July 11, 2015; S Padre Island; TRIP REPORT

by | Jun 15, 2022

TEXAS PELAGICS First 16 hour Trip to the Camel’s Head finds 7 Pelagic Seabird Species

Saturday’s (July 11th) Texas Pelagic from South Padre Island was a GREAT success! It was the first Texas Pelagic trip of 2015 and our first ever 16 hour trip. We were lucky this time with the weather, as It had been fairly rough with 7-8 foot seas early in the week although the forecast was that it would calm down by Friday and indeed it did, thank you Mr. Weatherman. We departed the dock shortly after 4:00 AM and were cruising the first 2 hours in the dark under the Milky Way with a slight breeze and 2-3 foot seas.

The commercial shrimping season hasn’t started yet so the Gulf was conspicuously absent of shrimpers with their bright floodlights and the usual streams of Royal and Sandwich Terns and Laughing Gulls that follow them. But just 30 minutes after sunrise our first pelagic bird of the day a Masked Booby flew up our wake towards the stern and circled the boat several times. Not long afterwards a sport fishing boat 1200 yards off the port side had 2 Masked Boobies following it and eventually they flew towards us to investigate our boat. Soon as we approached the shelf edge Kelly Smith spotted our only Cory’s Shearwater of the day which stayed off our bow for a few minutes allowing everyone to get a good view, even though it didn’t come in too close. We cleared the shelf slope break into true pelagic waters by 8:15AM which was the earliest we have ever made it to deep water from South Padre. Within a few minutes we had our first group of 7 Audubon’s Shearwaters and a few Band-rumped Storm-Petrels. From the self edge at about 45 miles offshore to the Camel’s Head another 30 miles farther would take us about 3 hours. During this time we had two more flocks of 12 and 7 Audubon’s and a steady stream of Storm-Petrels in groups of 1 -2 individuals. Some were close enough to positively identify as Band-Rumpeds many just remained storm-petrel sp. One or more storm-petrels were tentatively identified as Leach’s pending photo review.

We had our GPS set on the Camel’s Head “Eye” The shallowest point of this huge seamount is at about 2,231 feet. It rises from great depths of over 5,200 ft at the bottom of its eastern slope to its underwater summit in only about 5 miles. As we approached the “Eye” which is just a few miles into Mexican waters, we could see a natural slick smack dab on top of it. Captain Bobby’s son Clay came out of the wheelhouse to tell us they think they saw the back of a large animal, maybe a whale but no one else saw it and it was not seen again. We set out a chum slick and waited around. A couple of Masked Boobies eventually showed up so we had a seabird on our Mexican lists. We also managed a few Audubon’s Shearwaters in Mexico.

As we returned into Texas waters it wasn’t long before we came upon the first of 3 large flocks of predominately Sooty Terns that we would encounter today. This group of terns number around 20 and must have been over deeper schools of fish (Tuna) or maybe just flying fish as they would occasionally fly low over the water apparently feeding. We cruised about 5 miles north and gradually tuned back towards the west. We slowed down a couple of times to set out more chum.

Surprisingly there was virtually no sargassam. I didn’t see any but I heard someone saw one small clump, which is very unusual. We encountered one floating plywood sheet about the size of a door mat that had several Tripletails and a few Mahi Mahi swimming beneath it that we could see and who knows what else beneath that.

We came across one more large flock of 40+ Sooty Terns while still in deep water. At the 100 fathom contour we laid out more chum and dragged our chum bags along this contour for about a mile. At the end of this mile the third flock of 40+ Sooty Terns and at least one Bridled Tern were spotted and they circled towards our chum slick. As we retraced our chum line it had attracted a few Audubon’ s and Band-rumped Storm Petrels.

The entire time we were in waters greater than 600 ft deep we had a lot of activity. Usually not more than 15 minutes went by without some seabird being encountered and usually small groups of them at a time. The large Flocks of Sooty terns kept us busy for 15+ minutes at a time trying to sort through all of them before they gradually drifted out of sight.

Once we were back over the shelf activity bird died off pretty quickly probably because of the absence of shrimpers which are huge magnets for coastal gulls and terns and the occasional seabird or jaeger. The shrimp season starts this coming week so this will help out the August 8th trip in a month. The lack of shrimpers probably also explains why we only encounters 5-6 Pelagic Bottlenosed Dolphins, which are often concentrated under the shrimpers that are at anchored during the day. About 10 miles offshore there are 4 stacked jack-up rigs (victims of the plunge in oil prices) which had a large collection of roosting Laughing Gulls, Royal Terns and a couple of Sandwich Terns.

I am extremely happy with the modifications we’ve made to this year’s Texas Pelagics trips. Even though meeting at the dock at 3:30 Am may be a challenge we were able to reach the shelf edge pelagic waters early in the morning while the birds were still feeding. The extra time allowed us to spent half the day in deep waters and see an impressive number of individual birds and an above average seven Pelagic Species, all the regulars. In my opinion this is worth the extra cost of the charter. After all many people drive from far corners of Texas just to spend one day at sea.

I also have to sing the praises of the newly renovated Osprey. Phil the owner has every reason to be very pleased with his investment in the renovations. The Osprey I was built in 1997 and the redesign was done by the same boat designer, who according to Phil had a good time working out the changes he wanted. The upper deck seating allows for unobstructed viewing in almost 360 degrees. No longer is there the problem of being on the wrong side of the boat from a bird sighting if you choose to sit up there. Also the front of the upper deck in front of the Captains wheelhouse has four short benches with the best view in the house. It can accommodate 5 people facing forward and a few more facing back or sideways. It was also very nice and dry up there in the 2-3 foot seas we had on Saturday. The sound system with remote microphone is a nice bonus allowing me to broadcast bird sightings to the entire boat, and on a relatively large boat with so many places to observe from this had been a problem in the past, but now it is no longer an issue. I want to thank Phil and Captain Bobby and his crew for doing everything they could to make this trip a great success!

Our Texas Pelagics leader team continues to be the best in Texas. Our seasoned leaders are: Brad McKinney, Eric Carpenter, Dwight Peake, John O’Brien, Mary Gustafson and Randy Pinkston. Poor Petra Hockey was home recovering from an injury suffered during the famous Wilson’s Storm-Petrel sighting. I also want to extend a warm public welcome to Erik Bruhnke and Kelly Smith as leader and leader assistant. This trip was their inaugural trip in these roles and they are an awesome addition to our team. We also had a fantastic group of 27 fun participants, who as near as I can tell really enjoyed the day.

In closing I want to remind everyone about our upcoming Aug 8th Pelagic which still needs another 10 participants in order to sail. This is the last Texas Pelagic for this calmer summer season that has any openings. Remember that October while a still good time for seabirds has a higher chance for rougher weather to be encountered. Also Audubon’s Shearwaters are scarce by then and Storm-Petrels are usually absent.

Good seabirding,

Gary Hodne




Here is the preliminary bird list with the number off our written log notes from Dwight Peake. The numbers may later be revised slightly as I add in our other sources of information, namely my recorded notes, John O’Brien’s eBird notes and David Sarkozi’s GPS coordinate notes.

Cory’s Shearwater – 1
Audubon’s Shearwater – 75
Leach’s Storm-Petrel – 1-2 possibly
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel – 18
Masked Booby – 5
Sooty Tern – 106
Bridled Tern 1-2
storm-petrel (sp) – 12

Laughing Gulls
Royal Terns
Sandwich Terns
Cattle Egrets – 4
Little Blue Herons -2

Pelagic Bottlenose Dolphins – 5

Tripletails – 4+
Mahi Mahi – 2-3
Flying fish
Baitfish ball

Other Inshore Birds near Jetties to Dock:
Brown Pelicans
Royal Terns
Sandwich Terns
Least Terns
Black Terns
Great Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Black Skimmer

Here is a map of the trip track as recorded by my GPS.

WEATHER & WAVE CONDITIONS at NOAA Weather Buoy 42020 north of our course

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