Report prepared by: P.J. Milburn.
Photos: Coral spawn (L.Smith), Light-mantled sooty albatross (P. Milburn).
Departed: 07:15 returned at 16:00 EST
Sea conditions: Calm at first with a slight easterly sea to 0.5m later.
Swell: 3 to 4 m ENE.
Weather: Bright sunshine.
Temperature range: 18.6 to 24.2°C.
Barometric pressure: 1008 HPa in the morning rising to 1013HPa in the afternoon.
Wind: calm at first with a light breeze 5 to 8 knots from the east developing during the day.
Sea surface temperature: 18.4 to 20.5°C.
Primary chumming location: S 34° 29’ – E 151° 21’.
A low-pressure cell in the Tasman Sea had generated onshore winds and torrential rain during the preceding week. A trough had extended from Northern Australia to form a second but weak cell that was centred off the southern NSW coast, near Wollongong. This resulted in a glorious day for birdwatching at sea with blue skies and light easterly airs. With both a calm surface and a large but comfortable swell, conditions would be ideal for observing cetaceans as well.
Immediately outside the breakwater, terns and shearwaters were foraging over large fish shoals. Several Southern Humpback Whales were with calves heading south and we were soon watching what appeared to be lessons in how to breach and slap one’s tail on the surface of the ocean. Large numbers of shearwaters provided quite a spectacle as well as good views of individual species for visitors from overseas. Short-beaked Common Dolphins and Little Penguins were observed foraging in this area also.
As we crossed a water interface at the 40-fathom line we moved into cooler water and left all of the activity behind us. We cruised due east to the edge of the Continental Shelf and observed our first Pomarine Jaeger of the spring but nothing else of note. Cruising into deeper water, we encountered marked currents that had collected dense ribbons of bright pink coral spawn. Over these currents, several Solander’s Petrels and a young Gibson’s Albatross greeted us. We elected to try a drift-and-berley session in the calm conditions and soon attracted a number of petrels and a few more Gibson’s Albatross. The serenity of morning was broken in no uncertain terms when it was realised that another incoming pale-backed albatross was in fact a LIGHT-MANTLED SOOTY ALBATROSS. The bird was in its second year and its nape and mantle were rather bleached. After circling us for about five minutes the bird skied gracefully up to our stern!
The return cruise was very pleasant in the hot afternoon sunshine and Flesh-footed Shearwater, Arctic Jaeger and White-fronted Tern were added to the list of species observed for the day.
There is no doubt that the birding highlight was the protracted views of the LIGHT-MANTLED SOOTY ALBATROSS. Another highlight was the release of a rehabilitated adult Sooty Tern that had come ashore in the storms during the week. After taking to the wing by itself, the bird towered up to about 200m and then flew rapidly NNE.
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 14 (12)
971 Solander’s Petrel P. solandri 22 (14)
068 Fluttering Shearwater Puffinus gavia 160+ (50+)
917 Hutton’s Shearwater P. huttoni 17 (14)
069 Wedge-tailed Shearwater P. pacificus 1000+ (750+)
070 Sooty Shearwater P. griseus 2 (1)
071 Short-tailed Shearwater P. tenuirostris 7 (3)
072 Flesh-footed Shearwater P. carneipes 3 (2)
847 Gibson’s Albatross Diomedea gibsoni 4 (3)
859 Campbell Albatross Thalassarche impavida 3 (2)
093 Light-mantled Sooty Albatross Phoebetria palpebrata 1 second year bird
063 Wilson’s Storm-Petrel Oceanites oceanicus 3 (2)
104 Australasian Gannet Morus serrator 4 (4)
099 Pied Cormorant Phalacrocorax varius 1
106 Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicillatus 7 (4)
945 Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus 5 (3)
128 Arctic Jaeger S. parasiticus 4 (2)
981 Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus 11 (8)
125 Silver Gull L. novaehollandiae 125+ (85+)
114 White-fronted tern Sterna striata 2 (1)
115 Crested Tern S. bergii 100+ (25)
953 Common Tern Sterna hirundo 10 (3)
In the harbour:
100Little Pied Cormorant Phalacrocorax melanoleucos 1
096 Great Cormorant P. carbo 3
106 Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicillatus 4
23 species of seabird identified outside the breakwater.
Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae 8 (3)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 35 (20)