Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report – Sun 14th October 2012
Boat: M.V.Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsefield
The influence of the low pressure system that moved up the east coast of south-east Australia on Friday was barely noticed, with only slight swells and light winds. An exception was a brief period just before reaching the shelf break where a briefly-spaced moderate swell with white caps from a 15 knot southerly blow made for a rather sloppy run into deeper water. Once at the shelf the swell and winds dropped off considerably and it was a comfortable tea-bag out there for the entire duration.
The clear highlight for the day was a most unexpected bird for an October pelagic trip off the NSW mid-north coast; a Common Diving Petrel. It was amongst friends though, as the general species list and ‘vibe’ of the day was certainly that of winter birds.
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0710, returning at 1635.
For the second time running, we had 5 ‘first-timers’ on board the Argonaut. It was a pretty slow start with scarcely a bird seen for the first few miles until a few Wedge-tailed Shearwaters started to appear. Numbers slowly grew, punctuated by the occasional Short-tailed. Not once during the day did we see signs of migrating flocks and the biggest concentration of Short-taileds was probably amongst the feeding Wedgies behind the boat on the return leg. A very early Wilson’s Storm-petrel was seen about 6 miles from the heads.
A distinct change in the birds came about 5 miles short of the shelf, when albatross after albatross appeared from nearly every compass point. Soon we had nearly double-figures of Shy Albatross alone, as well as a few Black-broweds (with at least 3 Campbell Albies seen). Once at the shelf a drift was started at 32 55.001 / 152 35.366. There was barely a shearwater to be seen and it was all albatross showing interest in the boat. A rapid fire Great-winged and Solander’s Petrels appeared within a minute of each other while the number of Wilson’s Stormie slowly grew in the slick. A lone Brown Skua appeared as well and spent some time scavenging at the stern, as a few Gannets came and went.
As two juvenile Yellow-nosed Albatross arrived, it was certainly appearing that the day really did have a winter feel to it. A lone Flesh-footed Shearwater (only seen by two observers) was the only one seen all day. But soon the biggest surprise was to appear to really drive home this wintery feel. Steve and I glanced to the rear of the stern and we both noticed a small bird sitting on the water, but it was too small even for a Fluttering-type Shearwater. We were both a bit shocked when it dawned on us that we were looking at a Common Diving Petrel! The bird took “flight” (as well as those birds do) and plopped back onto the water about 50m down the slick. Eventually it drifted out of sight, disappearing as clandestine as it had arrived. A new bird for the Hunter Region list and not one that any of us were expecting to see today.
Not long after this an unusual Great-winged Petrel came in, showing large “white-flashes” on the upperwing. This turned out to be due to virtually every part of every secondary feather worn to the point that only the shaft remained.
Singles of Cape Petrel and White-faced Storm-petrel and a handful of Sooty Shearwaters were added to the days list before leaving our drift at 32 53.949 / 152 33.944. No species were added on the way back to port but reasonable views were had of Fluttering Shearwaters amongst the inshore throng of Wedgies and Short-taileds. Alas a distant Jaeger at the rear of this feeding throng was way too far away to call.
Species: Total (maximum number visible from the boat at one time)
Wilson’s Storm-petrel: 20 (12)
White-faced Storm-petrel: 1
Fluttering Shearwater: 8 (2)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 600 (200)
Short-tailed Shearwater: 250 (50)
Sooty Shearwater: 4 (2)
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 1
Yellow-nosed Albatross: 3 (2)
Black-browed Albatross: 15 (4) [at least 3x Campbell]
Shy Albatross: 18 (7)
Solander’s Petrel: 6 (3)
Great-winged Petrel: 3(2)
Cape Petrel: 1
COMMON DIVING PETREL: 1
Australasian Gannet: 12 (4)
Crested Tern: 3 (2)
Brown Skua: 2 (1)
Jaeger sp.: 1
Silver Gull: 14 (6)
Humpback Whale: 3
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: 8
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin: 20+