Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report – Sun 22nd April 2012
Boat: M.V.Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsefield
The moderate easterly swell experienced yesterday persisted but thankfully today there was a bit of wind around creating some white-caps on the ocean surface. We had felt that the almost complete lack of wind yesterday may have contributed to the low diversity and number of birds seen, so the winds, coming pretty much from the nor-east or straight out of the north to just over ten knots, were a welcome addition. Water temp at the shelf was again around 22-24 degrees.
In contrast to yesterday’s effort, today was punctuated by a good handful of uncommon seabirds. Often, STREAKED SHEARWATER always seems to be highest on people wish list coming on our autumn trips, so it was great to have one in our wake about 45 minutes into the trip. At the shelf we had good views of (what was most likely a) WHITE-NECKED PETREL, with almost as good views of a GOULD’S PETREL on the way back home. Two WHITE TERNS were a welcome sight, being a seldom-seen bird normally in these parts.
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0710, returning at 1700.
After the experience of the strong current yesterday, we decided to track a little further north than usual, stopping on the way to view the Gould’s Petrel nest-boxes on Boondelbah Island, where a pair of Peregrine Falcons provided some additional entertainment. Once clear of Boondelbah by a km or two the first Wedge-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwaters appeared. Not long after, as we chugged past a professional fishing boat we noticed a small island (maybe 30mx100m) of an oily slick, and lo and behold there were 6 Wilson’s Storm-petrels feeding within it! Seconds later a Streaked Shearwater appeared out of nowhere and followed the boat for a good ten minutes or so.
Apart from a few Gannets and a single Short-tailed Shearwater not much else was seen en-route to the shelf. Once a mile and half past the shelf break we cut the motors and started drifting from 32 54.328 / 152 35.206 and although there was soon a healthy contingent of Wilson’s Stormies in the slick, the numbers were down on yesterday. The first Great-winged and Solander’s Petrels arrived, though numbers of these were slightly were down on yesterday as well.
The first real excitement came when a petrel was noticed flying towards the boat with a “pale or white belly”. The bird flew right over the bow and continued on its merry way with scarcely a second glance at the boat. Everything about the bird (apart from the white belly) suggested Great-winged Petrel and this is what the bird has been accepted as being. Some time later a feeding flock was noticed to our north so it was decided to “reel the rag” in and make our way towards it. The unmistakable outline of two White Terns could be seen amongst what was otherwise just a collection of Fleshy-foots and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. It is worth noting at this point that for the entire day the number of Fleshy-foots outnumbered Wedgies, particularly birds feeding at the back of the boat.
Minutes later Michael Kearns drew our attention to a petrel with “proper” white underparts and soon all on board were looking at a beautiful White-necked Petrel that circled the boat a number times before leaving and returning briefly some time later. Some interest has been shown in the interim on this bird given its greyish primaries in the underwing and thick, consistent black mark from the carpal joint, suggesting Vanuatu, though the bird on the day certainly didn’t appear obviously smaller than any White-necked seen previously by experienced observers on board.
At 1330, we set sail for port, punching into the northerly wind en-route, making it a very wet trip for the burley boys down the back. But it was fortunate they were in position as way down the wake a small petrel was seen popping up over the horizon occasionally and the call went out to “stop the boat!”. As the bird drew closer it was obvious it was a Gould’s Petrel and it was a very obliging individual, doing a couple of fly-bys past the boat, enabling all on board great views.
Species: Total (maximum number visible from the boat at one time)
Wilson’s Storm-petrel: 60 (25)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 80 (10)
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 100 (20)
Short-tailed Shearwater: 2 (1)
STREAKED SHEARWATER: 1
Great-winged (Grey-faced) Petrel: 3 (2)
Solander’s Petrel: 4 (2)
WHITE-NECKED PETREL: 1
GOULD’S PETREL: 1
Australasian Gannet: 20 (3)
Crested Tern: 5 (3)
WHITE TERN: 2 (2)
Pomarine Jaeger: 2 (1)
Silver Gull: 10 (10)
Peregrine Falcon (Boondelbah Island): 2
Short-beaked Common Dolphin
Unidentified Whale sp.