Oct 10, 2015; S Padre Island; TRIP REPORT
There was a stiff north wind blowing as we waited at the dock preparing to sail on our 5th Texas Pelagic trip of 2015. The wind kicked up the bay waters into an unusual chop since we were on the windward side of the bay with north winds and the Osprey was rocking in its dock. The day before south Texas and the Rio Grande Valley had been treated to an extensive area of heavy showers that washed through the region and had moved offshore on Friday night. The current wave height was still under 3 ft at buoy 42020 and the forecast was still calling for 2-3 ft seas. Capt Bobby said to me in passing “You let me know if it’s too rough when we get out there.” I questioned him “Do you think it will be?” He replied “I don’t know maybe this is just a local squall?” Well I didn’t like the sound of that. So we proceeded out and once we cleared the jetties it was still only about a 3 foot swell. So far, so good.
As the day dawned the sky was very dramatic with distant rain showers mostly off to the south and east, interspersed with patches of clear sky. Sunrise added a beautiful illumination to the clouds and highlighted the scattered rain showers. We cruised through two brief showers and just to the north of another larger shower. Nine different flocks of distant migrating ducks flew by heading south. Some were identified as Blue-winged Teal, others were just too far away. Also small flocks of migrating Great Blue Herons and Cattle Egrets were heading south. As the sun rose higher we were treated to a complete double rainbow off the stern that persisted for what seemed like an hour.
Then we found our first seabird of the day at 8:30am , it’s breast glowed white in the sunlight as it sat on the water. We thought at first it was an Audubon’s Shearwater. We saw it arc high over the sea and I thought we don’t often see Audubon’s fly that way? Well after we looked at the pictures it became clear that it was a Manx Shearwater, which is quite similar to an Audubon’s, slightly larger with pure white under-tail coverts that were nicely captured in many photographs. The Manx Shearwater has only been seen on one previous Texas Pelagic and there are only 8 records for Texas! A number of people got great photos, some of which had the end of the rainbow in the background illuminating the Manx! We should’ve realized this was a dead give-away we had found the pot of gold! It was a lifer for many of the people on the trip.
Nearing the shelf edge at 9:07 a nice pod of 12 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins came swimming towards us for a short bow-ride. Just past the 300 foot depth mark we had our first Pomarine Jaeger. A Bridled Tern flew by right off the bow, staying very low to the water which was unusual. We reached the shelf edge around 9:30 am and at 450 feet of water the second Pomarine Jaeger came barreling straight at us. Eric Carpenter started chumming and then a second, third, fourth Pomarine Jaeger joined the group. After a few minutes we were up to eight Pomarine Jaegers all circling the boat chasing chum bits. It was a great show!
Following that a lone American Coot seemed out of place. The first Audubon’s Shearwater showed up soon and it continued on with single Audubon’s being seen every so often for the next hour or so. A distant Magnificent Frigatebird and another flock of 6 Great Blue Herons were spotted. We were out in very deep 3,000 feet of water by now but weren’t seeing much for over an hour except for the ever present varieties of flying fish and scattered patches of Sargassum. Soon it was time to start heading back in. Crossing back onto the shelf we picked up a few unidentified passerines. One persistent passerine circled the boat a few times and was eventually photographed confirming my ID as a Marsh Wren, seeming totally out of its element over the deep blue waves.
The first shrimp boat we reached had no birds. The second shrimper a couple miles away had a juvenile Magnificent Frigatebird perched on its highest mast. A Masked Booby passed by at some distance away then finally gave in to its curiosity and came right over us a few times to see if we had anything for it to eat We hit a nice bunch of birds on the fourth shrimp boat. The expected passengers of Royal Terns and a few Sandwich terns were all lined up in order on the rigging lines. Strangely no Laughing Gulls though. Then as the chum started stirring them up the regular terns were joined by 3 Pomarine Jaegers, including a nice dark morph who demonstrated its aerial flying skills at hot pursuit of a Royal Tern for its dinner. Then another highlight was spotted working the Sargassum line from below a Scalloped Hammerhead about 6-7 feet long. The high dorsal fin breaking the surface for long periods as it foraged in the sargassum. A second Scalloped Hammerhead was also spotted.
As we continued cruising back towards shore we came upon a large pod of about 24 Bottlenosed Dolphins near another shrimper, that circled the boat for a while. All summer we’ve been counting the stacked jack-up drilling rigs that have been accumulating about 20 miles offshore from South Padre in the designated ship anchorage zone. What started out as 5 rigs stacked back in July was up to 9 rigs today, an economic victim of the crash in oil prices that most Americans are enjoying. We almost never see any birds by these rigs as we pass right by them however. I guess they haven’t been there long enough to accumulate the marine sea life that the permanent production platforms elsewhere in the Gulf of Mexico attract after many years. The final sixth shrimp boat we passed within sight of land about 12 miles out had a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher perched in the rigging.
Overall it was a great day especially with the Manx Shearwater. Our trip leaders: Brad McKinney, Dwight Peake, Eric Carpenter, Erik Bruhnke, Kelly Smith, Mary Gustafson, Petra Hockey and Randy Pinkston did a great job as always. Captain Bobby Duncan demonstrated his superb piloting skills once again and crew Dillon and Fabian also help make it an enjoyable day at sea. And thanks to all our participants who contribute by making these trips possible and by having a fun time.
There has been only one other year, 2004, when there were 5 Texas Pelagics run in one year. So this has been a busy year with one pelagic about every third weekend since July. Our first pelagic was planned for June but it was weathered out. We are still planning to run a sixth Texas Pelagic this year on November 2nd for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. This trip is full. There have never been six Pelagics run in one year before in Texas. This is the first year we have ever been able to fill 7 trips (including the one that was weathered out) with enough participants to be able to run so many trips. I hope the weather cooperates and lets us complete the 6th trip during this record breaking year.
Texas Pelagics Organizer
TOS Life Member
The Woodlands, TX
Here is a rundown of the species seen:
PELAGIC SEABIRDS: 6 species
MANX SHEARWATER – 1 (Texas review species)
Audubon’s Shearwater – 6
Magnificent Frigatebird – 2
Masked Booby – 1
Bridled Tern – 1
Pomarine Jaeger – 12
Jaeger sp – 1
Brown Pelican – 2 nearshore
Laughing Gulls – few
Least Tern – 1 nearshore
Royal Tern – 130
Sandwich Tern – 6
Great Blue Heron – 15
Blue-winged Teal – 50
Duck sp – 100 +
Cattle Egret – 30
American Coot – 2
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher – 1
Marsh Wren – 1
Nashville Warbler – 1
Unidentified passerines – 1
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins – 12
Pelagic Bottlenose Dolphins – 24
Inshore Bottlenose Dolphins – 2
Flying Fish – numerous of several species
Tripletail – 1
Scalloped Hammerhead – 2
Here is a map of the trip track as recorded by my GPS.
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