Gulf of Mexico Pelagic Birding
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Welcome to our section for pelagic birding in the Gulf of Mexico. These trips are run by local naturalists for birders, naturalists and anyone interested in the animals of the Gulf. Nature Travel Specialists helps by providing web pages and support, but is not involved in the organizing or operations of the trips. However, we do go on them, so come and join us.
Pelagic birding in the Gulf of Mexico is always a surprise. It does not have the species, or sheer numbers of birds seen of the West Coast, or the variety of the Atlantic. It does have a connection with the tropical south, so anything is possible, and 33 pelagic species (not including gulls and coastal terns) have been recorded. In recent years the Gulf has provided birders with Yellow-nosed Albatross, Blue-footed Booby and South Polar Skua. On the most recent trip - August 2004 - participants had both white-tailed and red-billed tropic birds directly over the boat. Wandering pelagics come from as far away the Caribbean Islands and the African coast. Although primarily shallow, parts of the gulf drop to over 1200 feet, and the resultant upwellings provide food for wanderers and residents alike. Most importantly, the Gulf has only recently become a target for pelagic birders, and very little is known about its birds. Gulf pelagic birding is currently where the South Atlantic was 20 years ago. It's a wide open opportunity to add to our birding knowledge. It's also a change to be more concerned about sunburn and where to find a cold drink, rather than biting winds, seas that hide the boat, and finding a warm, dry spot for a ten minute rest.
Birds are not the only wildlife in the gulf. Twenty-eight species of whales and dolphins have been recorded in the Gulf of Mexico, from the familiar Bottlenose Dolphin of inshore waters to the endangered and exceedingly rare Blue Whale, the largest living creature on Earth. Only nineteen of these species occur in our area regularly, and once again the Gulf does not produce the regular sightings of whales experienced off the West Coast. Cetaceans other than several species of dolphins are always an added bonus to the gulf experience. Sea turtles, including the huge Leatherback Turtle, which can exceed half a ton, are also commonly seen on the trips. Five of the world's eight species of sea turtle have been found here.
Of course this is the sea, so fishes and inverterbrates are also part of the trips. Gamefish such a marlin, wahoo and mahi mahi are regularly seen, and the huge sunfish - mola mola - can often be seen breaking the surface. Most spectacular of all is the whale shark, the largest fish in the oceans. This huge but harmless fish, beautifully spotted, lazes along eating plankton and small fish. Commonly around 20 -30 ft, the maximum size is thought to be about 60ft, with a weight of 10 tons.
These pelagic pages are still being built, so please forgive the paucity of current information, and links that don't connect to anything yet. But we thought birders would like to know that these trips have occurred, and what was seen. And yes, we know it's a black-browed albatross, and not a Gulf species (but who knows? An Isabelline Wheatear turned up in North Queensland, Australia in 2002).