Aboard   the Chip XI
Subject: August 8 PelagicDate:   Sun, 9 Aug 1998 17:14:13

From:   Dwight Peake

Our   pelagic luck this year finally changed for the better yesterday. It took quite a while-the seas had been flat for the entire past week until the first cold front in over two months passed over and kicked up the seas. We started   the day with seas too rough to head directly south to our goal of reaching the edge of the warm core eddy sitting off of the coast from Corpus to SPI-at least everyone on board stayed dry. By 11 am the seas began to calm and we   headed south-we had to pass through what I call the “Dead Sea”-the area we normally target off of Port O’Connor has only crystal clear   featureless water and no birds where we usually have many. This area is a low   sea surface height area on the altimeter map: http://www-ccar.colorado.edu/research/gom/html/gom_nrt.html,   then on the page with Blended TOPEX/Poseidon and ERS-2 Altimeter Data, choose the latest sea surface height anomaly map. At this point I was very worried that we could not get to the eddy edge before we had to turn back-on the July 20 trip we went to N27deg 3min and didn’t get to the edge of it-if we did not   get to the eddy edge, I was sure the day would be a bust!

Around 1 pm, our trusty Captain, Gary Geisel, started suggesting that we needed to turn north soon so I asked him to turn southwest while I plotted our course  back. We found that Colt 45, an offshore seamound was too far. We headed  south a few minutes longer we ran into our first Sooty Tern flock! We then came the most spectacular display of fish schools breaking the surface that I have ever witness-the schools were breaking from horizon to horizon and the Sooty Terns and Audubon’s Shearwaters were in hot pursuit. Unfortunately, we had to speed past several Whale sharks in the schools because we spotted a white Sterna tern in with the Sooties. We followed the flock from school to school watching this bird-it had a short black bill, extensively white forehead,   wedge shaped eye mask, white secondaries, and translucent primaries consistent with a first summer/second calendar year bird-if accepted, the third state record-2 out of the 3 on these pelagic trips-of Arctic Tern!

If I  could I would watch the Sooty Tern spectacle every day. We did have to head  home, however, and almost immediately after turning towards Port O’Connor 2  Masked Boobies flew by giving all great looks. Of course, Forest Roland had   decided that nobody was watching enough for high flying birds, so he took it upon himself to do it-shortly thereafter, he found a high flying large white bird. It had long wings with long black outer primaries, a wedge shaped tail, and flew strong and fast with a wing beat appearing to use mainly the outer   wing area-WOW! the second TROPICBIRD (probable Red-billed) seen on these trips.

The  ride home on calm, following seas was wonderful. We were escorted by several  pods of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins. We even saw the fabled “green flash” at sunset!

By the way, the July 20 trip apparently missed the eddy edge by about 10 nautical miles. Also, these trips are so far offshore that we are out of cell phone range, Chuck.

The September 5 Port O’Connor trip will be the last from Port O’Connor and the  last public pelagic trip scheduled for a Saturday for some time to come. We  need many more people to sign-up if it is to go.

The September 20-23 36 hour pelagic from Freeport will travel to the eddy edge area also and will have a lot more time available to work the area. This   trip, on a very comfortable boat, has several spaces open.

I am  working hard to arrange trips on boats which area more comfortable than the  trusty but spartan Chip XI that is taking pelagic birders to great birds for its 5th and last season. The last two trips this year need participants who want to see great birds, unfortunately, if these trips don’t get enough participants, don’t expect any public pelagic trips to be available next year.

Species   seen August 8: 8 hours of one fretful trip organizer

Marine mammals

Atlantic spotted dolphin

Bottlenose  dolphin (offshore variety)


Whale  shark

yellow-finned tuna

black-finned tuna

Pelagic Birds

Tropicbird,  probable Red-billed

Band-rumped Storm-petrel

Masked Booby

Magnificent Frigatebird

Audubon’s Shearwater

Sooty Tern

Bridled Tern(seen by 2 persons while everyone else was watching the Arctic)

Arctic Tern


Dwight Peake

Galveston, Texas

Houston  Audubon Society



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