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Florida Keys Birding & Wildlife Festival Pelagic tour, September 26, 2008

Today I lead the Florida Keys Birding & Wildlife pelagic trip (September 26, 2008) leaving from Key Largo.  We had 11-birders who braved the windy, rainy and a little rough weather for a good day of pelagic birding.  The wind was out of the north east at about 10-15 knots with about 3-5 ft. following seas, this allowed for a decent ride out.  Our goal was to make it out to the Marathon Hump 40 plus miles south of Key Largo.  We first traveled to the Islamorada Hump on our way to the Marathon Hump.  The first bird we had was a Peregrine Falcon dive bombing a bird of some sort, we never could tell what it was trying for.  We then had an immature jaeger fly by, we never could get a good enough look to be sure which species.  It was either a Pomarine or Parasitic, it did not stick around long enough for better looks.  We did not see much else in this area and continued on to the Marathon Hump.  We had a shorebird species fly by and a few swallows perhaps barn.  A distant bird seen was a Black-capped Petrel flying with high arcs, I could see the white rump well.  As we watched it fly away in the distance, a second bird joined it or perhaps was with it all along.  We were wishing for better looks as these would be a lifer for many on board.  We had a few passerines fly by, I was able to I.D. one as a waterthrush probably a northern.  We also had two Merlins fly by which was neat to see so far offshore.  We also had many Brown Boobies as we traveled along, some sitting on the water allowing close approach.  As we approached the Marathon Hump we could see quite a few birds in the distance.  When we  arrived in the area we had many, many Brown Bobbies and a couple of Sooty Terns which was nice.  We circled this area for quite some time looking for more birds.  The captain put out a fishing rod and trolled a lure hoping for some tuna.  We caught one small Blackfin Tuna and about three or four Skipjack Tuna, the last one had its tail bitten off.  A shark could have been the culprit or perhaps a huge Wahoo.  I took this fish home and fed the family, it was good!

Stormy weather was approaching from the north, so the captain decided to start heading back.  We headed back by way of Hawks Channel which runs along the keys closer to shore.  On the way back we had a brief look at a Bridled Tern, we usually see many, many of these.  I was surprised at how few we saw.  We had another Black-capped Petrel which gave everyone great looks as it was close to the boat.  We followed the bird to the southwest for a while allowing prolonged views, a lifer for many on board.  We traveled several miles more and had another Black-capped Petrel which also gave us great views.  The captain was able to pace the bird and keep it on our starboard side, we kept up with it traveling at 22 knots!!  We did not have too many other good birds on the way back except some of the more common species.  We did have another Perigrine Falcon which was nice.  While traveling in Hawks Channel we had great looks at a Water Spout which came all the way down to the water stirring things up.  As we watched it, another one formed in the same cloud, this one however did not come all of the way down.  A list of birds seen are below.

BLACK-CAPPED PETREL four birds, pretty darn good anywhere in Florida.
Magnificent Frigatebird 12
Brown Booby 75
Northern Gannet 1
Brown Pelican 2
Double-crested Cormorant 2
Merlin 2
Peregrine Falcon 2
shorebird species 1
Laughing Gull 2
Royal Tern several
Sooty Tern 4
Bridled Tern 1
jaeger species 1

A few swallows and a possible Northern Waterthrush were seen as well as a few other distant passerines.

Black-capped Petrel

Black-capped Petrel

Brown Booby

Brown Boobies

Peregrine Falcon

A really cool Water Spout seen safely in the distance, look right of the white buildings to see the water getting sucked up!

Two water spouts together from the same cloud!

A happy group of birders who endured a day of pelagic birding!


A special thanks to Glenn Patton for the use of his beautiful boat!  I also would like to thank Sanctuary Friends Foundation of the Florida Keys:

Click here for next year's festival


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