November is the peak month for “Pelandgic” birding on the east coast of Florida. What’s “Pelandgic” birding you say? “Pelandgic” birding is a term coined by a friend of mine, Charlie Ewell. If you are looking for pelagic (ocean going) birds from the comfort of land, you are pelandgic birding, my kind of sea birding!
Wind and weather are important to your success. Northeast wind is the key, particularly when there is a high pressure system sitting off the North Carolina coast. Winds rotating clockwise around the system create a conveyor belt for migrants coming out of the tundra of Canada, and pelagic birds heading to the southern hemisphere for the upcoming Austral Summer. When the winds swing around to the east coast of Florida, the birds pile up as they move along the coast before slipping around Cape Canaveral.
What can you expect to see? Northern Gannets are one of the stars of the show. They often stream by from their cliff side nesting locations in the north Atlantic to wintering “grounds” off the coast of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Waterfowl of nearly any kind will pass by in mixed species flocks, the likes of which you will never see on the water. One of my most interesting memories of pelandgic birding was seeing a tiny little Green-winged Teal leading a flock of pot-bellied Black Scoters southward. Shearwaters sometimes come close enough to be identified; Cory’s is the most common, but Audubon’s or Great are also sometimes seen. Perhaps the most unique phenomenon we are blessed to see is the hundreds or thousands of jeagers, mainly Pomarine, passing by every year. Identifying jeagers as they pass by, sometimes up to a mile offshore, can be a challenge. Studying up ahead is a good idea. The Seawatching Guide by Ken Behrens and Cameron Cox is the best guide out there. It is very comprehensive, but don’t let that scare you. It might take a couple reads and some follow up in the field to cement the ideas, but it is worth it. Another way to learn your pelagic birds is to hire a professional bird guide, such as David Simpson.
Although my favorite place for pelandgic birding is the Eddy Creek crossover at Playalinda Beach in Titusville, don’t feel as if you need to travel that far, you can pelandgic bird anywhere on the coast. Even if conditions are not ideal, there is usually something moving at this time of year. You might even see me out there trying for some county ticks!