Report prepared by: P.J. Milburn.
Departed: 08:10 returned at approx. 16:30.
Sea conditions: S 2.0 to 3.0m offshore.
Swell: S 2.0 to 3.0m offshore.
Weather: Overcast at first but clearing to mostly sunny.
Temperature range: 15.5 to 22.0°C.
Barometric pressure: 1020 HPa rising.
Wind: S 10 to 15kts at first, increasing to later 20 to 25kts.
Sea surface temperature: 15.2 to 19.2°C.
Primary chumming location: 34° 36’S; 151° 10’E
The sequence of trips affected by adverse weather conditions continued! A low-pressure system remained in the Tasman Sea but the high-pressure system in the Great Australian Bight had moved east overnight causing the southerly winds to ease somewhat. Daylight saving time came into force during the night so we were not totally surprised when a party of 12 overseas visitors did not appear at 07:00. By 08:15 they had still not appeared allowing a couple of lucky standby observers to join us. Our depleted but hardy contingent donned their waterproof gear and gripped the rails tightly…YET AGAIN!
Bemoaning our run of bad luck with the weather I was totally unprepared for the surprises in store for us later in the day.
We beat our now familiar southerly course into heavy seas that saw us edging out towards the continental slope. Good numbers of shearwaters were present inshore and good views were obtained of all the species present, although numbers were much lower than the previous day. Several Arctic Jaegers did a fine job in discouraging the Silver Gulls from following the boat. We were soon joined by a Black-browed and a White-capped Albatross, which set the tone for the day with seasonally good numbers of albatross in view all day.
Although the sea was heavy, the conditions were not unduly rough and after 2 hours of punching into the sea we reached the 70-fathom mark. A Cattle Egret had been observed high above us flying in from the east, presumably crossing from New Zealand. A Pomarine Jaeger and a Wilson’s Storm-Petrel had been observed and the cohort of albatross following the boat now included a Shy and an Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross. Similar to the preceding day’s trip, Australian Pelicans followed the boat until about the 60-fathom mark.
As we slowly reached deeper water bird numbers declined dramatically and by 80 fathoms only an occasional Wilson’s Storm-Petrel or Crested Tern were to be seen. As we neared the edge of the Continental Shelf the first Solander’s Petrels came into view. This was something of a milestone because bad weather had prevented us from seeing any pterodroma petrels on the previous 2 trips.
At the 100 fathom line the shout of ‘Storm-Petrels ahead!’ was heard from the upper deck. I risked a drenching and leaned over the side of the boat to look ahead; in the middle of a group of 20 or so Wilson’s Storm petrels was a GREY-BACKED STORM-PETREL. To our favourite cry of ‘stop the boat!’ I ran to the stern and began berleying in earnest. We had left the storm-petrels astern over the berley and as we turned with the sea to return to the birds a very dark petrel was observed flying towards the fish oil slick. As the bird flew directly towards us the pale face and dark body led to suggestions of Great-winged Petrel but in comparison to the Solander’s Petrels the bird was significantly smaller and proportionately much longer winged. The overall plumage was uniformly sooty blackish-brown, much darker than that of a Great-winged Petrel, and the underwings lacked any pale areas. The bird alighted on the water amidst the storm-petrels and the excitement of the GREY-BACKED STORM-PETREL was lost as I recognized the unmistakable proportions of JOUANIN’S PETREL. This observation was so unexpected on the East Coast of Australia that many on board were not immediately excited because the species isn’t in the Australian Field Guides!! After feeding briefly the bird took to the wing and flew across our stern and continued south. Good views were obtained as the bird passed the boat, the long tapering tail, long wings and slight build consistently reminiscent of a Wedge-tailed Shearwater but with a compact head and stubby black petrel bill held downwards. The bird was in fresh plumage and therefore presumed to be a juvenile.
A constant stream of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were migrating along the edge of the continental shelf so we elected to remain at this location because we were convinced further rarities would appear in their midst. Despite checking the many hundred’s of storm-petrels only White-faced Storm-Petrels were found moving with the Wilson’s. Petrel numbers were fairly low and included a couple of different Great-winged Petrels. Several LONG-TAILED JAEGERS joined the flock feeding behind the boat.
After an hour or so a juvenile SALVIN’S ALBATROSS was apparent amidst the White-capped Albatross behind the boat. This bird is rarely recorded from Wollongong although more common further south in NSW. To our amazement 2 more first year SALVIN’S ALBATROSS appeared. The three birds stayed close together amidst the White-capped and single Shy Albatross kleptoparasitising these birds in a concerted fashion. Having stolen a prize they landed on the water and formed a huddle, seemingly for mutual protection while consuming their booty.
The return cruise was much more comfortable but apart from additional SALVIN"S ALBATROSS was relatively uneventful.
An extraordinary trip! Lots of bruises from the rough conditions but such excitement. The very large numbers of migrating storm-petrels reminded us that it was spring in spite of the cold southerly conditions. A GREY-BACKED STORM-PETREL amidst the many hundreds of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels migrating south added to the wintry feel. While albatross numbers were high for the season, SALVIN’S ALBATROSS has never been recorded in groups off Wollongong previously, because it is very rarely seen in these waters. The observation of JOUANIN’S PETREL provides the kind of thrill that keeps us venturing onto the same patch of ocean year after year and causes one to forget the lumpiness of the ocean on the 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 1
075 Great-winged Petrel Pterodroma m. gouldi 4 (2)
971 Solander’s Petrel P. solandri 12 (6)
000 JOUANIN’S PETREL Bulweria fallax 1
068 Fluttering Shearwater Puffinus gavia 200+ (100+)
913 Hutton’s Shearwater P. huttoni 4 (1)
069 Wedge-tailed Shearwater P. pacificus 60+ (25+)
070 Sooty Shearwater P. griseus 1
071 Short-tailed Shearwater P. tenuirostris 320+ (150+)
072 Flesh-footed Shearwater P. carneipes 3 (2)
088 Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophrys 7 (4)
859 Campbell Albatross T. impavida 2 (1)
091 Shy Albatross T. cauta 1
861 White-capped Albatross T. steadi 18 (12)
862 SALVIN’S ALBATROSS T. salvini 6 (3)
864 Indic Yellow-nosed Albatross T. carteri 12 (7)
063 Wilson’s Storm-Petrel Oceanites oceanicus 1000+ (500+)
064 GREY-BACKED STORM-PETREL Nereis garrodia 1
065 White-faced Storm-Petrel Pelagodroma marina 23 (23)
104 Australasian Gannet Morus serrator 23 (11)
106 Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicillatus 2 (2)
980 Brown Skua Catharacta lonnbergi 3 (3)
128 Arctic Jaeger Stercorarius parasiticus 5 (3)
933 LONG-TAILED JAEGER S. longicauda 3 (2)
945 Pomarine Jaeger S. pomarinus 7 (6)
981 Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus 10 (6)
125 Silver Gull L. novaehollandiae 120+ (65+)
114 White-fronted Tern Sterna striata 4 (4)
115 Crested Tern S. bergii 19 (14)
In the harbour:
096 Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
097 Little Black Cormorant P. sulcirostris 4
099 Pied Cormorant P. varius 1
100 Little Pied Cormorant P. melanoleucos 1
106 Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicillatus 6
115 Crested Tern Sterna bergii 1
29 species of seabird identified outside the breakwater.
Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae 2 (2)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 6 (6)