Report prepared by: P.J. Milburn.
Photographs: Kelp gull (P.J. Milburn), Fairy prion (B. Whylie), Southern giant-petrel
(I. Vandyke), Black-browed albatross (B. Whylie), Brwon skua (P.J. Milburn),
Northern giant-petrel (I. Vandyke).
Departed: 07:30 returned at approx. 16:00 .
Sea conditions: A slight westerly chop at first but rising to 1m SW in the afternoon.
Swell: SSE 2.0m inshore and 3.0 to 4.0m offshore.
Weather: Sunny with crystal clear blue skies all day.
Temperature range: 13.8 to 17.6 °C.
Barometric pressure: 1005 HPa rising.
Wind: W 15 to 20 knots at first, easing to 10 to 15 knots or less late in the morning before backing to the southwest and strengthening to 15 to 20 knots in the afternoon.
Sea surface temperature: 16.9 to 18.3°C.
Primary chumming location: S 34° 26’ – E 151° 18’.
A large slow moving anticyclone centered in the Great Australian Bight and a deep low-pressure system located southeast of Tasmania had combined to produce a strong southwesterly airflow along the southern coast of New South Wales for several days. The forecast was for this to intensify during the night prior to this trip as a cold front moved northwards up the coast. As luck would have it, the front came through about eight hours early, the wind veered to the west and the morning brought clear blue skies. To the south of our position, the southwesterly winds continued unabated.
We left the harbour in good spirits with the wind directly astern as we headed due east. It looked like it would be a bumpy trip back to port but that was nothing to spoil our immediate enjoyment. We had barely looked backed to sea level after some Little Black Cormorants and Sooty Oystercatchers had flown overhead before Australasian Gannets and the usual mob of gulls joined us. Several White-fronted Terns were among the first group of terns that arrived. Several Indic Yellow-nosed and a Black-browed Albatross were foraging over Wollongong Reef as a clear indication that winter has arrived. The first Fluttering Shearwaters for several trips appeared along with a Hutton’s Shearwater.
A first year Kelp Gull followed us into deeper water and with its unusual white patches in the primary coverts and primaries provided confusion from time to time. Other than a probable sighting of LITTLE SHEARWATER from the bow, the range of species in view remained the same but many more individuals were sighted until we came upon two White-capped Albatross at the 70-fathom line. A little later we disturbed a Brown Skua and a Southern Giant-Petrel that were squabbling over the fresh corpse of a first year Australasian Gannet. Soon after, the first FAIRY PRION of the winter was sighted. This species has become unusually scarce in Wollongong waters since 2002 as, indeed, have all species of prion.
Australasian Gannets, circling high overhead, had been visible in numbers throughout our cruise over the continental shelf but never in such great numbers as we approached the continental slope. A solitary Solander’s (Providence) Petrel, the only one sighted all day, greeted us as we crossed into the deeper water.
Given the strong westerly winds we elected not to venture too far east and set up a drift-and-berley session just inside the 200-fathom line, anticipating that we would drift further out to sea at a significant rate. We attracted an interesting assortment of seabirds, many of which foraged close to our vessel for a protracted period providing a fabulous photography session. This included four albatross species, most of which were adults, both species of Giant-Petrel, Short-tailed and Sooty Shearwater, FAIRY PRION, Brown Skua, and Wilson ’s Storm-Petrel. One of the Southern Giant-Petrels carried a white Darvic band, which was of Argentinean origin.
The trip back to port was far easier than we had imagined it would be because the wind had backed to the southwest and dropped below 10 knots as we headed for shore. We had magnificent views of many species as they were gliding alongside the boat into the head wind and some were at times close enough to touch. Many excellent photographs were obtained and those included some of an adult Black-browed Albatross carrying a French band although the number could not be deciphered. We passed a couple of Giant Petrels squabbling over the last of the gannet, which was by now little more than a set of wings held together by a circle of skin. Following yells of ‘black-and-white shearwater astern’ a LITTLE SHEARWATER was observed as it flew south across our stern at a major current line, in 60 fathoms of water.
The rarity of the day was LITTLE SHEARWATER but the whole day was simply a delight in the glorious winter sunshine with stunning views of most of the birds recorded.
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)
929Southern Giant-Petrel Macronectes giganteus 3 (1)
937NORTHERN GIANT-PETREL M. halli 1
971 Solander’s Petrel Pterodroma solandri 1
083 FAIRY PRION Pachyptila turtur 3 (1)
067 LITTLE SHEARWATER Puffinus assimilis 1
068 Fluttering Shearwater P. gavia 70 (12)
917 Hutton’s Shearwater P. huttoni 1
070 Sooty Shearwater P. griseus 2 (1)
071 Short-tailed Shearwater P. tenuirostris 2 (2)
088 Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophrys 10 (3)
859 Campbell Albatross T. impavida 12 (5)
861 White-capped Albatross T. steadi 8 (3)
864 Indic Yellow-nosed Albatross T.carteri 122 (45)
063 Wilson ’s Storm-Petrel Oceanites oceanicus 4 (1)
097 Little Black Cormorant Phalacrocorax sulcirostris 3 (3)
104 Australasian Gannet Morus serrator 93 (37)
980 Brown Skua Catharacta lonnbergi 5 (2)
981 Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus 3 (3)
125 Silver Gull L. novaehollandiae 450+ (350+)
114 White-fronted tern Sterna striata 5 (3)
115 Crested Tern S. bergii 66 (25)
In the harbour:
005 Little Penguin Eudyptula minor 1
193 Striated Heron Ardeola striatus macrorhynchus 1
106 Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicillatus 5 (5)
125 Silver Gull L. novaehollandiae 35 (35)
21 species of seabird identified outside the breakwater.
207 Sooty Oystercatcher Haematopus fuliginosus 4 (4)