Oct 1, 2004; S Padre Island; TRIP REPORT
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.
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…
Rancho Viejo, TX
FINAL TRIP LIST :
TOTAL PELAGIC SPECIES – 7
TOTAL PELAGIC SEABIRDS – 16
Great Shearwater – 1
Cory’s Shearwater – 8
South Polar Skua – 1
Pomarine Jaeger – 1
Parasitic Jaeger – 3
Long-tailed Jeager – 1
Magnificent Frigatebird – 1
MARINE MAMMAL Sp: –
NEARSHORE SEABIRD Sp: –
LANDBIRD MIGRANTS Sp:
GPS Track Coordinates Not Available.
OCEANOGRAPHIC AND WEATHER CONDITIONS:
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