Report prepared by: P.J. Milburn
Photographs: Goulds petrel (P.J. Milburn), Solanders (Providence) petrel (P.J. Milburn), Great-winged (Grey-faced) petrel (P.J. Milburn), Wandering albatross (P.J. Milburn), Wilsons storm-petrel (P.J. Milburn).
Departed: Saturday 5th April at 21:30 and returned at 21:00 on Monday 7th April 2008.
Sea conditions: Gentle southerly seas to 1 m throughout.
Swell: southwest to southeast, 0.5 to 1.5 m.
Weather: Warm with largely cloudy skies for the entire trip. A shower or two on Monday.
Barometric pressure: 1030 HPa steady.
Wind: S 8 to 10 knots overnight peaking at 10 to 12 knots in the afternoons.
Sea surface temperature: 21.2 to 22.5°C.
Primary chumming locations: S 35° 21’ – E 151° 54’, S 35° 04’ – E 152° 06’, S 34° 48’ – E 152° 00’and S 35° 18’ – E 150° 58’ to S 35° 01’ – E 151° 29’.
A slow moving high-pressure system was located to our southeast in the southern Tasman Sea that generated a gentle southerly air stream for the duration of the voyage. Strong westerly winds prior to our departure had flattened the swell to next to nothing. A warm water core was located to the south with a weak upwelling to the north so our plan was simple; head east!
Departing after dinner on a balmy evening a number of us stood at the bow and enjoyed looking at all the luminescent creatures disturbed by both the bow wave and small pods of Short-beaked Common Dolphins, which cruised with us for several miles. Numerous Australasian Gannets were forced into last minute take off as we rudely disturbed their slumber.
On the first morning we began recording observations just prior to 06:00 and the first bird identified positively was a TAHITI PETREL, which crossed before our bow. Several Flesh-footed Shearwaters were logged before the stroke of 06:00 and then a dark morph KERMADEC PETREL closed on our port quarter and then swung down the port side passing us astern. Fortunately we were able to alert the early risers that had assembled on the after deck in time and they were treated to splendid views at close range. As planned the previous evening, we shut down the engines at 06:00 and began a drift-and-berley session. At almost the same moment an animated school of Skipjack Tuna appeared with a Striped Marlin in hot pursuit. Then the first of many GOULD’S PETRELS flew under the bow, resulting in a general wake-up call; this was no time for beauty sleep!
Approximately 70 nautical miles due east of Ulladulla with the sea surface temperature at 21.9°C, we drifted in a westerly direction for seven hours recording numerous Grey-faced, Solander’s and GOULD’S PETRELS along with a solitary WHITE-NECKED PETREL. An adult Indic Yellow-nosed Albatross was greeted with enthusiasm but continued on its journey with barely a second glance in our direction. Wilson’s Storm-Petrels arrived, initially in small numbers, but over several hours as the flock increased in magnitude they were joined by several WHITE-FACED STORM PETRELS. Individual Campbell, SHY and White-capped Albatross (all moulting adults) were recorded along with a smattering of Wedge-tailed, Short-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwaters during the drift. The lunch bell cleared the decks of all but the most manic of observers who were rewarded with the only sighting of RED-TAILED TROPICBIRD for the trip. Flesh-footed Shearwaters were noticeable absentees after mid-morning.
After a delicious lunch, we elected to cruise northeast in search of patches of warmer water. At first this seemed no more than a random act because seabird density decreased markedly but the observation of an immature WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRD resting on the water restored faith in the proceedings. Two petrels were observed high above our vessel that performed a routine resembling courtship flight, which were subsequently identified as dark morph SOFT-PLUMAGED PETRELS. At the eastern boundary of the warmer water we found 2 adult WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRDS so we decided to stop and drift from this point. The day drew to a graceful close with a magnificent sunset and, in the twilight, an adult BULLER’S ALBATROSS appeared astern at the final curtain call.
We had obtained our monies worth before breakfast on this first day, so the prospects for the second day were that it would at least be one of relaxation. It was the new moon, so in spite of the clear skies, numerous Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were attracted to the lights of the vessel shortly after dark. Well into the evening WHITE-FACED STORM PETRELS appeared and, long after those with a sense of reason were soundly asleep, GOULD’S PETRELS began bathing in the pool of light astern. At least 2 WHITE-BELLIED STORM-PETRELS joined the light–fixated group astern and this planted the seeds of a plan for the following morning……..
At 05:30 on Monday morning not a bird was to be seen but in the light of the observations of the previous evening we began to lay a slick of tuna oil. During the night we had drifted NNE and we were now 94 nautical miles east of Kiama. A school of Frigate Mackerel were alongside, perhaps they had been attracted to the ship’s lights. Grey-faced and GOULD’S PETRELS were the first birds to investigate us along with several Wilson’s Storm-Petrels. The tension was building as we waited but thankfully, after less than an hour, 2 WHITE-BELLIED STORM-PETRELS flew downwind onto the berley trail.
After breakfast we began our journey back to port and enjoyed a continuation of sightings along the lines of the previous day. GOULD’S PETRELS were in view almost continuously and shortly after 09:00 we encountered another WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRD. A very large Indo-Pacific Blue Marlin was observed slashing at something on the surface and a Short Sunfish was barely troubled by our presence, as it seemed to slide past on our starboard side. By mid morning the density of GOULD’S PETRELS peaked, with 21 being logged between 10:00 and 11:00am.
As we headed closer to the continental shelf the overall number of seabirds increased, especially Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, and the first Diomedea albatross of the trip joined us. Being a juvenile its identity was the cause for some speculation at first but from its structure it appeared to be a Gibson’s Albatross. Just before noon we bore down on a BLACK PETREL resting on the water but, unfortunately, it only those at the prow that witnessed it fly away. All aboard were straining to relocate the bird amidst the following flock of seabirds but to no avail. Proceedings had calmed down completely when in a confusing moment another BLACK PETREL was visible form the bow while synchronously a WHITE-CHINNED PETREL was astern. Further effort at relocation proved fruitless once again.
We stopped to set up a drift-and-berley session at lunchtime, a meal that was eaten on deck in order not to miss anything. This proved to be a good strategy because almost all on board were treated to close up views of a WHITE-BELLIED STORM-PETREL and another BLACK PETREL. Another challenging diomedea albatross closed upon us and after some debate at the time the photographs have confirmed that it was a female WANDERING ALBATROSS.
Resuming the voyage back to port, the afternoon unfolded into a new chapter with several KERMADEC PETRELS being recorded. A solitary Pomarine Jaeger in full breeding dress flew into the seabird flock astern never to be seen again! The Wedge-tailed Shearwaters became far more participatory and the SOSSA banding team swung into action. Among those captured were several birds that had been banded originally at Wollongong.
During the last hour of daylight several more albatross joined the following seabird flock. Fluttering Shearwaters and a single Crested Tern were observed in the light from the ship as we approached the coast in darkness.
Twenty-four hours of observations over deep water provided wonderful entertainment for the pelagic seabird enthusiasts on board right from the very first bird identified, a TAHITI PETREL. GOULD’S PETRELS were in view practically throughout the trip and there was no shortage of excitement as new birds were added to the trip list. For these reasons it is impossible to summarise the highlights without rewriting the whole report.
Birds recorded according to the latest Environment Australia Reporting Schedule:
EA code Species name 06.04.08 07.04.08
075 Grey-faced Petrel Pterodroma macroptera gouldi 118 (22) 82 (17)
971 Solander’s Petrel P. solandri 30 (2) 38 (5)
922 KERMADEC PETREL P. neglecta 1 4 (1)
076 SOFT-PLUMAGED PETREL P. mollis 2 (2) 0
774 WHITE-NECKED PETREL P. cervicalis 1 0
078 GOULD’S PETREL P. leucoptera 91 (5) 95 (8)
920 TAHITI PETREL Pseudobulweria rostrata 1 0
915 WHITE-CHINNED PETREL Procellaria aequinoctialis 0 1
917 BLACK PETREL P. parkinsoni 0 3 (1)
068 Fluttering Shearwater Puffinus gavia 0 2 (1)
069 Wedge-tailed Shearwater P. pacificus 109 (23) 289 (64)
071 Short-tailed Shearwater P. tenuirostris 1 3 (1)
072 Flesh-footed Shearwater P. carneipes 18 (3) 15 (5)
086 WANDERING ALBATROSS Diomedea exulans 0 1
847 Gibson’s Albatross D. gibsoni 0 4 (2)
859 Campbell Albatross Thalassarche impavida 1 3 (1)
931 BULLER’S ALBATROSS T. bulleri 1 0
091 SHY ALBATROSS T. cauta 2 (1) 4 (4)
861 White-capped Albatross T. steadi 1 0
089 Indic Yellow-nosed Albatross T. carteri 1 0
063 Wilson’s Storm-Petrel Oceanites oceanicus 40 (5) 110 (56)
065 WHITE-FACED STORM-PETREL Pelagodroma m. dulciae 7 (2) 1
944 WHITE-BELLIED STORM-PETREL Fregetta grallaria 2 (1) 3 (2)
107 RED-TAILED TROPICBIRD Phaethon rubricauda 1 0
108 WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRD P. lepturus 3 (2) 1
104 Australasian Gannet Morus serrator 2 (1) 1
945 Pomarine Jaeger S. pomarinus 0 1
115 Crested Tern Sterna bergii 0 1
23 species of procellariiformes in a total of 28 species of seabird identified.
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 16 (16)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 16 (7)
Short Sunfish Mola ramsayi 1
Skipjack Tuna Katsuwonus pelamis 50+ (50+)
Frigate Mackerel Auxis thazard 30+ (30+)
Striped Marlin Tetrapturus audax 1
Indo-Pacific Blue Marlin Makaira mazara 1