May 7, 2016
Headed out with a fantastic crew in search of May pelagics off Elliot Key. We had a very late cold front come through Saturday which caused me to almost cancel the trip. The forecast initially called for 15-20 knot winds Saturday night, but was later revised down. The wind was forecast to shift to ENE in the afternoon. When we got out past the reef we realized that maybe they shouldn’t have revised it, since the seas were 3-5 with occasional higher. The period was long, so it wasn’t terribly bumpy. I don’t like any winds out of the western quadrant, since everything get pushed far offshore. We had to run offshore before finding the first pelagic birds, and not many at that. We started seeing a few Bridled Terns, Brown Booby, some Northern Gannets going north, a couple of Sooty Terns, and an Aududon’s Shearwater or two. We saw several groups of warblers and bobolinks flying north. We had on Common Yellowthroat that almost landed on the boat.
Our biggest surprise, though, came when we saw a group of Bridled Terns harassing a large, brown bird. As it came close, we saw what it was: a Barn Owl! We were not expecting a Barn Owl over the Gulfstream.
By noon, the NW winds finally began to lay down and shift more to N and then NE. We quickly saw the change in activity. A really nice edge formed and bird activity picked up, and did the fish. We began seeing flocks of Bridled Terns and Audubon’s Shearwaters over schools of Skipjack Tuna. The tuna were feeding on tiny baitfish, and the birds were taking these as they got pushed to the surface.
Mixed in with the Bridled Terns and Audubon’s Shearwaters we saw a couple of Common Terns and Black Terns. As we were moving from flock to flock looking for something different, we noticed a large bird coming in very low and fast towards one of the feeding flocks. We soon saw it was a Pomarine Jaeger just doing what they do. If came in fast and quickly began to chase the terns and shearwaters, eventually forcing an Audubon’s Shearwater to discard its catch and allowing the jaeger to pick it up.
The NW winds made it tough, but luckily the bird activity picked up and we had a decent day after all. The next 2 months are the prime season for pelagics in our area. I hope to make several more trips in the next few weeks. Below is our list of birds seen:
Aububon’s Shearwater – 75, Brown Booby – 15, Northern Gannet – 3, Pomarine Jaeger – 1, Bridled Tern – 250, Sooty Tern – 5, Common Tern – 3, Black Tern – 2.