Cold Front Brings Waves and Gannets

Debra Hess
Yankee Freedom II Naturalist

Winter season has arrived and Northern Gannets have been the highlight of our boat rides aboard the Yankee Freedom II. These large sea birds with white plumage and black wing tips have been peppering the seas surrounding the Marquesas Islands catching bait fish. Gannets are migratory sea birds usually found in the coastal regions of the North Atlantic. Many gannets (especially young birds) winter in the Gulf of Mexico.

Young Gannet

Their aerial displays are awesome. Gannets will often climb to 100 feet above the ocean surface, before plunging with wings tucked like a missile piercing the water surface cleanly. They usually feed in groups which makes their aerial and diving display even more spectacular. Large schools of bait fish and flying fish have been observed from the Yankee Freedom II in the area around the Marquesas Islands attracting the gannets to this area.

Jaegers have become more plentiful in the waters around the Marquesas Islands as well. Jaegers feed by pursuing terns and gulls until they drop their food. Brown Boobies and Masked Boobies have been feeding in Rebecca Channel. Brown Boobies are also being observed most days on the navigational markers surrounding Ft. Jefferson. Sooty Terns have been heard calling over the fort at night and you can expect to see large flocks of these birds soon. They utilize Bush Key for nesting and usually start laying eggs in early February. This signals the arrival of thousands of terns which is truly a magnificent sight. Large flocks of Royal Terns and some Black Skimmers have been observed on the southwest coaling docks. A Chuck Will’s Widow has been seen napping in the fort several times.

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