Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report - Sun 10th October 2010
Boat: M.V.Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsefield
A stiff east-sou-east wind greeted us at the heads and despite the meagre swell the windy conditions made for a very wet trip to the shelf as we punched into the choppy sea. Fortunately there were no sea-sick casualties though most punters were pleased to arrive at the shelf break to get a good chance to dry off a bit. Water temperature was about 19 degrees at the shelf.
A great pelagic with a good variety of birds; some in good numbers. 23 species were recorded outside of the heads, the highlights being 2 Black Petrels, a White-headed Petrel, 6 Black-bellied Storm-petrels and the sheer spectacle of the Short-tailed Shearwater migration. A Little Tern was an interesting sighting at sea and witnessing a White-bellied Sea-eagle take a Short-tailed Shearwater
was a sight you don't see every day.
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0700, returning at 1640.
Having read Roger McGovernís post to Birdline the night before (re: 2 Little Shearwaters but which also mentioned the Short-tailed Shearwater migration), the anticipation for today went sky-high. Persistent on-shore winds combined with migrating birds was a good recipe for a great day at sea. Within minutes of leaving the heads we could see the streams of Short-taileds flying outhwards
(albeit through quite a lot of spray as we forged our way into the chop). These birds were seen in continuous streams of groups of several hundred and estimating their numbers is very difficult.
After beginning to berley we were followed only by a few Wedge-tailed Shearwaters before a pair of young Wandering Albatross was seen to the south. A Little Tern was also seen flying south over the wake. Soon after, about 10 miles from the heads, a White-headed Petrel joined the frey and to the delight of all on-board, followed the boat for about 15 minutes, dropping to the water to feed and giving several very obliging passes of the stern. This was followed soon after by 2 or 3 Wilsonís Storm-petrels. Seeing birds like these so far from the shelf boded well.
The first Great-winged Petrels showed not far from the shelf break and a distant Cookilaria got away from us without any hope of an ID. Once at the shelf it was clear that there was a hive of activity waiting. Before the engines were even cut we had our first Black-bellied Storm-petrel beside the boat. Setting up a drift at 32 55 18 / 152 34 59 things heated up very quickly. Within the first 5 minutes after we stopped we had 3 species of Storm-petrel (a White-faced had joined the Black-bellied and small group of Wilsonís), two Black Petrels and the first Solanderís Petrel. Great-winged Petrels soon outnumbered Wedgies at the rear of the boat as the hordes of Short-taileds passed-by. I cast my mind back to the trip reports Iíd read about the Wollongong pelagics in October 1996 when the Mottled Petrels moved through close to the coast. I was quickly awoken from my daydream by a Long-tailed Jaeger, a Cape Petrel, numerous more Wilsonís and a few more Black-bellied Stormies. As a Yellow-nosed Albatross circled the boat the place was a-buzz and it was difficult to decide where to focus the bins as there were literally birds everywhere you looked.
Unfortunately things did plane-out after this initial flurry and even more unfortunate was 2 more ďmissesĒ on Cookilarias passing by. The only bird that was seen reasonably well appeared to be obviously pale-headed, thus ruling out Gould's and opening up some other possibilities that will only remain as such.
We started our comfortable journey back to port with a peak count of 13 Wanderers at the rear of the boat. Just over half-way back to port we were joined by our first Flesh-footed Shearwaters for the day, which soon swelled to about 40 birds. A lone Huttonís Shearwater was the only other tubenose addition to the list. Not far from the heads the numbers of Shearwaters had dwindled, but this didnít deter a White-bellied Sea-eagle from swooping at speed onto a small group of birds about 100m behind the boat. The raptor was successful in taking a Short-tailed Shearwater and it triumphantly flew back to shore with its catch.
Another one flew out soon after to investigate the menu but didnít attempt a kill.
A fantastic day at sea.
Species: Total (maximum number around the boat at one time)
White-faced Storm-petrel: 7 (3)
Wilsonís Storm-petrel: 150 (40)
Black-bellied Storm-petrel: 6 (4)
Yellow-nosed Albatross: 1
Shy Albatross: 1
Wandering Albatross: 20 (13)
Huttonís Shearwater: 1
Fluttering-type Shearwater: 4 (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 150 (40)
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 40 (40)
Short-tailed Shearwater: ?up to 10000 (500)
Cape Petrel: 5 (2)
BLACK PETREL 2 (2)
Solanders (Providence) Petrel: 4 (1)
Great-winged (Grey-faced) Petrel: 25 (8)
WHITE-HEADED PETREL: 1
Cookilaria-type Petrel (Pterodroma spp.): 3 (1)
Little Penguin: 1
Australasian Gannet: 6 (1)
White-bellied Sea-eagle: 2 (1)
Crested Tern: 5 (2)
Little Tern: 1
Long-tailed Jaeger: 3 (2)
Brown Skua: 1
Silver Gull: 10 (5)
Humpback Whale: 1