This past Sunday My birding buddy Cheryl and I went on our almost annual Pelagic trip out of New Smyrna Florida. Pelagic trips are when you get on a boat and travel far out away from land in search of birds that spend 95% of their lives at sea and rarely are seen from shore. The trip was mostly a success as we saw some nice species but was pretty brutal as far as sea conditions go.
The boat the “Pastime Princess” left the dock a little after 3 AM … that’s right … in the middle of the night. Technically it was Sunday morning but it sure seemed like Saturday night! The Pastime Princess is a wonderful 110 foot boat that has been used for quite a few years for these Pelagic trips and has wonderful areas for viewing and photographing birds from.
The weatherman had predicted 3-4 foot seas with and 8 second interval which would have been ideal for us but as sometimes seems to happen all to often … at least to me … they totally missed the mark. As soon as we got out of Ponce Inlet we noticed that the winds were much stronger than had been predicted. The seas were a little rough, but they often are right out side of the inlets entrance. Everyone on board was trying to get comfortable for the long trek out in the dark but it was becoming pretty obvious that we were in for a rough trip.
The reason this trip leaves so early is that the goal is to reach the far side of the Gulf Stream where most of the Pelagic species hang out at. The sky began to turn from black to blue and eventually to orange as we neared the near side of the Gulf Stream. The waves were now 6-8 feet and very choppy as the wind was hard out of the North at 15-20 MPH. The captain got us into the Gulf Stream but quickly determined that the now 8-10 foot waves were just to dangerous for us to try to get to the far side so we ended up spending the day wandering on the near side which may be one of the reasons it was not as active as some of the past years.
Unfortunately the rough seas caused quite a few cases of sea-sickness which had many of the participants flat on their backs in the interior cabin. Even worse than that the rough seas makes it very hard for most of the participants to stand up and even worse to try to stand and take pictures. I took 1200 pictures or so and maybe have 50-75 that are worth keeping. I’m fortunate that I don’t get sea-sick … 10 years in the Navy helps … and I’m a little more accustomed to the pitching and rolling so I would bet my extremely low success rate was still higher than most!
On many/most of the other Pelagics I’ve been on we’ve seen Whales and Dolphins. While we did briefly see a couple of Dolphins the only really good mammals for the trip were a pair of Loggerhead Sea Turtles.
The boat was scheduled to get back in around 9 PM but thankfully/mercifully we were at the entrance to the inlet around 7:45. This proved to be fantastic turn of fate as we saw our only Arctic Tern of the trip near the jetty and there was also a Purple Sandpiper hanging out on the rocks. Purple Sandpiper is quite a rare bird for South Florida and the very few that are seen are usually only seen in Dec/Jan/Feb so this was a great find this late in the season.
I had an enjoyable though physically draining day. I felt bad for Cheryl and many of the others on board who were pretty much forced to remain seated for most of the day and I’m sure there were quite a few unanticipated bruises produced from the beating we took. Hopefully next year we’ll run into much nicer weather!
As always I can not thank you enough for following!!!