South Padre Island TEXAS PELAGIC October 1, 2004

Aboard   the Osprey II

Subject: WBC Pelagic Trip   Oct. 1

Date:   Sat, 2 Oct 2004 11:15:56

From:   John Arvin

The “typical” Texas Coast pelagic trip still eludes definition. Still it would seem that early fall trips are becoming known for their production   of records of rarities. That trend continued yesterday. Ironically last week we agonized about the weather right up until sailing time and had great   weather. This week we assumed great weather and were somewhat taken aback when an unforecast stiff onshore wind sprang up Thursday night giving us moderate seas not trip canceling heights, but definitely enough to bounce everyone around. These seas were particularly troublesome on our way out,   which is directly into the oncoming waves. The ride improved greatly when we   turned north for our run up to Colt 45 Reef and winds and seas abated   considerably by afternoon.

Birding however, was great, though different from expected (or maybe we just don’t  know what is “expected” yet). Most of our better encounters were   around anchored shrimp boats over the continental shelf in relatively shallow waters. These boats work by night and crews are in the process of cleaning up the boat in the early morning hours. It is the cleanup process that makes   them magnets for both seabirds and marine life in general as hundred of  pounds of “by catch” (everything but shrimp) are shoveled   overboard. We have begun making it a point to check out each moored shrimp boat that is not too far out of our route. One of the first boats at which we   stopped had the first Greater Shearwater ever recorded off the lower Texas   coast and a new species for the Rio Grande Valley checklist area (#503   pending acceptance by the TBRC). The shearwater flew around us for half an   hour, often very close to the boat giving us repeated good views.

We saw a total of 8 Cory’s Shearwaters, mostly quite close to the boat sitting on   the water and flying short distances to resettle when we approached too   close. The jaeger show was unprecedented. All three jaegers were seen: two   Parasitic Jaegers, one early in the morning and one later in the afternoon.   Both were quite close to shore and gave us great “Top Gun” shows as   they flew circles around the terns they were robbing of fish. A juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger was quite possibly the same bird seen last Friday. It was   very similar in appearance to last week’s bird and was very near the same   location (this knowledge thanks to GPS). Having recent experience with the   two smaller jaegers, the comparatively massive size of a Pomarine Jaeger was  easy to appreciate. It also mercilessly harassed terns that were fishing   around and perching on anchored shrimp boats. It was the first 3 jaeger day  any of us had ever had. Masked Booby was seen repeatedly, mostly in adult or   near adult plumage, and occasionally making spectacular plunge dives for   fish. Only one bird was in a relatively early plumage stage. That individual   and a near adult occupied opposite ends of the outriggers on an anchored   shrimp boat.

On the other hand, the tropical pelagics seem to have moved out of the northern   Gulf. We recorded no Bridled or Sooty Terns, although both species were seen   just a week ago, and no storm-petrels or Audubon’s Shearwaters, staples of   June and July trips.

The  dolphin show was toned down a bit from last week’s. The Bottlenose Dolphins   seemed definitely more interested in breakfast around the shrimp boats. A pod   of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins did race over to play with the boat, giving us   good looks at the mottled flanks which give them their name, but lost   interest rather quickly. Tony Reisinger, marine extension agent for the lower   coast, added greatly to the content of the trip with illuminating   explanations of the marine environment and the marine fisheries industry. The   flying fish kept us entertained when birds were scarce and a large school of   Dorado (sometimes incorrectly called “dolphin”) flashed blues and   golds in the clear waters at our afternoon Parasitic Jaeger stop.

This trip concluded the 2004 World Birding Center pelagic program. Be sure and   watch for postings of next season’s pelagic trip schedule. We hope to offer   several trips between late May and early October, 2005.

Good  Birding,

John  Arvin

World   Birding Center

Subject: Skua identified on October 1 pelagic

Date:   Thu, 7 Oct 2004 17:11:03 -0500

From:   William B McKinney

On our  recent October 1 pelagic off Port Isabel/South Padre, we spent the better   part of the morning hours working several shrimp boats for shearwaters,  boobies, terns, and jaegers. As mentioned in John Arvin’s trip report, by   10:15 am we already had seen the Lower Coast’s first Greater Shearwater, six   Cory’s Shearwaters, one Magnificent Frigatebird, one Masked Booby, one   subadult Parasitic Jaeger, and one juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger. At 10:50 am,   we pulled up alongside another shrimp boat and had what we thought was the   only missing member of the jaeger trio- a juvenile Pomarine Jaeger. After the   bird had disappeared, there was some discussion amongst the leaders and some  participants that this “beast” of a bird may have been a skua. Well, after   making landfall and the subsequent scrutiny of some fuzzy images taken during   the observation, it was determined by several experts that our bird was   definitely a skua. With last night’s surfacing of Andy Garcia’s wonderful   images, the identification strongly points toward South Polar Skua, a   potential first for Texas. Like all review species, this record will be   reviewed by the TBRC once all documentation has been gathered. The skua   images can be viewed at Martin Reid’s website

After  Martin Reid’s study of Andy’s last photo, it appears that our last jaeger of   the trip, identified initially as a Parasitic, is in fact a Pomarine Jaeger,   giving us all three jaeger species after all, plus a skua! In the end, it was   yet another humbling experience, but one that we’ll all definitely learn   from. To paraphrase Eric Carpenter, “one lesson has become very clear on gulf   coast pelagics, expect anything and photograph everything!”

There   were many folks who helped nail down this amazing record. Special thanks go   out to Bill Clark, Andy Garcia, trip leaders, and others on board, and Willie   Sekula, Martin Reid, and Mark Lockwood for thoughtful commentary (and doing   lots of legwork to get the photos in the hands of skua aficionados like Ned   Brinkley, Dick Newell and others).

As for the skua’s exact location, well, it was around a shrimp boat at 26 degrees,   17 minutes North, 96 degrees, 28 minutes West, which is roughly 35-40 miles   east of South Padre Island (at a 210 feet depth). Anyone wanting to get out   and look for the bird should consider a tuna charter (Osprey) leaving the Sea   Ranch Marina (956/761-6655) or wait for the newly formed November 6 pelagic.   See the next post for details.

Good  seabirding still…

Brad  McKinney

Rancho  Viejo, TX

Link to Photo Gallery: All photography copyrighted ©Garett Hodne 2004.


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