Nov 20, 2016 Port Aransas Trip Report

by | Jun 15, 2022

Hi Seabirders,
After a lot of anxiety about the weather forecast for Sunday due to the passage of a strong cold front on Friday night the weather turned out to be pretty decent on Sunday. We were looking at 10 foot seas at NDBC Station 42019 late Saturday afternoon and finally down to 6 foot by 9pm on Saturday. So at least we had that going for us. The seas started out in the 3-5 foot range with maybe an occasional 6 foot swell. The winds were 10 knots and the temp was a brisk 55 degrees. The seas and winds continued to subside throughout the day until by nightfall heading back in the seas were more in the 2-3 foot range.

Our group of 24 hardy seabirders were already in 200 feet of water by daybreak. Since we by-passed almost all of the shelf waters in darkness we saw almost no nearshore seabirds. But our first birds were a Laughing Gull and a couple of Royal Terns just 10 minutes after sunrise the last we would see of them until almost sunset. Fifteen minutes later our next bird was a Surf Scoter that we flushed off the water and it flew out of sight pretty quickly. A pod of about 10 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins followed us for a minute of bow riding.

Five minutes later at 7:31am came one of the highlights of the day as a Red Phalarope flushed off the water right in front of the boat. It also rapidly disappeared but several fast acting seabirders managed to get decent photos of it. Fortunately Andrew Orgill got a diagnostic flight shot of the phalarope confirming it’s identification. Andrew’s photos are also posted to the Texas Pelagics group Facebook page. This is the first time a Red Phalarope has been documented in the offshore GOM and seen on a Texas Pelagic Trip. Jon McIntye a birder who also captains party fishing boats and is frequently offshore in this vicinity commented on the Red Phalarope photo that “I’ve seen shorebirds sitting on the water offshore multiple times- but always working and not able to photograph for one reason or another. I always assumed phalaropes but no idea what kind.” We just need to try and get out again in the right season for them to get the evidence that they may be present more often that is currently known.

Over an hour later we also flushed an American Coot. A few minutes after that a family group of 3 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins put on a nice acrobatic show for us with 3 leaping in unison that Brad McKinney captured so well in photos he’s posted to the Texas Pelagics group Facebook page.

As we continued to cruise eastward into the bright sunny skies we were attempting to get as close to where the Black-capped Petrels had been seen and photographed by Jon McIntye from the 36 hour tuna fishing boat 2 weeks earlier. There turned out to be just not enough time on an 18 hours pelagic to make it that far considering we could only make about 14 knots into the head seas. We did get 115 nautical miles out from Port Aransas which is the farthest offshore a Texas Pelagic has been in at least 16 years.

But unfortunately after some early bird activity, birds were few and far between. It seems as though the cold front must have acted like a big broom and swept all the birds away in front of it (?). At 1:13 pm we finally spotted a Parasitic Jaeger that flew directly over the boat but only made that one fast pass. About 30 minutes after the jaeger I spotted an immature Masked Booby and after a short chase it flew over the boat and circled us a few times for excellent views. A few hours later as we neared the edge of the shelf at 5:03 pm two Pomarine Jaegers were seen a 100 yards out but they were uninterested in investigating us and continued on their way into the distance.

Cruising back to Port Aransas with the seas calming down and going in our direction, that made for a pleasant ride back to the dock. In the dark at the dock before we left this morning I had offered to buy everyone a beer if we found the Black-capped Petrels, and even though we didn’t I still bought a round for anyone who wanted one. 😀 

I want to thank all the people who took the chance to come out with us on this chase trip. I still had a good time and I hope everyone else did as well, even though it was disappointing we didn’t find the petrels and to have so few other birds following the cold front. Who knows what our luck may have been had we been able to run this trip on Nov 13th instead? At least we tried! I also want to thank our Leaders: Arman Moreno, Brad McKinney, Eric Carpenter, John O’Brien, Kelly Smith, Mary Gustafson and Todd McGrath. And also the Captain Marvin and the crew of the Kingfisher.

Good Seabirding,

Gary Hodne


My counts on pelagic seabirds:
PELAGIC SEABIRDS SEEN: 5 Species and 6 individual seabirds.
Shearwater sp. – 1
Masked Booby – 1
Red Phalarope – 1
Pomarine Jaeger – 2
Parasitic Jaeger – 1

Surf Scoter -1
American Coot – 1
Laughing Gull – 1
Royal Tern – 5

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins – 10

Flying Fish – many

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

Meteorological Conditions at Buoy 42019 close to our course.


Black-capped Petrel Emergency Chase Trip Nov 20, 2016

Hi Texbirders and Pelagic Fans,
Over this past weekend on Nov 5th while on a 48-hour tuna fishing trip Jon McIntyre photographed 2 separate Black-capped Petrels far offshore of Port Aransas. Jon initially identified these two photographed birds as Great Shearwaters in the field and didn’t realize they were Black-capped Petrels until reviewing his photographs. It is possible there were a few other BCPE’s out there that were not photographed and Jon admits he may have misidentified as Great Shearwaters as well. This very rare petrel has only been seen two other times in Texas on Pelagic trips on 5/28/1994 and 7/26/1997. These recent sightings are significant in that it may indicate some weather or food event that has brought a few of these birds at least into Texas Gulf of Mexico waters.”

I have organized a Texas Pelagic trip for this Sunday Nov 20th. This will be an 18 hour trip departing from Port Aransas at 3:00 am and returning at 9:00 pm. The cost is $350 maximum / person depending on how many people sign up. It will be aboard the Kingfisher boat at Deep Sea Headquarters, the same boat we used for our 16 hour Texas Pelagic on July 23rd this past summer.

With the 25 participants already signed-up the fare is $350 / person. I can lower the price if more people than that decide to come. With 27 people the fare will be $325, etc With 30 people the fare is $290.

This is an incredibly exciting and unprecedented opportunity to chase an exceptionally rare seabird for Texas. An opportunity not likely to be repeated for a long time, if ever, since it’s been 20 years since the last Texas sighting of a Black-capped Petrel. 

If you are interested please email, text or call me as soon as possible. 

More information about preparing for Texas Pelagics can be found on my website.
Good seabirding,
Gary Hodne

Ps. FYI- There has been a lot of discussion about these sighting and our upcoming chase trip on the Texas Pelagics Facebook group’s page. I’ve included a few quotes from those posts at the end of this email here in case you missed it or are not on Facebook!

Jon McIntyre: “I had 5 birds this trip (I only photographed 2) that I called Great Shearwaters because of the dark cap and white rump- the two I photographed turned out to be BC Petrels. We had a 48-hr trip on Wed and I saw 2 birds that I called Great Shearwaters but no photos. I had one bird last Saturday on a 48hr I also called a Great Shearwater with no photos. Sure makes me wonder what they really were!”

Jon McIntyre: “An outstanding 48hr fishing trip aboard the “Pelican” this weekend. In addition to the Black-Capped Petrels I found we saw 10 Cory’s Shearwaters, 3 Masked Booby, 1 Brown Booby, 1 Audubon’s Shearwater, 2 Pomarine Jaegers, a Sperm Whale, a Loggerhead Sea Turtle, a 632 pound Shortfin Mako Shark, Blue Marlin, and more! Sorry for the poor quality of pics- they were taken through a dirty window!”

Todd McGrath: “I get that $300 is a lot, and there are no guarantees, but you could spend many thousands going on lots of trips that will never see BCPE in Texas. Since there have been multiple sightings, I think there is a good chance. I remember a year back in NC with Brian Patteson when European Storm-Petrels were being seen almost every trip. Lots of folks who could have come didn’t, and many of them still need the bird, as they haven’t been seen in those numbers since, just one or two or so per season. I might also add that the chances of seeing BCPE in Texas on the 13th are infinitely better than the chances of seeing one sitting on your couch.”

Gary Hodne” A few people have asked what other birds can be seen at this season offshore Texas. Short answer is I’m not sure because there haven’t been any true Texas Pelagics at this time of year, aside from the tuna fisherman. And without them and thanks to Jon McIntyre we wouldn’t have known about the BCPE’s . But certainly all the Jaegers are most common in the winter. Masked Boobies are apparently still around. Cory’s (Scopoli’s) Shearwaters could be present? Probably too late for Audubon’s, but Manx is a possibility. Storm-petrels are probably not present. Rare Gulls are a possibility, Sabine’s, and maybe rare terns, Arctic?”

Jon McIntyre: “The shearwaters are present in Nov but I’ve only seen one in Dec (a Great Shearwater I photographed last year). Jaegers become common in Dec and throughout the winter. Masked booby I’ve had almost every month of the year and Gannets should be showing up very soon. I would think Winter would be the best chance for a skua also.”


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