Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report – Sat 23rd March 2013
Boat: M.V.Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsefield
Following consecutive cancellations, conditions were probably “too good” for the March double-header weekend. Whilst a stiff northerly was forecast (and seas to 3m by BOM), it was Willyweather who once again got it right, and there was barely a breath of wind as we left the heads. For the entire day the combined sea and swell was <1m. Winds were gentle for the most part, generally from the south, picking up in short bursts out at the shelf to just under 10 knots.
You know it’s a quiet day when the highlight is a Bar-tailed Godwit! But read on and it will be easy to see why.
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0705 returning at 1645.
Some large feeding flocks of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were encountered just beyond Boondelbah Island and we picked up a handful of customers from these. But soon enough some Fleshy-footed Shearwaters started arriving and for the remainder of the day (until we returned back to greet the inshore feeding birds again), this was the most common bird around the boat, in contrast to most of the season where we struggled to find Fleshies. A Wilson’s Storm-petrel was seen about 5nm out and a few Pomarine Jaegers joined the Fleshies for the trip out.
We cut the motors at 32 55.893 / 152 35.742 and drifted south. The oily rag went overboard and it wasn’t long before double-figures of Wilson’s Stormies were dancing around in the slick. An occasional Fluttering Shearwater, and 2 Hutton’s Shearwaters provided some excitement as the only “flashes of white” seen at the shelf.
But overall, it was by far the most quiet day we have had off Port Stephens and at one point I took to the bow and scanned the horizon for about 15 minutes. During that time I did not see a single bird flying apart from the birds we had around the stern. Quite literally, apart from the Wilson’s Stormies the only birds we had around the boat were birds that we brought with us! I had noticed that the water colour was a green colour, completely different to the deep, cobalt blue that you can see the sun’s rays penetrate to metres below the surface. This, combined with the general lack of wind may have accounted for why we saw so few birds.
The most excitement occurred when an unusual looking bird flew from the west, heading south-east. It threw all of us that got brief views and it wasn’t until Michael Kearns checked the rear of his camera that we realised it was a Bar-tailed Godwit!
After a couple of hours I wondered if we could possibly not see a Pterodroma of any sort for the day. This was indeed to be the case and a decision was made to head back to the inshore feeding flocks to look for a “different” type of Shearwater. We did this and despite finding a reasonable number of ‘brown’ birds we could only add a few Short-tailed Shearwaters, Crested Tern and a Little Penguin to the day’s list.
Total (maximum number visible from the boat at one time)
Wilson’s Storm-petrel: 30 (22)
Fluttering Shearwater: 20 (4)
Hutton’s Shearwater: 3 (1)
Fluttering-type Shearwater: 20
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 550 (500)
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 70 (30)
Short-tailed Shearwater: 3 (1)
Little Penguin: 1
Australasian Gannet: 2 (1)
Crested Tern: 3 (2)
Arctic Jaeger: 6 (2)
Pomarine Jaeger: 20 (13)
Silver Gull: 4 (4)
Bar-tailed Godwit: 1
Risso’s Dolphin: 30
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin: 10