Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report - Sat 27th March 2010
Boat: M.V.Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsefield
A weak southerly front had moved up the coast on the previous night, dropping off to virtually still conditions for much of the day. Seas and swell were less than a metre and did not change all day. The wind barely got up, only slightly from the north-east in the mid-afternoon and for much of the day the surface of the water was quite glassy. Water temperature approximately 24 degrees. A band of warmer water (> 26 degrees) was situated in a long band stretching down the east coast and was sitting about 10 nautical miles to the east of the shelf off Port Stephens.
A fantastic day at sea, with several NSW rarities recorded. There was a clear tropical influence in the birds recorded and was probably the first pelagic off NSW on which both Brown and Red-footed Boobies were recorded. Other highlights included White-bellied Storm-petrel and Tahiti Petrel.
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0720, returning at 1715.
In stark contrast to the February trip, todays pelagic was full of surprises.
A small group of Little Penguins were seen just off the heads and after passing by Boondelbah Island, the first Wedge-tailed Shearwaters came into view. Soon after we approached a band of them and it was decided to commence the days
berleying. A few Pomarine Jaegers and groups of Flesh-footed Shearwaters were also soon following the boat. A couple of Short-tailed Shearwaters whizzed past, followed by a single Sooty Shearwater seen by a few observers.
Following a smooth run out, we arrived at the shelf drop-off (32 55 00 / 152 34 47) at about 1010, just as a Solanders Petrel flew past the starboard side – the only Pterodroma for the day. Without hesitation the cod liver oil-soaked rag was dropped into the water as soon as the engines were cut. Within 5 minutes we had several Wilsons Storm-petrels in the slick, followed by a far
more confiding Fregetta Stormy that was confirmed to be a WHITE-BELLIED STORM-PETREL. This bird did not linger for long, but was seen well by all on board.
Soon after the excitement of the Stormy had dwindled a BROWN BOOBY flew in and circled the boat several times, enabling great photo opportunities. Literally as the Booby departed the cry of “TAHITI PETREL!” went out and once again, digital shutters went mad.
By this stage the breeze had dropped off completely and things went deathly quiet. Even the Wedgies were no longer showing interest in the berley. Some excitement was created when the cry of “Cookilaria!” went out, only to watch a Huttons Shearwater fly past. Good numbers of Wilsons Storm-petrels kept those on board busy shooting photos down the slick.
In fact, it remained largely quiet until it came time to head back for port (around 1340, from 32 56 23 / 152 32 39). We motored back along the slick, but saw nothing apart from the dancing Wilsons. About 2 miles west of the shelf break the cry of “stop the boat!” went out as a STREAKED SHEARWATER crossed the wake. We watched this bird for nearly 10 minutes as it remained faithful to the rear of the boat, keeping a distance of about 50-100m. Then, as it approached from the south-east, a second bird joined the first and for a while the 2 flew almost in unison before we had to drag ourselves away!
That wasnt to be the only surprise on the return leg. A large, predominantly white bird was seen flying up behind the boat and was soon “dismissed” as a Gannet. But on closer inspection we realised that we had been looking at an immature RED-FOOTED BOOBY. All on board were in awe of the fact that wed seen 2 species of Booby on the same day – so we looked in earnest for the 3rd! It
wasnt to be, and the day was rounded off by an Arctic Jaeger harassing Crested Terns near the heads.
A great day, and especially so for Hunter Region birders, with several rare birds for the region recorded.
Species: Total (maximum number around the boat at one time)
Wilsons Storm-Petrel: 20 (12)
WHITE-BELLIED STORM-PETREL: 1
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 500 (100)
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 50 (15)
Short-tailed Shearwater: 3 (1)
Sooty Shearwater 1
STREAKED SHEARWATER: 2 (2)
Huttons Shearwater: 1
Fluttering Shearwater: 2 (1)
Solanders (Providence) Petrel: 1
TAHITI PETREL: 1
Australasian Gannet: 3 (1)
BROWN BOOBY: 1
RED-FOOTED BOOBY: 1
Little Penguin: 4 (4)
Arctic Jaeger: 1
Pomarine Jaeger: 10 (2)
Crested Tern: 10 (3)
Silver Gull: 4 (4)
Common Dolphin: A pod of about 10 individuals a few miles west of the shelf.