Birding Aboard has sailors reporting unusual birds

When you’re cruising, you’re immersed in nature, and many of us enjoy watching the birds while underway or at anchor. But as a boater you’re also in a unique position to contribute to citizen science simply by taking photos of the birds you see on passage and in remote anchorages.

Tropicbirds are commonly reported to the Birding Aboard project, perhaps because they are so elegant and have a habit of circling the mast.
Photo ©Ellen Massey Leonard.

Because there is so little coverage of these areas, the odds are high for a “birder aboard” to contribute notable sightings that help scientists and conservations map bird distribution and abundance.

Here are a few examples of how cruisers can be “the eyes on the water” for birds:

* Sailing vessel s/v Aventura, with the Blue Planet Odyssey through the Northwest Passage, photographed a rare white morph Gyrfalcon cliff-nesting on an island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Their sighting adds to a lone 1999 historical report of a Gyrfalcon at the same location.

A rare white Gyrfalcon spotted among the cliffs and icebergs
of the Northwest Passage. Photo ©Doina Cornell.

* A 24-year-old who crossed the Atlantic with his father as part of the Atlantic Odyssey fleet, captured stunning photographs of a Trindade Petrel about 1,000 miles east of Martinique. A Trindade Petrel also was reported independently by Dorothy Wadlow on s/v Joyant about 900 miles east of Antigua. Trindade Petrel is a recently split species, considered vulnerable with uncertain global population and range.

A striking capture of a fast-flying ocean bird, a Trindade Petrel at home a thousand miles from shore. Photo ©Michael Sammer.

* Two homeschooled children, ages 10 and 11, logged all the birds they saw during their two-week transatlantic, scoring a Red-billed Tropicbird and Masked Booby closer to Cape Verdes than their expected stronghold in the Caribbean.

* In that same fleet, s/v Gemm and s/v Fleur de Sel documented flocks of Cattle Egrets in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, over a thousand miles from Africa or South America. The Cattle Egret has had one of the most wide-reaching and rapid expansions from its native range in Africa, spreading northward through South and North America since first sighted in Guiana in 1877. They are presumed to have flown across the Atlantic Ocean, given that immature Cattle Egrets will disperse up to 3,100 miles from their breeding area. So Lanzarote to Martinique (the Atlantic Odyssey’s passage) is just a jump across the pond!

* Circumnavigator Ellen Massey Leonard collected photos from her and her husband’s round-the-world passage on 38-foot s/v Heretic, contributing noon positions for notable sightings such as Cape Petrel further north than expected in the Indian Ocean, a Brown Noddy hitchhiker off the South African coast, and a Pomarine Jaeger near St. Paul Rocks in the central equatorial Atlantic Ocean.

A Brown Noddy claims a radome as its perch halfway between Ascension Island and Barbados. Photo ©Ellen Massey Leonard

* Birding Aboard Advisor and U.K. marine conservationist Colin Speedie on s/v Pelerin sailed through the balmy Lesser Antilles, only to spot several notable birds common to him from his northern home port! These included Great Skua, Pomarine and Parasitic Jaeger, and Cory’s Shearwater.

There were also many reports of hitchhiking land birds, such as Bobolink, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Barn Swallow, Mangrove Swallow, Caribbean Martin, Northern Flicker, and Blackpoll Warbler. These sightings reinforce recent tracking evidence that tiny songbirds are able to migrate long distances over the ocean and are not all “storm waifs.”

A tiny Blackpoll Warbler, a migrant between Canada and South America, rests in the cockpit of s/v Cinderella about 20 miles off the Florida coast.
Photo ©Jaye Lunsford.

Going forward, the project is anticipating exciting reports from Blue Planet Odyssey vessels sailing to Tokelau and Vanuatu, another season of attempts through the Arctic’s Northwest Passage, a sailboat cruising the Scandinavian Arctic, and OceansWatch Donna Lange’s solo circumnavigation. And we hope for even more sightings from coastal and offshore cruisers like you!

The “SeaBC” Sea Bird Count is:

  • A Clean Wake Project of the Seven Seas Cruising Association
  • An Environmental Programme of the Ocean Cruising Club
  • A Project of the Blue Planet Odyssey


Marine Conservation is my passion

Marine Conservation is my passion and I have worked on ocean issues for decades learning a great deal along the way.

Sally-Christine and her family

Sally-Christine Rodgers with husband Randy Repass & their son, Kent-Harris.

The oceans are in crisis and we who love them need to step up and be vocal in support of sustainable seafood, reducing Co2 emissions, and limiting plastics, which have impacted the oceans so dramatically.

I also believe that women play an important role in not only educating their families, but in using their buying power and influence on others, including our government’s representatives. Buying local organic food, only eating sustainable seafood, choosing bio-degradable cleaning products, reducing waste, not drinking water from plastic bottles, informing your representative on ocean legislation and supporting marine conservation organizations are just some of the ways we can participate in the health of the oceans.

In preparing for cruising, we made a lot of decisions that we hope reduced our impact; We use Bottom shield bottom paint with less copper content when available. We are very conscious of our waste. I remove and recycle nearly all packaging materials from our larder before we leave. I then repackage foodstuffs in seal-a-meal bags, which make it much easier to store, see what you have, control portions, and the bags are re-sealable! (Not to mention everything lasts forever!)

We did not throw anything we could not eat overboard. This gets tricky on small boats, and careful planning is necessary, but it can be done. I saved all of my glass jars to give to island women who loved having them as storage containers. We also work hard to see where trash is disposed. Often in small communities, it is just dumped or burned. Recycling is not common.

Cleaning products are often toxic. Why use them? Vinegar and Baking Soda work very well in most instances. A couple of other examples include using Cream of Tartar and hot water for cleaning Aluminum. Hydrogen Peroxide can be used instead of Bleach. Apple cider vinegar and baby oil is a good polish for chrome and stainless. And there are many biodegradable cleaning products available. (Pure Oceans Products at West Marine for example.) I stock up as they are hard to find once you leave.

We also actively organized beach cleanups with other cruisers.

It is all about making choices. Frankly most cruisers use few resources, they are careful with water and power, and live simply. That is what most cruisers want really, to simplify our lives, get close to our spouses and children and to truly be ourselves in nature.

I would love to see Women and Cruising hold a forum on what cruising women have learned about cruising sustainably. I am certain there is much we can learn from each other, and in supporting each other we can have an impact on the health and protection of the oceans.

Sally-Christine’s thoughts on Marine Conservation

Excerpt from her book
Convergence – A Voyage Through French Polynesia”

When I was a child, the sea seemed vast and abundant. But today, the oceans of my childhood no longer exist. I am not a scientist, but I am an observer, and sailing long distances has given me an acute awareness of the negative impact that human behavior has had on our oceans. In my lifetime, I have witnessed startling changes in water temperature and the rapid decrease in the quantity and diversity of marine life. Pollution is ubiquitous, and critical habitats such as coral reefs are being adversely affected, in some cases beyond the point of recovery.


Agricultural runoff, mining, aquaculture (e.g. farmed salmon), unrestricted coastal development, and unregulated manufacturing practices are just some sources of pollution that threaten the health of the oceans and contaminate the food we eat from the sea.

Nutrient-rich fertilizers discharged in agricultural run-off are causing dead zones—low oxygen (hypoxic) areas in the ocean where life simply cannot survive—causing entire ecosystems to collapse. Mercury and other heavy metals from power plants, pesticides, herbicides, detergents, sewage, oil, and plastic are also ending up in our oceans. Even residue from the pharmaceuticals we ingest is found in the fish we eat. A United Nations Environment Program study estimated that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. I have been thousands of miles away from land and have seen the floating debris.

More than a million seabirds and hundreds of thousands of marine mammals die from ingesting photodegraded micro-plastics, which are now part of the food chain. A study from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography estimated that fish in the intermediate ocean depth of the North Pacific ingest roughly 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic per year. Do you know what happens to your discarded plastic waste?


Although some fisheries are successfully managed, overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices are taking a catastrophic toll on world fisheries. Industrial fishing methods, such as bottom trawling, destroy critical habitats by dragging chains and nets over the sea floor, essentially wiping out entire ecosystems.

It is estimated that industrial fishing fleets discard 27 million tons of non-targeted fish and other sea life every year. In some fisheries, up to ten pounds of life is discarded for every pound of seafood that makes it to market. This intolerable waste is known as by-catch. Undersized fish, turtles, dolphins, whales, and sharks are just some of the species being discarded, dead or dying, with each haul. Seabirds are also affected. According to Carl Safina of Blue Ocean Institute, an estimated hundred thousand albatross are killed annually by longliners alone.

Over 90 percent of the seafood brought to market in the U.S. is imported. According to a Natural Resources Defense Council report, nearly every foreign fish product sold in the U.S. has been caught in a way that violates U.S. federal marine mammal protection laws. It is worth thinking about where your seafood comes from and supporting sustainable American fisheries.

Ocean Acidification

There is no longer any doubt that climate change is playing a role in our rapidly changing world. It has been scientifically documented that increases in temperature from natural weather fluctuations exacerbated by industrialized increase of CO2 emissions are leading to potentially catastrophic depletion of marine life.

CO2 is absorbed in the ocean as a natural process, but increased levels of CO2 reduce calcium carbonate; the sea becomes acidic and less hospitable to life. Over time, the reduction in calcium carbonate prevents creatures like shellfish—oysters, mussels, crab, and shrimp—from forming shells. In fact, existing shells start to dissolve. Coral reefs, home to the greatest biodiversity of ocean life, die. The smallest ocean animals at the base of the ocean food web, including zooplankton, cannot survive in these acidic conditions. And if zooplankton cannot survive, sea life further up the food chain—fish, mammals, and seabirds—will also perish. No food, no life! One billion people rely on seafood for their primary source of protein. The implications are obvious.

What Can One Person Do?

Humanity as a whole may be responsible for the degradation of our oceans, but I believe that we are all capable as individuals of responding to this crisis. How? Each one of us can make lifestyle choices that reduce our carbon footprint, reduce our own contribution to pollution, and educate our children.

Here are some thoughts on ways to begin:

 Vote With Your Dollars

• Stop buying water in plastic bottles.
• Don’t use plastic bags.
• Don’t use Styrofoam or polystyrene products.
• Eat only sustainable seafood and support sustainable fisheries.
• Eliminate toxic chemicals from your homes; encourage your workplace to do the same.
• Avoid non-organic fertilizers and pesticides.
• Buy local, organic produce and products.
• Review your transportation options.

Finally, and very significantly, we can all get involved, becoming educated—and passionate—advocates for our oceans, the life-support system of our planet.

Be aware of your own carbon emissions and share your knowledge with others.

Contact and support marine conservation efforts locally and nationally. Following is just a partial list of organizations that I respect.

  •  Blue Ocean Institute
    Led by Dr. Carl Safina, the institute works to create a more knowledgeable constituency for conservation.
  • Ocean Champions
    A 501(c)(4) with an attached political action committee (PAC), this is the first-ever political advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the ocean and its wildlife. Ocean Champions is focused on building support for ocean conservation in the U.S. Congress.
  • Oceana
    This is the largest conservation organization focused solely on the oceans. It uses scientists, economists, lawyers, and advocates to achieve tangible results.
  • Ocean Conservancy
    “Informed by science, our work guides policy and engages people in protecting the ocean and its wildlife for future generations.”
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch
    The Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program helps sustain wild, diverse, and healthy ocean ecosystems by encouraging consumers and businesses to purchase seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that don’t harm the environment.

About Sally-Christine Rodgers

Sally-Christine Rodgers

Sally-Christine Rodgers grew up as one of a “water tribe;” has lived near the water and worked in the marine industry all of her life.

Her passion for the oceans and her desire to raise awareness of their plight led Rodgers to support conservation efforts across the country and around the world. Rodgers and her husband jointly endowed a Duke University Professorship in Conservation Technology and a Platinum Leeds building dedicated to Marine Conservation Education at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC.

She has raced in the Vic Maui and Pacific Cup Races to Hawaii, and sailed with her husband and son across the South Pacific, South East Asia and in many parts of Europe.

When not on the water, Rodgers has her hands in the earth, tending vineyards, keeping bees, and raising longhorns on the California coast.

Convergence: A Voyage Through French Polynesia
by Sally-Christine Rodgers

Convergence cover

Convergence: A Voyage through French Polynesia is a personal story of one woman’s adventure – her lifelong passion for the ocean, and her struggle to face her fears as she learns to surrender to nature.

Along the way, she comes to realize that passages are not just about getting from one place to another. Journeys like this one go to the heart of who you are when you start out and who you have become when you get to the other end.
Available for purchase at West Marine and


Girl Overboard



I stood on the bowsprit as we sailed Biscayne Bay.

The wind swept the swelter of the sun from my skin.

A bucket of Noon rain had dumped and now steamed up from the decks of the Annie Lee, taking my troubles—real and imagined—with it.

Annie!” Dad hollered from the cockpit. “Check our depth.”

I startled and scrambled for the world’s longest mop handle and jabbed it into the water until it struck bottom.
Six feet!” I read from the notches Dad had carved in the pole.
Six and a half… six and a half!” We drew four feet, so I knew we were okay for the moment. I rammed the pole through the seaweed into the muddy bottom again.


The pole stuck fast in the mud.

In a split-second reflex, I clung to the stick and the Annie Lee sailed out from under my feet.

The pole sunk deeper in the mud as I wrapped my arms and legs around it—suspended over the bay like a girl shish kabob. “Daaaad!” I clung to the pole while my brain registered I wasn’t reading this in Nancy Drew, but living it.

My brother jumped up and down on the aft deck screeching, “Daddy, Daddy! Annie lost the boat!”

I caught a fleeting glimpse of R.J.’s sun-toasted face gone pale as my toes touched bay.

This water is freezing.” I yelled at the Annie Lee’s transom. “There’s mud down here! I hate seaweed! God only knows what’s slithering around in here!”

Cold fingers of water and fear climbed my ribs as I inched down the pole. Dad would rescue me, but the barracuda and hammerhead I’d met this summer still lived between my ears.

In up to my neck and treading water with one hand, I kicked slimy kelp.

Treading water, debating swimming for the ANNIE LEE

The chill crawled up my scalp as my hair slurped sea, morphing into soggy noodles.

Water lapped into my mouth and I tried to spit out the salty taste and my fear, but they hung around.

I peered at the shoreline. I could swim that far if I had to.

Clouds bunched their way across the horizon, white bumper cars converging and parting.

In the distance, Dad dropped sail. The anchor would be next. I knew Dad wouldn’t about-face the Annie Lee in shallow water to fetch me.

Should I swim for the boat and drag the stupid pole along?

While I debated, Dad landed on cat feet in the dinghy, shoved the oars into the oarlocks. He glanced over his shoulder to get a bead on my location.

Dad’s shoulders and arms flexed and relaxed under his T-shirt as he stroked.

Dad always loomed larger than life, but today as I watched him, he approached super-hero status.

At last he coasted up beside me. He grabbed my forearms and hauled me into the boat with a grunt. I couldn’t read his tight-lipped expression.

I inhaled the scent of Dad’s sweat and safety as I landed in a soggy lump in the bottom of the dinghy.

Dad braced his legs and yanked the pole from the bay in one heave.

The pole clattered where he dropped it—one end extended over the bow, the other oozing mud into the water behind the dinghy.

As I launched into a litany of every little detail Dad needed to know about my lapse overboard, I thought about how good it felt to be rescued.

miller-overboard--6I usually felt left to fend for myself.

Normal was bumping my knees against the ring where Mom and Dad went rounds in a marital bout. When they shed their mouth guards and gloves, and stepped off the mat into Mom and Dad, they were black and blue and beat.

I walked alone two stints of kindergarten—Miami and LA. My barracuda and shark were a graffiti-scrawled tunnel and a freeway bridge where cars whizzed by my elbow, blowing exhaust in my hair.

At seven, I rode two Miami buses to ballet, poised on my knees with my hand at half-mast beneath the pull cord.

I fixed my own breakfast every day. And once or twice I forgot and fainted in school.

My third grade picture—put down for posterity in the family album—is a shot of the Pippi Longstocking braids I did myself.

Mom pasted a smile on life, as if a Groucho Marx nose and mustache could make happy.

But when I really needed them—like today—my parents came through.

They whisked me to the hospital when I downed a bottle of baby aspirin as a kid.

Mom carted me to the orthodontist to un-buck my teeth, the orthopedist to fix my inward-turning feet—with ballet, saddle shoes, and nighttime boots nailed east and west on a plywood board.

Dad taught me how to pinch a penny, skin a fish, and feel things deep down in my gullet.

Back on the Annie Lee, before my suit completely dried, Dad spotted the cove he’d been looking for. We’d tie up along the seawall and head inland.

But we dropped sail too late and came in hot against the concrete.

A crunch sounded as the Annie Lee sideswiped the rough wall, skinning off a two-foot section of fiberglass, resin, and paint.

I gritted my teeth. We should be called the Four Stooges instead of the Fettermans.

But Dad went grimly about tying the Annie Lee to nearby pines, positioning the bumpers to insure there’d be no more blunders today.

We tumbled out onto land and traipsed after Dad.

My mood had swung south with Dad’s. I swatted a mosquito from my sweaty neck and braced myself for an afternoon digging clams with my fingernails or wading through mangrove swamp hunting antique bottles.

Dad stopped and my nose bashed into his shoulder blade.

A rope swung in the breeze from the high reaches of a banyan tree. Sun dappled the smooth green water below.

My mouth dropped open.

A tree-gnarled Nirvana.

I glanced at R.J. and saw my grin written on his face.

Dad climbed down the bank and scouted the rope’s span for rocks and logs. Satisfied, he caught the rope with a dead branch and pushed it into my waiting hands.

I swung out into air and let go. Cucumber crisp water closed around me, encasing me in a delicious coolness I’d thought frigid when I fell overboard.

Dropping like an ice cube into the delicious, cool cove
An hour later, I perched on a sprawling tree root at water’s edge, breathing hard. Rivulets ran down my arms. I wrung the moisture from my hair and watched my family swing and drop like ice cubes into the cove.

R.J. did a cannon ball, Dad a jackknife, and Mom, a graceless plop.

I laughed at R.J.’s next let-go. His arms and legs flailed in mid-air before landing in the water.

I savored this sweetest day of childhood—not realizing it would shine through the stormy seas ahead.

I savored this sweet day of childhood.