PORT O’CONNOR PELAGIC September 5, 1998

Aboard   the Chip XI
Subject: Red-billed Tropicbird!

Date:   Mon, 7 Sep 1998 13:47:26 -0400

From:   Dwight Peake

The apparently last public Saturday Texas pelagic trip for the foreseeable future   was run out of Port O’Connor on September 5. I had feared through most of the   past month that there were not enough adventuresome ecotourists to make the   trip possible and then Hurricane Earl passing by our area a couple of days   prior to the trip had me fretting that the trip would not go, but enough   hardy souls registered and the seas calmed rapidly after Earl.

Earl apparently moved the edge of our target eddy pretty much past the limits of   the range of our trip and the best area we could reach was on the other side   of what has proven to be a very oligotophic (low in biological activity,   otherwise known as a “there aren’t any pelagic birds in the Gulf of   Mexico” area) water mass. The seas were calm and we were fortunately   able to make good speed. We came upon a line of rain showers and right on the   leading edge of the rain, Petra Hockey shouted “Big White   Bird”-that was enough to get my pulse racing, but the distinctive flight   which indicated a tropicbird got me absolutely frenzied! We watched the bird   for several minutes and finally a Texas tropicbird gave us good looks! It   flew back and forth in front of us and we even got to see it make a feeding   plunge dive. My video is not NGS quality, but it does show the long black   markings on the outer upper primaries, a reddish bill, worn stubby ,elongated   central tail feathers, and most importantly, the black eye patch extending   around the back of the head!

We had lots of leisurely looks at Band-rumped Storm-Petrels and 3 Masked Boobies sat   on the water less than 100 feet from the boat at different times during the   day. Everyone got great looks at Frigatebirds overhead also.

The pelagic tern numbers were low and the ones we did find were not cooperative.   The lack of any areas with fish schools probably accounts for the poor   pelagic tern showing.

The  marine mammal numbers were also lower than usual with only a few Bottlenosed   dolphins bow riding, but being able to watch a basking Sperm whale makes up   for the low numbers for me!

King  Neptune kept the seas calm throughout the day until two hours out of port   and, just at dusk, an unexpected storm line hit us with 40 knot winds.   Fortunately, the trusty Chip XI proved its seaworthiness again in the 6-8   foot seas which resulted! It was a bit more of an adventure than I had hoped   for. The Chip XI is a sturdy boat and Gary Geissel is an excellent Captain-I   greatly appreciate his skills at finding and following birds and having   gotten us safely to and from deep water during the past five summers!

I,   however, would like to take pelagic trips in a bit more comfort than is  possible on the Chip XI. Texas birders have the opportunity to make these   offshore birding trips on a much more comfortable craft. The M/V Fling and   M/V Spree are much larger boats and have large, comfortable cabins with air   conditioning, individual sleeping berths, and lots of food to eat. The next   trip is scheduled to depart at 9pm on September 20 and to return by 5am on   the 22nd. Due to several late cancellations, we need several more people to   sign-up. Unfortunately, if we don’t get enough people to register for this   trip, these trips will not be available next year. So if you have been   thinking about going on a Texas pelagic trip but have heard that the Port   O’Connor trips are too rough for your tastes, please sign up for this trip-it   may be your last chance for a Texas pelagic trip (remember, no boats make   public trips to water deep enough to regularly see pelagic birds and mammals   except these that we birders charter).

Trip   list:

Band-rumped   Storm-Petrel 21

unidentified   storm-petrel 2

RED-BILLED   TROPICBIRD 1

Masked   Booby 4

Magnificent   Frigatebird 14

Bridled   Tern 5

Sooty   Tern 2

Bridled   vs. Sooty Tern 5

Black   Tern

Royal   Tern

Sandwich   Tern

Pied-billed   Grebe

Eastern   Kingbird

Baltimore   Oriole

Barn   Swallow

Cliff   Swallow

unidentified   hummingbird

Bottlenosed   dolphin

Sperm   whale

Dwight   Peake

Galveston,   Texas

Houston   Audubon Society

OCEANOGRAPHIC CONDITIONS: Sept. 5, 1998

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