Aug 27, 2016; S Padre Island; TRIP REPORT

by | Jun 15, 2022

We departed the dock at 3:00 am with no wind and enjoyed a gentle ride in 1 to 2 ft seas out to the shelf edge. Most birders slept (or tried to) wherever they could find a spot on board until first light. As the skies glowed orange than pink in anticipation of the sun we anxiously awaited our first pelagic species. Shortly after a ~7:00 am sunrise the bunch of the bow riding birders saw the green flash! From the Shelf edge out to the Camel’s head Seamount is about a 35 mile cruise, still another 3 hours in the Osprey. During this time we only had a few scattered birds, Cory’s Shearwaters, Frigatebird, Bridled Terns, Black Terns, various migrants and Atlantic Spotted and Bottlenose Dolphins.

We enjoyed great weather, calm 1 to 2 foot sea swell all day long with very light winds for much of the day leaving the seas that pleasant glassy look with hardly a wind ripple all morning and early afternoon.

As we neared the west slope of the Camel’s Head I spotted a very distant tern and after watching it for a bit decided there was maybe a flock of terns a couple miles south. We turned the Osprey south and into Mexican waters 2 miles towards the tern flock and the one tern turned into 10 terns, than 20, then 40, then 60! As we got closer we could also see shearwaters flying around low to the water, and the splashing of a school of tuna. Then whales started to blow and 3 Sperm Whales joined the fray. Here in Mexican waters we had a huge flock of 82 Sooty Terns, 14 Cory’s Shearwaters, 10 Audubon’s Shearwaters, 3 Sperm Whales and a tuna school. We followed these whales and flocks around for a good 45 minutes until they gradually dissipated or drifted away.

We then cruised on over to the eye of the Camel’s Head the shallowest point on this massive seamount which is at about 3,000 ft depth. Nothing much happening there. Chummed a bit and still nothing. By now it was 11:30 and we had reached the half-way point of our day and needed to start heading back in.

As we cruised back into Texas Waters we continued picking up scattered pelagic seabirds. Most notably were several other flocks of Sooty Terns far to our south over Mexican Waters that we didn’t have time to fully investigate. Then a Brown Booby whizzed by the bow and flew off away from the stern not taking much time to investigate us.

At 12:40 we were totally surprised when two huge breaches of Sperm Whales that came clear out of the water happened just 1/4 mile off the port-bow. It happened so fast that not everyone caught the whales in the air but most everybody saw the huge splashes. This turned out to be another pod of 7-8 Sperm Whales that was very close to the boat. It was about 7 miles from the previous pod of 3 sperms 2 1/2 hours earlier so there was some speculation that maybe it was the same group?

As we neared the shelf edge there was a lone shrimper at anchor with 5 Magnificent Frigatebirds resting in the rigging. A large pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins was also hanging out here and were soon bow-riding the Osprey. There were almost no shrimpers on the shelf so there wasn’t much to look at here on the long cruise back in to South Padre Island. Overall it was a spectacular day with most of the pelagic bird action restricted to deep water in the vicinity of the Camel’s Head far out from the shelf edge.

Thanks to Capt Bobby and his crew on the Osprey for doing a great job of getting the boat into the best positions to view the birds and for helping us out during the day. A big thank you to our leaders who help to spot the birds, handle the chum and help everyone out all day long; in alphabetical order: Arman Moreno, Brad McKinney, Dwight Peake, Eric Carpenter, John O’Brien, Kelly Smith, Mary Gustafson and Randy Pinkston.

Our next trip is on Sept 17th from South Padre Island onboard the Osprey. This will be a 12 hour trip. The final Texas Pelagic of the season is scheduled for Oct 8th also from SPI on the Osprey. Both of these trips are at prime times for pelagic seabirds in the Gulf of Mexico. I hope you’ll join us. All the details can be found here:
Good seabirding,
Gary Hodne
The Woodlands, TX

EBirders – please remember we were in two countries!  Lists that have the trip totals all in Texas will not be validated. Please split Mexico birds into a separate list or better yet wait for the pelagic protocol lists to be ready. If you want the eBird lists shared with you either let me know or watch the Texas Pelagics Facebook page for an announcement. 

Mary Gustafson
Bird Guide
Mission Texas


Cory’s (Scopoli’s) Shearwater – 22
Audubon’s Shearwater – 12
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel – 3
Magnificent Frigatebird – 7
Brown Booby – 1
Sooty Tern – 170
Bridled Tern – 3

shearwater sp. – 1
storm-petrel (sp) – 1
Onychoprion sp. – 4

Laughing Gull – 35
Black Tern – 9
Common Tern – 1
Royal Tern – 22
Sandwich Tern – 5

unid. Passerines – 5
Yellow-crowned Night Heron – 6
Little Blue Heron – 16
Heron sp. – 6
shorebird sp. – 3
warbler sp – 1
oriole sp – 1

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin – 45
Bottlenose Dolphin – PELAGIC – 17
Sperm Whale – 11
Unidentified whale – 1

Sea turtle sp. – 1

Flying Fish many
tuna School – 4

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

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