Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pelagic

This past Saturday, I joined 28 other birders for a pelagic trip off of South Padre Island, near Port Isabel.  The trip was run by Texas Pelagics.  Texas Pelagics has been running these trips for many years, and they have added quite a bit to the knowledge of seabirds in the Gulf of Mexico.  The most notable sighting in recent history was of a Yellow-nosed Albatross in 2003.  While we weren't nearly as lucky this time around, we saw some nice birds and had an amazing experience with a pod of Short-finned Pilot Whales.

Less than an hour out of the dock, we had brief glimpses of two juvenile Sooty Terns as they flew behind the stern of the boat.  A couple of hours later, we were offered the best bird looks of the day when two Cory's Shearwaters landed near the boat.  The birds stayed for 5 or 10 minutes and obliged us all with close views.

Cory's Shearwater
Not long later, as we were just past the continental shelf, the sea life started to spring into action.  Far off in the distance, and just below the horizon, one of the trip leaders spotted two Band-rumped Storm Petrels.  While we were still looking at the petrels, another trip leader called out a Sooty and Bridled Tern in the distance, seemingly chasing each other across the water.  Around the same time, a Green Sea Turtle was seen very close to the boat.  As amazing as it was to watch the sea turtle, all of our attention shifted when a pod of Short-finned Pilot Whales was spotted not far from the boat.  The captain positioned the boat as to afford us all great looks at the whales, which we took advantage of for about 15 minutes.

Short-finned Pilot Whale
For the rest of the afternoon, we cruised just off of the continental shelf.  We saw a few more storm petrels, although these were usually too far out to confidently identify to species.  We had an Audubon's Shearwater fly by very close to the bow of the boat and a Pomarine Jaeger was seen just as we started to head back to the coast.  As we got within an hour of the dock, we were able to see several Black Terns in addition to the Royal and Sandwich Terns that had been with us for most of the day.  I imagine that some of the more seasoned pelagic birders may have been a bit disappointed with the number of species we saw, but I had never seen most of these birds before, and although many did not offer great looks, I was still super excited over the experience.

Laughing Gulls, Royal and Sandwich Terns
On either side of the pelagic, I did some birding around the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  I'll get to all that business in the next post.

Hello...

and welcome to This Machine Watches Birds.  Inspired by some very interesting birding blogs, both local and national, I've decided to give it a shot and share some of my birding experiences.  A little about me: I'm 33, an Austinite, and I've been avidly birding for a year now.  Most of my birding is centered in and around the Austin area, with little jaunts out of town every now and then.  I feel like I've used up all the patience that my nonbirding friends have to offer, so I'm taking this opportunity to dork out about birds in a hopefully more receptive space.  Enjoy it and dig it.