First Texas Record of Wilson’s Storm-Petrel

Yesterday morning (Thursday June 11th) while most of our leaders were involved in an email roundtable discussion about what to do about tomorrow’s June 13th Texas Pelagic and fretting over the grim forecast for Saturday, one of our leaders Petra Hockey was fishing 25 miles offshore Port O’Connor and amazingly found a WILSON’S STORM-PETREL! And got a few diagnostic photos.

 Well it’s not an “Official” Texas state first yet until accepted by the TBRC. (Texas Bird Records Committee). I am really disappointed that we are weathered out for tomorrow’s Texas Pelagic. This is the best time of year for Stormies in Texas and actually I was hoping we’d find a Wilson’s, really I was. You can be sure that next year (2016) I’ll schedule two Texas Pelagics for early June in case one day has bad weather.

Here is her story in her words:

“Guys and Gals,

I just downloaded my photos and closely cropped each one that showed the bird. A few are likely useless but a couple of others show some helpful detail like wrap-around white rump, hint of protrusion beyond the tail tip (maybe, if enlarged even more and looked at with magnifying glasses) but definitely one shot with legs/feet dangling into the water. Am sharing these with you now. Please feel free to work on them with better photo software. Also, I have a few seconds of video that I can share later and maybe somebody can grab a useful frame. Sorry about the quality – or lack thereof – of the photos. As it is, I nearly got flung overboard and drenched trying to get even these.

Real details will have to wait until tomorrow since sitting up in a chair is very painful still. I got flung several feet into the air on the front of the boat and landed with a very hard thud. Strained some muscles in my back and think I bruised some inner organs and my left knee cap.

We were about 24-25 miles out at the Liberty Ships. Ca. 90-110 foot depth. A tight group of Black Tern were feeding there when we arrived. Around 10:40 Ladd spotted the bird and said “Petra, there is a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, I think”. I got on it soon but lost it momentarily because it was so close that it disappeared under the bow of the boat. At that time 3 guys were fishing with bait off the back of the boat. Some bait was the remains of filleted out Gulf Whiting which must leave a lot of flavor in the water. There was also a good amount of human chumming going on.

The bird approached the boat very closely 5 to 6 times during which Ladd and I called out to each other what we were seeing. Very big white rump, wrapping around the sides to part of the undertail coverts. Saw this several times on the bird’s right side and once on the left. When it was flying up the back side of a wave we had stellar looks of the tail, several times, and it had something protruding beyond the middle of the end of the tail feathers – kind of jaeger like. The shape of the end of the tail was slightly rounded when spread and sometimes when fully folded kind of straight looking. The bird never flew higher than about a foot above the water. Ladd was the first to point out that it dangled its legs/feet into the water. It did that especially often  after ascending a wave on the back side and starting to feed on the crest of the wave. It followed the crest feeding, picked up tidbits from the surface. The bird was very dark but I could make out a slightly lighter carpal bar. Must have been in fresh plumage. Wings were held and moved very stiffly. Ladd said he thought it was a swallow or martin until he saw the white rump.

That will have to suffice for now as I have to stretch back out.

Hopefully something more coherent tomorrow.

Petra

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Here are some comments from the email exchange on the photos:

Petra Hockey:  “Todd, here are the photos. They are heavily cropped but otherwise unchanged. You can enlarge them some more if you think that helps. Please don’t make fun of them. I feel exceedingly lucky that I even got those under the conditions and I am paying a heavy price for it in pain today.”

I had sent the group of people on Gary’s leader list for the June pelagic a good description of what we saw including the wrap around white rump, feet projecting beyond tail, feeding with legs/feet pattering over the water and other more subtle details. Didn’t even notice that you were not among the recipients. There is absolutely no doubt that the bird was indeed a Wilson’s but the question remains if the TBRC members feel that the photos are diagnostic enough to put it on the Texas list (it is on mine). I can see several characters that look very good for Wilson’s. The dangling feet, big wrap around white rump patch. Wing structure can also be discerned on one photo, I believe, with shortish arm and not-bowed wings.”

Todd McGrath: “Absolutely diagnostic.  Is that the first for Texas?

The one photo shows the long legs, triangular wing shape and white carpal bar. That bout does it. Bird looks like it is molting, typical for Wilson’s this time of year. The extensive and even rump patch also shows well. Is that the first for TX? Congrats on a great find. I would guess they are rare but regular if you get a June trip out, especially early in the month.”

Petra: “Thank you, Todd, and yes, it is. You made my day! I thought so, too, but you never know what those overly critical TBRC guys will say ;-)”

Randy Pinkston: “Let’s be fair and say “overly critical TBRC guys AND gals.” 😉 And actually, Texas did have an accepted record with a photograph from the 1970s that was re-reviewed and removed from the state list about 3 or 4 years ago.  I don’t remember the date on that record but I believe it was from an early pelagic effort out of Freeport.  I might have that wrong(Eric? Petra?).  It was Martin Reid that recommended the review because the photo was non-diagnostic and the sighting happened way before Dwight Peake and Mark Elwonger’s POC trips (ca. 1989-1995 or so) that better defined the stormie situation in the western Gulf.  Peterson’s Texas guide from the 1960s did not list a single storm-petrel species for the state, not even among the accidental species.”

Brush Freeman Woooooooooo-whooooooo”

Well that about sums it up.

 

 

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