Saturday, July 11, 2015

Texas Pelagic

This is what I'd been dreading. There is no getting around it. If you want to do a credible Big Year in Texas you have to do a couple of pelagic trips. This year Gary Hodne who organizes the Texas Pelagic trips is trying a couple of 16 hour trips. These trips will get about 8 hours in the pelagic waters verses 4 hours for the 12 hour trips they usually do. I decided to do 2 them, 32 hours in the water for 16 hours of prime pelagic birding. With the 12 hour trips I would have to spend 48 hours on the water for that about of birding. I get motion sick, so to me this is a bargain. That's a 33% reduction in the exposure to seasickness!

You might have noticed I didn't post any updates in June. In June I led two back-to-back field trips to Maine for the Texas Ornithological Society. These trips include two Whales and Puffins trips for a total of 11 hours on the water. I was able to get some Scopolamine patches for the trip and they worked really well for me. I didn't get sick on those trips. I went  into the Texas Pelagic trip feeling much more confident. Still I would do all the right things, eat light, nothing greasy, light on the caffeine, don't drink a lot of liquids at once and get it sloshing in my stomach, and stay on deck so I could see the horizon.

John and I left Houston about 2:30 pm headed for Harlingen the day before. I still needed Wood Stork for the year and figured we would get one soaring somewhere along the trip down. Nope; lots of Swainson's Hawks and a few White-tailed Hawks and Crested Caracara everywhere, but no Wood Storks.

We had to be back at the dock by 8 pm so the boat left at 4 am. That means meeting at 3:30 am, and that means leaving Harlingen at 2:30 am! It was going to be a long day.

The boat pushed off the dock just a few minutes after 4 am. The forecast was good, 2-3 foot seas. A bright cresent moon rose just as we where leaving and as luck would have it we headed out due east into it so there was a good easy to see horizon. I checked our speed using the iPhone app Waze and it showed we were moving at 14 miles per hour. After an hour I was feeling good still and looking forward to the sunrise and actually seeing some birds.

At 6:52 am and 31 miles offshore we saw our first bird of the day, a Royal Tern. A couple of miles later we had 4 Cattle Egrets. Then at 36 miles offshore we get our first pelagic bird, Masked Booby for Year Bird 339.

We see another pair of Masked Boobies following a sport fishing boat. I think this is the last boat we see until we are back on the shelf late in the afternoon. At 46 miles offshore we get our only Cory's Shearwater of the day for Year Bird 440.

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, photo by John O'Brien
We motor on. At 8:19 am and now 4 hours into the trip and 52 miles offshore at the edge of the continental shelf we bag Band-rumped Storm-Petrel for Year Bird 441. Right behind it we get Audubon's Shearwater for Year Bird 442.

About 20 minutes later we get a lone Storm-Petrel that looks a little different. After comparing notes and a few photos a consensus is agreed that this is Leach's Storm-Petrel for Year Bird 443.

Our goal is the Camel's Head, a sea-mount almost 90 miles out of South Padre Island and we'll briefly be in Mexican waters. When we get there there is not much happening. The crew sees what they think is a whale breaching. We head for the site and there is indeed a big slick there. We do see a few birds in Mexican waters, Masked Booby, Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, and Audubon's Shearwater went on my Tamaulipas list.

We've reach the half way point of the trip by now and we turn west and start heading back. We have almost 4 hours still in deep water though. At 12:24 pm and just back into Texas water we spot a large flock of terns. Most are all dark revealing them to be juvenile Sooty Terns for Year Bird 444. We are able to pick out a few Bridled Terns for Year Bird 445.

We see a lot of Sooty Terns and good numbers of Audubon's Shearwaters and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels on the way back. At 4:46 pm and 36 miles from South Padre Island we get out last pelagic bird, a mystery Storm-Petrel who's id is still being discussed.

We pulled into the dock just a few minutes before 8 pm. I never got sick, I picked up 7 year birds, and surprisingly I'm really looking forward to my next pelagic trip.

At the time of this post there are still spaces left on the August 8th Pelagic Trip, see if your are interested.

No comments:

Post a Comment