• 22nd March 2008, SOSSA PELAGIC TRIP, WOLLONGONG, NSW, AUSTRALIA.

    Report prepared by: P.J. Milburn.

    Photographs: White-necked petrel (B. Whylie), Kermadec petrel (B. Whylie).


    Departed: 07:10 returned at 15:00.
    Sea conditions: S 2.0 to 3.0 m at first and then 1.5 to 2.0 m by late morning.
    Swell: ESE 2.0 to 3.0m.
    Weather: squally rain until mid morning and patchy cloud for the remainder of the day.
    Temperature range: 16.1 to 19.0įC.
    Barometric pressure: 1024 HPa falling.
    Wind: southerly 15 to 20 knots at first and then E 13 to 18 knots later.
    Sea surface temperature: 19.2 to 23.2įC.
    Primary chumming locations: 34į 37íS : 151į 10íE.

    Summary:

    A high-pressure system was moving out into the Tasman Sea to the east of Tasmania and had generated a moist southerly air stream during the previous night that backed to easterly during the morning. Conditions were quite miserable as we left the harbour in heavy rain. The sea conditions were very sloppy and we had no option other than heading south into the heavy chop.

    Flesh-footed and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were around us immediately and we were soon joined by some handsome Pomarine Jaegers in their nuptial garb. Use of binoculars was pretty much out of the question so it became an intriguing challenge to identify the birds that joined the flock that tagged along behind. An Arctic Jeager put in a brief appearance and, shortly afterwards, a juvenile LONG-TALED JEAGER in very worn plumage presented us with an identification puzzle in the difficult conditions. Conveniently, rather more obvious LONG-TALED JEAGERS appeared, providing comparison that confirmed the identification of the first ragged individual.

    After an hour or so a WHITE-NECKED PETREL closed upon us from astern, providing a much-needed boost to the prospect of us having a good day. Eventually the wind shifted to the east and we were able to change course into it but our cruise out to the edge of the continental shelf remained uncomfortable. Jaegers dominated the proceedings, including some handsome LONG-TALED JEAGERS, but a steady stream of WHITE-NECKED PETRELS kept our expectations high. If only the conditions would improve!

    By mid-morning the rain finally abated and, just inside the edge of the continental shelf, we were finally able to use our binoculars. Several Fluttering Shearwaters and a magnificent female WANDERING ALBATROSS joined in company with us. Solanderís Petrels and a distant dark morph KERMADEC PETREL greeted us as we reached the deeper water at the edge of the continental shelf. Straining to relocate the KERMADEC PETREL we spotted an adult SOOTY TERN heading up the wake. Continuing east we observed the first Grey-faced Petrel for the trip and then a Catharacta Skua. Unable to secure identification, we stopped and initiated a drift-and-berley session just outside the shelf break.

    The adult Brown Skua was an unusually early record for what is typically a winter visitor but this became unremarkable in the context of the following events. An adult SHY ALBATROSS circled us several times while WHITE-NECKED PETRELS were present on both sides of the boat; Wilsonís Storm-Petrels flocked in from downwind in sixes-and-sevens and both Grey-faced and Solanderís Petrels continued to build in numbers. The procession of WHITE-NECKED PETRELS was eventually punctuated by the arrival several KERMADEC PETRELS and at the point when even this was even becoming passť an adult BULLERíS ALBATROSS appeared.

    With the sea behind us, the journey back to port was far more pleasant than the outward-bound leg and we added Gibsonís and ANTIPODEAN ALBATROSS, Huttonís Shearwater and Kelp Gull to the list of species recorded for the day. Another half a dozen sightings of WHITE-NECKED PETREL added the final touches to a physically demanding but otherwise thoroughly enjoyable day of pelagic seabirding.

    Highlights:

    On a day that promised little but misery at the outset this turned out to be a fantastic trip; a major highlight in itself! The first March records of Brown Skua and BULLERíS ALBATROSS were significant but the real treats were the multiple sightings of KERMADEC and WHITE-NECKED PETRELS, the latter being observed in unprecedented abundance at Wollongong. Personally, I never cease to be in awe of the way in which the jaegers transform themselves from the worn, ragged, moulting mess we are used to in the austral summer into the majestic animals they become as they acquire their alternate plumage prior to their northward migration.

    Birds recorded according to the latest Environment Australia Reporting Schedule:
    Species code: Species name: Numbers:
    (Note: numbers in parenthesis = highest count at any one time)

    075 Grey-faced Petrel Pterodroma macroptera gouldi 12 (8)
    971 Solanderís Petrel P. solandri 7 (4)
    922 KERMADEC PETREL P. neglecta 5 (2)
    774 WHITE-NECKED PETREL P. cervicalis 26 (4)
    068 Fluttering Shearwater Puffinus gavia 3 (2)
    913 Huttonís Shearwater P. huttoni 1
    069 Wedge-tailed Shearwater P. pacificus 188 (124)
    071 Short-tailed Shearwater P. tenuirostris 4 (1)
    072 Flesh-footed Shearwater P. carneipes 47 (24)
    086 WANDERING ALBATROSS Diomedea exulans 1
    846 ANTIPODEAN ALBATROSS D. antipodensis 1
    847 Gibsonís Albatross D. gibsoni 2 (2)
    931 BULLERíS ALBATROSS Thalassarche bulleri 1
    091 SHY ALBATROSS T. cauta 1
    063 Wilsonís Storm-Petrel Oceanites oceanicus 200+ (100+)
    104 Australasian Gannet Morus serrator 5 (3)
    106 Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicillatus 1
    128 Arctic Jaeger Stercorarius parasiticus 2 (1)
    933 LONG-TAILED JAEGER S. longicauda 14 (8)
    945 Pomarine Jaeger S. pomarinus 33 (12)
    981 Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus 2 (2)
    125 Silver Gull L. novaehollandiae 5 (2)
    115 Crested Tern Sterna bergii 9 (2)
    120 SOOTY TERN S. fuscata 1

    In the harbour:

    106 Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicillatus 7 (7)
    100 Little Pied Cormorant Phalacrocorax melanoleucos 1

    15 species of procellariiformes in a total of 24 species of seabird identified outside the breakwater.

    Other birds:

    131 Sooty Oystercatcher Haematopus fuliginosus 5 (3)

    Mammals:

    None

    Reptiles:

    None

    Fish:

    Smooth Hammerhead Sphyrna zygaena 1
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