The First “Pelagic” Trips from Texas 1976 to 1993

TABLE 1)  OFFSHORE TEXAS SHELF WATERS BIRDING – FISHING TRIPS ORGANIZED FROM 1976 TO 1993.

In the beginning prior to organized, beyond the shelf-edge, deep water pelagic seabirding trips in offshore Texas many individuals and groups got offshore by hitching rides on offshore Snapper fishing boats from Port Aransas, predominately aboard the Scat Cat from Fisherman’s Wharf. These day-fishing trips never reached beyond the shelf edge into deep “Pelagic Waters”. In addition they spent much of the time anchored on the shelf usually at the “Snapper Banks”, while everyone else was fishing so they were far from ideal for finding and observing pelagic seabirds. The typical snapper fishing day was to cruise southeast 40 to 50 miles anchor for fishing for a few hours, cruise 10 plus miles northeast finding a few oil platforms to fish at and then cruise 50 miles back to Port Aransas. During the time spent fishing at offshore oil platforms the birders often found an assortment of landbirds stranded on them during migration. Never-the-less these snapper fishing trips were usually the only means for most birders to get offshore prior to 1994 to see what seabirds they might find. 

In addition to the snapper fishing tag-along trips there were a half-dozen trips when the boat was chartered by birders specifically for offshore birding. These early “Pelagic” trips from Texas usually followed a similar course to the fishing trips but also never got further offshore than the shelf edge. They had more time to chase seabirds and visit shrimp boats and more platforms where they usually found stranded landbirds.  And both types of trips did find some interesting seabirds summarized in the tables below. The shearwaters they found (Cory’s, Audubon’s and Great) were those that are more commonly found over shelf depth waters although they encountered these seabirds far less frequently then they are encountered on today’s Texas Pelagics in true pelagic depth waters. What they didn’t find were the seabirds we now know are pretty restricted to the true pelagic waters deeper than 200 fathoms, beyond the shelf edge over the continental slope. It took 37 trips and 12 years before the first Bridled Terns were found in offshore Texas on September 25, 1988. 

In June 1991 things rapidly changed when two trips two weeks apart discovered both Band-rumped and Leach’s Storm-Petrels in offshore Texas Waters. It took 15 years and 44 trips before the first lone storm-petrel was encountered on June 1, 1991.  After those discoveries there was suddenly more interest in getting out to true deep pelagic waters to discover what may be there. The first public truly pelagic birding trip in Texas was on May 1, 1993 from Galveston aboard the R.V. McGrail a Texas A&M Research vessel to the Cerveza Paltform about 120 miles offshore. Following that beginning in 1994 Dwight Peak and Mark Elwonger set out to organize regular chartered pelagic trips in offshore Texas up until 1999. Information on those trips can be found on this page.

But by today’s standards of true deep water Texas Pelagics, these early fishing / birding trips yielded meager results and would be pretty disappointing both in terms of the numbers of species and the numbers of individual seabirds they usually found (or didn’t find). For a summary of seabirds and the numbers please see Table 1B) at the bottom of this page. This was the very beginning of offshore birding in Texas.  

SHERITON BURR: Current day Texas seabirders owe a debt of gratitude to Sheriton Burr for his pioneering efforts from 1976 to 1991 riding the snapper fishing boat “Scat Cat” from Port Aransas to discover what offshore Texas had to offer for seabirds. I received a copy of his typed up records from Chuck Sexton back in August 2015. I’ve finally integrated his historic records into my master spreadsheet of Texas Pelagic trip records. I’ll be posting more information about that as time permits. For now the table below summarizes 49 trips (mostly fishing) but also 6 chartered “Shelf Pelagics” that Sheriton and a few other seabirders had records of that I’ve managed to obtain. The link to the previous post below refers to that initial email when I received Sheriton’s records from Chuck Sexton. It’s well worth reading Chuck’s email for his description of these early pelagic birding efforts. 

The First Records of Pelagic Birds in Offshore Texas

 # * DATE # SP # SB MILES ORGANIZED / SPONSORED BY: BOAT and PORT: FOOT NOTES:
01-F 1976-Oct-2 4 83 30  Sheriton Burr / Aud Outdoor Club CC / Travis Aud Soc.

 Scat Cat – Port Aransas

 1
02-F 1977-Feb-5 4 6 45  Sheriton Burr / Audubon Outdoor Club CC  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
03-F 1977-Aug-21 5 11  ?  Audubon Outdoor Club of Corpus Christi  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
04-F 1977-Oct-2 3 14 40  Sheriton Burr / Travis Audubon Society  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
05-F 1978-Mar-14 1 12 50  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
06-F 1978-Aug-26 1 1 35  Sheriton Burr / Travis Audubon Society  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
07-F 1979-Feb-24 5 8 ?  John & Barbara Ribble  / Travis Audubon Soc.  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
08-F 1979-Mar-31 3 3 45  Sheriton Burr / Travis Audubon Society  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
09-F 1979-Oct-6 2 3 45  Sheriton Burr / Audubon Outdoor Club CC  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
10-F 1980-Aug-23 2 2 50  Sheriton Burr / Travis Audubon Society  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
11-F 1980-Oct-9 1 1 50  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
12-F 1981-Mar-17 2 2 50  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
13-F 1981-Aug-15 4 18 50  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
14-F 1981-Sep-10 0 0 45  Sheriton Burr / Audubon Outdoor Club CC  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
15-F 1981-Oct-3 2 2 56  Sheriton Burr / Audubon Outdoor Club CC  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
16-B 1981-Oct-10 4 18 50  Warren Pulich Sr. / Dallas Audubon Society (?)  Charter Wharf Cat – Port Aransas
 1
17-F 1982-Jan-23 3 8 40  Sheriton Burr / Audubon Outdoor Club CC  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
18-F 3/20/1982
2 6 10  Sheriton Burr / Audubon Outdoor Club CC  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
19-F 8/28/1982 3 15 50  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
20-F 10/16/1982 2 3 50 Steve Hawkins / T.O.S. Texas Ornithological Society  Charter Wharf Cat – Port Aransas
 1
21-B 3/5/1983 2 11 45 Steve Hawkins / T.O.S. Texas Ornithological Society  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
22-F 7/23/1983 0 0 60  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
23-F 10/29/1983 0 1 65  Sheriton Burr / Audubon Outdoor Club CC  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
24-F 8/25/1984 4 4 50  Steve Hawkins / San Antonio Audubon Society  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
25-F 10/13/1984 1 1 50  Ray Heitman / Travis Audubon Society  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
26-F 11/24/1984 2 3 60  Sheriton Burr / Audubon Outdoor Club CC  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
27-F 6/15/1985 1 2 63  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
28-F 7/13/1985 1 2 50  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
29-F 8/17/1985 1 3 60  Sheriton Burr / Pineywoods Wildlife Society  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1, 4
30-F 1/18/1986 1 2 60  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
31-F 4/12/1986 1 5 50  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
32-F 6/21/1986 1 8 40  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
33-F 9/20/1986 1 1 32  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
34-F 4/18/1987 0 0 54  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
35-F 11/14/1987 1 2 55  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
36-F 3/12/1988 2 7 50  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
37-F 9/25/1988 2 34 ?    Freeport – Capt’n Casey  4 
38-F 11/26/1988 0 0 ?  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
39-F 9/16/1989 0 0 45  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
40-B 10/7/1989 3 6 58  Rick Derdeyn / Dallas Audubon Society  Charter Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
41-F 11/4/1989 4 10 ?  ?  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  3, 4, 5
42-F 3/31/1990 1 2 55  San Antonio Audubon Society  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
43-F 3/31/1990 1 6 ?  Tony & Phyllis Frank  Freeport
 5
44-B 11/4/1990 3 22 62  David Bradford / Ornithological Group Houston Outdoor Nature Club  Charter Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1, 3, 4, 5
45-F 6/1/1991 3 20 ?  Chuck Sexton  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1, 2
46-F 6/15/1991 4 7 50  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1, 2, 4, 5
47-B 8/11/1991 4 8 61  David Bradford / Ornithological Group Houston Outdoor Nature Club  Charter Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1, 3, 4
48-F 11/2/1991 0 1 55  Sheriton Burr  Scat Cat – Port Aransas  1
49-B 10/04/1992 ? ? ?  David Bradford / Ornithological Group Houston Outdoor Nature Club  Charter Scat Cat – Port Aransas no data 
 50-PB 5/1/1993  4 28 120   A&M Research vessel to Cerveza Platform  R.V. McGrail  3, 4, 5

* Trip Numbers followed by a”F” denote a Snapper Fishing Trip; “B” denotes a chartered birding trip; “PB” the first chartered Pelagic birding trip.

Thanks to the following seabirders for supplying these historical records from the past;

FOOTNOTES:  1 – Sheriton Burr (courtesy of Chuck Sexton); 2 – Chuck Sexton;  – Steve Gast; 4 – Mike Austin; 5 – Tony Frank

TABLE 1B) SEABIRD SIGHTING SUMMARY FOR THE ABOVE 48 TRIPS:

SEABIRD SPECIES  TOTAL # of BIRDS  TOTAL TRIPS SEEN ON  PERCENTAGE of TRIPS SEEN ON
Cory’s Shearwater 127 12 25 %
Great Shearwater ** 13 2 4 %
Audubon’s Shearwater 15 6 13 %
Leach’s Storm-Petrel 2 2 4 %
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel 1 1 2 %
Magnificent Frigatebird 37 12 25 %
Masked Booby 41 20 42 %
Brown Booby 12 5 10 %
Northern Gannet  27 13 27 %
Red-necked Phalarope 13 5 4 %
Sabine’s Gull 1 1 2 %
Bridled Tern 60 3 6 %
Pomarine Jaeger 30 13 27 %
Parasitic Jaeger  15 5 10 %
Long-tailed Jaeger 2 2 4 %

**Some people have questioned the first sighting of 12 Great Shearwaters as an ID mistake. (?)