Report prepared by: P.J. Milburn.
Photographs: Campbell Albatross (B. Whylie), Pomarine Jaeger (P. Milburn), Campbell and Shy Albatrosses (M. Double), Long-tailed jaeger (B. Whylie), Gibson's Albatrosses (M. Double).
Departed: 07:20 returned at 15:00 EDT.
Sea conditions: to 1.5 to 2.0m S.
Swell: to 1.5 to 3.0m SE offshore.
Weather: partly overcast with a chilly southerly breeze.
Temperature range: 15.0 to 17.1°C.
Barometric pressure: 1018 HPa rising.
Wind: SSW 15 to 20 at first rising to S 20 to 25 knots.
Sea surface temperature: 20.3 to 23.0°C.
Primary chumming location: S 34° 35’ – E 151° 11’.
A weak a high-pressure system was located south of western Victoria and continued to direct a chilly southerly air stream along the New South Wales coast. It was already blowing at 15 knots from the south-southwest as we left the harbour so with everyone well rugged up we cruised east and wondered how the day would turn out.
An handsome Arctic Jaeger attacked our small but eager flock of attendant gulls as we left the sanctuary of the harbour. Australasian Gannets, mostly first and second year birds, did not share our discomfort with the conditions as they foraged eagerly close inshore. In spite of this the poor light and rugged conditions left our mood subdued and several people fell sick early on. Seabirds were sparse until we reached the 45-fathom mark when we encountered a small mixed group of shearwaters that decided to follow us doggedly. To our surprise, an adult Indic Yellow-nosed Albatross, which is a species very rarely recorded in March in Wollongong waters, joined us soon after.
We battled east as the sea continued to give us a good workout on out on our starboard beam. If the chill in the air were not enough, several Campbell Albatross joined in with the small but eager flock of following seabirds to create the impression that winter had begun early. Wedge-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwater numbers were extremely low for the season perhaps because the warm currents flowing from the north had obviously abated since the seas were moderate given the wind conditions. Overall, seabird numbers were rather low so we took a vote as to whether we should continue. I felt sorry for the people who were feeling queasy because the majority was in favour of continuing to the edge of the continental shelf.
As we neared the deeper water a Sooty Shearwater circled our vessel several times but we still had not encountered any gadfly petrels. Once over the continental slope we tried cruising at reduced speed in every direction but finally drifting with the sea proved to be the most comfortable option. We began a drift-and-berley session in earnest despite the fact that our intrepid berley hands lost their footing a few times until they had the feel of the swell. Slowly but surely, the berley trail started to perform its magic. The Campbell and Indic Yellow-nosed Albatross were practically climbing into the boat already as an adult SHY ALBATROSS joined in the melee. Adults of this species are extremely rare as far up the east coast of Australia as Wollongong but this year has been exceptional. Shouts went up as a long-winged white-bellied gadfly petrel appeared over our berley trail. I was lucky enough to obtain a perfect view as it sailed above a large swell over our fish oil slick. It was a pale morph HERALD PETREL, an extreme rarity in these waters but one of a continuing trend of autumnal occurrences. Cameras started to appear despite the conditions and almost as by magic three LONG-TAILED JAEGERS appeared, two of which had well developed tails. This was fortunate because true to type the HERALD PETREL had already disappeared. If this were not already enough two Gibson’s Albatross appeared as if from nowhere. One of these had a thin blue stripe on its breast suggesting that it had recently been counted at a colony. This brought the total of albatross species to four, a figure unprecedented in March in these waters.
The first Storm-Petrel to appear was a White-faced that was followed by a several Wilson’s. White-faced Storm-Petrel is not an unusual species to be recorded in March in Wollongong waters but this bird was very unusual in the fact that it was in very heavy moult. Missing coverts in the upper wing created large white patches and closer inspection revealed that the inner primaries and most of the secondaries were missing. This moult pattern is very much out of phase with the local breeding adults so perhaps the bird was a non-breeding individual not usually observed in this region. I should also mention that a small number of Great-winged Petrels also appeared during this rather hectic period. Still nervous of a possible deterioration in the weather situation we reluctantly turned back for port, all too soon for some but none too late for others.
Overall this was a very interesting day with the numbers of the seabird species that are typically present in March being absurdly low. Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were almost a novelty! I’m sure a number of interesting records eluded us in the difficult conditions; at least one ‘cookalaria’ petrel and a probable Tahiti Petrel were glimpsed fleetingly.
Overall the number of individuals was low but species diversity was relatively high and under rather tough conditions, a light morph HERALD PETREL backed up with six shearwater species and four albatross species made this a day to remember. Stunning views of LONG-TAILED JAEGERS in alternate plumage remain firmly etched in my recollection.
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)
073 Great-winged Petrel Pterodroma macroptera gouldi 6 (6)
921 HERALD PETREL P. heraldica 1 pale morph
068 Fluttering Shearwater Puffinus gavia 8 (4)
917 Hutton’s Shearwater P. huttoni 2 (1)
069 Wedge-tailed Shearwater P. pacificus 34 (18)
070 Sooty Shearwater P. griseus 2 (1)
071 Short-tailed Shearwater P. tenuirostris 275+ (250+)
072 Flesh-footed Shearwater P. carneipes 20 (8)
847 Gibson’s Albatross Diomedea gibsoni 4 (2)
859 Campbell Albatross Thalassarche impavida 8 (5)
861 SHY ALBATROSS T. cauta 1 adult
864 Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross T.carteri 7 (4)
063 Wilson’s Storm-Petrel Oceanites oceanicus 5 (2)
065 White-faced Storm-Petrel Pelagodroma marina 1
104 Australasian Gannet Morus serrator 26 (5)
945 Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus 41 (12)
128 Arctic Jaeger S. parasiticus 4 (3)
933 LONG-TAILED JAEGER S. longicauda 3 (3)
981 Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus 9 (5)
25 Silver Gull L. novaehollandiae 55 (43)
115 Crested Tern Sterna bergii 8 (5)
In the harbour:
096 Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
100 Little Pied Cormorant P. melanoleucos 2
106 Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicillatus 2 (1)
115 Crested Tern Sterna bergii 3 (3)
21 species of seabird identified outside the breakwater.