Into the Gulf: A Texas Pelagic

The swells were gentle, but constant and it didn’t take long for the first person to be hanging over the railing. Claudia and I were just struggling to stay awake, the 6 am start plus a dose of Dramamine made our eyelids heavy. Still fairly close to shore, terns and gulls passed by. By mid-morning the temperatures had gotten significantly warmer and the swells more serious. So far we had only encountered some Magnificent Frigatebirds around a shrimp boat and no other pelagic birds. It was slow going, to be expected in the Gulf of Mexico, and I nibbled on pretzels and nursed a ginger ale to keep alert. Suddenly I spotted a white shape appearing out of a trough off the port side. I was about to yell out when the engines were cut. I hadn’t been the only one to spot it.

It reappeared with the next wave and lifted off the water. With just a glimpse in the binoculars it was clearly a tropicbird. It sailed around the stern and flew towards the front of the boat, then flying strongly ahead. The engines kicked up and we sped forward. By now everybody crowded towards the bow and we got good looks at the Red-billed Tropicbird as it turned and landed on the water again. Everybody got to enjoy great views and cameras were working overtime. Within ten minutes the bird took off again and flew out of sight. A great bird in Texas and a great way to start the day.

Red-billed Tropicbird Gulf of Mexico off Texas, Photo Stephan Lorenz

Bridled Terns kept the excitement going. One even perched on a piece of Styrofoam for lengthy views. In the middle of the day things had slowed again and some people took to the benches, others took quick naps.

Bridled Tern Gulf of Mexico off Texas, Photo Stephan Lorenz

A scream of “shearwater ahead” send people scrambling towards the front. I caught a quick glimpse of the bird cutting across the waves on stiff wings. The boat motored in the direction of where it had disappeared, when it suddenly took off from the water right in front and most people got satisfying looks at a Cory’s Shearwater. That was the last excitement of the day. Somebody, I am not sure how, managed to spot a lonesome phalarope bobbing on the blue with nothing, but seemingly empty ocean for miles around. The bird stayed put close to the boat to easily identify it as a Red-necked Phalarope. The return trip was long and I finally succumbed to the day, taking a nap by the time we steamed towards South Padre Island. Overall we had barely managed to see four individual pelagic birds, but all four were either life birds or new Texas bird for me. So I was tired and happy.

Red-necked Phalarope Gulf of Mexico off Texas, Photo Stephan Lorenz

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