Location: Southport, Queensland.
Vessel: 37 ft Steber Monohull. M.V. Grinner.
Crew: Craig Newton (skipper)
Weather conditions: A high over the Great Australian Bight extended a strengthening ridge, over the lower half of the Queensland coast bringing moderate to fresh S-SE winds. Moderate cloud cover for most of the day with occasional sunny spells, with a few rain squalls moving through close to the coast, visibility very good.
Wind, light SW on leaving the Seaway, quickly veering to S-SE to 15 knots at first, then gusting to 22 knots, late morning. Max. air temperature 26° C, barometer 1016 hPa.
Sea conditions: Moderate seas on 1.5 metre swell close in, increasing to 1.5 metre seas on 2+ metre swell across the Shelf, with the sea easing somewhat at the drift point, where there was negligible current. Sea surface temps. 23.2° C at the Seaway, rising to 24.3° C at the Shelf-break and just reaching 25° C at the widest drift point.
Left the Seaway at 0600 hrs and headed ENE to the Shelf-break, reached the final drift point approx. 1.9 miles SW of the Riviera grounds at 0935 hrs. Remained there until 1230 hrs, then headed back for shore, arriving back at the Seaway at 1535 hrs, total duration of trip 9 hrs 35 mins.
After another interesting seaway crossing we sighted a concentrated fishing flock of around 150 Common Terns feeding on small baitfish. Shortly after, we encountered a trawler but this revealed nothing more than a few Crested Terns, Silver Gulls and one or two Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. With the prevailing conditions worsening it was no certainty we would get to the shelf-break so the vessel headed out steadily east at a comfortable speed. A single Pomarine Jaeger was sighted early on and small parties of Short-tailed Shearwater began to cross in front of us, heading south, the only Flesh-footed Shearwater of the day approached astern. As we approached the shelf-break a least two ‘cookilaria’ petrels crossed astern but were too distant to identify and didn’t approach the moving vessel.
On reaching the drift point and with chum being tossed over a Tahiti Petrel arrived from the south almost immediately but soon headed north and never returned. A few Wedge-tailed Shearwaters appeared and started to work the slick and after just 20 minutes at 0955 hrs two Gould’s Petrels arrived and made a few circuits around the vessel before they too worked down the slow moving slick. Shortly after, two Black-winged Petrels also appeared from downwind, from the north and for the next 3 hours became a procession of these two species, with new arrivals from the north and also birds working back up the slick and circling the vessel.
The next surprise for the day arrived shortly after, Southports first ever summer Black Petrel, usually a Spring or Autumn passage rarity, a species however becoming increasingly more frequent, this bird typically hanging around for well over an hour for a feed. This was followed at 1020 hrs by a dark phase Kermadec Petrel which also stopped and landed to pick a chum from the surface, not far from the vessel, before working down the slick. 30 minutes later the first of several Great-winged (Grey-faced) Petrels appeared and fed ravenously right at the stern of the vessel, nearly all these birds were showing a fair degree of moult. Although this species (Pterodroma.m.gouldi) is the common petrel off southern NSW in summer, that is not the case in the southern Coral Sea and we always consider Great-winged Petrels as a bonus species.
For the rest of the drift it was basically the afore-mentioned species replenishing and returning until the first of two Wilson’s Storm-Petrels arrived (not often present in December in these waters) and then the bird of the day at 1200 hrs, a resplendent White-necked Petrel which circled the vessel, briefly. We headed for home with new birds still appearing and on crossing back over the Shelf, more Gould’s, Black-winged Petrels, Short-tailed and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and a lone Fluttering Shearwater were sighted.
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel – 2 (1)
Black Petrel – 1
Wedge-tailed Shearwater – 64 (30)
Flesh-footed Shearwater – 1
Short-tailed Shearwater – 181 (70)
Fluttering Shearwater – 1
Tahiti Petrel – 1
Kermadec Petrel – 1
Great-winged Petrel – 7 (2)
Gould’s Petrel – 25 (3)
White-necked Petrel – 1
Black-winged Petrel – 8 (2)
Pomarine Jaeger – 2 (1)
Common Tern – 150
Crested Tern – 53 (40)
Silver Gull – 15 (12)