Capt. Mike Rowell of Annie Girl Charters said the birds followed the boat for about 10 miles.

July 30, 2019 – Orange Beach, AL – (OBA®) – Capt. Mike Rowell of Annie Girl Charters has spied some unusual sights in his many years heading out into the Gulf for fishing trips.

“I saw a great white shark about 40 years ago and nobody believed me,” Rowell said with a laugh. “Now we know there are great white sharks out in the Gulf.”

Another time there was this beer truck. Floating in the Gulf.

“Somebody was going to sink it for a reef and forgot to take all the insulation or something out of it,” he said, “so it floated back to the surface. That was a long time ago before we had more restrictions on what could be used as reefs.”

During a recent July fishing trip he saw another natural phenomenon that’s a bit of a rarity in the northern part of the Gulf, a group of rare birds, likely brown boobies or possibly northern gannets.

“I’ve seen ‘em before but far away,” Rowell said. “It was just cool the way they were following the boat and diving on the bait the boat was spooking up. They were kind of using the boat in their fishing. They got really close and I’ve never seen ‘em that close before.”

The rare birds gave Rowell and his passengers a running show as they headed back to port in Orange Beach.

“It was just really neat,” he said. “They followed us for about 10 miles. Every once in awhile, they’d peel off and dive down. A couple of times they would just dive down and scoop up fish and a couple of other times I saw ‘em spin around, dive down and go underwater. Then they’d sit there on the surface a minute I guess to eat their fish. Then they’d take off again.

“They were flying about 10 feet from me and I was standing there taking pictures.”

Brown Booby birds are more generally found in the extreme southern Gulf just barely touching the tip of Florida, the Caribbean off the east coast of Latin America and around the northern tip of South America and on the western coast of Latin America and Mexico.

Brown Boobies Range Map by

Brown Booby Range Map by

That’s hundreds of miles south and west of where Rowell saw the birds and took pictures and videos from the bridge as he motored home from another fishing trip.

Northern gannets nest in Newfoundland but spend part of the year all along the Atlantic coast and Gulf Coast of the U.S.

Dr. John Dindo, Director of Estuarium - Senior Marine Scientist III at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, said he’s not convinced the birds are brown boobies but he’s also not convinced they aren’t.

“To me, it looks like a juvenile northern gannet but not being there and not getting a real close up look at it, it’s hard to say,” Dindo said. “They could be juvenile northern gannets because they would be the same size as a brown booby. It’s so hard to distinguish between that juvenile and a brown booby.”

Gulf State Park Naturalist Kelly Reetz said it’s not unusual for birds not native to the area to get swept up in a tropical wave and end up in the northern Gulf for a few days. Earlier this year some magnificent frigates were seen in the skies above Orange Beach and Gulf Shores.

“When storms come into the Gulf the brown boobies get pushed to our area,” Reetz said. “But they don’t stay long.”

But the brown booby sightings aren’t on the heels of a storm as Hurricane Barry blew ashore on July 13 about two weeks before Rowell spotted the birds adding mystery to the sightings.