Report prepared by: P.J. Milburn.
Departed: 07:20 returned at 15:00 EST
Sea conditions: Calm at first but SW to 1m soon after we left port building to S 1.5 to 2m later.
Swell: 1.5m ESE offshore.
Weather: Warm winter sunshine with some patchy cloud developing later in the day. Temperature range: 13.0 to 20.5°C.
Barometric pressure: 1016 HPa steady in the morning rising to 1018 HPa in the afternoon.
Wind: SW 10 knots at first veering to SSW 15 knots by mid morning, then veering E 5 to 10 knots but settling finally to S 10 to 15 knots by lunchtime.
Sea surface temperature: 16.1 to 20.6°C. Primary chumming locations: S 34° 22’ – E 151° 21’.
A weak anticyclone was located offshore in the Tasman Sea and had been predicted to generate weak onshore SE to NE airflow. Overnight however a cold air mass moving north into southern New South Wales had built into a weak ridge of high pressure that generated unstable conditions along the coast. We left the harbour in pleasant conditions and immediately were seeing small numbers of shearwaters. A Southern Giant-Petrel and several adult Black-browed Albatross were feeding on Giant Cuttlefish (Sepia aparma) over Wollongong Reef. Soon we were among hundreds of Fluttering Shearwaters with groups of Hutton’s Shearwaters among them. Only three miles offshore in 18 fathoms of I drew attention to a manx-type shearwater as loudly as I could. Of course it was among both Hutton’s and Fluttering Shearwaters and I’m not sure how many people saw it as it passed our stern heading north at less than 40m. From a ventral view the bird was identical to a Manx Shearwater but from the rear the bird showed striking white lateral rump patches characteristic of NEWELL’S SHEARWATER.
We cruised east in uncomfortable conditions as the warm currents from the north pushed into the southerly sea. Albatross numbers were well down on the previous week and we were pleased to see our first Indic Yellow-nosed Albatross at a strong current line in 65 fathoms of water. Several Solander’s Petrels and a New Zealand Cape Petrel were also present and we dared to take the early appearance of these petrels as a sign of good things to come. Those facing the bow observed a Humpback Whale breach ahead of us.
A nautical mile or so inside the edge of the Continental Shelf several WHITE-HEADED PETRELS passed in succession, heading north. Then at the 100-fathom line, the nominal interface between the Shelf and Slope of the Continent, things became very exciting as has happened so many times before. Petrels began appearing all around the vessel, including several more White-headed Petrels and additional Cape and Great-winged Petrels. Amid the incoming Solander’s Petrels was an intermediate morph KERMADEC PETREL, whose presence elicited ribald cheering from the top deck! The bird circled us several times and, in a most unusual turn of events, alighted on the water. It allowed us to approach to about 40m before it took flight again and several photographs were obtained. It was then harried by a WHITE-HEADED PETREL and departed.
We elected to drift and berley at this point and recovering slightly from the excitement identified Gibson’s, White-capped and Campbell Albatross. Petrels were all around us and sharp eyes on the upper deck found another rarity that was identified as a WESTLAND BLACK PETREL, which had somehow sneaked right upon us unobserved but was unmistakable at less than 10m from our stern! Almost unnoticed, a large pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins came to investigate us. The cruise back to port was quiet by comparison even though many of the species we had observed already were recorded. A Northern Giant-Petrel and a White-fronted Tern were the only additions to the species list for the day. The numbers of Fluttering and Hutton’s Shearwaters had increased during the day and very large numbers were present offshore almost into the harbour. Despite frenetic searching no other shearwater species were observed among them.
The day began with excitement in the form of a NEWELL’S SHEARWATER (the second recorded on a Wollongong Pelagic trip) that was among the coastal shearwater hordes. After a conspicuous absence during most of the winter a stunning mixture of petrels was recorded; eight species to be exact including WHITE-HEADED, KERMADEC and WESTLAND BLACK PETREL (the first record since 1998).
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 4 (1)
937Northern Giant-Petrel M. halli 1
080 Cape Petrel Daption capense australe 3 (3)
073 Great-winged Petrel Pterodroma m. macroptera 12 (5)
073 Great-winged Petrel P. macroptera gouldi 3 (1)
077 WHITE-HEADED PETREL P. lessoni 9 (1)
971 Solander’s Petrel P. solandri 20 (10)
922 KERMADEC PETREL P. neglecta 1 intermediate morph
916 WESTLAND BLACK PETREL Procellaria westlandica 1
068 Fluttering Shearwater Puffinus gavia 3 000+
917 Hutton’s Shearwater P. huttoni 150+
069 Wedge-tailed Shearwater P. pacificus 221 (75)
000 NEWELL’S SHEARWATER P. newelli 1
847 Gibson’s Albatross Diomedea gibsoni 3 (2)
088 Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophrys 6 (3)
859 Campbell Albatross T. impavida 6 (3)
861 White-capped Albatross T. steadi 3 (2)
864Indic Yellow-nosed Albatross T.carteri 14 (3)
104 Australasian Gannet Morus serrator 11 (4)
106 Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicillatus 4 (3)
980 Brown Skua Catharacta lonnbergi 3 (1)
981 Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus 7 (5)
125 Silver Gull L. novaehollandiae 150+ (70+)
114 White-fronted tern Sterna striata 1
115 Crested Tern S. bergii 16 (7)
In the harbour:
100Little Pied Cormorant Phalacrocorax melanoleucos 1
097 Little Black Cormorant P. sulcirostris 1
106 Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicillatus 3
115 Crested Tern Sterna bergii 2
24 species of seabird identified outside the breakwater.
Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae 3 (1)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 80+ (75+)