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2012 Big Year

July 28 - 29 - Gulf Pelagic, South Padre Island, and Old Port Isabel Road

Decided to take the plunge (not literally, thankfully) and sign up for one of the three Gulf Pelagic trips offered every summer in order to hopefully add some much needed year birds but also some potential lifers!  Got a motel room the night before as we had to be at the dock by 5:30, and after being briefed by Eric Carpenter (who puts these trips together) on what to expect, we boarded the Osprey and headed out into the dusky morning!  Aside from the ubiquitous Laughing Gulls, there were a few Skimmers heading out to feed, and as it got lighter we enjoyed Royal and Sandwich Terns joining the gulls, particularly around the fishing trawlers (the dolphins liked these boats as well)!  We hadn't gone too far out when Mary Gustafson called out a pair of Sooty Terns!  They were a bit distant, but had enough of a look for a positive ID.  Once out of sight of land we had a few oddities, like a pair of Yellow-crowned Night Herons and a single Tricolored Heron!


Early morning feeding frenzy at a fishing trawler

Larids lining the lines (mostly Laughing Gulls with a few Royal Terns and a token Sandwich Tern)

Laughing Gull, the commonest bird encountered


Royal Terns came in a close second

Yellow-crowned Night Herons a million miles from land...

Thankfully the seas were relatively calm and it was a bright, sunny day!  As forewarned, the quantity wasn't there, but the quality couldn't be beat:  before long we happened upon a pair of Cory's Shearwaters (Lifer #1) who were very cooperative and allowed for fabulous views!  On the way to the next bird one of the fishing poles that the crew had set up suddenly went bonkers, and Mary grabbed the pole and reeled in a good-sized Bonita!  (The crewman told us what it was, as I had no clue, but I didn't realize what a lovely, intricate pattern the fish had until I processed the pictures!)  We caught two more after that, after which they were released.


The bird of the day for me was this Cory's Shearwater pair!


This bird is molting his wing feathers, giving the illusion of a wing stripe


One of the crew members shows off the Bonita that Mary reeled in!


This Sandwich Tern was attracted by all the excitement!

The place really erupted when someone spotted a pod of Pilot Whales!  They were also very cooperative and put on a great show, while a sea turtle went barreling by just under the surface!  While this was going on a pair of Bridled Terns flew fly waaaay in the distance, but I reluctantly let that one go as I could tell they were terns, but that's about it.  After we left the whales behind, a Band-rumped Storm Petrel batted by fairly close, so I was very happy with that (Lifer #2)!  The fourth potential lifer, an Audubon's Shearwater, went whizzing by in front of the boat, but by the time the news trickled back to where I was he was long gone...  Wasn't nearly as disappointed about missing the Pomarine Jaeger that was also seen at the front of the boat, as that's the default jaeger on San Diego pelagics, but I had learned long ago that the front of the boat and my stomach don't get along, so one must make sacrifices...


Family group of Pilot Whales


One that got nibbled on...


Band-rumped Storm Petrel

It takes about five hours to get out to deep water, and another five to get back, so we could only spend a couple of hours before we reluctantly had to head back again.  Getting closer to shore, lots of Black Terns started showing up amongst the regulars.  Coming  in was able to add a handful of birds that were hanging out around the jetties to the day list, like Willet, Black-necked Stilt, and Long-billed Curlew.  After disembarking and saying goodbye to old and new friends, I headed straight to the motel where the room was still reeling after being doped up on Dramamine!

Rex and Birgit Stanford had found both Red Knots and Piping Plovers on the beach behind the Convention Centre earlier in the week, so before heading home I decided to swing by there and see what I could find.  The tide was waaaay in (just had a narrow little strip to drive on at one point), but there were a few shorebirds about, although not the target species.  As usual, photo ops abounded in the early morning sun, and enjoyed Reddish Egrets, Sanderlings in that confusing "in-between" plumage that conjures up thoughts of Red-necked Stint, some Short-billed Dowitchers, several Greater Yellowlegs running around, one little Snowy Plover, and the three standard peeps (Least, Semipalmated, and Western Sandpipers) hanging out with the Sanderlings.

Black-necked Stilt

Reddish Egret


Snowy Plover


Breeding-plumaged Sanderlings (female left, males right)

With Semipalmated Sandpiper in back


Semipalmated Sandpiper by itself

Sanderlings with Western Sandpipers on the left


Western Sandpiper left, Sanderling right


Sanderlings left and center; Western Sandpiper on the right

I had talked to Pat Heirs to see how the VNC trip went, and she informed me that one of their participants had seen Wood Storks along Old Port Isabel Road on Friday, so decided to take a slight detour going home and scouted the road from north to south (which was great as the sun was to my back).  It seems I say this every time I drive this road, but I've never seen it in worse shape than it was today (although it was dry, so it was passable, but at points it was like driving on the rails of a railroad track)!  It was very birdy, however, with both Botteri's and Cassin's Sparrows singing away (was able to shoot a curious juvenile that I suspect was Botteri's, but both were singing at that spot), and the real treat, a pair of Aplomado Falcons that played leapfrog with me along the telephone wires until we approached a pair of Caracaras, at which time the falcons quit playing with me and played with the caracaras instead... ☺  Near the south end of the road I approached the canal that I suspect was the spot (from Pat's description, as well as being the only place with water) that housed the 20 Wood Storks, but this morning there was just one lonely little Lesser Yellowlegs.  Was putting away my gear near where the pavement starts when a Solitary Sandpiper and a Killdeer popped up next to the road!  (The Killdeer was the only one to stay put...)


I'm leaning towards juvenile Botteri's Sparrow on this one, based on the long bill and overall plain face, but both were singing in the area, so I'm willing to be talked into Cassin's...


Aplomado Falcons


Bird List for the two days:

  Northern Bobwhite                     Colinus virginianus

F CORY’S SHEARWATER                       Calonectris diomedea

F BAND-RUMPED STORM PETREL                Oceanodroma castro

  Brown Pelican                         Pelecanus occidentalis

  Great Blue Heron                      Ardea Herodias

  Snowy Egret

  Tricolored Heron                      Egretta tricolor

  Reddish Egret                         Egretta rufescens

  Cattle Egret                          Bubulcus ibis

  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron            Nyctanassa violacea

  White Ibis                            Eudocimus albus

  Harris's Hawk                         Parabuteo unicinctus

  Crested Caracara                      Caracara cheriway

  Aplomado Falcon                       Falco femoralis

  Snowy Plover                          Charadrius nivosus

  Killdeer                              Charadrius vociferus

  Black-necked Stilt                    Himantopus mexicanus

  Solitary Sandpiper                    Tringa solitaria

  Greater Yellowlegs                    Tringa melanoleuca

  Willet                                Tringa semipalmata

  Lesser Yellowlegs                     Tringa flavipes

  Long-billed Curlew

  Ruddy Turnstone                       Arenaria interpres

  Sanderling                            Calidris alba

  Semipalmated Sandpiper                Calidris pusilla

  Least Sandpiper                       Calidris minutilla

  Western Sandpiper

  Short-billed Dowitcher                Limnodromus griseus

  Laughing Gull                         Leucophaeus atricilla

  SOOTY TERN                              Onychoprion fuscatus

  Least Tern                            Sternula antillarum

  Black Tern                            Chlidonias niger

  Royal Tern                            Thalasseus maximus

  Sandwich Tern                         Thalasseus sandvicensis

  Black Skimmer                         Rynchops niger

  Rock Pigeon                           Columba livia

  Eurasian Collared-Dove                Streptopelia decaocto

  White-winged Dove                     Zenaida asiatica

  Mourning Dove                         Zenaida macroura

  Common Nighthawk                      Chordeiles minor

  Golden-fronted Woodpecker             Melanerpes aurifrons

  Great Kiskadee                        Pitangus sulphuratus

  Verdin                                Auriparus flaviceps

  Bewick's Wren                         Thryomanes bewickii

  Northern Mockingbird

  Olive Sparrow                         Arremonops rufivirgatus

  Botteri's Sparrow                     Peucaea botterii

  Cassin's Sparrow                      Peucaea cassinii

  Red-winged Blackbird                  Agelaius phoeniceus

  Eastern Meadowlark                    Sturnella magna

  Great-tailed Grackle                  Quiscalus mexicanus

  House Sparrow                         Passer domesticus



So far:  311 SPECIES

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