South Padre Island TEXAS PELAGIC September 26, 2003

Aboard   the Osprey II

Subject: WBC Pelagic Trip   9/26

Date:  Fri, 26 Sep 2003 22:16:00

From:  John Arvin

Thirty-odd  lucky birders participated in the latest of a series of World Birding Center pelagic trips into deep waters off the continental shelf offshore from Port  Isabel today. The undersea topography in this area includes the Rio Grande submarine canyon, a deep gorge carved out by the river when sea levels were much lower than they are today, and, for the Texas coast, a relatively narrow   continental shelf. Depths of 1000 meters (about 500 fathoms) are encountered   within about 60 miles of shore, or about a three hour run from the dock. A seamount known as the Colt 45 Reef is a sea floor feature that rises from   water beyond the 1000 m. contour and influences water circulation locally, bringing cool, nutrient rich waters up from the sea floor, greatly enriching surface waters and concentrating marine life in the area. Colt 45 was our  destination today.

About two and a half hours out of the dock we approached an anchored shrimp boat in   only 240 feet of water. Even from a distance we could see a number of birds in the vicinity of the boat. As we drew closer we could see that a number ofCory’s Shearwaters and two juvenile plumaged Masked Boobies were around the   boat, mostly sitting on the water or making short flights and landing again.   We stopped to watch and photograph the shearwaters, which numbered 16, and   the boobies. After a time Dwight Peake, one of our leaders who was in the   wheel house with the captain, announced over the P. A. system that we would   move ahead about a quarter mile where a bird on the water appeared to be an adult Masked Booby. As we neared the “booby” it began to look stranger and stranger. Finally a giant seabird lumbered up off the water and  we were transfixed by the huge wingspan of an albatross! The albatross landed  on the water not far away and we were able to maneuver the boat for the best  possible light angle as film and megabytes were burned at a record rate. The bird was clearly a Yellow-nosed Albatross, adult or nearly so.

There   are two previous records from the state, both from coast of the LRGV. One was   a bird that I had seen in 1976 after it had been picked up alive, and  apparently well, alongside a road near the coast. I saw and photographed it   for the record at the zoo in Brownsville, where it lived out it days. It is   presently a specimen in the UT-Pan American collection. The other was a   one-observer bird very well described from the South Padre Island jetty in   1972. There is also a record from within just a few miles of the Texas border   at Holly Beach, Cameron Parish, LA, that was photographed remarkably well in   1970. Ours was the first wild albatross seen by a pelagic trip in the Gulf of   Mexico and one of few such records for the whole Atlantic coast of North America.   Needless to say, the entire boat was ecstatic. Stay tuned to Texbirds as Eric Carpenter will have photos up on his website in a day or so.

However, it was far from a one-bird trip. After we left the albatross (steamed away   from an albatross!!) still milling around the shrimp boat, we encountered  scattered Cory’s Shearwaters in twos and threes, an unusual (for early fall)   number of Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, Bridled Terns, more Masked Boobies, and   a couple of Magnificent Frigatebirds.

A complete list follows:

Yellow-nosed Albatross – truly a magnificent experience!

Masked Booby – 6; a good count

Cory’s Shearwater – 29; these large shearwaters were dwarfed by the albatross and   probably didn’t get all the attention they deserved under the circumstances

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel – 12; typically these are more common earlier in the season. Our   late June trip saw over 30 plus 3 Leach’s Storm-Petrels

Bridled Tern – at least six, including an adult with a food-begging juvenile standing   on a piece of driftwood. We were able to pull up right next to them and could   easily hear the begging calls of the youngster over the engines other terns –   typically coastal species like Royal, Sandwich, Least, and especially Black   Terns were well out to sea in numbers. They were especially numerous around a   long drift line of large Sargassum mats. Several hundred Black Terns were   attending this line on both our out and in-bound trips

Magnificent Frigatebird – 2 within sight of land

Land birds at sea, not many this trip: 1 Barn Swallow, 1 Yellow Warbler (which   attempted to come aboard), and one unidentified warbler were all that were   seen.

John Arvin,


Link to Photo Gallery: All photography copyrighted © Garett Hodne 2003

or ©2003 Brad McKinney as noted.


View 2002 + 2003 Texas Pelagic Trip Tracks from S Padre Is and Port Aransas in a larger map

Click on the box in the upper left of the map to view the map legend.

Click on each Pelagic Course and the data label will appear with the date of the trip.



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