Port Aransas Nov. 20, 2016 TRIP REPORT

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


View Texas Pelagic 2016 Tracks from South Padre Is in a larger map

Click on the box in the upper left of the map to view the map legend.

Click on each Pelagic Course and the data label will appear with the date of the trip.