Aug 29, 2015; S Padre Island; TRIP REPORT
Leach’s Storm Petrel Bonanza Sets New Record for Highest Number Ever Seen in Texas.
The end of August is a great time for a Texas Pelagic trip and when the weather cooperates, like it did this day, I just know good things can happen. We had to adjust the trip times and shorten it by 2 hours due to Osprey’s owners concerns about maintenance issues. So we wouldn’t be able to reach the hoped for objective of the Camel’s Head. Never-the-less with 14 hours we would have a lot of time in ultra-deep pelagic waters and would make it out to 3,000 ft waters depth. As of 4:00am Buoy 42020 was reading about 2 foot seas and the forecast was for 2-3 ft seas for the day. It would never get over 2 foot seas for the day.
As we cleared the S Padre Island jetties in the full moonlit night you could hardly tell we had reached the open Gulf by the wave action. But gradually the 2 foot seas lulled a number of tired birders to sleep at various nooks all over the rubberized deck. As the first hints of a lightening sky appeared birders began to ready themselves for the day ahead. We were treated to a beautiful moonset and about 30 minutes later a beautiful sunrise.
Shortly after sunrise the first birds of the day Royal Terns flew by then like a fighter plane in hot pursuit a Pomarine Jaeger harassed them off into the distance. The next bit of excitement would come in the form of 6 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins that caught up with the boat for a brief bow joy ride. We reached the shelf edge drop-off around 9:00am and as soon as we did things really started to happen. Our first group of 4 Storm-Petrels all were Leach’s. A squadron of 4 Masked Boobies flying in formation like dive bombers strafed the boat and circled it a number of times until their mission was accomplished. Then another flock of 10 – 15 Stormies sitting on the glassy water also were all Leach’s as best as we could determine. We were having trouble finding a Band-rumped Storm-Petrels in the bunches of Leach’s. Normally Band-rumped Storm-Petrels are the predominate species in Texas Waters by a wide margin, but not today. It seemed that every flock of Storm-Petrels we encountered, and there were a lot of them, was predominately or entirely Leach’s Storm-Petrels. And so it would stay that way for the rest of the day. Band-Rumped Storm Petrels are typically becoming scarcer by late August but we have never encountered so many Leach’s before. We tallied about 110 Storm-Petrels for the day which is a record number for a Texas Pelagic. The previous high number was 88 Band-Rumped Storm-Petrels on July 15, 2000. But even more incredible was that at least 66 or 83 (depending on who’s records you look at) were identified as Leach’s and the majority of the remaining unidentified storm-petrel sp were probably also Leach’s. We only positively identified 7 Band-Rumpeds for the day. And so the morning went Storm-petrel flock after Storm-petrel flock, all of them roosting on the flat seas and visible from a distance. They wouldn’t allow us to approach very close though before they flushed. Interspersed with the stormies were smatterings of Audubon’s Shearwaters, Cory’s Shearwaters, Sooty Terns and a couple of Pomarine Jaegers.
The day continued on this way with near constant bird action until 12:50 pm when Todd on the bow called out Mammals at 3:00 o’clock! We turned towards them and soon what turned out to be a Beaked Whale(s) of the Mesoplodon genus appeared again. There was some question as to whether there were 1 or 2 animals as only one surfaced at a time, but John O’Brien caught the diagnostic beak in one of his photos! This was the proof we needed that it was most likely either a Blainville’s Beaked Whale or a Gervais’ Beaked Whale. Specific identification is nearly impossible with this genus unless a mature male is spotted and the dentition is visible and photographed. They probably surfaced 4-5 times then were gone, but enough for everyone to see them and photograph them. Tripp thinks he has a photo of a second whale from a look at the dorsal fins, but we are waiting for confirmation.
Only 20 minutes later I spotted a large raft of seabirds roosting on the water about a mile away. As we approached the raft fish started jumping amoung the raft and it was clear to me the birds were sitting on top of a tuna school. Immediately I called out to watch for Whale Sharks and sure enough with 30 seconds the huge snout of a Whale Shark appeared at the surface in the middle of the birds and breaking tuna. The curious and docile Whale Shark soon was swimming towards our boat, much to the screams of excitement from everyone onboard. The Whale shark passed less than 10 feet off our port side as everyone stared on slack-jawed. It wasn’t a huge one but we estimated it at about 15 -17 feet long. They have been documented as large as 41 feet long, with fish tales of even bigger ones. A few diehard birders were still pointing out that Hello!! there is a Great Shearwater out there too. Well the Shark swam off and our attention was directed to the Great Shearwater our 10th pelagic species for the day!
Soon after all this excitement as the adrenaline subsided we were motoring in over the shelf and activity noticeably slowed down for the first time all day. But we weren’t done yet. As we approached our first anchored shrimper it was clear there were a few roosting Magnificent Frigatebirds on board for a siesta. As we got closer we could see that there were five male Frigatebirds hanging out. So we started chumming and soon had a feeding frenzy of Laughing Gulls, Royal Terns, 7 Frigatebirds (2 more flew in) and a Pomarine Jaeger putting on a nice show for us.
The second shrimp boat had 2 Masked Boobies roosting on it and was soon joined by a third. At the forth shrimper another Jaeger came blasting in that at first looked big enough to be a Skua. But it was only a dark Pomarine Jaeger.
By 6:30pm after a long day we reached the jetties with an amazing, exceptional day behind us. First I want to thank all our participants. We have a lot of regulars returning trip after trip and year after year to continue to experience the wonders of a day at sea. And to all our first timers who I’m sure had high hopes and who undoubtedly experienced such a great day offshore. I hope you’re hooked on Texas Pelagics and will join us again soon. Once again our leaders did an outstanding job spotting birds and providing commentary on the seabirds and marine life we were observing. I want to thank our leaders in alphabetical order: Arman Moreno, Brad McKinney, Dwight Peake, Eric Carpenter, Erik Bruhnke, John O’Brien, Kelly Smith, Mary Gustafson, Petra Hockey, Randy Pinkston and Todd McGrath. Our Captain Bobby and the Mates Dillon, Fabian and Clay did a fantastic job as well. Also the newly renovated Osprey has proven to the an excellent platform to have all this amazing fun on, the upper deck is great especially in nice calm seas like we had today.
FINAL TRIP LIST :
PELAGIC SPECIES: 10
Cory’s Shearwater – 14
Great Shearwater -1
Audubon’s Shearwater – 60
Leach’s Storm-Petrel – 66 (or 83)
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel – 7
Magnificent Frigatebird – 13
Masked Booby – 8
Sooty Tern – 21
Bridled Tern – 7
Pomarine Jaeger – 5
storm-petrel (sp) – 37 (or 20)
BRTE / SOTE – 1
Total Storm-Petrels = 110
Probably about 100 were Leach’s Storm-Petrels
The previous high for Texas Pelagics was 15 seen on August 8th, 2015 Texas Pelagic.
Prior to that 4 LESP had been see twice on Texas Pelagics and usually only 1 or 2 on any other trip.
Brown Pelican – 13
Laughing Gull – 187
Least Tern – 3
Black Tern – 205
Common Tern – 2
Royal Tern – 102
Sandwich Tern – 5
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin – 6
Bottlenose Dolphin – PELAGIC – 3
Bottlenose Dolphin – INSHORE – 4
Mesoplodon sp. Beaked whale – 1 or 2
Whale shark (Rhincodon typus) – 1
Yellow-finned Tuna school – 1
Bonita / Skipjack school – 1
Tripletail – 1
Longbill Spearfish – 1
Louisiana / Northern Waterthrush – 1
Cliff Swallow – 1
Here is a map of the trip track as recorded by my GPS.
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