Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report – Sun 20th January 2013
Boat: M.V.Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsefield
Following a southerly change that rescued much of NSW form the heatwave conditions of less than 36 hours earlier, the day had a wintery feel to it with cool, south-easterly breezes and patches of rain. Seas and swell were slight and at the shelf there was a ‘millpond’ effect there was such little breeze. Water temp was showing as 22 degrees inshore, closer to 25 at the shelf break. A strong current made for hard going for the Argonaut and within the (just under 3 hour) drift we ended up 8 miles south of where we pulled up. All in all, a very comfortable day at sea, though one “newby” on board would probably disagree!
Whilst the lack of any wind at the shelf may have kept the number of petrels visiting the boat a little lower, we managed some very nice birds, including the ever-popular Gould’s Petrel, a Black Petrel and 2 Buller’s Shearwaters. An unusual aspect to today was the number of Sooty Terns seen (12 all up) which is the highest count of this species off Port Stephens thus far.
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0722, returning at 1805.
A few early birds had arrived at around 0630 to the jetty before David Mitford strolled up and asked “have you heard?”
“What was seen off Southport yesterday?”
We were then regaled a text message from Stu Pickering who had been on board and as more people arrived at the Nelson Bay Public Wharf (and the text message was read out more times) there was suddenly a solid buzz in the air.
One of the first birds seen upon exiting the heads was a dark Arctic Jaeger chasing a Crested Tern and it wasn’t too long before the first Pomarine was also seen. Good numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were present during the inshore run, with some large feeding flocks seen whirling around. Many of these birds decided to accompany the Argonaut, along with a few (<5) Fleshy-foots, which again were well down in numbers on what would normally be expected on a summer trip. One each of Hutton’s and Fluttering Shearwaters were seen during the long trip out, along with an adult Sooty Tern and juvenile close behind.
Nothing else was added to the list before reaching the shelf, where a drift was started at 32.99318 / 152.57478 at around 1100, later than normal due to the boat having waited for a punter that did not show and then punching into a strong current, making for a slow journey. It was a slow start once at the shelf but with “that Southport trip” in the back of a few minds, you could imagine everyone’s excitement as the first storm-petrel arrived in the slick. This was to be the first of 2 White-faced Stormies seen today and the only storm-petrel species seen.
More Sooty Terns came and went before the first of 2 Buller’s Shearwaters arrived at the boat. Not long after the first Pterodroma of the day came in from the north in the form of a Gould’s Petrel, prompting a flurry of camera shutters to fire. This was followed very quickly by a Great-winged (Grey-faced) Petrel and suddenly things seemed to pick up. Alas, the momentum did not last, but still more Sooty Terns appeared.
About an hour later the call of “Black Petrel!” went up as one arrived and uncharacteristically left with barely showing any interest in the boat as it continued on its way.
Quite a way south of where we started, our drift ended at 33.03662 / 152.49908 and it was a pleasant enough trip back to port, alas with no new species to add to the day’s list.
Species: Total (maximum number visible from the boat at one time)
White-faced Storm-petrel: 2 (2)
Fluttering Shearwater: 1
Fluttering-type Shearwater: 4 (1)
Hutton’s Shearwater: 1
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 1800 (700)
Short-tailed Shearwater: 11 (3)
BULLER’S SHEARWATER: 2 (1)
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 15 (5)
BLACK PETREL: 1
Great-winged (Grey-faced) Petrel: 5 (2)
Gould’s Petrel: 1
Australasian Gannet: 4 (2)
Crested Tern: 6 (3)
Sooty Tern: 12 (3)
Arctic Jaeger: 2 (1)
Pomarine Jaeger: 17 (2)
Silver Gull: 10 (10)
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin: 3