Report prepared by: P.J. Milburn.
Photographs: Great-winged petrel (B. Whylie), Short-tailed shearwater (B. Whylie), Gibsons (Wandering) Albatross (B. Whylie), Common tern (B. Whylie).
Departed: 07:10 returned at 16:00
Sea conditions: slight at first, rising to 1.5 to 2.5m NNW by mid morning but moderating by lunchtime.
Swell: E 2.0 to 3.0 m.
Weather: Heavy rain in the morning, clearing to sunshine by mid-day but further rain periods in the afternoon.
Temperature range: 19.1 to 23.1 °C.
Barometric pressure: 1008 HPa falling.
Wind: NNE 5 knots at first, rising to NNW 20 to 25 knots by mid morning but soon moderating NNW 15 to 20 knots. By lunchtime the wind had dropped to 10 to 15 knots but increased again to 20 to 25 knots in the afternoon as the rain set in.
Sea surface temperature: 20.3 to 21.9°C.
Primary chumming location: S 34° 24’ – E 151° 18’.
A high-pressure system was moving east into the Tasman Sea as a cold front was pushing up the NSW coast ahead of a depression. Overnight, there were strong high-level northeasterly winds that generated a spectacular thunderstorm over the Illawarra escarpment as we embarked. Strong north to northeasterly winds had been forecasted for the day along with rain and thunderstorms. A late southerly change behind the front did not affect our sea conditions but may have influenced seabird distribution. The heavy rain led to low numbers of seabirds being recorded, especially inshore species.
Little Penguin was the first seabird recorded in the calm seas beyond the breakwater. Immediately inshore, small numbers of Wedge-tailed, Short-tailed and Fluttering Shearwaters were encountered. Firstly an Arctic and then a Pomarine Jaeger appeared, trying to single out one of the few Silver Gulls to harass. Beyond Wollongong Reef a solitary Hutton’s Shearwater followed us for several minutes providing unusually good views for this species. The heavy rain made observation difficult but several Sooty and Flesh-footed Shearwaters were also recorded during our cruise to the continental slope.
Fortuitously, the weather cleared as we neared deeper water and the first Great-winged Petrels of the day and a male Gibson’s Albatross appeared from the south. The clearing weather seemed to be an invitation for seabirds to approach our vessel. Amidst the shearwaters and Great-winged Petrels, a BLACK PETREL appeared and then just as quickly disappeared, being last seen alighting amidst a group of 6 Gibson’s Albatross and a female WANDERING ALBATROSS.
Conditions were easing so we elected to try a drift-and-berley session at the 200-fathom line. The numbers of Great-winged Petrels and Diomedea albatross increased rapidly as they saw our drifting vessel and closed to investigate. A sub-adult White-capped Albatross circled our vessel several times but seemed reluctant to compete with the flock of larger albatrosses, which now included two ANTIPODEAN and one likely TRISTAN ALBATROSS. One second-year male Gibson’s Albatross was particularly aggressive, even towards the larger female WANDERING ALBATROSS, and was seen to consume an incredible quantity of berley. At one point, a Great-winged Petrel attempted to grab something from in front of it so “Garbage Guts” grabbed the petrel by the head, dunked it under the surface a few times and gave it a good shaking as reminder of its status. The petrels outnumbered the shearwaters in the largest flock observed for several years but apart from two juvenile Solander’s they were all Great-winged Petrels.
Our trip back to port provided another glimpse of BLACK PETREL for several observers and further species for the trip list including an immature LONG-TAILED JAEGER and a juvenile Common Tern.
The mixed species flock of Diomedea feeding at our stern was highly entertaining while the impressively large flock of Great-winged Petrels provided the backdrop to our day.
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)
005 Little Penguin Eudyptula minor 2 (2)
073 Great-winged Petrel Pterodroma macroptera gouldi 250+ (200+)
971 Solander’s Petrel P. solandri 2 (1) both juvenile
917 BLACK PETREL Procellaria parkinsoni 2 (1)
068 Fluttering Shearwater Puffinus gavia 4 (2)
917 Hutton’s Shearwater P. huttoni 1 (1)
069 Wedge-tailed Shearwater P. pacificus 60+ (30+)
070 Sooty Shearwater P. griseus 3 (1)
071 Short-tailed Shearwater P. tenuirostris 29 (15)
072 Flesh-footed Shearwater P. carneipes 13 (8)
086 WANDERING ALBATROSS Diomedea exulans 1
845 TRISTAN ALBATROSS D. dabeneena 1
846 ANTIPODEAN ALBATROSS D. antipodensis 2 (2)
847 Gibson’s Albatross D. gibsoni 21 (16)
861 White-capped Albatross Thalassarche steadi 1
104 Australasian Gannet Morus serrator 1
096 Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
106 Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicillatus 2 (1)
128 Arctic Jaeger Stercorarius parasiticus 1
945 Pomarine Jaeger S. pomarinus 14 (11)
933 LONG-TAILED JAEGER S. longicauda 1
981 Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus 1
125 Silver Gull L. novaehollandiae 80+ (50+)
115 Crested Tern Sterna bergii 4 (2)
953 Common Tern S. hirundo 1
In the harbour:
096 Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
097 Little Black Cormorant P. sulcirostris 1
099 Pied Cormorant P. varius 1
100 Little Pied Cormorant P. melanoleucos 1
106 Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicillatus 4 (4)
115 Crested Tern Sterna bergii 1
25 species of seabird identified outside the breakwater.
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 5