern. My first view was like this.

American Bittern

Normally I would be ecstatic to take such a photo of an American Bittern with my point-and-shoot Canon. But as we watched, the bittern stepped out from behind the reeds to hunt. Check out the motion in the animated GIF below; the bird moved its entire body but the head stayed perfectly still!

American Bittern

American Bittern

We watched it for perhaps five minutes before it caught a tiny snake, ate it, and then headed back into the reeds and out of view.

American Bittern

American Bittern

American Bittern

After it disappeared, one of the photographers remarked to no one in particular: “422 photos!” That’s a lot of photos of a very cooperative and beautiful American Bittern. I’m sure at least 421 of them were better than mine, but I’m thrilled with what I got anyway. I hope you like them, too.

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Bird-a-Day week 5

Now that I’ve made it into February in the Bird-a-Day Challenge, I thought I’d start posting semi-regular updates as the weeks roll on. Since my last update on January 25th, I’ve added 11 birds, three of which were dreaded yard birds.

04-FEB-12 Killdeer Gemini Springs
03-FEB-12 Ruby-throated Hummingbird yard
02-FEB-12 Northern Harrier Gemini Springs
01-FEB-12 Bufflehead Kennedy Space Center
31-JAN-12 Palm Warbler yard
30-JAN-12 Eastern Phoebe Spring-to-spring Trail
29-JAN-12 Painted Bunting Merritt Island NWR
28-JAN-12 Eurasian Wigeon Merritt Island NWR
27-JAN-12 Common Grackle yard
26-JAN-12 California Gull Frank Rendon Park
25-JAN-12 Black Rail St. Johns NWR

I attended the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival in and around Titusville from January 25th to 29th, which meant I was seeing birds I don’t expect to see here at home and at my local patches – great birds for the challenge!

Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting: January 29

The Black Rail on January 25th was one of at least three heard-only (yes, that’s legal!) birds during a festival field trip designed especially for finding these elusive little rails. Notice the yard bird there in the middle of the festival on January 27th – I was sick and spent most of the day in bed, and when I finally got to peek out the window I didn’t see anything more rare than a flock of Common Grackles. I also got to pick up a good bird on February 1st when Arthur and I took a hastily-planned trip to Kennedy Space Center (to see this) and I found a single female Bufflehead in a small pond during our tour. The rest of the birds were found locally and most are pretty common right now. The Northern Harrier was a nice surprise as I’ve only found them at Gemini Springs on two other occasions since moving here. On to week 6!

California Gull
California Gull: January 26

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Volusia County Gull Spectacle

One of the largest concentrations of gulls found anywhere in the United States occurs on winter afternoons right here in Volusia County, Florida. A stretch of beach in Daytona Beach Shores hosts from 30,000 up to 50,000 loafing gulls as they gather before nightfall. The gulls group together on the beach in the late afternoon before heading just offshore to spend the night. This short video clip featuring Michael Brothers of the Marine Science Center explains this unique phenomenon.

While I find this huge concentration of birds amazing, I have to admit I still haven’t fully embraced the joy of identifying and ageing gulls. Luckily for me, there are birders that are more than up for the challenge. Even luckier, they are happy to share their knowledge with larophobes like me.

During the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival, a team of larophiles, including Michael Brothers and Alvaro Jaramillo, headed the Gull Fly-in based at Frank Rendon Park. Here Arthur and I joined several other birders in happily watching the gulls flying in in huge, unbelievable, remarkable numbers. We watched them gather into gigantic flocks on the beach that must have stretched for several miles.

Before the field trip began, Arthur took this video as we drove along a stretch of beach, heading to the park. This was taken at about 2:45PM, hours before the gull numbers reached their peak.

We birders gathered at the park to watch the gulls fly in before we headed down onto the beach.

Gull flying in

Gulls flying over birders


The most common gulls in the flocks were Ring-billed, Laughing, Herring, Lesser Black-backed, and Great Black-backed. Among these species, keen eyes can pick out the birds that are different. Shortly after we stepped onto the beach, Alvaro found a California Gull. There was also a Glaucous Gull and a hybrid gull that I didn’t get a chance to see. Another highlight was watching a Pomarine Jaeger harassing gulls out on the water. But the biggest highlight was simply seeing huge numbers of beautiful birds hanging out and doing their thing.

Glaucous Gull
Glaucous Gull


California Gull
California Gull – notice dark eye, red/black on bill, red gape, brown speckled nape


Birders & gulls


Gull prints

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Target Acquired

Before our first programs at the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival last Wednesday, Arthur and I stopped at Riverbreeze Park, which lies on the Indian River in Oak Hill. This was a new spot for us; I found it by browsing recent eBird sightings for Common Loon in Volusia County. We spent some time birding from the fishing pier.

We saw a couple of loons swimming in the water as soon as we arrived. Target acquired!

Common Loon

I also added American White Pelican, Spotted Sandpiper, and Black Skimmer to my Volusia list.

As we left the park, we saw lots of Great Blue Herons moving around their roosting trees. They were getting ready to start their day. Just like us! Next stop: Titusville and the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival!

Great Blue Heron roost

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