Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report – Sun 24th June 2012
Boat: M.V.Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsefield
A pretty comfortable day at sea with the westerly winds swinging somewhat to the south during the day, allowing us to return to port without punching directly into a westerly onslaught. Generally it never got over 15 knots and there was little swell to talk of. There was some hope of seeing some ‘southern species’ given the cold airstream that had pushed up the east coast over the past few days.
The numbers of Albatross around the boat provided plenty of visual spectacles for the punters on board and we recorded our second trip with Buller’s Albatross present, with 2 individuals seen. I wonder if, like Sydney and Wollongong, this species becomes one of the ‘usual’ Albatross species seen in winter months. There were also a couple of “interesting” birds in the form of a ‘dark-headed’ Yellow-nosed Albatross and a skua that appeared to be superficially like a South Polar, but for which identification is still pending (if it happens at all).
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0710, returning at 1705.
Rounding Boondelbah Island we saw our first Fluttering Shearwater and soon after, some feeding flocks of Gannets could be seen ahead of us. By the time we got to these birds we noticed the occasional (predominantly Yellow-nosed) flying about. One Yellow-nosed with an unusually ‘dark head’ was briefly picked up but frustratingly disappeared. The albatrosses followed our boat to the shelf and this was to set the scene for the rest of the day. The Alby’s were like Shearwaters in summer – dozens of birds behind the boat. Two very distant petrels were seen on the way out, along with a Brown Skua and probably the boat’s favourite bird of the day in the form of an adult Buller’s Albatross. About fifteen miles out to sea a flock of 43 Silver Gulls materialised and were to accompany us for the remainder of the day.
Once at the shelf (32 55.182 / 152 35.15) a single Sooty Shearwater did laps of the boat and eventually fed in the slick. There was some debate over its identity but eventually it was agreed that it had to be a Sooty. The ‘dark-headed’ Yellow-nosed Alby made a brief return (assuming it was the same bird seen on the way out), but once again after it was called it disappeared in front of the bow, presumably leaving the boat altogether, as it wasn’t seen again. The only images I have been able to source of this bird are my own, which can be seen at the link below. Thus far the feedback I have had is that it could be a good candidate for an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, but that with these images being the only ones available it is very tough to call. I would be very keen to hear from anyone with good experience of both (sub)species.
Another identification “problem child” came into the rear of the boat not long after setting up the drift. A second Brown Skua flew up the slick and a few comments were made about it appearing pale, but generally it didn’t seem obviously different to our first bird, and most assumed it was the same bird. However, it is definitely an interesting bird given its general paleness, very pale lores / nuchal collar and really dark underwing coverts, all features that fit an (darkish) intermediate South Polar Skua. The bill also does not look definitive, but doesn’t (to my eye anyway) appear as large as a typical Brown’s bill. Some very experienced sea-birders cannot assign the bird to either species and one very experienced person has even suggested it could be a hybrid! To see some images, go to the link below (and please, comments very welcomed).
A couple of Wilson’s and a single White-faced Storm-Petrel joined the fray, along with one or two Fairy Prions and three Cape Petrels. The Pterodroma action was very slow with only brief and few passes from Solander’s Petrels. But the day belonged to the albatrosses and soon a second Buller’s joined the Yellow-nosed, Black-brows and occasional Shy.
The trip back to port was really just a journey for the birds that had been with us out at the shelf, with a few more albatross (most notably a few juvenile Shy’s) joining us, as well as a couple of Sea-Eagles close to port.
Species: Total (maximum number visible from the boat at one time)
Wilson’s Storm-petrel: 2 (1)
White-faced Storm-petrel: 1
Fluttering Shearwater: 2 (1)
Fluttering-type Shearwater: 5 (2)
Sooty Shearwater: 1
Fairy Prion: 5 (2)
Yellow-nosed Albatross: 35 (18) (incl. one possible Atlantic YNA)
Black-browed Albatross: 12 (6)
Shy Albatross: 7 (4)
Buller’s Albatross: 2 (1)
Northern Giant Petrel: 1
Solander’s Petrel: 6 (1)
Cape Petrel: 3 (3)
Australasian Gannet: 150 (60)
Crested Tern: 25 (20)
Brown Skua: 1
Brown / South Polar Skua??: 1
Silver Gull: 70 (43)
White-bellied Sea-Eagle: 2 (2)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin