Oct 25, 2014; S Padre Island; TRIP REPORT
Background: Since Texas Pelagics started in 1992 there have only been 4 Texas Pelagic trips run in October. It had been 10 years since a Texas Pelagic had been run in October, the last one being on 10/1/2004. On that trip we found Texas’ only accepted record of a South Polar Skua. There have however been 4 November trips since 2004. The sparse pelagic coverage at this time of year provides us with only limited data on what species could be seen in the late fall in offshore Texas waters. The primary reason that more Texas Pelagics aren’t run in the fall is that seas are often uncooperative (code for too rough) during the fall, winter and spring months, making a calm weather window tougher to encounter on an weekend where the trips are planned way ahead of time.
And this October proved no different. All week long I watched the weather forecasts with much trepidation. First on Monday a disturbance in the Gulf of Campeche formed and then developed into Tropical Depression NINE on Wednesday. The forecasts still predicted it to calm down in the Gulf of Mexico off of South Padre Island by Saturday as the depression was expected to move east over Yucatan and then into the Caribbean by Thursday night.
Fortunately this whole weather mess dissipated over Thursday night and by Saturday at 4:00am the seas had really improved. It was dead calm on Saturday morning in the dark at the dock. As we cleared the jetties just after 6 am it was probably as rough as we would see it all day. It was hard to tell in the dark but seas were still in the 3 foot range. It continued to calm down and by dawn we were cruising in calmer 2 foot seas. By the time we reached the deepwater Gulf of Mexico seas were a nice and calm 1 to 2 foot +, and the temp was a very balmy 76 degrees. I don’t think I’ve been out on a pelagic where the weather conditions were just so pleasant.
By 9:00am we had seen 3 Magnificent Frigatebirds in addition to the usual scattered Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns. The first and only shrimp boat on the way out held a large pod of 30+ Pelagic Bottlenose Dolphins. We reached the shelf – slope break in very good time by 9:30am. Just an hour later and now in over 2,000 ft of water we set out the first of 2 chum slicks. Shortly after we flushed our only shearwater of the day off the water, a lone Audubon’s Shearwater.
After setting out the second mess of chum we were treated to the best sighting of the day, an incoming Red-billed tropicbird. This cooperative bird circled the boat at least 6 times giving everyone plenty of time for photos and great looks, before finally giving up on us and flying away. It was a life bird for many people on board and the First RBTR we had seen in Texas since 7/16/2011, and the 9th RBTR seen on Texas Pelagics.
We soon had the first of 3 Masked Boobies we would see for the day. Monarch Butterflies were very conspicuous over the gulf and we must have see hundreds plying their way south to Mexico.
As we cruised north towards the edge of a warm-core eddy we continued passing very long lines of sargassum which had first been encountered since reaching the shelf edge. We eventually came upon the largest solid island of sargassum I had ever seen. It was at least as big as two football fields maybe bigger, and upon it were 4 Black terns and 1 Bridled Tern resting on embedded flotsam. For some on board this was the best view they’d ever had of a Bridled Tern since it was perched.
After over 4 hours in pelagic waters as deep as 3,000 ft we needed to head back in. We tried to string together as many shrimp boats as possible on the route in to see if we could pick up come more pelagic species. As we approached the second shrimper a larger brown bird flew out of the rigging, a Brown Booby, in what is certainly the year of the Brown Booby in Texas. Mary, always alert, soon started to chum and the Brown Booby came over along with the Laughing Gulls to investigate and eat it’s fill. At times it would almost slap us in the face with it’s webbed yellow feet. This show continued for a good 15 minutes until we decided we’d had enough and cruised away.
Somewhere in here a Pomarine Jaeger was seen, although I got only the report as I didn’t see it. We also had a few migrants, one was believed to be a Common Yellowthroat. We continued to rack up Magnificent Frigatebirds and by days end had seen 8.
Finally as we approached the South Padre Island jetties a huge feeding frenzy was happening. It looked as if it was pouring rain as so many baitfish were jumping out of the water. The few fisherman in boats in the midst of this frenzy appeared to be having no luck catching anything, but the thousand Laughing Gulls, hundreds of brown Pelicans and hundred Royal and sandwich Terns were surely feasting on the bonanza. We cruised through it very slowly looking closely for something unusual. It was litteraly a blizzard of gulls and terns but Eric and Mary our sharp eyed leaders managed to find a Sabine’s Gull simultaneously and then just as quickly loose it in the hoards of gulls. We slowly backed up towards the feeding frenzy and then just as we gave up, Petra yelled that she found it briefly again. Well we had run out of time and needed to head back to dock.
I want to acknowledge the dedicated Trip Leaders who make these trips run smoothly: Brad McKinney, Eric Carpenter, Mary Gustafson, Petra Hockey and Randy Pinkston and also our excellent Captain Bobby, and Mates Harley and Clay. And thanks to all our enthusiastic participants.
PELAGIC SPECIES SEEN: 8
Magnificent Frigatebirds – 8
Audubon’s Shearwater – 1
Red-billed Tropicbird – 1
Bridled Terns -2
Pomarine Jaeger – 1
Masked Booby – 3
Brown Booby – 1
Sabine’s Gull -1
Laughing Gull – 1176
Herring Gull – 2
Black Tern – 4
Common Tern – 1
Forster’s Tern – 50
Royal Tern – 115
Sandwich Tern – 206
Brown Pelican – 220
Pelagic Bottlenose Dolphin – 40+
Cattle Egret – 33
Common Yellowthroat – 1
American Coot – 1
Swallow Sp. – 2
Warbler Sp. – 1
Monarch Butterflies – 100+
Here is a map of the trip track as recorded by my GPS.
Weather, Sea and Oceanographic Conditions:
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