Texas 500: Yes, no, maybe, not really

I spent 12 hours on a pelagic trip out of South Padre Island yesterday. The temperatures were warm and the waters fairly rough, with large swells most of the day. I should have seen 2 or 3 expected species this time of year that would have put me over 500, but the gulf was mostly empty. Yet the trip started with a bang. The boat left at 6 am motoring out of the protected waters of the harbor past the jetties of South Padre Island and Boca Chica. The captain set an eastern course due to the swells and we headed straight into a dramatic sunrise.

sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico, Photo Stephan Lorenz

The first birds out over the water were coastal terns and gulls. By mid-morning a participant screamed “Tropicbird right over the boat” and a juvenile Red-billed Tropicbird circled the boat a few times before disappearing. A great bird for Texas, but unfortunately not new for me and I was unable to get a decent photo.

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

After the initial excitement, before we even reached the shelf break and deeper water, nothing followed. Closing in on deeper water things looked promising as a storm-petrel made a pass by the boat. The bird was too distant and flew straight into the glare and could not be identified. It most likely was a Leach’s Storm-Petrel, but the views I had were too poor to be certain. Since I had not seen any storm-petrel species so far, this would certainly have been a new Texas bird and number 500. Putting down strom-petrel sp. just seems lame and I will just ignore the poor sighting and wait for something better. Several hours of nothing followed. We crisscrossed beautiful blue deep water, but there were no birds. Late in the day we came across a juvenile Pomarine Jaeger near some shrimp boats and a few Black Terns perched on uprooted trees floating in the gulf. I slept most of the way back, at least trying to catch of with my deficit. I roused myself to take some pictures of a large group of Spotted Dolphins feeding near a shrimp boat. At the end of the day I was glad to have solid ground under my feet again. I usually do not get seasick, but felt uneasy on this trip, since I haven’t had the chance to sleep much lately.

Spotted Dolphins Gulf of Mexico off Texas, Photo Stephan Lorenz

Magnificent Frigatebird Gulf of Mexico off Texas, Photo Stephan Lorenz

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