South Padre Island TEXAS PELAGIC August 19, 2006

Aboard   the Osprey II

Subject: SPI Pelagic Results from 19 Aug 2006 

Date:  Sun, 20 Aug 2006 12:35:31 -0500

From:   William B McKinney

Texas seabirders aboard the Osprey were treated to a wonderful trip yesterday. Calm winds and flat seas provided the backdrop of a very enjoyable pelagic,  providing excellent viewing conditions for six or the seven pelagic species seen throughout the day. As expected for mid-August, shearwater numbers were   on the rise while storm-petrels were scarce (generally storm-petrel numbers peak in June and July). On this trip, there was rarely a dull moment.  Experienced Texas seabirders could not remember a trip when birds were so nicely spread out over a 12-hour trip. Mirror-smooth blue water allowed  sharp-eyed birders to spot numerous tuna schools along the deepwater curve (45 miles offshore). Associated with these tuna schools were small flocks of  Sooty Terns, Audubon’s and Cory’s Shearwaters, and an amazing six whale sharks. One of the whale sharks lumbered within a few feet of the boat allowing for stunning views.

Before the sunrise the boat was cruising through clear oceanic waters as flying fish were soaring just a few miles beyond the jetties. At 7: 20 am, with the SPI  skyline clearly visible, we came upon the first seabirds of the trip: two very cooperative immature Masked Boobies near a shrimp boat. Fifteen minutes   ater we had two immature Magnificent Frigatebirds pass close by the boat,  joining a third bird above a nearby shrimp boat.

On the way out to the deepwater curve, a pod of pelagic bottlenose dolphins entertained us with their bow riding skills while minutes later two passerines, Northern Waterthrush and Bank Swallow challenged our landbird identification skills. By the end of the day, we added Barn and Cliff   Swallow, Ovenbird, and a probable Wilsonia warbler (Wilson’s or female Hooded) to the list of passerines.

After a smattering or coastal species on the edge of the continental shelf, including Royal, Sandwich, and Black Terns, we came upon the first of many Sooty Terns and Audubon’s and Cory’s Shearwaters as we reached the deepwater curve (around 10:45 am). Although both subspecies of Cory’s Shearwater have   been documented in Texas waters, the Atlantic race seems to be much more common than the Mediterranean race. It is very difficult to distinguish the   two races in the field, however, photographic analysis of the underwing pattern may allow identification to subspecies. The three Cory’s Shearwater   images on my camera seem to show the dark primary pattern typical of Atlantic Cory’s, but it is possible that some of the fine bird photographers onboard   (Gary Hodne, Andy Garcia and others) might have images suggesting Mediterranean birds.

Bird activity remained high through the mid-day hours as we trolled around the numerous tuna schools. At 1:15 pm, we finally identified a Bridled Tern  amongst eight Sooties. The slightly smaller size and browner plumage of Bridled Tern was clearly discernable in flight. Just minutes later, our lone Band-rumped Storm-Petrel afforded excellent views as it flew in front of the boat for several minutes. The bird’s strong and steady flight style coupled with repeating intervals of shearwater-like gliding was typical of the species. As if the good seabirding wasn’t enough, several birders got to reel in their first blackfin tuna or dorado on the afternoon run back. A list of species is as follows:

Seabirds:

Cory’s Shearwater (20)- all but one bird was in deepwater

Audubon’s Shearwater (29)

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (1)

Masked Booby (3) two immatures and one adult; relatively shallow shelf waters

Magnificent Frigatebird (3)- shelf waters

Bridled Tern (1)

Sooty Tern (34) mostly adults but also a few nice all-black juveniles; all   associated with tuna schools

Passerines:

Bank Swallow (1)

Cliff Swallow (1)

Barn Swallow (1)- landed on the boat and trailed us for several hours

Overbird   (1)

Northern Waterthrush (1)

Probable Wilsonia warbler (1)- Wilson’s or female Hooded

Waders:

Great Egret- two or three

Little Blue Heron- small flock and another lone bird

Cattle Egret- one

Marine mammals:

bottlenose  dolphin

Fish:

whale  shark (6)

blacktip shark (1)

dorado-  we caught one, beautiful fish

blackfin  tuna- numerous; we caught nine

bonito-  numerous; we caught and released several

flying fish- numerous throughout the day; from 5 miles-52 miles out

Thanks go out to all involved in supporting Texas pelagic birding trips. Special   thanks go out to Travis Audubon Society, Stan VanSandt who organized a great trip,

The  fantastic leader crew of Victor Emanuel, Barry Lyon, Petra Hockey, and Dwight  Peake, and  all of the wonderful participants who made the trip so enjoyable. It seems likely that Travis Audubon will be involved in one or two trips next summer,   so those interested should check with Stan in the coming months.

Brad McKinney

Rancho  Viejo

Link to Photo Gallery: All photography copyrighted ©Garett Hodne 2006.

OCEANOGRAPHIC CONDITIONS   for August 19, 2006

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