Sept 5, 1998; Port O’Connor; TRIP REPORT
Aboard the Chip XI
Subject: Red-billed Tropicbird!
Date: Mon, 7 Sep 1998
From: Dwight Peake
The apparently last public Saturday Texas pelagic trip for the foreseeable future was run out of Port O’Connor on September 5. I had feared through most of the past month that there were not enough adventuresome ecotourists to make the trip possible and then Hurricane Earl passing by our area a couple of days prior to the trip had me fretting that the trip would not go, but enough hardy souls registered and the seas calmed rapidly after Earl.
Earl apparently moved the edge of our target eddy pretty much past the limits of the range of our trip and the best area we could reach was on the other side of what has proven to be a very oligotophic (low in biological activity, otherwise known as a “there aren’t any pelagic birds in the Gulf of Mexico” area) water mass.
The seas were calm and we were fortunately able to make good speed. We came upon a line of rain showers and right on the leading edge of the rain, Petra Hockey shouted “Big White Bird”-that was enough to get my pulse racing, but the distinctive flight which indicated a tropicbird got me absolutely frenzied! We watched the bird for several minutes and finally a Texas tropicbird gave us good looks! It flew back and forth in front of us and we even got to see it make a feeding plunge dive. My video is not NGS quality, but it does show the long black markings on the outer upper primaries, a reddish bill, worn stubby ,elongated central tail feathers, and most importantly, the black eye patch extending around the back of the head!
We had lots of leisurely looks at Band-rumped Storm-Petrels and 3 Masked Boobies sat on the water less than 100 feet from the boat at different times during the day. Everyone got great looks at Frigatebirds overhead also. The pelagic tern numbers were low and the ones we did find were not cooperative. The lack of any areas with fish schools probably accounts for the poor pelagic tern showing.
The marine mammal numbers were also lower than usual with only a few Bottlenosed dolphins bow riding, but being able to watch a basking Sperm whale makes up for the low numbers for me!
King Neptune kept the seas calm throughout the day until two hours out of port and, just at dusk, an unexpected storm line hit us with 40 knot winds. Fortunately, the trusty Chip XI proved its seaworthiness again in the 6-8 foot seas which resulted! It was a bit more of an adventure than I had hoped for.
The Chip XI is a sturdy boat and Gary Geissel is an excellent Captain-I greatly appreciate his skills at finding and following birds and having gotten us safely to and from deep water during the past five summers, I however, would like to take pelagic trips in a bit more comfort than is possible on the Chip XI.
Texas birders have the opportunity to make these offshore birding trips on a much more comfortable craft. The M/V Fling and M/V Spree are much larger boats and have large, comfortable cabins with air conditioning, individual sleeping berths, and lots of food to eat. The next trip is scheduled to depart at 9pm on September 20 and to return by 5am on the 22nd. Due to several late cancellations, we need several more people to sign-up. Unfortunately, if we don’t get enough people to register for this trip, these trips will not be available next year. So if you have been thinking about going on a Texas pelagic trip but have heard that the Port O’Connor trips are too rough for your tastes, please sign up for this trip, it may be your last chance for a Texas pelagic trip (remember, no boats make public trips to water deep enough to regularly see pelagic birds and mammals except these that we birders charter).
Houston Audubon Society
FINAL TRIP LIST :
TOTAL PELAGIC SPECIES – 6
TOTAL PELAGIC SEABIRDS – 54
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel 21
unidentified storm-petrel 2
RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD 1
Masked Booby 4
Magnificent Frigatebird 14
Bridled Tern 5
Sooty Tern 2
Bridled vs. Sooty Tern 5
NEARSHORE SEABIRD Sp:
MARINE MAMMAL Sp:
Map of the trip track is unavailable.
OCEANOGRAPHIC AND WEATHER CONDITIONS:
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