Tuesday, September 1, 2015

South Padre Island pelagic trip, 8/29/15

Texas Pelagics scheduled a 16 hour pelagic birding trip for this past Saturday and it filled before I could sign up. I didn't feel too bad about it as had I endured our rough twelve hour trip just three weeks ago and was glad not to be staring at another 16 hours of hanging on to the boat for my dear life.  But there were some cancellations and calm weather was predicted and the trip was cut to 14 hours so I thought I can do this and maybe get some photos of things we missed last time.   Turned out to be probably the best pelagic trip I've ever been on in Texas waters.  After it got light enough to see, things got exciting when a small pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins raced past.

The first pelagics birds were several very distant Sooty Terns and Audubon's and Cory's Shearwaters which did not provide great photo opps.  But this group of four Masked Boobies had fun circling around the boat.

We then started to encounter flocks of Leach's Storm-Petrels.  Prior to our last trip, where we saw about a dozen, the high count for Leach's Storm-Petrel in Texas wasters was only two birds.  But we had fifteen in a single flock and the highest estimate I've seen for this trip was 83.

A distant Audubon's Shearwater was found sitting on the water and Captain Bobby was able to approach close enough for some decent shots before it flushed.  Another zoomed past for a better look.

A bit later a much larger Cory's Shearwater gave us a view of its underwing allowing us to determine it was the Mediterranean subspecies know as Scopoli's Shearwater.  We saw at least ten on the day.

A steady stream of pelagic birds continued to entertain us through the morning and into the afternoon.  A break from that was this small whale that even more experienced pelagic veterans have been unable ti identify.

At 1 PM a mysterious fish swam near the boat with its dorsal and caudal fins protruding from the water. Guesses of shark, marlin and swordfish rang out.  Captain Bobby IDed it as a Long-billed Spearfish, a rather rare species.

A few minutes later we had our most exciting moments of the trip.  A large flock of shearwaters were sighted ahead and the trip leaders noticed a seabird feeding frenzy nearby.

"Watch for Whale Shark!" was the cry.  The birds were feeding on the same small fish that attract whale sharks.  I pointed my camera at the mele and fired.   In the midst of the commotion was the spotted snout of a Whale Shark.  Also present are Audubon's, Cory's and Great Shearwaters. 

Whale Sharks are not dangerous toothed monsters like Great Whites, but have a huge mouth that sucks in small fish and crustaceans. 

The twenty foot monster passed by the boat for a good look but a little deep for a good photo.

Present the whole time, but ignored by the Whale Shark enthralled group was a rare Great Shearwater. According to the TOS Handbook of Texas Birds, there are only twenty previous accepted state records.

During the trip back in the afternoon we had several close encounters with Pomarine Jaegers, including a dark one that invoked thoughts of a skua.

One of the last shrimp boats we checked held a roosting group of bachelor Magnificent Frigatebirds, seven in total.

Wow, what a trip!  Glad I made the last minute decision to join the group.