Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report - Sun 11th July 2010
Boat: M.V.Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsefield
Despite forecasts predicting offshore winds at dawn, we were greeted by a moderate north-easterly wind as we passed through the heads. Conditions were sloppy due to the wave period being at around 3 second intervals, though only around 1m to 1.5m. A stiff northerly wind was the order of the day and this combined with the constant swell turned a couple of people on board a shade of green. Conditions were great for pelagic birds however and we were treated to a good attendance of birds all day.
The numbers of Fairy Prion around the back of the boat kept cameras clicking all day, as did a good number of White-faced Storm-petrels. The star of the day though, was a Black-bellied Storm-petrel that remained close to the boat for about 15 minutes.
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0710, returning at 1645.
A lumpy ride out to the shelf was punctuated by some early Prions, of which only one could be positively identified as Fairy. A Short-tailed Shearwater gave a quick fly-by from the bow and for the first time this year we had a group of (8) Silver Gulls follow us all the way to the shelf. These gulls were joined for about an hour by an immaculate White-fronted Tern - probably the best looking individual of these birds I've seen. A few Yellow-nosed and Black-browed Albatross accompanied these birds as well, with a brief appearance from a Shy Albatross and some Fluttering-type Shearwaters. There were plenty of Gannets around and not far from the shelf we saw a feeding flock of about 80 birds.
Despite the lumpy conditions and the feeling that we were actually covering more 'ground' over the ocean surface, we made it to the shelf drop-off in record time, getting there by just after 1000. We set up a drift at 32 56 05 / 152 34 54 and it wasn't too long before the first White-faced Storm-petrels arrived. A few Solander's Petrels came in and before long there was a steady stream of
these birds investigating the boat. The numbers of Fairy Prions built to a point where there were about 70 birds in the slick or right at the stern, literally a couple of metres from the boat. Despite careful scrutiny, no 'different' Prions were observed amongst them.
Another Shy Alby and then the first Wanderer-type, a Gibson's, which was to be the first of 5 seen. Suddenly the group of 8 Silver Gulls that had been faithful to the boat lifted all at once. We thought this was quite strange until we noticed a Brown Skua zoom in - one gull stood his ground briefly, but soon they all disappeared. The first of several Cape Petrels arrived at around midday and
not too long after a lone Great-winged Petrel flew in.
With only 30 minutes left at the shelf a cry went out "Fregetta stormy!" and it did not take long for all on board to get their bins onto a beautiful BLACK-BELLIED STORM-PETREL. The bird approached the boat from the bow but soon took up residency in the slick and returned to the boat for a number of passes before disappearing. This is the 5th species of Storm-petrel seen off Port
Stephens this year.
It was a fairly uneventful trip back to port, although one young Black-browed Albatross did cause some excitement due to it's hooded appearance and somewhat lankier jizz. Closer inspection of photographs do make it an interesting bird, though we are reasonably happy it was not a juvenile Grey-headed.
To cap off the day a pod of 4 Humpback Whales surfaced quite close to the port side not far from Point Stephens.
Species: Total (maximum number around the boat at one time)
White-faced Storm-petrel: 15 (7)
BLACK-BELLIED STORM-PETREL: 1
Fairy Prion: 150 (70)
Yellow-nosed Albatross: 35 (8)
Black-browed Albatross: 20 (5) - no impavida confirmed (virtually all imms)
Shy Albatross: 3 (1) all cauta
Wandering Albatross: 5 (3) - 3 adults all gibsoni
Short-tailed Shearwater: 1
Fluttering-type Shearwater: 4 (2)
Cape Petrel: 7 (5) - all nominate
Solanders (Providence) Petrel: 60 (6)
Great-winged Petrel: 1
Australasian Gannet: 160 (85)
Crested Tern: 2 (1)
White-fronted Tern: 1
Brown Skua: 2 (1)
Silver Gull: 10 (8)
Inshore Bottlenose Dolphin: One pod of 5 at the heads.
Humpback Whale: 4