Sunday, July 18, 2010

South Padre Island Pelagic, July 17, 2010

The Osprey headed out from South Padre Island on July 17 with a full load of birders and leaders. The forecast was for calm winds and calm seas and for once it was correct. We finally worked up to nearly two feet waves, but I've seen bigger waves at a family reunion from a cannonball off the diving board.

We looked through a lot of Royal and Sandwich Terns near the shrimp boats on the way out. There really wasn't much going on there, and with the calm waters we were anxious to get to deep water.

Bird of the trip on Eric Carpenter's South Padre Island Pelagic was this Greater Shearwater, one of fewer than 20 records for Texas (once reviewed by the TBRC). This spiffy looking bird was sitting on the water near a young Masked Booby and stayed with the boat and a school of tuna for more than half an hour - at times within 10 feet of the boat!

Here's the Greater Shearwater taking off from next to the boat.
We were also treated to several views of the Shearwater coming in and landing on the water, giving us great views of the smudgy belly found on the species.
We were frustrated with several very distant or very brief views of Masked Boobies in the morning, but this cooperative youngster was extremely accomodating first sitting on the water, and then flying down the length of the boat. Later, we saw this adult Masked Booby, quite a contrast to the first bird and recognizable a long way out.

And now for a fish story. With the Greater Sheatwater and the tuna feeding frenzy we spotted a whale shark about 20 feet long as it swam slowly slowly under the boat - lengthwise. While whale sharks are the largest fish in the world (being truly a shark though the size of a whale) this is a "little" whale shark. Next we saw the tail of one out of the water with dark shadows indicating where the body was for at least two whale sharks.

And then a third was spotted! It's easiest to see fish in the water with polarizing sun glasses, but one whale shark did a tail stand and poked its nose out of the water with its mouth agape. The spots were spectacular in the midday sun! And then it slowly slid underwater. Wow. This was the best look I've ever had at a whale shark! I spent a lot more time watching these huge fish instead of taking pictures.