S Padre Island TEXAS PELAGIC Sept 20, 2014 Trip Report:

Hi Pelagic Fanatics,

Everything just seemed to come together to make the past Saturday’s September 20th S Padre Island Texas Pelagic one of the best in a very long time! The weather was cooperating the week prior to the trip with 2-3 ft seas all week long following the 7 foot seas experienced the previous weekend during the first “cold” front of the season. On Saturday as we gathered in the predawn at the docks there was no perceptible wind. Clearing the S Padre Island jetties we were greeted with calm seas of 2 ft or less. The seas would remain a pretty nice 2-3 feet throughout the day.

On the long cruise to the shelf edge we had scattered showers all around us in the distance and cruised through one nice downpour, something I only recall rain 1 time before from all my Texas Pelagics. Following the rain the skies began clearing and nice high clouds remained for the morning keeping the heat down until the afternoon. There was very little bird activity over the shelf for the first 4 hours except for a distant Magnificent Frigatebird from the stern and few Royal Terns. The bright lights of shrimp boats were visible a couple miles to the north of our course but we decided to pass them by preferring to head straight for deep water. Dwight spotted at distant “large white seabird flying fast and high” away from us, he suspected it might be a tropicbird but it was just too far away to confirm the ID. We reached the shelf edge at about 10am in very good time by keeping to our planned due east heading.

Soon after at 10:10 am that we had our first good seabird a cooperative Audubon’s Shearwater. Then things were slow for another hour until a lone Bridled Tern was seen right before we spotted the distant blows from the first pod of Sperm Whales several hundred yards out. By now we were in very deep water 2000-3,500 ft . That first group of 3-4 sperms sank into the depths before we could get closer to them. No sooner did they disappear than we immediately spotted a huge pod of what turned out to be Melon-headed Whales excitedly making their way to our boat and encircling it for 15 -20 minutes. Conservatively we estimated 250+ whales (dolphins actually) surrounding the boat and within feet of us. It was one of the greatest wildlife spectacles we’ve ever seen and a lifer mammal for everyone on board including our captain and his very excited young son.

Over the next few hours it seemed like non-stop action. A couple Band-rumped Storm Petrels passed close by the bow. Then a distant huge splash seen off the bow really startled us. As we watched in amazement we had 4 or 5 huge Sperm Whales breach in rapid succession. Too bad they were maybe 1/2 mile away, still it was just spectacular! No one aboard had ever seen Sperm Whales breach before. As we cruised toward them to try for a closer look a second closer pod of 6 sperms surfaced just in front of the boat, very close. After a minute or two the two large bulls sounded for the depths off the port bow showing off their flukes. Then the smaller females and their calves approached the starboard bow giving us superb views of the two calves side by side with their blunt noses reaching up out of the water to look us over. There were even a few more whales from a third group at the same time blowing behind us off the stern. By now we had seen somewhere around 16-19 Sperm whales. In 4 different pods! Finally 40 minutes later another few blows from a fifth pod of sperm whales was spotted. Our total Sperm Whale count for the day was 18-20+ an unprecedented high count for 20 + years of Texas Pelagics, where we had seen Sperm Whales on only two previous S Padre Island Texas Pelagics.

Following all the whale action it was a steady stream of sightings. We had some brief looks at another Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, Audubon’s and Cory’s Shearwater. We were also building a nice list of land birds as well including Black-and-White Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Barn Swallows, Olive-sided Flycatcher, cattle egret and numerous other unidentified passerines. Once back over the continental shelf a very friendly sub-adult Masked Booby greeted us and circled the boat for about 20 minutes. It was fascinating to watch it repeatedly make shallow dives torpedoing just below the waters surface in pursuit of flying fish that the boat was scattering. As we were growing tired of watching the booby a flurry of 4 terns, 2 jaegers and a few passerines scrambled by the bow. It was confusing to sort out all the action with binoculars alone. One Jaeger alternately chased a fat passerine and then was sidetracked to chasing the terns. This jaeger was initially identified as a ‘parasitic’ and the photos proved that the ‘passerine’ it was chasing was a Sora. There were 2 or 3 Bridled Terns in the group and a second jaeger of uncertain ID. Reviewing the photos later revealed that the ‘parasitic’ was actually a first summer Long-Tailed Jaeger. The photos also revealed at least one of the terns was a Sooty Tern.

Soon we approached the first of a half dozen shrimpers we would investigate. A second Masked Booby was nearby and the usual shrimp boat followers of Royal Tern, Sandwich Terns. Laughing Gulls and a few Common Terns. The second Shrimper had a pair of adult male Magnificent Frigatebirds perched in the rigging for nice close up views. Between the second a third shrimpers a pair of cooperative Pomarine Jaegers were harassing a group of terns and gulls and then sat on the water allowing us to approach and study them.

Continuing on the cruise back to shore we passed a number of more anchored shrimpers and with good numbers of the usual followers. What was unusual is that we also picked up 3 more Masked Boobies of different ages and 2 more Magnificent Frigatebirds. The ship channel outside the jetties had the usual huge feeding flock of 1000+ Black Terns, a few Least and Common Terns, Laughing Gulls, many Sandwich and Royal Terns and Brown Pelicans.

While we didn’t have any rare seabird sightings we certainly had a high species count for a Texas Pelagic. Only one other trip in 20 years of Texas Pelagics has reached 9 species of pelagic seabirds. And once the activity started when we reached deep water it continued at a pretty quick pace throughout the day. It was however the mammal sightings that really proved to be the highlight for everyone on board. The number of Sperm Whales and their breaching antics was amazing. It may have been outdone by the huge herd of Melon-headed Whales, never before seen on a Texas Pelagic.

In conclusion I wish to especially thank the people at Osprey Cruises for working closely with us to make this trip a great success, especially our Captain Bobby. Additionally our leaders Brad McKinney, Dwight Peake, Eric Carpenter, John O’Brien, Mary Gustafson and Petra Hockey all make a huge contribution to these trips with their spotting abilities and knowledge of seabirds and marine life. I hope that all our participants had fun and will plan on joining us in October and again in 2015 for more great offshore adventures on Texas Pelagics.

Good seabirding,

Gary Hodne

COMPLETE PELAGIC SEABIRD LIST:

COSH – Cory’s Shearwater – 2

AUSH – Audubon’s Shearwater – 3

BRSP – Band-rumped Storm-Petrel – 3

MAFR – Magnificent Frigatebird – 5

MABO – Masked Booby – 6

SOTE – Sooty Tern – 1

BRTE – Bridled Tern – 4

POJA – Pomarine Jaeger – 2

PAJA – Parasitic Jaeger – 1 (?)

LTJA – Long-tailed Jaeger – 1

 

NON-PELAGIC SEABIRDS

BRPE – Brown Pelican – 20

LAGU – Laughing Gull -233

LETE – Least Tern – 10

BLTE – Black Tern – 1000+

COTE -Common Tern – 13

ROYT – Royal Tern – 424

SATE – Sandwich Tern – 134

 

LANDBIRD MIGRANTS:

CAEG – Cattle Egret – 1

SORA – Sora – 1

OSFL – Olive-sided Flycatcher – 1

BARS – Barn Swallow – 2

BAWW – Black-and-White Warbler – 1

YEWA – Yellow Warbler – 1

WEWA – Worm-eating warbler – 1

 unidentified passerines ~ 20

OTHER MARINE LIFE

Sea Turtle – 1   (sp?)

Sperm Whale – 18-20+

Melon-headed Whales – 250+

Bottlenose Dolphins – 20

Tripletail Fish – 2

Flying Fish – 100’s

Ps. It has taken me a bit longer than usual to get all the sightings data straightened out to help in putting this report together. There were 3 full pages of handwritten sighting logs (usually there is barely one page), my digital recorded notes and what seemed like hundreds of photographs to review along with all the great commentary posted to the Texas Pelagics FaceBook page to sort through. If you haven’t yet joined this group and looked at the photos you are really missing out on a ton of good photos and insight about the marine environment of the Gulf of Mexico. It is really a valuable resource.

GOOGLE MAP OF PELAGIC TRIP GPS COURSE COORDINATES:

View 2014 Texas Pelagic Trip Tracks from SPI in a larger map

Click on the box in the upper left of the map to view the map legend. Each trip’s track and sightings data can be toggled on or off.

Click on each sighting symbol and the data label will appear showing the time, date and the number of birds seen.

OCEANOGRAPHIC CONDITIONS on SEPTEMBER 20th

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