Report prepared by: P. Walbridge.
Australian Fur Seal, Buller’s Albatross, Fluttering Shearwater, Australasian Gannet, White-fronted Tern, Brown Skua, P. Walbridge.
Ulladulla harbour on Saturday 18th July at 2149 hours and returned to harbour at 1900 hours on Monday 20th July.
Lindsay Smith (leader & chief bander) Janice Jenkin-Smith (organizer & whip), Darryl Mckay (assistant bander & avian pied-piper), Paul Walbridge (recorder), Brook Whylie, Nigel Jackett, Andrew Sutherland, Chris Barnes, Bill Moorhead, Jack Moorhead, Deane Lewis, Warren Martin, Anthony Overs, Daniel Mantle, Hazell Wright, Allan Wright, Nikolas Haass, Raja Stephenson, Robert Hynson, Roland, Julia, Arian, Corentin & Mahaut Seitre (family from France).
A high over central and eastern Australia with several cold fronts moving through or approaching to the south of the continent brought light to moderately strong NW winds to coastal southern New South Wales. On the first day (Sunday) wind 20 knots gusting to 25 from NW, light cloud, visibility good. Maximum air temp. in the high ‘teens’ barometric pressure 1020 hPa. Similar conditions on day two, with even less cloud cover and wind dropping down to about 10 knots still from the NW. Barometer steady at 1020 hPa.
The vessel left harbour in fairly calm conditions but shortly after daybreak of the 19th seas to 2 metres on up to 3 metre swell, gradually abating during the day. On day two much calmer conditions, with slight seas on up to a metre swell. Sea surface temperature over the two days ranging from 16.3° C to 19.2° C, N- S current out wide up to 2 knots, down to less than 1 knot closer inshore.
Primary chumming locations:
34 40.70S/151 23.60E, 34 46.97S/151 18.87E, 35 10.83S/150 48.84E, 35 14.90S/150 15.43E, 35 30.6S/150 56.94E.
For some of us, it was a case of hopping off from one vessel onto another as we had spent the whole of Saturday the 18th on a Wollongong pelagic, with the ‘Sandra K’. We gradually mustered on board the M.V. Banks and after a head count got ready for our evening meal (a slight change to the routine of previous trips but I think everyone agreed a welcome one). Lindsay and I then discussed the routine for the following day and where we should head to overnight in preparation for the next morning. There was a large but fairly weak ‘warm core eddy’ 18-21° C off the southern New South Wales coast which we wanted to stay away from so we headed ENE overnight to the Kiama Canyons.
Daybreak on the 19th found us in 1,000 fathoms of water with 25 knots of wind from the NW and uncomfortable conditions causing the vessel to roll a fair degree. Just 5 minutes into the watch at 0650 hrs, the bird of the day passed down the starboard side heading south, a White-headed Petrel, the only one of the trip and not everyone yet up on the upper deck to see it. A few more species of ‘tubenose’ were now beginning to appear either side of the vessel with nominate Great-winged Petrels and Providence Petrels representing the smaller types and small numbers of up to five species of albatross also showing, namely Gibson’s, Shy, Black-browed, Indian Yellow-nosed and the first magnificent adult Buller’s Albatross of the trip. While a few of the earlier rising souls had already eaten toast and cereal, the smell of ‘main breakfast’ was luring us down below. With the uncomfortable conditions though, the skipper decided it would be better for all, including the working crew if we motored at a leisurely one knot into the wind thus keeping food and plates on the tables!
For pretty much the rest of the morning it was mainly the usual albatross species around the vessel, with Gibson’s Albatross the most abundant, although the second adult Buller’s Albatross of the trip put in an appearance just after 0900 hrs and a juvenile Northern Giant Petrel just before it. There were still Great-winged Petrels here and there with a few Providence Petrels and the two Cape Petrels that appeared mid morning were the only ones of the trip, both being New Zealand birds D. c. australe. All the Great-winged Petrels seen close enough would appear to have been nominate P. m. macroptera. By late morning there was quite an entourage of albatross species around the boat, mainly Gibson’s (20+) but both a male and female Antipodean Albatross had arrived. By now conditions had settled a little and we all settled down for lunch either inside or for those not wanting to miss any action, outside, generally at the most popular possie down at the stern of the vessel.
The first White-fronted Terns of the trip had started to appear and just after 1300 hrs the first White-faced Storm Petrel gave brief views. One hilarious moment observed by most was mid afternoon, when all the albatrosses that were settled on the water, astern of the vessel suddenly took off in a somewhat noisy panic. A rather sinister light tan/grey shape could be seen spiralling upward directly underneath the birds, this turned out to be a mischievous young Australian Fur Seal, looking around rather bemused as it surfaced, for it’s not so amused potential playmates (see above photo, taken shortly after it had surfaced). It was a good few minutes before the birds returned to settle on the water. Later in the afternoon the first Brown Skua loomed up at the rear of the boat and the only positively identified N.Z. White-capped Albatross of the trip settled nearby on the water.
It had been a long day for most and the thought of a scrumptious evening meal with a fine red/white or other, finally got us all inside (in two shifts mind you) to discuss the days events/observations. To hear the French family Seitre in conversation was pretty full on, if you understood the French language. To be fair though, all but the youngest, Mahaut, spoke fluent English, the father Roland, I might suggest even having a local Pommy dialect! I digress however as shortly after we had all finished our evening meal the call went out to check out the ships floodlights, to view at least one White-faced Storm Petrel and several fish (probably Garfish or maybe Long Toms) under the vessels floodlights. Lindsay and I then got together for a few minutes and discussed the itinerary for the next day; all had not gone to plan, our search for ‘cold water’ had gone awry. We basically had spent the whole day in relatively warm water, just inside of the ‘eddy’ in search of cold water. It was decided that we would motor south overnight back inshore and reassess our plan of action in the morning.
Daybreak on the second morning found us just a few kilometres off of Jervis Bay, just south of Point Perpendicular, drifting south at a leisurely 1 knot in fairly calm seas, in cooler water for sure but probably just a little too close inshore. The immediate arrival of several Fluttering Shearwaters and Crested Terns indicative of that, followed by the days’ first of many Brown Skuas. After breakfast ‘chumming was resumed and a few albatrosses started to appear along with a juvenile Northern Giant Petrel and a few more Fluttering Shearwaters plus one or two Hutton’s Shearwaters and Australasian Gannets. Not long after 0800 hrs a juvenile Southern Giant Petrel the only one of the trip arrived, much to the consternation of the Northern Giant Petrel. Over the next couple of hours before we moved on, this pair put on quite a show, with a distinct dislike for each other.
Surprisingly, the smaller Northern Giant seemed to be much more of the aggressor and appeared at times to dictate when the Southern Giant could feed on the berley. Nothing much else was appearing and the arriving Silver Gulls indicated too close a proximity to land, so at 1017 hrs, after consultation with the skipper we decided to head SE back toward the Shelf-break and hopefully the elusive ‘cold water’, with a few ‘mollymawks’ and a couple of Brown Skuas in tow.
At approx. 1120 hrs we crossed the Shelf break and again started a drift shortly afterwards, the final one for the trip. A few pelagic species such as Providence Petrel started to appear again, along with one or two Shy Albatrosses, up to 10 Yellow-nosed Albatrosses and 4 Brown Skuas around the vessel at one time. Just before midday a puzzling, juvenile albatross, with a very grey head and neck appeared on the water right beside the vessel, which Lindsay with all his experience, is certain was a juvenile Grey-headed Albatross, sadly no-one ever got to see this bird in flight, not for certain anyway, so the underwing was not sighted. As quite often happens on a vessel with numerous scattered observers, when asked for notes it became apparent that not everyone was looking at the same bird. Also around this time several groups of Short- beaked Common Dolphins arrived to feed on some kind of surface fish a hundred metres or so away from the vessel, numbers eventually growing to at least a hundred or more. As is quite often the case with large numbers of cetaceans present, storm petrels, namely two White-faced Storm Petrels appeared all too briefly.
More cetaceans turned up mid afternoon in the shape of a small pod of ‘blackfish’ a few hundred metres in front of the bows and led to much conjecture but which I put down to as Long-finned Pilot Whales. For most of the day there had been one or two White-fronted Terns around the vessel, mostly young birds with their familiar triangular shaped dark upper wing coverts but also some adult birds beginning to attain their distinctive breeding head pattern. However, as the afternoon wore on it became apparent with the ever increasing presence of terns that more than one species was involved. Brook Whylie had noticed one that was different, along with a couple of other observers and obtained some good images of the bird, showing reddish legs and feet and a reddish base to the bill, which we viewed on his Canon LCD monitor. This bird turned out to be an overwintering Common Tern and not long before it was due to head for home at least one Arctic Tern circled the boat several times.
On heading back at 1530 hrs another Buller’s Albatross followed for a short distance, along with a few Black-browed, Campbell, Shy and up to nine Yellow-nosed Albatrosses. At least three Brown Skuas followed the vessel until almost dark, hovering at times just above the heads of the observers on the ‘01’ or ‘Stack’ deck.
Not necessarily having to go down below for a feed during the day, if you wanted, the crew would bring it to you on the upper deck. Watching a playful young Australian Fur Seal surfacing in the middle of feeding albatrosses and completely spooking them. Observing White-faced Storm Petrels under the ships spotlights at night. Close-up, and eyelevel views of Buller’s Albatross just behind the bow of the ship. The burgeoning interest of young Jack Moorhead in albatross (seabird) research, a future bander, maybe? On the final evening at dusk, up to three Brown Skuas hovering just above our heads, following the moving vessel.
Taxonomy as per Chistidis & Boles 2008.
19 species of Procellariiformes observed out of a total of 26 species of seabirds.
65 White-faced Storm Petrel (Pelagodroma marina) – 5+ (2)
86 Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) – 4 (2)
846 Antipodean Albatross (Diomedea antipodensis) – 5 (2)
847 Gibson’s Albatross (Diomedea gibsoni) – 61 (20+)
88 Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophris) – 40 (6)
859 Campbell Albatross (Thalassarche impavida) – 17 (3)
91 Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta) – 27 (4)
861 White-capped Albatross (Thalassarche steadi) - 1
090 Grey-headed Albatross (Thalassarche chrysostoma - 1
89 Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche carteri) – 82 (15)
931 Buller’s Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri) – 3 (1)
929 Southern Giant Petrel (Macronectes giganteus) - 1
937 Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli) – 2
80 Cape Petrel (Daption capense) - 2
68 Fluttering Shearwater (Puffinus gavial) – 23 (5)
913 Hutton’s Shearwater (Puffinus huttoni) - 3
75 Great-winged Petrel (Pterodroma macroptera – 10 (3)
77 White-headed Petrel (Pterodroma lessoni) - 1
971 Providence Petrel (Pterodroma solandri) – 31 (2)
104 Australasian Gannet (Morus serrator – 19 (3)
Brown Skua (Stercorarius antarcticus) – 11 (4)
114 White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata) – 16 (3)
953 Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) -1
952 Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) - 1
115 Crested Tern (Thalasseus bergii) – 42 (8)
125 Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae)- 23 (15)
Australian Fur Seal (Arctocephalus pusillus) - 6
Long-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala melas) – 12+
Short-beaked Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis – 100+