Port Stephens Pelagic - Sat 27th Feb 2010
VESSEL: M.V.Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsefield
Gentle nor-east winds were the order of the day, never at any point making the trip uncomfortable, peaking at about 10 knots in the early morning. This had been typical of the lead-up weather, with the winds settling later in the week. Seas were slight on a swell of about 1.5 to 2m.
It’s a sad day when the only real highlight wasn’t able to be identified. About an hour or so into the first drift at the shelf, a Fregetta-type Storm-Petrel was seen briefly before disappearing. A few minutes later it reappeared in the slick, but with the sun directly behind the bird the light was abominable. Key features such as the belly and feet projection were not seen well by anyone on
board and amazingly, no decent photographs were able to assist us post pelagicum.
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0700, returning at about 1630.
This was the “maiden pelagic” trip for the Argonaut and all aboard agreed that the vessel would be suitable for future pelagic birding trips. This is very promising, as interest in these trips has been astounding. Unfortunately, the birds let the side down on this occasion. This was particularly disappointing for those on board who were all aware of the incredible pelagic trips the
weekend before off Southport and Eaglehawk (and Sydney a few weeks before that). To add to the excitement, one of the biggest game-fishing tournaments was being held off Port Stephens the same weekend, and it was possible that boats would have been burleying for sharks, potentially attracting more birds to the area for us to look at.
Before we’d even left the heads we’d seen about 250 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters attending a fishing trawler. Two Pomarine Jaegers were also seen in the port. A small flock of Short-tailed Shearwaters were seen amongst the Wedgies close to
Boondelbah Island and at about 3 miles out we encountered our first Flesh-footed Shearwaters and a single Arctic Jaeger.
We arrived at the shelf drop-off at about 1030 and headed an extra half mile off to commence a drift. Apart from the chicken mince, fish oil and pilchard mix, the customary rag soaked in cod liver oil was also set to create a slick. Within a minute of cutting the engine the first Great-winged (Grey-faced) Petrel appeared and there were to be a small number of these birds present
during our time in deep water.
A Wilson's Storm-Petrel was seen soon after and another Pomarine Jaeger came in for a look. After about an hour Martin Cachard alerted everyone to a Stormy with a white belly. This bird disappeared in front of the bow before returning a few minutes later. It was soon obvious that we were looking at a Fregetta-type bird but the light was very much against us and unfortunately
no-one could manage sufficient views of the critical features to be bale to confirm it was either White-bellied or Black-bellied. The season would suggest the former. We decided to run the boat up the edge of the slick but alas the bird was not seen again.
A single Crested Tern flew over the boat to break the monotony of Wedgies and Fleshies before a passing Hutton’s Shearwater made cause for some excitement (anything with white on it was causing some excitement by this stage).
With the slight nor-east winds providing a bit of lift for the birds on the way back in, the punters enjoyed some of the more game Shearwaters virtually hovering over the stern of the boat. After the 3 hour motor back to port, a single Australasian Gannet was seen in the vicinity of Boondelbah Island and provided the only addition to the day’s list for the return trip. Within the heads a Peregrine Falcon was seen giving a bit of curry to a Whistling Kite and a single Little Penguin rounded out what was essentially a very disappointing day from a diversity perspective.
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel: 1
Unidentified Storm-Petrel sp. (Fregetta sp.): 1
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 600 (100) (about 250 near the boat inshore)
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 300 (40)
Short-tailed Shearwater: 10 (10)
Hutton’s Shearwater: 1
Great-winged (Grey-faced) Petrel: 8 (4)
Australasian Gannet: 1
Little Penguin: 1 (inshore)
Arctic Jaeger: 3 (1)
Pomarine Jaeger: 12 (3)
Crested Tern: 3 (2)
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins: A single, acrobatic pod of about 10 individuals
at the shelf.