The First Records of Pelagic Birds in Offshore Texas

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On the August 8th Texas Pelagic I had the good fortune to meet Chuck Sexton. He told me about the pelagic exploits of Sheritan Burr from 1976 to 1986. He just sent me a summary spreadsheet from Sheritan’s field notes of 32 “Offshore” fishing trips he went on from Port Aransas aboard the Scat Cat and Wharf Cat. Here is Chuck’s email describing the notes:

 “Gary,

Just to whet your appetite, I’m attaching Sheriton Burr’s summary chart of pelagic and offshore sightings for trips out of Port Aransas from 1976 to 1986.  This summarizes about 32 boat trips, many of which Sheriton made by himself (i.e. the only birder) on the Scat Cat*.  However, several of these trips had multiple birders  (always as half-priced “riders”) and he mentioned two chartered birding-only trips (Oct 1981 and Oct 1982).  Somewhere in a folder I have the trip-by-trip summaries that he’d typed up and circulated to several of us, updated to about 1991.

* Back in those days, Fisherman’s Wharf in Port Aransas would charge “riders” (i.e. non-fishing observers) half price (about $60) to join a fishing excursion.  We typically occupied the upper deck on the Scat Cat or Wharf Cat, which would take fishermen out to the snapper banks and/or to some of the oil rigs offshore, but always on the shelf.  It was always fun to bird on the way out, then watch the circus of 50 to 80 tangled, drunk, sleepy fishermen and their poles for a few hours, then enjoy the ride back to dock.  Most of those were 8 to 10 hour trips, if I recall correctly.  I don’t think we ever got out to the edge of the shelf except on one charted trip in about 1990 or so which is NOT included on this summary chart.

You’ll notice that I had highlighted June on this copy of Sheriton’s chart.  In 1991, I was doing some homework on the movements and seasonality of storm-petrels off the Atlantic Coast (esp. Florida and the Carolina’s) and I noticed that that group of species peaked in late May and into June.  Reasoning that any “stray” storm-petrels might end up in the western GOM in June, I reviewed Sheriton’s chart and realized that very little effort had been made in that month.  So I took a fateful pelagic ride on the Scat Cat on June 1, 1991, with Phil Rostron and Rich and Nanette Armstrong—and the rest is history (scans of my field notes attached).  After I put out the word about the June 1 results, we did it again on June 15, 1991, with something like 15 or 20 birders and again history was made….and the modern pelagic birding era was off and running.  We all owe a great debt of gratitude to Sheriton for being a long-time inspiration and good records keeper for such data.  Sheriton passed away about 10 or 15 years ago and several of us posted notes to TexBirds regarding his contributions; I can’t seem to pull those up on the old TexBirds archives at the moment but they are in there somewhere.

I’ll keep searching for those trip-by-trip summaries and will forward those to you ASAP.

Enjoy!

Chuck”

 

As soon as I get a chance I’ll enter this into an excel spreadsheet and share it on www,TexasPelagics.com

 

In summary those 32 trips observed the following Pelagic Species:

 

Audubon’s Shearwater – 4

Cory’s Shearwater – 109 (94 concentrated in Oct 1-15 over 7 trips)

Great Shearwater – 13 ( seen in the March 1 -15 period over 2 trips)

Northern Gannet – 19

Masked Booby – 17

Brown Booby – 6

Magnificent Frigatebird – 19

Parasitic Jaeger – 15

Pomarine Jaeger – 11

Long-tailed Jaeger – 2

Jaeger sp – 3

Sabines Gull – 1

What is interesting to note is that there were no records of Storm-Petrels, or Bridled or Sooty Terns on his fishing trips on the shelf. This is consistent with what we now know about their distributions offshore as these two families are pretty restricted to deep Pelagic waters beyond the shelf edge.

 

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