South Padre Island TEXAS PELAGIC September 24, 2004

Aboard the Osprey II

Subject: WBC Pelagic, Sept. 24

Date: Fri, 24 Sep 2004 22:49:39

From: John Arvin

To say that I agonized over whether to cancel today’s pelagic trip due to the ominous to partly ominous reports and predictions of the weather in the   Western Gulf (due to the Son of Ivan, reforming from its own ashes like a Phoenix) is putting it mildly. I didn’t really decide that we were definitely going until I punched up the buoy report on the Internet at 04:00 this morning and saw wave heights down to 3 ft. from last night’s 6+ ft. and saw a satellite picture of Ivan over deep East Texas. To say that I am glad that I   did not cancel is also quite an understatement. We continued a streak of exceptional rarity producing September trips: Manx Shearwater in 2002 (the only member of its species to be seen alive in Texas waters; the other 6 records are all beach wreaks), Yellow-nosed Albatross in 2003, and both Long-tailed Jaeger, and what is probably Texas’ first record of White-tailed Tropicbird today. More on the tropicbird later.

It was more than just a rarity producing trip, however. The exceptionally high quality of the experiences were at least as satisfying. We saw 9 species of pelagic birds in all (and a couple of semi-pelagics) and with the single exception of Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, for which the season is getting quite   late, we saw them all extremely well and often for long viewing sessions. And  there’s more. The dolphin shows (multiples) were extraordinary. At times we were literally set upon by pods of 80-100 animals. We could scan around and   see dozens racing for the boat where they took turns surfing on the bow wave   while the rest did all sorts of acrobatic stunts, mostly performed several feet out of the water. We only had two species Atlantic Spotted Dolphin and   several hundred Bottle-nosed Dolphins, but they really did perform and it seemed like we moved from one large pod to another with barely a breathing space in between.

Among   the outstanding bird experiences had to have been a crisp juvenile   Long-tailed Jaeger which homed in on an anchored shrimp boat which had attracted large numbers of terns. The jaeger flew around allowing excellent looks and many megabytes of photos for 10 minutes or so. Masked Boobies were about average with at least four individuals including a stunning adult perched on the outrigger of a working shrimp boat that passed within a few yards of us. Bridled Terns are listed on the log as 7, though I think we   missed recording a few. We had most of these perched or flying very near the boat. There were 2-3 all black juvenile Sooty Terns. Terns in general were   more common than usual, especially Common Terns well offshore. The normal coastal terns (Royal, Sandwich, Black somewhat pelagic outside the breeding   season and at least 1 Least) were well represented even out over the continental slope, especially associated with shrimp boats, but also feeding over voracious tuna schools and large mats of Sargassum. Several Magnificent Frigatebirds harassed the terns.

In   contrast to July’s trip when we saw 70+ Cory’s Shearwaters, today we had only   two, but these passed repeatedly close to the boat for excellent looks.   Unfortunately the only Band-rumped Storm-Petrels glimpsed were flying by   distantly in the opposite direction from our line of travel and could not be   chased.

Ah,  yes. The tropicbird. Numerous photographs and video should allow a hasty   resolution to the identification once and for all, but tropicbird identification is really a good deal tougher than most field guides would lead you to believe. While we are pretty sure it will turn out to be a White-tailed, and thus a new (but long overdue) record for Texas, various photos need to be scrutinized and compared with other photos and perhaps specimens of both Red-billed and White-tailed Tropicbird. You will definitely  be hearing more about this bird in the near future.

Note   that there is the final pelagic trip of the 2004 season next Friday, October  1. The trip has a few spaces left but these are going fast.

Good birding (pelagic or otherwise)

John Arvin

Subject: Re: WBC Pelagic, Sept. 24

Date: Sat, 25 Sep 2004 10:41:25

From: John Arvin

After checking lots of photos (blessed be digital cameras) of our tropicbird from yesterday with all sorts o f available sources of information it would appear that our bird is in fact a Red-billed Tropicbird, not a White-tailed Tropicbird. As I mentioned last night, tropicbird identification of less-than-fully-adult birds is tough. Thankfully we obtained excellent views and excellent photographic opportunities. While it is a disappointment not to have come up with a new state record as we were thinking we had yesterday,  there is nothing shabby about Red-billed Tropicbird. It has been recorded only 6 times previously, three of which were dead or dying birds picked up on land and the other three seen on pelagic trips.

Thanks to Eric Carpenter for putting the brakes on our overeagerness.

John Arvin

OCEANOGRAPHIC CONDITIONS for Sept. 24, 2004

seasurface_20040924

Leave a Reply