November 6th Pelagic Report
From: Steven W. Cardiff
Subject: Re: Pelagic 11-6-99
Hi everyone-
As semi-official trip leader, I felt obligated to expand a bit on Roger's excellent recounting of Saturday's LOS pelagic trip. (Hopefully, Dan Purrington will post the trip log on his web page in the near future.)
With a full compliment of participants, we actually left the dock almost exactly at 6 AM and entered the Gulf through Belle Pass at 6:45 AM. Along the boat/ship channels we were treated to our only other mammals of the day, a coyote standing at the edge of the water along the back ridge, and several Bottle-nosed Dolphins, as well as several flocks of Roseate Spoonbills. We headed SE toward Sackett Bank, which lies SW of the delta near the edge of the Mississippi Canyon. A light to moderate NE wind had us starting off in 3 ft. seas. Winds and seas gradually increased as we proceeded toward Sackett, and the "upchuck express" was fully realized within the first 1-2 hours as seas built to 4-5 ft. and then to sustained 6 footers (with occasional 7-8 footers?). Obviously, in such conditions, it quickly became apparent that there was no chance of getting far offshore into deep water.
Shivering, soaking-wet, bow-riding teenagers, and even many seasoned pelagic vets, can only last so long in such conditions (we have extensive video for future blackmail purposes- hey, you Mississippi high schoolers were real troopers, and if you need a little help with that grade in the zoology course, well boy do I have some footage of Mr. Hackman....).
Seriously, though I'll spare you the details of what happens when you head for the rail on the windy side of the boat. Anyway, there wasn't much of entertainment value "birdwise" enroute to Sackett Bank, except for the "possible phalaropes" (which could have been Sanderlings), a possible sulid or two, the occasional tern, including a Sandwich or two and a few Common Terns, several Barn Swallows headed NE, a Great Blue Heron headed south, a small flock of ducks (possibly scaup), and a Peregrine Falcon. Spray and motion made it extremely difficult to scan the horizon.
At Sackett Bank we laid the GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GREAT- GREAT-GREAT.........GREAT GRANDMOTHER OF ALL CHUM SLICKS ever seen on the ocean. A mile long at least. And we waited and waited and waited, and nothing showed. Soooo, (yeah, you know what we did)- another chum slick parallel to the first one. This had to set some kind of a new record of unsurpassed double-wide chummage. While we allowed the slicks to thoroughly fester, we cruised to a nearby rig to check for boobies on the mooring buoy. Nothing. Heading back to the slick, a jaeger sp. sped past in the opposite direction, and then we could see a couple of other seabirds arcing over the distant horizon, so we turned and gave chase for a while until we saw- NOTHING.
Back at the slick, NOTHING. This must have also been some sort of record for fewest birds (zero) at the best chum slick of all time.
From Sackett we cruised roughly SW with the swells (for a much-needed pause from the violent corkscrewing that we had been enduring) and saw a frigatebird, several Common Terns, and a Herring Gull (no doubt all heading toward our Sackett slick, which by now was probably covered with rafts of albatrosses, shearwaters, Pterodromas, and skuas. Oh well. On to the edge of the MS Cyn., where we stumbled onto the Audubon's Shearwater. This bird allowed us to get fairly close several times during a slow pursuit of 2-3 miles, as it danced on the waves storm-petrel style into the wind, and even dove below the surface a couple of times. Well, having found an actual pelagic bird, you know what was going through our minds: we could set another new chum-slick record!. So, while we followed the shearwater, we created a 2+ mile long slick that no seabird would be able to resist: mashed pogeys mixed with pogey oil, vegetable oil, bacon grease, lard, chicken drippings, and popcorn (and the passengers were making their own contributions...). It makes me queazy just thinking about it.
Result? Obviously, the Audubon's Shearwater was the ONLY seabird within smelling distance, and even it ignored the slick.
By now it was about 2 PM, so we set course for home. Pretty soon, a shout went up from the stern as a beautiful adult Pomarine Jaeger materialized over the wake. This bird put on a great show as we teased it with luscious pogeys that promptly sank before they could be plucked from the water. After about 20 pogeys, the bird wised-up, pulled ahead, and gradually disappeared. Also seen enroute back to port were another jaeger sp. and a sulid sp. Fortunately, the seas diminished somewhat as we got closer to Fourchon.
Heading back up the channel, we were treated to a dusk aggregation of 26 N. Harriers to finish off the day.
Thanks to everyone on the boat for being such a great and positive group under such daunting circumstances. Special thanks to Dan Purrington and his GPS unit, and to Ken Hackman for literally filling the boat with energetic teenagers (next year, we're thinking a December trip would be nice....Ken should have a new group of unsuspecting students by then).
Steve "at least we saw more birds than on Muth's trip" Cardiff &
Donna Dittmann

-----Original Message-----
From: Roger Breedlove
To: Multiple recipients of list LABIRD-L
Date: Sunday, November 07, 1999 3:04 PM
Subject: Pelagic 11-6-99
>Hi All:
> The pelagic trip yesterday was something of a mixed bag. It was an
>absolutely glorious day, mild temperatures and a few clouds. The highwinds
>and seas created a pretty rough chop that kept the boat tossing all day
>long. Lots of seasickness. Ken's 13 high schoolers, along with Nancy's
>young protege, were filled with a youthful exuberance that always creates a
>nice ambiance.
> About an hour away from land, we had a couple of flybys of small
>light shorebirds that most agreed were phalaropes - beyond that, we couldn't
>be specific as they were 400 yards or so out. After a while, someone
>discovered a Frigatebird, though it was too far away for satisfactory
>observation. Then (noonish) a likely jaeger was spotted near a rig, but
>disappeared before he could be identified. After lunch, an Audubon's
>Shearwater, our first true pelagic species, was encountered and teased us by
>flying and settling onto the water just ahead of the boat. Really good
>looks, though. A short time later, a Pomarine Jaeger came up from behind
>the boat, circling and diving for the chum that Steve tossed out. He came
>within a scant few feet on several occasions. Superb views!
> Being asea in a small craft, fifty miles from shore, with nothing
>but blue water in every direction, promotes an exhilaration that is to be
>experienced, not described.
> Steve and Donna, our trip leaders, again did a great job with
>logistics. They were assisted in charting by David, Dan and Peter. Of
>course, we were able to cover only a minute portion of the gulf (how many
>zeros behind the decimal in a gazillionth?) Hope to see ya'll on the
>May trip - my check goes in as soon as registration opens.
>Cheers - Roger