Report prepared by: P.J. Milburn.
Photographs: Campbell albatross (A. Overs); Shy albatross (A. Overs); Northern royal albatross (A. Overs).
Departed: Saturday 18th October at 21:30 and returned at 19:30 on Monday 20th October.
Sea conditions: Northerly 1.0 to 1.5 m sea overnight on Saturday and during Sunday. A weak southerly change on Sunday night flattened the sea at first, resulting in southerly 1.0 to 1.5 m seas later on Monday.
Swell: 1.0 to 2.0 m NE on Sunday and 0.5 to 1.5 m ENE on Monday.
Weather: Warm with clear skies on Sunday but cool and mostly cloudy following the southerly change on Monday.
Barometric pressure: 1021 HPa on Saturday evening rising to 1027 HPa on Monday.
Wind: NNE to 10 knots at first increasing to 15 to 18 knots by mid morning on Sunday. Overnight, southerly to 20 knots with the change but easing to S 12 to 15 knots during Monday.
Sea surface temperature: 17.3 to 20.6°C.
Primary chumming locations: S 35° 21’ – E 151° 53’, S 35° 06’ – E 151° 59’ to S 35° 19’ – E 152° 02’, S 35° 44’ – E 150° 58’ and S 35° 34’ – E 150° 50’ to S 35° 31’ – E 150° 51’.
A high-pressure system was located to the east of us in the Tasman Sea, leaving us under the influence of a warm northerly air stream on Saturday night and Sunday. A weak cold front located ahead of another high-pressure system in the Great Australian Bight reached us late on Sunday night bringing much cooler southerly breezes on Monday.
A warm water finger lay beyond the pool of cooler water immediately east of Ulladulla and we planned to visit both of these features in this order. As luck would have it, the northerly airstream favoured the presence of warm-water species on Sunday ahead of the cold front and cold-water species behind it on Monday.
Departing after dinner on a balmy evening we headed east-northeast with a gentle northerly breeze on our beam. Most aboard enjoyed a good nights sleep.
We began the log at 06:00 on Sunday morning, although prior to this flocks of Short-tailed Shearwaters migrating south were readily identified by silhouette alone. The first rarity of the trip, a LITTLE SHEARWATER, was logged at exactly 06:00 and was seen by several observers from the upper deck and the stern. Fortunately, another 2 individuals appeared less than a minute later and everybody on deck at this early hour had great views of this normally rather difficult to observe species. Coincidentally, we had reached the point of our first planned halt so began a drift-and berley session under a cloudless blue sky. Immediately, Grey-faced Petrels were around us and 2 young Black-browed Albatross appeared along with a solitary Fairy Prion. Short-tailed Shearwaters were heading south continuously in small groups but Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were so scarce that they were the objects of some excitement! Several impressive WANDERING ALBATROSS passed close by but did not stop to forage. In contrast, Wilson’s and BLACK-BELLIED STORM-PETRELS were joining the feeding flock astern in ones and twos along with both Black-browed and Campbell Albatross.
The pleasant smell of breakfast cooking wafted up from the galley but the timely appearance of a second year BLACK PETREL right alongside led everyone to forget their hunger. Then as the first egg and bacon rolls arrived, the first cookalaria petrel of the day appeared from the north and, to everyone’s immense delight, revealed itself to be a MOTTLED PETREL, perfectly illuminated in the morning sunshine. Within a minute another individual passed astern, albeit more distantly, also heading south. Most of us elected to eat breakfast on deck rather than risk missing out on any more excitement.
Approximately 65 nautical miles east of Ulladulla, we drifted in an easterly direction for three hours and added several New Zealand Cape Petrels, a Sooty Shearwater and a couple of Gibson’s Albatross to our tally. However, the sea surface temperature here was only 17.3°C and when bird activity declined we continued to head northeast for another three hours until we reached the warmer water that was our intended destination for the day.
Initially, this second leg of our voyage was a rather sombre affair with long intervals between individual bird sightings. Eventually, we encountered patches of mixing water and seabird activity increased significantly. We passed a couple of Gibson’s Albatross, another BLACK PETREL joined us and several WHITE-FACED STORM-PETRELS were observed foraging along the current lines. Just before we halted at noon to set up our final drift-and-berley session of the day we sighted a GOULD’S PETREL, a welcome omen for the afternoon.
We drifted south until dark and closed the log at 19:00, by which time we were 75 nautical miles east of Ulladulla. The afternoon was most enjoyable; spent watching a plethora of seabirds in sunny and calm conditions, veritably a photographer’s dream! The BLACK PETRELS remained with us throughout and the burgeoning flock of Grey-faced Petrels was bolstered with a smattering of Solander’s Petrels. An ANTARCTIC CAPE PETREL appeared in the afternoon and in the evening a solitary GREAT-WINGED PETREL was observed among the Grey-faced and Solander’s Petrels. A single Indic Yellow-nosed Albatross was the final species observed for the day.
After an excellent dinner, we observed a beaked whale at close quarters under the ship’s lights that remained unidentified. We were also treated to a very rare sighting of an OARFISH over 5m in length and several WHITE-FACED STORM-PETRELS. The southerly change arrived just after 23:00 bringing some light rain just as were clearing the decks for our cruise westwards, back toward the continental slope.
As dawn rose on Monday morning it was cool and cloudy but the light was still good enough to begin the log at 06:00 EDT. We started a drift –and-berley session 34 NM southeast of Ulladulla. Short-tailed Shearwaters were passing south in droves oblivious of our presence but several Grey-faced Petrels and a small group of Campbell Albatross began foraging eagerly at our stern. It did not take long for a WHITE-CHINNED PETREL to join the flock and an adult Shy Albatross was another addition to the trip species list. After breakfast we were thrilled by very close range views of 3 female Orcas. Around this time another WHITE-CHINNED PETREL had joined us and this returned our focus to watching seabirds. We were soon rewarded with the arrival of an adult NORTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS (with small black tips to the tertails) and the first ANTIPODEAN ALBATROSS of the trip.
We had drifted rapidly to the northwest and by mid morning we had already reached the edge of the continental shelf, much more quickly than we had anticipated. Rather than drift into shallow water we headed due east for an hour and, fortunately, most of the attendant flock of seabirds came with us. On this leg of our voyage we saw our first Hutton’s Shearwater and, after 18 hours of pelagic observations, we finally added a non-procellariiforme species to the trip list when an adult ARCTIC TERN flew across our wake and rapidly disappeared to the south.
At 11:30 we set up our final drift-and-berley session of the trip some 20NM east southeast of Brush Island. Both WHITE-CHINNED PETRELS were still with us along with a respectable flock of albatross. Conspicuous amongst them was a female ANTIPODEAN ALBATROSS bearing a sky blue Darvic band (number 39C) that we had encountered previously at Wollongong. Another adult NORTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS (without small black tips to the tertails) settled among the feeding flock of WANDERING, ANTIPODEAN, Gibson’s, Campbell and SHY ALBATROSS. Petrel numbers were decidedly low compared to the previous day.
The SOSSA banding team set to their task, the photographers were busily saturating their memory cards when lunch arrived and was enjoyed by all. A mood of contentment prevailed but then, at precisely 14:00, a COOK’S PETREL flew in from the east and zipped past us to starboard. Banders, photographers and snoozers alike mustered as one at the stern just in time to witness the approach of one and, then, a second intermediate morph KERMADEC PETREL. Tranquility returned once more and the afternoon drifted along with us until, eventually, it was time to head back to port.
This last leg of the cruise is always full to the brim with ironic humour as we head back to the waters over the continental shelf. Sure enough, the first Australasian Gannets were greeted with customary over enthusiasm. Short-beaked Common Dolphins were in evidence as we approached a large mixed foraging flock of seabirds. Shearwaters were numerous once more and everyone was straining to pick out the few Fluttering Shearwaters that were amongst the hordes. The approach of dusk and rainsqualls added intensity to the mood of the observers crowded on the upper deck. We finally identified an adult White-capped among the Shy Albatross, thereby almost ignoring the fact that the second NORTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS and one of WHITE-CHINNED PETRELS were still following us after so many hours. The first Crested Terns were greeted with foolish delight, a late season BROWN SKUA brought unexpected excitement and the sighting of 2 SPERM WHALES in the distance completed the party atmosphere.
Warden Head loomed large above the port bow but to our north 2 Humpback Whales were sighted, their blows backlit by a beam from the setting sun that somehow found its way through the heavy cloud and, not yet done with the seabird log, we added Great Cormorant, Silver Gull and Australian Pelican before entering Ulladulla Harbour.
Significantly, no Jeagers were recorded during the 26 hours of pelagic observation at a point in the calendar when one might reasonably expect them to be numerous in these waters.
LITTLE SHEARWATER being the first species entered into the log. BLACK, MOTTLED and GOULD’S PETREL on day one; WHITE-CHINNED, COOK’S and KERMADEC PETREL on day two; a total of six (seven if one splits Grey-faced and Great-winged Petrel) species of pterodroma for the petrel enthusiasts. Two NORTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS leading a cast of 9 species of albatross, numerous storm-petrels of 3 species and, for some, an ARCTIC TERN. ORCAS, SPERM WHALES and Humpbacks on the same day and the most unusual sighting of the trip, an OARFISH.
Birds recorded according to the latest Environment Australia Reporting Schedule:
EA code Species name 19.10.08 20.10.08
080 ANTARCTIC CAPE PETREL Daption c. capense 1 0
080 New Zealand Cape Petrel D. capense australe 8 (4) 4 (2)
075 GREAT-WINGED PETREL Pterodroma (m.) macroptera 1 0
075 Grey-faced Petrel Pterodroma (macroptera) gouldi 185 (35) 17 (3)
971 Solander’s Petrel P. solandri 6 (3) 5 (2)
922 KERMADEC PETREL P. neglecta 0 2 (1)
078 GOULD’S PETREL P. leucoptera 1 0
918 COOK’S PETREL P. cookii 0 1
919 MOTTLED PETREL P. inexpectata 2 (1) 0
083 Fairy Prion Pachyptila turtur 1 0
915 WHITE-CHINNED PETREL Procellaria aequinoctialis 0 2 (2)
917 BLACK PETREL P. parkinsoni 2 (2) 0
067 LITTLE SHEARWATER Puffinus assimilis 3 (2) 0
068 Fluttering Shearwater P. gavia 0 4 (2)
913 Hutton’s Shearwater P. huttoni 0 24 (7)
069 Wedge-tailed Shearwater P. pacificus 2 (1) 19 (12)
070 Sooty Shearwater P. griseus 2 (1) 5 (3)
071 Short-tailed Shearwater P. tenuirostris 4477 (1100) 2255 (500)
086 WANDERING ALBATROSS Diomedea exulans 5 (2) 6 (3)
846 ANTIPODEAN ALBATROSS D. antipodensis 0 6 (3)
847 Gibson’s Albatross D. gibsoni 8 (3) 57 (38)
973 NORTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS D. sanfordi 0 2 (1)
088 Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophrys 3 (1) 0
859 Campbell Albatross T. impavida 6 (2) 34 (8)
091 SHY ALBATROSS T. cauta 0 7 (2)
861 White-capped Albatross T. steadi 0 1
089 Indic Yellow-nosed Albatross T. carteri 1 0
063 Wilson’s Storm-Petrel Oceanites oceanicus 51 (21) 6 (2)
065 WHITE-FACED STORM-PETREL Pelagodroma m. dulcae 18 (7) 5 (2)
066 BLACK-BELLIED STORM-PETREL Fregetta tropica 35 (18) 0
104 Australasian Gannet Morus serrator 0 42 (8)
096 Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 0 1
106 Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicillatus 0 1
980 Brown Skua Catharacta lonnbergi 0 1
125 Silver Gull Larus novaehollandiae 0 2 (1)
115 Crested Tern Sterna bergii 0 12 (5)
952 ARCTIC TERN S. paradisaea 0 1
28 species of procellariiformes in a total of 35 species of seabird identified.
237 Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus macropus 1 male
Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae 2 (1)
SPERM WHALE Physeter macrocephalus 2 (2)
ORCA Orcinus orca 3 (3)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 19 (12)
OARFISH Regalecus glesne 1
Skipjack Tuna 26 (15)