Report prepared by: P.J. Milburn.
Departed: 07:15 returned at 16:00.
Sea conditions: to 0.5m S at first, rising to 1.5m SE by mid-morning and to 2.0m SW in the afternoon.
Swell: 2.0 to 3.0m SSE.
Weather: mostly clear at first, with cloud building and heavy showers developing during the day but with sunny periods interspersed.
Temperature range: 19.4 to 23.1°C.
Barometric pressure: 1026 falling.
Wind: SW to 10 kts at first, SE to 15 kts by mid morning but easing and veering ENE 10 kts.
Sea surface temperature: 22.8°C to 24.0°C.
Primary chumming location: S 34° 33’ – E 151° 20’.
Late autumn is an unpredictable period for pelagic birding in NSW waters. The transition between winter and summer creates conditions that may produce an unbelievable mixture of pelagic species or, alternatively, a barren ocean. At times the very slowest days seem to provide the rarest sightings. This season always provides a good opportunity to see unusual bird and cetacean species for the region.
The preceding weather patterns had been dominated by a very stable anticyclone centred just to the south of Tasmania that had directed a southerly airflow up the NSW coastline. The water conditions were still those of summer and more than one of us had an instinct that we would be in for an interesting day. The morning was mild and partially overcast as we left the harbour. The ocean was glassy calm but corrugated by a southerly swell. The weather forecast was for early southerly breezes with a shift to the northeast during the day. As predicted, a southerly breeze picked up shortly after leaving the harbour making the going in an easterly direction a little uncomfortable.
Once again the Silver Gulls were in the mood to follow us and, with only a few late season Pomarine Jeagers to bother them, followed us beyond the edge of the continental shelf. Flesh-footed, Short-tailed and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were present in good numbers during our journey east to the continental slope.
At the edge of the continental shelf seabird numbers increased significantly and an early Brown Skua indulged itself and us by chasing several Silver Gulls. Upon encountering a White-faced Storm Petrel we stopped the boat to set up a berley trail. Immediately, we attracted about 20 Solander’s Petrels to the boat and a Great-winged Petrel was amongst them. All of these petrels were in stunning fresh plumage and the approach from the north of a narrow-winged petrel in worn plumage attracted my immediate attention. Several yells of "look at this petrel" later, all on board were looking at a MURPHY’S PETREL cruising over the berley trail at a distance of less than 30 m! The diagnostic underwing pattern was clearly visible in the near perfect conditions and the presence of both Solander’s and Great-winged Petrel provided useful comparison. Unfortunately, the bird had seen enough of us in its first pass and did not return.
Resuming our journey east, we had barely been under way for 5 minutes when a BULLER’S SHEARWATER joined us from the northeast. This bird quartered the boat and gave us very good views before it disappeared once more to the east. Underway again and in high spirits it seemed that in no time at all I was forced to spill my carton of milk by the rapid approach of a TAHITI PETREL from the southwest. This bird was in much fresher plumage than the bird observed on the March 22nd trip and although it stayed somewhat in the distance very good views were obtained in the ideal conditions for about a minute.
At the 200-fathom line we encountered another BULLER’S SHEARWATER in slightly brighter plumage than the previous bird, which followed us for the best part of 3 hours providing photographic opportunities.
Another berleying session at the 400-fathom line attracted several Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and another Great-winged Petrel but, overall, bird numbers had dropped significantly. Consequently, we decided to return to the productive zone just outside the edge of the continental shelf.
Our return trip yielded little in terms of additional seabird species but, in contrast to our outward journey, we encountered a number of cetaceans and a Striped Marlin loafing on the surface in the 150-fathom zone. Several miles offshore we found a current line that contained amongst other things several foraging Little Penguin.
Very good views of a TAHITI PETREL and a MURPHY’S PETREL in worn plumage were the peak excitement of the day’s birdwatching, with a snapshot view of MINKE WHALE providing equal excitement for the cetacean aficionados. Although BULLER’S SHEARWATER is considered an uncommon summer visitor to Wollongong waters it has been over 18 months since the last record and, consequently, it was great to see at least 2 individuals one of which followed the boat for half the day! The MURPHY’S PETREL is the second record for the Wollongong Pelagic Trip (previously observed in October) and the MINKE WHALE was the third record.
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 4 (3)
073 Great-winged Petrel Pterodroma macroptera gouldi 3 (1)
971 Solander’s Petrel P. solandri 39 (24)
000 MURPHY’S PETREL Pterodroma ultima 1
920 TAHITI PETREL Pseudobulweria rostrata 1
069 Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus 131 (65)
071 Short-tailed Shearwater P. tenuirostris 21 (6)
072 Flesh-footed Shearwater P. carneipes 54 (12)
975 BULLER’S SHEARWATER P. bulleri 2 (1)
063 Wilson’s Storm-Petrel Oceanites oceanicus 3 (2)
065 White-faced Storm-Petrel Pelagodroma marina 2 (1)
104 Australasian Gannet Morus serrator 9 (3)
106 Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicillatus 8 (8)
945 Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus 5 (2)
980 Brown Skua Catharacta lonnbergi 1
981 Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus 8 (8)
125 Silver Gull L. novaehollandiae 245 (125)
115 Crested Tern Sterna bergii 6 (3)
In the harbour:
097 Little Black Cormorant Phalacrocorax sulcirostris 1
100 Little Pied Cormorant P. melanoleucos 2
106 Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicillatus 2
115 Crested Tern Sterna bergii 2
18 species of seabird identified outside the breakwater.
207 Sooty Oystercatcher Haematopus fuliginosus 2 (2)
MINKE WHALE Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus truncatus 12 (12)
Risso’s Dolphin Grampus griseus 9 (9)