Sunday, August 9, 2015

South Padre Island pelagic trip, 8/8/15

A few weeks ago Texas Pelagics ran a very successful pelagic birding trip out of South Padre Island on the newly revamped Osprey.  That combined with the fact I had not done a pelagic birding trip since 2002 spurred me on to sign up for yesterday's excursion.  But after a poor night's sleep I was not ready for the violent rocking of the boat as we made our way out between the jetties.  It did not help that pelagic veterans Mary Gustafson and Brad McKinney said this was pretty normal.  Gee, I had forgotten this part of pelagic birding.  Twelve hours of this?

After a while it got light enough to start looking for birds so I staggered out of the air conditioned cabin and made my way up to the top deck.  With fogged up optics and holding on for my dear life I started thinking I was too old for this stuff.  But the day got brighter and I found my sea legs and I got my lenses dried off and I was ready to do some birding.  As we bounded our way out over three to five foot waves, the captain would cozy up to the shrimp boats we encountered where we mostly saw common Royal Terns mixed with a few Sandwich Terns and Laughing Gulls.

A bit later we were pulling up to the Princess Rosita when a dark gull sized bird streaked by her bow.  "Pomarine Jaeger!" was the call.

As it zoomed around for several minutes harassing the terns, I was shooting with my new 1.4 extender attached, which though sharp, was slowing down my auto focus.  So I missed some good opportunities. Here's the best of what I got of this beautiful dark jaeger.

Making our way out against a strong south wind through some pretty rough seas to the edge of the continental shelf took about four hours. But when we arrived a flock of storm-petrels materialized right on cue over the deep water.  Getting photos of these of these little song-bird sized pelagics was difficult as they wheeled through the troughs and skimmed the crests while I fumbled with the camera and wedged my feet between the wheel house and the railing to keep balanced on the rocking Osprey.  We found two more flocks over the deep water and the process was repeated.  My photos aren't great but they show both the expected Band-rumped Storm-Petrel and the locally rare Leach's Storm Petrel.  Band-rumped has the more narrow rump band that extends over the sides of the rump onto the undertail coverts.

While the Leach's Storm-Petrel has a wider band that is usually broken with the white not extending as far on the undertail coverts.  Experts on board like Dwight Peake and Brad and Mary commented on a different flight pattern but I couldn't see it.  We saw at least half a dozen of them which is apparently a record for Texas waters.

Dwight informed us a "cold core eddy" had formed over edge of the continental shelf and that might have influenced the numbers of Leach's while depressing the numbers of other expected tubenoses  like Cory's and Audubon's Shearwaters.  So we weren't seeing a lot, but this Masked Booby got everyone excited.

Eric Carpenter expertly created a chum oil slick to attract birds.  It extended for a couple hundred meters but there were no takers.  After a few hours over the deep water it was time to make the long trip back the SPI. Fortunately the seas had eased a bit and the return journey was not so rough.  Another Masked Booby passed by but was less cooperative.  There were plenty of people out deepsea fishing and we sighted this lucky girl reeling in a nice King Mackerel.

Our last bit of excitement came at the next shrimp boat where we found another Pomarine Jaeger chasing a Royal Tern.  It was joined by a second and then a third who hoped to force the unfortunate tern to divulge its meal.

Fortunately they landed together to allow for some great shots.

Well, it was a pretty rough trip with not too many birds as the case with Texas pelagic trips but it was fun with some nice comradery.  And who doesn't like jaeger shots?  Here I am pooped at the end of a long day.

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