2015 – A Texas Pelagics Big Year!

During a period of just barely over one year between September 20, 2014 and October 10, 2015 seven consecutive Texas Pelagics trips from South Padre island collectively tallied an incredible 598 individual seabirds of 15 species including 6 Texas review species making this the best year ever for Texas Pelagic trips run from South Padre Island since they started running there in 2000. There were two rips that tallied over 200 seabirds each (219 and 240)! In fact you have to look back to 1997 and 1995, 18 and 20 years ago, when Texas pelagic trips were being run from Port O’Connor to find the only other two Texas Pelagic trips that have ever found greater than 200 pelagic seabirds on a single trip. But equally impressive was the number and variety of marine mammals and fish seen during this year. The complete species list is found at the end of this article.

A Short History of Pelagics in Texas:

For the past 35 years beginning in 1981 pelagics available to the public in Texas have been organized by a variety of people and organizations.

Figure 1: This graph shows the number of public pelagic trips run in Texas for each year since 1981 when public pelagic trips began in Texas.

Beginning in 1976 Sheriton Burr began riding along on snapper fishing boats from Port Aransas that went offshore at all seasons sometimes as far as 50 or rarely 60 miles offshore from Port A. He was frequently joined by many other birders from various Audubon Societies around Texas and TOS members. These fishing trip “pelagics” however never reached beyond the shelf edge into true pelagic depth waters. Burr kept meticulous records of 44 fishing trip pelagics that continued up until 1991. A handful of these Port A trips, the first in 1981 up until 1991, were chartered by birders solely for offshore birding, but these were also limited to the shelf waters due to time and distance constraints to reach deep waters.

Then in 1991 Ronnie Carroll made several true pelagic birding trips on marlin boats from Port Mansfield that were successful in spotting several pelagic seabirds. Beginning in 1994 Dwight Peake and Mark Elwonger organized several true pelagic trips each year from Port O’Connor that were the first regularly scheduled pelagic trips for Texas. They successfully completed 18 trips over 6 years ending in 1999. Since 2000 most trips have been run from South Padre Island aboard the Osprey boats and have been organized by a number of people and sponsor organizations up until 2013. A much smaller number of trips have also been run from Port Aransas and Freeport since 1994. On average there have been approximately 3 trips per year for the past 25 years. Many of the people involved in organizing Pelagic trips in Texas since 1994 are still engaged as leaders on the Texas Pelagics trips I am currently organizing. These former organizers who are now leaders include: Dwight Peake, Brad Mckinney, Eric Carpenter and Mary Gustafson. The other regular leaders on our Texas Pelaigcs are: Arman Moreno, John O’Brien, Kelly Smith, Petra Hockey and Randy Pinkston. Our guest leaders include Erik Bruhnke and Todd McGrath.

Why go on a Texas Pelagic?

Short answer – they are a lot of FUN!! Long Answer – if you ask any of the Texas Pelagic leaders and regular participants they will tell you some of the most amazing bird and wildlife encounters they’ve ever had in Texas occurred on a Texas Pelagic. Most people start off going on a Texas Pelagic hoping to see a few life birds or maybe add some birds to their Texas state list. And if you’ve never been on a Texas Pelagic before you will certainly get either a lifer or a new state bird. We can expect to find many of each of these species throughout one season: Cory’s and Audubon’s Shearwaters, Band-rumped and Leach’s Storm-Petrels, Masked Booby, Magnificent Frigatebird, Sooty and Bridled Terns, and Pomarine Jaeger. Rarer seabirds that occur at least annually or almost annually include: Great Shearwater, Red-billed Tropicbird, Brown Booby, Sabine’s Gull, Parasitic Jaeger and Long-tailed Jaeger. The real rarities seen on Texas Pelagics includes: Yellow-nosed Albatross, Black-capped Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, Brown Noddy and South Polar Skua. In addition to the all these species there is the matter of subspecies that could one day attain full species status. Examples include the Cory’s Shearwater – Scopoli’s Shearwater, Leach’s Storm-Petrel and Band-rumped Storm-Petrel species complexes.

If you’re willing and able to return for multiple trips you will probably experience one of those magical days that keep so many of us coming back time after time for years. We routinely have amazing encounters with all sorts of marine mammals and fish, not just the birds. We’ve seen many different species of dolphins and whales and often very close to the boat for extended times. These have included: Sperm Whales, Bryde’s Whale, Short-finned Pilot Whales, Melon Headed Whales, Mesoplodon species toothed whales, Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, Risso’s Dolphins, Bottlenosed Dolphins, Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, Spinner Dolphins and Rough Toothed Dolphins, We’ve seen huge schools of fish jumping, tuna, bonito, baitfish and these are often accompanied by the largest of all marine fish the Whale Shark. Flying fish routinely accompany the boat once we reach deep crystal clear blue water.

Aside from all the great pelagic seabirds, marine mammals and fish there are the seabirders. Getting to spend 12 or 16 hours trapped on a boat with 40-50 likeminded seabirders and nature enthusiasts is a real treat. It is really a chance to meet so many new friends and see so many old friends from all parts of Texas. The comradery we have on our trips just makes them really enjoyable. The shared anticipation and excitement is just so much greater than you typically have on a land birding trip in my opinion.

What is amazing about this “Texas Pelagics Big Year” is that we had almost all of the above experiences packed into 8 trips. What follows is photo essay of many of the best sightings we had over the course of these seven consecutive Texas Pelagics over a year and one month.

Sept 20, 2014:

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 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.

Figure 2: Melon-headed Whales, 09/20/2014.

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 Bobby and his very excited young son Clay.

Over the next few hours it seemed like non-stop action. A couple Band-rumped Storm Petrels passed close by the bow.

Figure 3: Sperm Whale, 09/20/2014.

Then a distant huge splash seen off the bow really got our attention. As we watched in amazement we had 2 to 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 very close just in front of the boat. After a couple minutes the two large bulls sounded for the depths off the port bow showing off their massive 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 25 years of Texas Pelagics, where we had seen Sperm Whales on two previous South 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.

Figure 4: Masked Booby, 09/20/2014.

Once back over the continental shelf a very curious 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 water’s 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.

Oct 25, 2014:

By 9:00am we had seen 3 Magnificent Frigatebirds in addition to the usual scattered Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns. The first and only shrimp boat on the way out held a large pod of 30+ Pelagic Bottlenose Dolphins. We reached the shelf – slope break in very good time by 9:30am. Just an hour later and now in over 2,000 ft of water we set out the first of 2 chum slicks. Shortly after we flushed our only shearwater of the day off the water, a lone Audubon’s Shearwater.

Figure 5:  Red-Billed Tropicbird, 10/25/2014.

After setting out the second chum slick we were treated to the best sighting of the day, an incoming Red-billed Tropicbird. This cooperative bird circled the boat at least 6 times giving everyone plenty of time for photos and great looks, before finally giving up on us and flying away.  It was a life bird for many people on board and the first RBTR we had seen in Texas in 3 years since 7/16/2011, and the ninth RBTR seen on Texas Pelagics.

We soon had the first of 3 Masked Boobies we would see for the day. Monarch Butterflies were very conspicuous over the gulf and we must have seen hundreds plying their way south to Mexico.

Figure 6:  Bridled Tern on Sargassum Island, 10/25/2014. 

As we cruised north towards the edge of a warm-core eddy we continued passing very long lines of sargassum which had first been encountered upon reaching the shelf edge.  We eventually came upon the largest solid floating island of sargassum I had ever seen. It was at least as big as two football fields maybe bigger, and upon it were 4 Black terns and 1 Bridled Tern resting on embedded flotsam. For some on board this was the best view they’d ever had of a Bridled Tern since it was perched.

Figure 7:  Brown Booby, 10/25/2014.

After over 4 hours in pelagic waters as deep as 3,000 ft we needed to head back in. We tried to string together as many shrimp boats as possible on the route in to see if we could pick up come more pelagic species. As we approached the second shrimper a larger brown bird flew out of the rigging, a Brown Booby, in what is certainly the year of the Brown Booby in Texas.  Mary, always alert, soon started to chum and the Brown Booby came over along with the Laughing Gulls to investigate and eat its fill. At times it would almost slap us in the face with its webbed yellow feet.  This show continued for a good 15 minutes until we decided we’d seen enough and cruised away. We continued to rack up Magnificent Frigatebirds and by days end had seen 8.

Figure 8: Sabine’s Gull photo by Brad McKinney, 10/25/2014,

Finally as we approached the South Padre Island jetties a huge feeding frenzy was happening. It looked as if it was pouring rain as so many “rain minnows” were jumping out of the water. The few fisherman in boats in the midst of this frenzy appeared to be having no luck catching anything, but the thousand Laughing Gulls, hundreds of brown Pelicans and hundreds of Royal and Sandwich Terns were surely feasting on the bonanza. We cruised by very slowly looking closely for something unusual. It was literally a blizzard of gulls and terns but Eric and Mary our sharp eyed leaders managed to find a Sabine’s Gull simultaneously and then just as quickly loose it in the melee of gulls. We slowly backed up towards the feeding frenzy and then just as we gave up, Petra yelled that she found it briefly again. Well we had run out of time and needed to head back to dock. Brad and a number of others headed over to the SPI jetty just before sunset and managed to find the Sabine’s Gull again.

July 11, 2015:

On the cruise over the shelf a sport fishing boat 1200 yards off the port side had 2 Masked Boobies following it and eventually they flew towards us to investigate our boat. Soon as we approached the shelf edge Kelly spotted our only Cory’s Shearwater of the day which stayed off our bow for a few minutes allowing everyone to get a good view, even though it didn’t come in too close. We cleared the shelf slope break into true pelagic waters by 8:15AM which was the earliest we have ever made it to deep water from South Padre.

Figure 9: Audubon’s Shearwaters:, 07/11/2015.
Within a few minutes we had our first group of 7 Audubon’s Shearwaters and a few Band-rumped Storm-Petrels. From the self-edge which is about 45 miles offshore to the Camel’s Head another 30 miles farther would take us about 3 hours.

Figure 10: Band-Rumped Storm-Petrels, 07/11/2015. 

During this time we had two more flocks of 12 and 7 Audubon’s and a steady stream of Storm-Petrels in groups of 1 -2 individuals. Some were close enough to positively identify as Band-rumped many just remained storm-petrel sp. One or more storm-petrels were tentatively identified as Leach’s pending photo review.

We had our GPS set on the Camel’s Head “Eye” The shallowest point of this huge seamount is at about 2,231 feet. It rises from great depths of over 5,200 ft at the bottom of its eastern slope to its underwater summit in only about 5 miles. As we approached the “Eye” which is just a few miles into Mexican waters, we could see a natural slick smack dab on top of it. Captain Bobby’s son Clay came out of the wheelhouse to tell us they think they saw the back of a large whale but no one else saw it and it was not seen again. We set out a chum slick and waited around. A couple of Masked Boobies eventually showed up so we had a seabird on our Mexican lists. We also managed a few Audubon’s Shearwaters in Mexico.

As we returned into Texas waters it wasn’t long before we came upon the first of 3 large flocks of predominately Sooty Terns that we would encounter today. This group of terns numbered around 20 and must have been over deeper schools of fish (tuna?) or maybe just flying fish as they would occasionally fly low over the water apparently feeding. We cruised about 5 miles north and gradually tuned back towards the west. We slowed down a couple of times to set out more chum.

Figure 11: Sooty Tern flock, 07/11/2015.

We came across one more large flock of 40+ Sooty Terns while still in deep water. At the 100 fathom contour we laid out more chum and dragged our chum bags along this contour for about a mile.  At the end of this mile the third flock of 40+ Sooty Terns and at least one Bridled Tern were spotted and they circled towards our chum slick.

As we retraced our chum line it had attracted a few Audubon’s and Band-rumped Storm Petrels. The entire time we were in waters greater than 600 ft deep we had a lot of activity. Usually not more than 15 minutes went by without some seabird being encountered and usually small groups of them at a time. The large Flocks of Sooty terns kept us busy for 15+ minutes at a time trying to sort through all of them before they gradually drifted out of sight.

August 8, 2015:

We arrived in deep waters at the shelf edge around 10am. And almost as soon as we did we had our first flock of Storm-Petrels. The flock was flushed off the water as we approached and scattered in every direction. What was amazing was the large number of Leach’s Storm Petrels, it seemed most of what was photographed turned out to be a Leach’s, rather than the default Band-rumped Storm Petrel. During the next 4 hours we encountered three separate flocks of Storm-Petrels and while it’s hard to say for sure it seemed that the majority of them were Leach’s. We counted a total of 21 Storm-Petrel’s with at least 6 of them positively identified as Leach’s from a quick review of the onboard photographs. It’s highly likely that there were many more than six. This is quite remarkable in that the highest number positively identified before on any one Texas Pelagic is 2. We were all wondering if this was due to the cooler waters in the cold core eddy that we encountered off the shelf edge.

August 29, 2015:

Shortly after sunrise the first birds of the day Royal Terns flew by and then like a fighter plane in hot pursuit a Pomarine Jaeger harassed them off into the distance. The next bit of excitement would come in the form of 6 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins that caught up with the boat for a brief joy ride on the bow wave. We reached the shelf edge drop-off around 9:00am and as soon as we did things really started to happen. Our first group of 4 Storm-Petrels all were Leach’s.

Figure 12: Masked Booby Squadron, 08/29/2015. 

A squadron of 4 Masked Boobies flying in formation like dive bombers strafed the boat and circled it a number of times until their mission was accomplished. 

Figure 13: Leach’s Storm-Petrel flock, 08/29/2015. 

Then another flock of 10 – 15 Stormies sitting on the glassy water also were all Leach’s as best as we could determine. We were having trouble finding a Band-rumped Storm-Petrels in the flocks of Leach’s.  Normally the predominate species in Texas Waters by a wide margin are Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, but not today. It seemed that every flock of Storm-Petrels we encountered, and there were a lot of them, were predominately or entirely Leach’s Storm-Petrels. And so it would stay that way for the rest of the day. Band-Rumped Storm Petrels are typically becoming scarcer by late August but we have never before encountered so many Leach’s.  We tallied about 110 Storm-Petrels for the day which is a record number for a Texas Pelagic. The previous high number was 88 Band-Rumped Storm-Petrels on July 15, 2000.  But even more incredible was that at least 66 or 83 (depending on whose records you look at) were identified as Leach’s and the majority of the remaining unidentified storm-petrel species were probably also Leach’s. We only positively identified 7 Band-Rumped for the day. And so the morning went storm-petrel flock after storm-petrel flock, all of them roosting on the flat seas and visible from a good distance. However they wouldn’t allow us to approach very close before they flushed and flew off to settle on the water again hundreds of yards away.

 

Figure 14: Leach’s Storm-Petrel, 08/29/2015. 

Some did come close allowing for good photos to be obtained. Interspersed with all the stormies were smatterings of Audubon’s Shearwaters, Cory’s Shearwaters, Sooty Terns and a couple of Pomarine Jaegers.

 Figure 15: Mesoplodon Species beaked whale, photo by John O’Brien, 08/29/2015.

The day continued on this way with near constant bird action until 12:50 pm when Todd on the bow called out Mammals at 3:00 o’clock!  We turned the boat towards them and soon what turned out to be a beaked whale of the Mesoplodon genus appeared again. John O’Brien caught the diagnostic beak in one of his photos! This was the proof we needed that it was most likely either a Blainville’s Beaked Whale or a Gervais’ Beaked Whale. Specific identification is nearly impossible with this genus unless a mature male is spotted and the dentition is visible and photographed. It surfaced 4-5 times then was gone, but enough for everyone to see them and photograph them.

Figure 16: Raft of seabirds and Whale Shark, 08/29/2015.

Only 20 minutes later I spotted a large raft of seabirds roosting on the water about a mile away. As we approached the raft fish started jumping among the raft and it was clear to me the birds were sitting on top of a tuna school. Immediately I called out to watch for Whale Sharks and sure enough with 30 seconds the huge snout of a Whale Shark appeared at the surface in the middle of the birds and breaking tuna.  The curious and docile Whale Shark soon was swimming towards our boat, much to the screams of excitement from everyone onboard. The Whale shark passed less than 10 feet off our port side as everyone stared on slack-jawed. It wasn’t a really huge one but we estimated it at about 15 -17 feet long. They have been documented as large as 41 feet long, with fish tales of even bigger ones.

Figure 17: The Whale Sharks huge mouth, photo by Gwyn Carmean, 08/29/2015.

Figure 18: Great Shearwater, 08/29/2015.

David Sarkozi our diehard birder was still pointing out that Hello!! there is a Great Shearwater out there too. Well the Shark swam off and our attention was directed to the Great Shearwater our 10th pelagic species for the day! 

 

 

 

Figure 19: Audubon’s and Cory’s Shearwaters, 08/29/2015.

Here is just a portion of this single flock with 2 Cory’s and 23 Audubon’s Shearwaters. The flock included in total: 1 Great Shearwater, 8 Cory’s Shearwaters, 42 Audubon’s Shearwaters, 8 Sooty Terns, 4 Bridled Terns, 3 Black Terns and 1 Laughing Gull!

Soon after all this excitement as the adrenaline subsided we were motoring in over the shelf and activity noticeably slowed down for the first time all day. But we weren’t done yet.

Figure 20: Magnificent Frigatebirds, 08/29/2015.

As we approached our first anchored shrimper it was clear there were a few roosting Magnificent Frigatebirds on board for a siesta. As we got closer we could see that there were five male Frigatebirds hanging out. So we started chumming and soon had a feeding frenzy of Laughing Gulls, Royal Terns, 7 Magnificent Frigatebirds (2 more flew in) and a Pomarine Jaeger putting on a nice show for us.

The second shrimp boat had 2 Masked Boobies roosting on it and was soon joined by a third.

Figure 21: Pomarine Jaeger bruiser, 08/29/2015.

At the forth shrimper another Jaeger came blasting in that at first looked big enough to be a Skua. But it was only a dark Pomarine Jaeger. 

The August 29th, 2015 trip has to be about the best overall Texas Pelagic I’ve ever been on. We saw 10 pelagic seabird species, 274 total pelagic seabirds, a beaked whale and whale shark. And we saw more Leach’s Storm-Petrels than I’ve ever seen in my life, and certainly a record number for Texas by an order of magnitude.

September 19, 2015:

After a beautiful sunrise the seas were calming down some and by 8 am were more in the 3 foot range and would continue to calm down throughout the day. It wasn’t long before we had our first 2 Audubon’s Shearwaters. We would continue to see single Audubon’s Shearwaters at regular intervals up until 2pm. A distant Masked Booby seemed uninterested in coming over to investigate us like Boobies usually do. Looking at Dwight Peak’s photos of the distant bird at maximum zoom we wondered if it may have been an immature Northern Gannet?

A flock of our first 6 Bridled Terns signaled our arrival in pelagic waters over 600 ft deep. As we passed the shelf-slope break at 9:00am I announced for everyone to be on the lookout for whale blows. Shortly thereafter as if on cue we picked up a pod of at least 20 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins who enthusiastically swam over for some bow-riding play time. The pod stuck with us for at least 10 minutes and everyone got great looks, photos and videos from the bow.

About 30 minutes later Mary Ann sitting next to me on the upper bow deck, yelled out “WHALE!” In just a few seconds it surfaced briefly a second time and then that was it. It never resurfaced. John O’Brien got a look at its blunt nose so we were able to identify it as a Kogia species of either Pygmy or Dwarf Sperm Whale. These two species look so much alike it is almost impossible to distinguish them in the field. And it happened so fast that no one was able to get photos and only a few people actually saw it.

We continued cruising east out to about 2,700 feet of water at 63 miles offshore, but it seemed there were more birds in closer. So we turned back towards the shelf edge were we would contour the edge for about an hour. The day continued on with a steady stream of birds singly or in pairs every 10-15 minutes. We added more Audubon’s Shearwaters, Bridled Terns and Leach’s Storm-Petrels but no Band-rumped Storm-Petrels as it is late in the season for them.

October 10, 2015

Figure 22: Manx Shearwater, photo by Brad McKinney, 10/10/2015. 

We found our first seabird of the day at 8:30am, its breast glowed white in the sunlight as it sat on the water. We thought at first it was an Audubon’s Shearwater.  But we saw it arc high over the sea and I thought we don’t often see Audubon’s fly that way?  Well after we looked at the pictures it became clear that it was a Manx Shearwater, which is quite similar to an Audubon’s, slightly larger with pure white under-tail coverts that were nicely captured in many photographs. The Manx Shearwater has only been seen on one previous Texas Pelagic and there are only 8 records for Texas!  A number of people got great photos, some of which had the end of the rainbow in the background illuminating the Manx! We should’ve realized this was a dead give-away we had found the pot of gold!  It was a lifer for many of the people on the trip.

Nearing the shelf edge at 9:07 a nice pod of 12 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins came swimming towards us for a short bow-ride. Just past the 300 foot depth mark we had our first Pomarine Jaeger. A Bridled Tern flew by right off the bow, staying very low to the water which was unusual. We reached the shelf edge around 9:30 am and at 450 feet of water the second Pomarine Jaeger came barreling straight at us. Eric Carpenter started chumming and then a second, third, fourth Pomarine Jaeger joined the group. After a few minutes we were up to eight Pomarine Jaegers all circling the boat chasing chum bits. It was a great show! The first shrimp boat we reached had no birds. The second shrimper a couple miles away had a juvenile Magnificent Frigatebird perched on its highest mast. A Masked Booby passed by at some distance away then finally gave in to its curiosity and came right over us a few times to see if we had anything for it to eat

Figure 23: Pomarine Jaegers harassing a Royal Tern. Photo by Brad McKinney, 10/10/2015.

We hit a nice bunch of birds on the fourth shrimp boat. The expected passengers of Royal Terns and a few Sandwich terns were all lined up in order on the rigging lines. Strangely no Laughing Gulls though. Then as the chum started stirring them up the regular terns were joined by 3 Pomarine Jaegers, including a nice dark morph who demonstrated its aerial flying skills at hot pursuit of a Royal Tern for its dinner.

Figure 24: Scalloped Hammerhead, 10/10/2015.

Then another highlight was spotted working the Sargassum line from below a Scalloped Hammerhead about 6-7 feet long. The high dorsal fin breaking the surface for long periods as it foraged in the sargassum. A second Scalloped Hammerhead was also spotted.

Figure 25: Bow-riding Atlantic Spotted Dolphins. Photo by Brad McKinney, 10/10/2015.

Conclusion:

In summary our experience from 2015 suggests that with more frequent coverage by pelagic trips we are much more likely to have a few very good pelagic birding days in the season. This is probably due improving our odds of hitting favorable current, wind and sea conditions for seabirds that occur every so often in the deep Gulf of Mexico off of Texas. Texas Pelagics in the warm ultra-clear blue tropical waters of the Gulf of Mexico don’t yield thousands of seabirds with dozens of species like west coast Pelagics. But we have seen hundreds of pelagic seabirds of up to 10 pelagic seabird species on any one trip with a surprising number of rarities.

One of the last birding frontiers are the world’s oceans and the seabirds that inhabit them. And this is certainly true for the Gulf of Mexico as well. A lot has been learned about seabirds and their distributions over the last 25 years but there is still a lot that is unknown, and new discoveries continue to be made. We always hope to make a new and exciting discovery and that has happened often enough to keep us coming back.

Texas Pelagics – It’s not just birding, it’s an Adventure.

Species Seen:

The Cumulative Lists of Species seen during the 7 consecutive Texas Pelagics from one year+ between September 20, 2014 and October 10, 2015.

Pelagic Seabirds:                                                                 15 Species
1. Cory’s (Scopoli’s) Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) ……………….…18
2. Great Shearwater (Puffinus gravis) ……………………………..…….……1
3. Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) ………………………………..……..1
4. Audubon’s Shearwater (Puffinus lherminieri) ……………………………160
5. Leach’s Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) …………………………85
6. Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma castro) …………………..….38
7. Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus) ……………………….………1
8. Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) …………………………..39
9. Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra) ……………………………….…………29
10. Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) ……………………….…….…………..1
11. Sabine’s Gull (Xema sabini) ……………………………………..………..1
12. Sooty Tern (Onychoprion fuscata) ……………………………….…….128
13. Bridled Tern (Onychoprion anaethetus) …………………………..……..24
14. Pomarine Jaeger (Stercorarius pomarinus) ……………………………..28
15. Long-tailed Jaeger (Stercorarius longicaudus) …………………..………1

      storm-petrel sp. ………………………………………………..………….45
      jaeger sp. …………………………………………………….……………..1

Marine Mammals:                                                                  7 Species
1. Atlantic Spotted Dolphin (Stenella frontalis) ……………………………..26
2. Bottlenose Dolphin – PELAGIC (Tursiops truncates) …………………..33
3. Bottlenose Dolphin – INSHORE (Tursiops truncates) ………………….24
4. Melon-headed Whale (Peponocephala electra)………………………….250
5. Sperm Whale (Physeter microcephalus) ………………………..……….19
6. Pygmy / Dwarf Sperm Whale Kogia sp. ……………………….………….1
7. Mesoplodon sp. Beaked whale …………………………………….……….1

Fish:                                                                                      7 Species
1. Whale shark (Rhincodon typus)………………………………….…………1
2. Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini)………………………………….1
3. Yellow-finned Tuna (Thunnus albacares) school……………………….….1
4. Albacore (Thunnus alalunga) school……………………………….……….1
5. Flying Fish several species undetermined……………………………1000s
6. Tripletail (Lobotes surinamensis) …………………………………………..3
7. Longbill Spearfish (Tetrapturus pfluegeri )…………………………..……..1