Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report – Sun 23rd September 2012
Boat: M.V.Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsefield
A very comfortable day at sea, with just a slight westerly wind on a small swell. The ocean was glassy for most of our time at the shelf with a moderate nor-easter picking up in the afternoon for our return leg.
Good numbers of Solander’s Petrels was a definite highlight and there was seldom a time when at least one was not visible from the boat (once at the shelf). The arrival of a Southern Giant-Petrel was cause for celebration as it was the first we’ve recorded off Port Stephens since we started these trips in Jan 2010 (it used to be more regular than Northern when the Newcastle / Swansea trips were running 10 years ago). A definite highlight was having two Wandering Albatross enter Port Stephens itself, with one bird flying around the port until deciding to exit through the heads. Cetaceans were omnipresent, with quite a few breaching Humpbacks putting on great displays.
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0705, returning at 1655.
With 5 ‘first-timers’ there was a real buzz as we left the heads. Imagine the excitement when a massive feeding frenzy of shearwaters was seen to south just off Point Stephens. The Argonaut took the detour to witness about 1500 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and the odd Fluttering following a school of fish breaking the surface. Despite us offering some of our wonderful chicken-mince and tuna-oil breakfast, not a single bird was interested. Continuing east we encountered a single Short-tailed Shearwater, our first Black-browed Albatross and then some more excitement when a Giant Petrel flew directly towards the bow of the boat and scooting alongside the port side. It was a Southern and the first we’ve recorded since the Port Stephens trips commenced in Jan 2010. Apart from that, it was probably the most bird-free trip to the shelf that we’ve experienced. A few breaching whales and dolphins riding the bow wave kept the punters entertained however.
The first Solander’s Petrel appeared just before reaching the shelf and our drift (32 55.029 / 152 35.065) which we commenced at 1025. As had been the trend on the journey out, there was little or actually no interest in the berley today. It was noticed that there was a huge amount of sea life on the surface, including all manner of weird and wonderful invertebrates and nudibranches (‘sea slugs’). Could this have had something to do with the lack of feeding activity? The lack of wind perhaps?
After seeing quite a few Solander’s Petrels, the occasional additional Black-browed or Yellow-nosed Albatross, finally some hungry customers arrived in the form of two sub-adult Wandering Albatross. On a day when even the only Cape Petrel kept wide of the boat it was great finally get some birds in close and these guys were ready to rumble! Before too long there were 5 Wanderers squabbling at the back of the boat, with 2 birds carrying bands (one Australian, one French) which will be investigated in due course.
Alas, just when the wind was starting to pick up and activity seemed to be lifting, we left our drift (from 32 55.941 / 152 34.787) and headed back to port, along the way picking up a second Southern Giant and some Hutton’s Shearwaters in close, where the vast majority of Wedgies had remained all day.
This second SGP actually followed us to the heads; about level with the old fort emplacements on Tomaree Headland. But then (and long after we had ended throwing berley) we noticed two Wandering Albies flying towards the boat once we were well within the confines of the port. One bird doubled back soon after, but one bird continued flying straight past us and as far into the port as the Coastal Patrol off Little Beach – a good 3km from the heads!! The bird then took a wide arc and returned east and followed a fishing trawler out into the ocean. It was almost as if curiosity got the better of him and he decided to have a look around this strange place surrounded by buildings and trees!
Species: Total (maximum number visible from the boat at one time)
Wilson’s Storm-petrel: 2 (2)
Hutton’s Shearwater: 2 (2)
Fluttering Shearwater: 5 (2)
Fluttering-type Shearwater: 25 (5)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 2000 (1500)
Short-tailed Shearwater: 2 (1)
Yellow-nosed Albatross: 4 (2)
Black-browed Albatross: 12 (3)
Shy Albatross: 1
Wandering Albatross: 5 (5)
Southern Giant Petrel: 2 (1)
Solander’s Petrel: 18 (8)
Cape Petrel: 1
Australasian Gannet: 24 (7)
Crested Tern: 6 (3)
Silver Gull: 2 (1)
Humpback Whale: 15
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: 20+ in groups of 2 or 3
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin: 4