Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report - Sun 28th March 2010
Boat: M.V.Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsefield
Overnight a breeze had started pushing from the north-east and this strengthened literally as we passed through the heads. By midday it had reached 15 knots and was closer to 20 knots by the time we had arrived back at port. Seas around 1-1.5m on a swell of 1-2m. The band of warmer water was still situated just to the to the east of the shelf and judging by the species that we had seen the day before, it was having a strong influence on the composition of birds in the area.
Another amazing day, clearly dominated by the record of a single New Zealand Storm-petrel – the first sighting for Australia (but only just!). Other highlights included a Common Noddy and a very distant Goulds Petrel or two. Wilsons Storm-petrels were in good numbers.
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0710, returning at 1655.
Heading for the shelf we had the customary Wedge-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwaters accompany the boat, along with the occasional Short-tailed and 2 Sooties. A huge Leatherback Turtle surfaced about 20 metres away from the boat, showing well the ridges along the back of its carapace.
Just before we arrived at our drift point just beyond the shelf drop-off (32 55 45 / 152 33 52) we started noticing our first Wilsons Storm-petrels. Here we also saw our first Solanders Petrel and our only Great-winged (Grey-faced) Petrel for the day. A busy start – time to get that cod liver rag in the water!
As reasonably expected we soon had a tribe of Wilsons Storm-petrels in the slick. However, it was generally very quiet with no new birds added for the first hour after the boats engine was cut. This was until a very hungry Huttons Shearwater arrived and remained faithful to the boat for nearly 30 minutes, coming right up to the back of the boat to feed on the scraps. A distant
Cookilaria arcing up spectacularly was probably a Goulds Petrel but was too far way to call.
At about a quarter past midday, Michael Kearns announced the arrival of a “Storm-petrel with a white belly”. Instantly everyone was attempting to get onto the bird, either with binoculars or a camera lens. The bird clearly had trailing legs behind the tail, but most distinctly it possessed obvious dark streaking on the flanks and belly. When Allan Richardson showed Richard Baxter
an image of the bird on the back of his camera Richard said calmly “it looks like a New Zealand.”
It seemed like an eternity until the bird did return to a point about 50m downwind of the boat, from where it worked its way further away from the stern. Frustratingly it never approached the boat any closer. This bird caused a really buzz on the boat, and with good reason, as we were indeed witnessing the first Australian record of a NEW ZEALAND STORM-PETREL. A vain effort was made
to relocate the bird by motoring back along the slick as we departed the shelf break at 1325 (32 57 10 / 152 32 34).
About an hour into the bumpy and wet return leg (and soon after seeing what looked like a Striped Marlin jumping), a COMMON NODDY appeared in the wake, adding to the suite of warm water species that we had found over the weekend. Another fleeting Cookilaria was confirmed as a GOULDS PETREL, though few people on board got good views as the bird disappeared rapidly over the horizon.
Although we didnt have the diversity that we had the day before, today will be remembered as a remarkable day on which Australias first New Zealand Storm-petrel was seen (incredibly, less than 24 hours before a 2nd bird was observed about 35 miles off Ulladulla – confirmed by photographs to be a different bird to ours).
Species: Total (maximum number around the boat at one time)
Wilsons Storm-Petrel: 80 (40)
NEW ZEALAND STORM-PETREL: 1
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 600 (150)
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 60 (20)
Short-tailed Shearwater: 10 (2)
Sooty Shearwater 2 (1)
Huttons Shearwater: 3 (1)
Solanders (Providence) Petrel: 4 (1)
Great-winged (Grey-faced) Petrel: 1
GOULDS PETREL: 1 (poss. 2)
Australasian Gannet: 6 (2)
Arctic Jaeger: 2 (1)
Pomarine Jaeger: 15 (4)
COMMON NODDY: 1
Crested Tern: 8 (3)
(+ Eastern Osprey at Nelson Bay)
Common Dolphin: Two pods. One of <10, the other of up to 20 all swimming in
Marlin sp. (probably Striped): 1
Leatherback Turtle: 1