Sunday myself and 48 others set off out of Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County on the Pastime Princess for an 18 hour adventure into and beyond the Gulf Stream in the search of Pelagic birds. The trip was a resounding success and I was able to pick up three life birds and photograph a few species that you can only see by going out into the middle of the ocean.
Pelagic species are birds that spend almost their entire life on the open ocean only returning to shore to breed. Some can potentially be seen from shore during extended periods of very high winds from off the ocean but generally speaking a Pelagic trip is the only way.
I have been on 3-4 previous Pelagics out of Ponce Inlet and was pleasantly surprised to pick up three life birds. The three species were Arctic Tern, Band-rumped Storm Petrel and Audubon’s Shearwater. We saw many Audubon’s Shearwater’s but only a couple of Terns and only one Band-rumped so I was thrill to get identifiable pictures of all three species.
The Arctic Tern was hanging out with a bunch of Sooty Terns and was easily ID’d due to it’s smaller size and being the only white Tern around! There is a great bunch of cool information here about their annual migration.
I was very lucky last year when I saw Wilson’s and Leach’s Storm-Petrels at the Boynton Beach Inlet during one of the passing Tropical Storms. I was so happy to see this Band-rumped Storm-Petrel Sunday and am confident that I could now separate and identify all three of these species in the field.
Pelagic trips can be very difficult to both see species on but also to photograph birds from. Sunday was a little/lot rougher than the weatherman had advertised and it rained off and on making taking pictures impossible at times. Fortunately during the afternoon the rain stopped and we had just enough light to improve our luck.
I’m sure the Audubon’s Shearwater has been seen on previous Pelagic’s that I have been on but I never managed a picture. Sunday it was one of the more prevalent species and I managed quite a few keepers.
One of the other specialty species these trips set out to see is the Black-capped Petrel which is migrating through this time of the year. We were blessed to have a half-dozen or so of these guys buzz the boat.
Besides the Arctic Tern we had large groups of Sooty Tern’s throughout the day. We also saw 2-3 Bridled Terns which I manged one lone picture of!
All in all an amazing day!!!!
Pelagic trips are not for everyone. There can be long periods of an hour or more where you see nothing. They can be physically demanding as you fight to maintain your balance. They can sometimes make you think you are the worst photographer in the world as you fight the pitch and roll of the boat trying to capture a fast-moving bird!
But WOW!!! The chance of seeing some really, really great cool birds makes all of the above seem trivial!! I will definitely spend many more days on Pelagics and want to give a big shout out to Michael Brothers and the Marine Science Center for putting on such amazing trips for us crazy birders!!