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The First Records of Pelagic Birds in Offshore Texas

Share 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...

Why run a 16 Hour Texas Pelagic?

I don’t think I adequately explained the reason for the two longer 16 hour trips we are scheduling this year. Along the Atlantic and especially the Pacific Coasts deep pelagic waters are much close to shore and easy to reach in a short time. Unfortunately along the Texas Gulf coast the continental shelf is very wide and it takes almost 4 hours to reach the edge of the shelf at South Padre Island even where the continental shelf is at it’s narrowest 50 miles width compared to everywhere else in Texas. So true pelagic waters of depths greater than 600 feet are only birded for 4 hours out of a 12 hour trip. Still we usually see pelagic species that frequently wander up onto the shelf during the other 8 hours during which we are commuting to Pelagic Waters. Twelve hours has typically been a trip length cut-off because of maritime laws that limit a captain to one 12 hour shift. Anything longer requires a second captain on board which adds to the cost. So we tried to make the best of the 12 hour time frame on Texas Pelagics for the past 14 years from South Padre Island. However just beyond the reach of a 12 hour round trip there is a huge seamount called the Camel’s Head. The Camels head rises from great depths of over 4,000 ft to about 2,000′ in just a few miles. I’ve always wondered what could lurk out there that we don’t know about. The Camel’s Head is a well-known tuna fishing area, which to me means there must be seabirds out there too. And if it attracts tuna, then surely whale sharks are present and probably marine mammals as well. We’ve seen Sperm Whales closer in than the Camel’s Head so my guess is that they would be more common on such a prominent feature on...

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