Report prepared by: P.J. Milburn.
Photographs: Northern royal albatross (B. Whylie), Salvins albatross (B. Whylie), Southern royal albatross (P. J. Milburn), Gibsons albatross (P. J. Milburn).
Departed: 07:20 returned at approx. 16:00
Sea conditions: choppy SW at first rising to 1.5 to 2m S by late morning, easing to less than 1m E in the afternoon.
Swell: SE 2 to 3 m in the morning falling away to 1 to 2 m later.
Weather: Cloudy with patchy rain in the morning, clearing to sunny later.
Temperature range: 15.5 to 20.6 °C.
Barometric pressure: 1026 HPa steady.
Wind: calm to SW 10 to 15 knots at first veering to S 15 knots later in the morning, easing to E 5 knots in the afternoon.
Sea surface temperature: 16.6 to 20.0°C.
Primary chumming location: S 34° 38’ – E 151° 10’.
A slow-moving anticyclone was located in the Tasman Sea east of Green Cape . Its arrival had been preceded by several days of southerly winds. Rather than the light winds and sunshine one might have expected, an upper level disturbance generated a stiff southerly breeze in the morning with some shower activity. After an uncomfortable start, it turned into a beautiful day on the ocean that was matched with a succession of spectacular Southern Ocean seabirds.
An adult Black-browed, several Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses along with two Southern Giant-Petrels were searching the inshore reefs for post-spawning Giant Cuttlefish (Sepia aparma) . Australasian Gannets and Fluttering Shearwaters were also scouring the area in small numbers. We encountered 4 Southern Humpback Whales close to the 5 Islands and a small group of White-fronted Terns investigated us while we were watching these.
As we laboured southeast into the sea we ran into larger numbers of Fluttering and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and an adult White-capped Albatross was among an assortment of Black-browed Albatrosses of all ages. With light rain falling and plenty of spray dousing us as we reached 50 fathoms, it took us a little while to realize that we were also in the presence of a second year GREY-HEADED ALBATROSS. These pale-headed individuals are always a challenge to pick out even in good conditions and, unfortunately, this one only passed the boat once or twice more after it had been called. A little later a similar looking first year Black-browed Albatross appeared adding some confusion but this individual had a more bicoloured bill and the typical Black-browed under wing pattern. At the 60-fathom line a newly fledged White-capped Albatross and a juvenile SHY ALBATROSS joined us. We decided to pause here for a while to appreciate the comparison and hope that the Grey-headed Albatross would reappear.
Resuming our southeasterly course, more albatross joined the following flock including several each of Campbell and Gibson’s Albatrosses but the showstopper was a first year NORTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS that followed us for about an hour! As we passed the 75-fathom line the first Pterodroma petrels were sighted, being WHITE-HEADED, nominate Great-winged and Solander’s (Providence) Petrels. Australasian Gannets and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses were shadowing a group of Short-beaked Common Dolphins.
So much was happening that we were upon the top of the continental slope before we knew it, despite the adverse conditions. With albatross everywhere and petrels circling us we elected to try berleying while holding the boat into the sea under power. Birds seemed to fly in continuously and we soon had a small flock of Diomedea albatrosses jostling for position alongside a dominant 3rd year male WANDERING ALBATROSS. The wind was easing and veering around to the east making conditions much more comfortable and the sun even began to break through the cloud cover. Birds joined us continuously. Two Cape Petrels arrived followed in succession by a first year Southern and a second year NORTHERN GIANT-PETREL. Further sightings of WHITE-HEADED, nominate Great-winged and Solander’s Petrels were made. A first year SALVIN’S ALBATROSS circled us a few times before alighting to feed alongside a juvenile White-capped Albatross giving a great opportunity to compare bill colouration and plumage details. The SHY ALBATROSS was still with us but was much less confiding. Amidst all this an adult ARCTIC TERN appeared immediately overhead and then slowly cruised south merging into the seabird throng. The numbers of Gibson’s Albatrosses increased gradually, including one that was a passable imitation of the juvenile NORTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS. It was rather amusing to see them flying alongside each other and really useful as a learning opportunity for those unfamiliar with this identification pitfall. A White-faced Storm Petrel was among the last bird to join our feeding flock before we had to begin our journey back to port.
We took the opportunity to cruise slowly along our berley trail and this provided close views of the only FAIRY PRION of the day. Setting our course back to Wollongong Harbour with a light breeze behind us under an ever-clearing sky it was wonderful to be watching so many different seabird species under such comfortable conditions. Incredibly the greatest excitement of the day appeared on our return leg in the form of a second year SOUTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS the first Wollongong record for nearly 20 years! We stopped the boat to enjoy fantastic views of this bird as it swam up to our stern with a large escort of Gibson’s and several WANDERING ALBATROSSES. As we enjoyed this spectacle a large group of Short-beaked Common Dolphins arrived and started to play around our stationary vessel. A couple of Brown Skuas also appeared and stayed with us for some time. Strangely the dolphins lost interest in us as soon as we started to move again.
This was one of those fairy-tale Wollongong Pelagic trips; starting out in tough conditions under a bleak leaden sky and ending in bright sunshine on a flat ocean. We had excellent views of an incredible total of 11 species of albatrosses with up to 9 species in view behind the boat as we berleyed. Petrel numbers were low but the variety was quite good. The SOUTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS is an extreme rarity in NSW waters and ARCTIC TERN is also a rare species for Wollongong so this adult in breeding plumage was a great highlight for many aboard.
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
080 Cape Petrel Daption capense australe 2 (2)
075 Great-winged Petrel Pterodroma m. macroptera 2 (2)
077 WHITE-HEADED PETREL P. lessoni 3 (1)
971 Solander’s Petrel P. solandri 7 (3)
083 FAIRY PRION Pachyptila turtur 1
068 Fluttering Shearwater Puffinus gavia 69 (48)
069 Wedge-tailed Shearwater P. pacificus 43 (14)
086 WANDERING ALBATROSS Diomedea exulans 4 (2) adult males
847 Gibson’s Albatross D. gibsoni 16 (12)
973 NORTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS D. sanfordi 1 first year
974 SOUTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS D. epomophora 1 second year
088 Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophrys 39 (21)
859 Campbell Albatross T. impavida 11 (8)
861 SHY ALBATROSS T. cauta 1 second year
861 White-capped Albatross T. steadi 5 (3)
862 SALVIN’S ALBATROSS T. salvini 1 first year
090 GREY-HEADED ALBATROSS T. chrysostoma 1 second year
864 Indic Yellow-nosed Albatross T.carteri 35 (25)
065 White-faced Storm-Petrel Pelagodroma marina dulciae 1
104 Australasian Gannet Morus serrator 15 (6)
106 Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicillatus 9 (8)
980 Brown Skua Catharacta lonnbergi 3 (2)
981 Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus 8 (6)
125 Silver Gull L. novaehollandiae 137 (47)
114 White-fronted tern Sterna striata 8 (5)
115 Crested Tern S. bergii 10 (5)
952 ARCTIC TERN S. paradisaea 1 adult
In the harbour:
100 Little Pied Cormorant Phalacrocorax melanoleucos 3 (2)
097 Little Black Cormorant P. sulcirostris 1
101 Australian Darter Anhinga melanogaster 1 male
106 Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicillatus 8 (6)
29 species of seabird identified outside the breakwater.
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 190+ (160+)
Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae 4 (4)