Sept 19, 2015; S Padre Island; TRIP REPORT
After seeing 8 foot seas recorded by NOAA Buoy 42020 on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning it was a relief to see a forecast for only 2 to 3 foot seas for Saturday. And following such a phenomenal trip three weeks ago everyone at the dock was hoping for a repeat performance today. With an early 5:30 am start we sailed a good hour in pitch blackness. In the dark the seas seemed rougher than 3 feet and were probably more in the 4 foot range with the occasional 5 foot swell. A brief sprinkle of rain right at first light awakened those trying to sleep out on the open upper deck. Luckily for us as within a minute or two our just awakened sharp-eyed leader Kelly Smith spotted our first seabird the only Cory’s Shearwater of the day before sunrise. It was very close to the boat and passed right in front of the bow just feet away to the delight of the bow crowd.
After a beautiful sunrise the seas were calming down some and by 8 am were more in the 3 foot range and would continue to calm down throughout the day. It wasn’t long before we had our first 2 Audubon’s Shearwaters. We would continue to see single Audubon’s Shearwaters at regular intervals up until 2pm. A distant Masked Booby seemed uninterested in coming over to investigate us like Boobies usually do. Looking at Dwight Peak’s photos of the distant bird at maximum zoom we wondered if it may have been an immature Northern Gannet? (Awaiting photo confirmation of that.)
A flock of our first 6 Bridled Terns signaled our arrival in deep pelagic waters over 600 ft. As we passed the shelf-slope break at 9:00am I announced for everyone to be on the lookout for whale blows. Shortly thereafter as if on cue we picked up a pod of at least 20 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins who enthusiastically swam over for some bow-riding play time. The pod stuck with us for at least 10 minutes and everyone got great looks, photos and videos from the bow.
I finally decided to try my own video of the dolphins after watching a bunch of others do the same. While I was capturing video leaning way over the bowsprit, Tripp Davenport standing right next to me in his usual spot at the end of the bowsprit yelled out “Whale Blow!” Only a couple other people saw it even though it was only a couple hundred yards or less in front of us, as everyone was focused on watching the dolphins. From the descriptions of the blow it was definitely a Sperm Whale but it never resurfaced. We finally gave up waiting for it to resurface and proceeded east further out to deeper water, more vigilant than ever for more whales.
About 30 minutes later Mary Ann Beauchemin, again sitting right next to me on the upper bow deck, yelled out “WHALE!” In just a few seconds it surfaced briefly a second time and then that was it. It never resurfaced. John O’Brien got a look at its blunt nose so we were able to identify it as a Kogia species of either Pygmy or Dwarf Sperm Whale. These two species look so much alike it is almost impossible to distinguish them in the field. And it happened so fast that no one was able to get photos and only a few people actually saw it.
We continued cruising east out to about 2,700 feet of water at 63 miles offshore, but it seemed there were more bids in closer. So we turned back towards the shelf edge were we would contour the edge for about an hour. The day continued on with a steady stream of birds singly or in pairs every 10-15 minutes. We added more Audubon’s Shearwaters, Bridled Terns and Leach’s Storm-Petrels but no Band-rumped Storm-Petrels as it is late in the season for them.
Returning to the shelf it was about an hour before we reached our first anchored shrimp boat. Our strategy now is to chum at the shrimpers to stir up the roosting Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns. This worked once again in attracting one Pomarine Jaeger from out of the blue. And the 2 Magnificent Frigatebirds that were also roosting on the boat joined in the fray.
The second shrimp boat held a large pod of about 30 Pelagic Bottlenose Dolphins. Brad McKinney and I managed to capture some underwater video of the dolphins with our GoPro cameras mounted to long poles. We need to work out a better strategy with the Captain to stop the boat when the dolphins come closest, instead of speeding up to see if they’ll bow ride. I also think we need baitfish chum to attract them in to the boat when it’s sitting still. We will eventually work out a good underwater video strategy. While Brad and I were preoccupied with u/w video, the rest of the party was watching 2 Pomarine Jaegers that came into the chum along with 4 Magnificent Frigatebirds and a Masked Booby.
Overall it was a very good day. No huge numbers of birds like our August 29th trip but a continual stream of sightings and a respectable 7 pelagic species. The Kogia species Dwarf / Pygmy Sperm Whale was a lifer for me and the few who actually got to see it. The Sperm Whale “blow” adds this species to our day list even though we didn’t actually see the whale, and only a couple of lucky birders saw the blow.
Thanks to our Captain Bobby, to our excellent leaders Arman Moreno, Brad McKinney, Dwight Peake, Eric Carpenter, John O’Brien, Kelly Smith, Mary Gustafson, Petra Hockey and Michael Marsden and to all the participants for contributing to an enjoyable day at sea.
Texas Pelagics Leader
FINAL TRIP LIST :
TOTAL PELAGIC SPECIES –
PELAGIC SEABIRDS: 7 Species
Cory’s Shearwater – 1
Audubon’s Shearwater – 13
Leach’s Storm-Petrel – 3
Magnificent Frigatebird – 8
Masked Booby – 2
Bridled Tern – 9
Pomarine Jaeger – 3
Sperm Whale – 1 (only blow seen)
Kogia sp. Whale – 1 (Dwarf / Pygmy Sperm Whale)
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins – 20
Pelagic Bottlenose Dolphins – 30
Brown Pelican – 2 (1 seen 25 miles offshore)
Laughing Gulls – 154
Least Tern – 8
Black Tern – 105
Common Tern – 7
Royal Tern – 92
Sandwich Tern – 19
Cattle Egret 9
Ruby-throated Hummingbird – 1
Flying Fish – numerous
Here is a map of the trip track as recorded by my GPS.
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