Position 18:02.11N 63:05.85W
Julian & Anne Whitlock
Sat 4 Dec 2010 13:07
St Martin/Simson Bay 27th November - of frigate birds and boobies......
Another boisterous windward sail from Sint Eustatius saw us reach St Martin by lunchtime -
32nm in 4 hours heading nearly due north to give us the best sailing route to the British Virgin
Islands tomorrow. It also gave us the opportunity to visit some of the biggest chandleries
in the Caribbean and one of our favourite lunchtime restaurants!
For the whole of our journey today we were accompanied by a booby, the tropical cousin of
our gannet. Now for some time I have been worrying about frigate birds. These prehistoric
looking seabirds have the misfortune of not developing the oil glands all other marine birds
have and hence cannot land or dive into water. This has to limit their food gathering ability
yet you find these birds everywhere. According to birdbooks they attack other sea birds to make
them drop their catch which they then pluck out of the air. Well in all the time we have spent
in the tropics I have only seen them do this on a couple of occasions and generally there are
no other birds in their vicinity to mollest anyway....
Frigate birds do have a very long hooked bill so I have come to believe that they must use
this to catch fish on the surface of the sea in an opportunistic 'snatch' operation. These birds
are incredibly agile so skimming just over the sea surface to hunt their prey is a possibility but
again I have never seen them do this. Which brings me back to our booby. Normally like the
gannet these birds do amazing plunges into the sea at great speed to catch their fish but ours
today was employing a different approach. Our rapid sailing progress through large seas
caused many flying fish to explode from under our bow. The booby flying at mast height to
windward would swoop down and attempt to catch these fish in mid air with about a 25%
success rate. It was fascinating to watch as the poor flying fish, trying to escape from one
medium, found itself under attack in another. Yet because they fly so quickly and manouver
so well when airborn the booby has to be very adept to catch them. Is this the method of
feeding of our frigate bird too?