June 1-3, 2022 Freeport TRIP REPORT

by | Jun 19, 2022

48 Hr TX Pelagic Report June 1-3, 2022.
The first ever 48 hour Ultimate Texas Pelagic was a great success.

Departing from Freeport at 8 PM on Wednesday June 1, the first night’s cruise was a little rough with 4 to 4.5 ft seas. Apparently some participants decided to sleep under the stars on the upper sun deck. The winds continued to die down from then until the end of the trip and the seas followed. By Thursday evening the seas were calm with no wave chop and only some slight swell of 2-3 ft.

The first action of the trip was a surfacing school of small Skipjack Tuna at dawn just beyond the shelf edge, but no birds managed to find the fish action. The first bird of the trip was a close flyby Brown Booby. Later a very distant Magnificent Frigatebird was seen by a few. Beginning after that was a continuing stream of Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, the most numerous bird of the trip. John O’Brien set out a chum slick and attracted several more. A lone Audubon’s Shearwater was briefly seen by a few. Another chum slick at lunch time yielded a half dozen Band-rumps. A distant pod of dolphins was jumping high probably to get a look at us but disappeared as we cruised in their direction. A masked Booby flew close by alongside to check us out. A floating white box in the distance had a bump on it that we suspected was a tropical tern. As we closed in we could see it was a Bridled Tern roosting on an abandoned refrigerator. It allowed us to approach very close without flying presumably unwilling to give up its deluxe roosting platform where it had placed a small fish for later consumption.

Towards the late afternoon we were in very deep waters of over 4,000 ft. By 6:30 we reached the Horseshoe Basin at over 5,000 ft. Near the south end of the Basin now about 158 miles from shore John set the final chum slick of the day where we waited till dark, again attracting a dozen or so Band-rumps and a pod of several kogia sp whales presumably Pygmy Sperm Whales. Tony Gallucci posted a series of photos to the FaceBook Texas Pelagics group with a nice analysis that led him to conclude these were Pygmy Sperm Whales. It was very calm overnight as we slowly cruised north for 30 or so miles.

Again several participants slept out on sun deck the under brilliant starry sky. Overnight several people observed a Dumbo Octopus that swam up to the surface from the abyss. Grimpoteuthis is a genus of pelagic umbrella octopuses known as the Dumbo octopuses. The name “Dumbo” originates from their resemblance to the title character of Disney’s 1941 film Dumbo, having a prominent ear-like fin which extends from the mantle above each eye. There are 17 species recognized in the genus. (Wikipedia). Also observed overnight were squid and shrimp.

Friday at dawn in 3,000 ft of water the seas were very calm and John set a slick out again but only attracted a couple Band-rumps. Proceeding north towards shore we continued to sight small groups of Band-rumps. Another slick yielded yet more BRSP’s. Then finally another Shearwater flew close by the stern and while dark and small we could tell by its arching flight that it wasn’t an Audubon’s. Photos quickly revealed the white under tail of a Manx Shearwater. An excellent unexpected rarity for the trip.

Not too long after that Rohit spotted a distant bird above the horizon a half mile off the starboard side. Cruising that way a flock of 6+ dark terns became visible. Then the Sooty terns started diving as the water boiled with a large school of Blackfin and Skipjack Tuna. Six Audubon’s Shearwaters joined the fray along with some Black Terns. It was the big few minutes of crazy action we’d been hoping for. Later after the trip photos of the 6 shearwaters revealed that one was in fact a Manx Shearwater, an unprecedented second one for the trip.

On the long cruise back in over the shelf a couple of animals were spotted by a couple of participants but their finds were not shared until it was too late. A Loggerhead Sea Turtle was seen by a few and photographed by Tony Gallucci (see his post to FB). I didn’t hear about this until 2 days later. And even more disappointing a lone participant saw a whale shark pass directly under the bow of the boat. He alerted the captain that the boat went right over a whale shark and only later did I hear about that after-the-fact, but too late to do anything. So just an important reminder again is my “Cardinal Rule”, don’t wait to tell us about something you saw until it’s too late to do anything! Finally we passed an offshore platform less than a mile offshore of the Freeport jetties with 11 MAFR and 100+ Brown Pelicans.

Overall a great trip with an high number of pelagic seabird species and high numbers of seabirds.

Thanks to the captains Mathew and Michael, and the crew of the MV Fling for providing such excellent service, can’t wait until our next trip on September 25. And thanks to our keen-eyed Leaders Mary Gustafson, John O’Brien (chum-Meister) and Justin Bosler. Also thanks to all our participants who made this trip possible.

Photos below courtesy of Jeff Sexton, Petra Hockey, Lora Lee Tucker and Tony Gallucci. Thank You

 

Pelagic Seabirds: 10 species; 92 birds
1. Manx Shearwater- 2
2. Audubon’s Shearwater – 6
3. Leach’s Storm-Petrel – 1-2
4. Band-rumped Storm-Petrel – 54
5. Masked Booby – 2
6. Brown Booby- 2
7. Magnificent Frigatebird – 13
8. Sooty Tern – 6
9. Bridled Tern – 3
10. Parasitic Jaeger – 2

Nearshore Seabirds:
1. Common Tern – 1
2. Black Tern – few
3. Laughing Gull – 1 !
4. Royal Tern – few

Marine Mammals:
1. Dolphins sp. – 8-10
2. Kogia sp – Pygmy Sperm Whales – several

Fish and other critters:
1. Skipjack Tuna school
2. Blackfin Tuna school
3. Flying fish
4. Sargassum Flying fish
5. Sargassum Frog fish
6. Dumbo Octopus
7. Squid
8. Whale Shark
9. Loggerhead Sea Turtle

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

There will be another 48 hour Ultimate Texas Pelagic on Sept 25 – 27, 2022. There is still space available for this trip during a prime season for rare shearwaters.

Pre-TRIP POSTS and ANNOUNCEMENTS:

NEW for JUNE 2022; 48 HOUR TEXAS PELAGIC!
I have a very exciting announcement to make! I have chartered for the MV Fling boat out of Freeport TX for a 48 hour offshore Texas Pelagic! The dates are June 1-3, 2022.

Freeport has seen only a couple of pelagic trips run from there back in 1998-99, and both were overnight trips onboard the MV Fling. My plan for this 48-hour trip is to search the eastern continental slope of Offshore Texas in waters up to 6,000 feet deep and 160 miles offshore. This area is to the east of waters typically searched from Port Aransas. It is an area of the continental slope that has the most extremely varied bathymetry in offshore Texas due to the numerous salt domes found here.

The very-deep offshore continental slope beyond 100 miles from shore is the LAST FRONTIER of Texas Pelagic birding and has rarely been birded. It is the domain of long-range tuna fishing boats that routinely go 100 – 200 miles plus offshore on 48 to 72 hour long trips. A few intrepid birders have rode along as passengers on these tuna trips and have found some good seabirds, but these tuna trips are far from ideal for pelagic birding.

Being this far east and being out in very deep water for one and a half days gives us increased chances of finding a few very rare low-density Texas seabirds like the Black-capped Petrel, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel and Red-footed Booby. And of course there are many other rare possibilities like Great Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater and Red-billed Tropicbird to name just a few. Not to mention all the regular Texas Seabirds we are more accustomed to: Band-rumped and Leach’s Storm-Petrels (prime season for storm-petrels); Audubon’s, Cory’s and Scopoli’s Shearwaters; Bridled and Sooty Terns (again prime season for them), Masked and Brown Boobies, Magnificent Frigatebirds and all the Jaegers.

This will take place from 6:00 pm Wednesday June 1 until Friday June 3rd. The course I have planned (see the insert below) will start from the dock in Freeport with an 7:00 PM departure. After cruising all night we will greet the dawn sunrise on Thursday at a point about 20 miles southwest the Flower Gardens West Bank beyond the shelf edge in about 1,800 feet water depth. We will spend all of Thursday’s 14+ hours of daylight (6:18 AM sunrise to 8:07 sunset) in deep waters cruising beyond the shelf edge in waters up to 6,000 ft deep. We will spend Thursday overnight in deep waters. We awaken on Friday to first lights birding activity in very deep waters. We will gradually wind our back north towards the shelf edge searching for seabirds and marine life for another 5+ hours in deep water planning to be at the shelf edge by 11 am. From there it’s a 70 mile cruise back to Freeport with stops a shrimpers for more seabird action. Returning to the dock by 6:00 PM Friday.

If addition there will be an opportunity to snorkel in deep water should we be lucky and encounter a whale shark, a pod of dolphins or small whales like Short-finned Pilot Whales! Or if not we could snorkel near Sargassum mats to look at the fish associated with the Sargassum community. So bring your snorkeling gear and U/W camera.

We can take 32 seabirders max as there are 30 bunks. The cost per person will be $600.00, with all meals included. Two couples can share a double bed bunk at a discounted cost of $500 each. I think that is a real bargain considering that a trip to S Padre Island would cost at a minimum the pelagic fare plus 2 nights in a motel or close to $400 already not including gas and food. If you live near Houston or Corpus you could easily do this trip without needing a motel.

All food and drinks are supplied. They provide wholesome meals and snacks throughout the day. For a complete rundown on the rules while on board the Fling click here for the Fling FAQ . You can ignore the parts that refer to diving.

The planned course for this pelagic is shown by the dashed lines. Segment A: Wednesday nights cruise; Seg B: Thursday’s cruise; Seg C: Thursday night’s drift area; Seg D: Friday morning’s cruise; Seg E: Friday afternoon’s cruise beck to the dock. The colored bathymetry is derived from high resolution 3D seismic surveys and illustrates the extremely varied seafloor. The U-shaped feature in the lower center is called the Horseshoe Basin where water depths exceed 6,000 ft.

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