Pelagic Trip Report – Sun 14th April 2013
45ft Randell, skippered by Brad Minors
Another very calm day at sea with barely a breath of wind for the entire day, apart from a hint of a nor-easter in the late afternoon. Swell 1-2m with no sea to talk of. Sea surface temp inshore 24 degrees and about 23 at the shelf.
On an otherwise very quiet day at sea there was a lone show-stopper in the form of a NEW ZEALAND STORM-PETREL seen not long before heading back to port.
Departed Swansea Wharf at 0610 returning at 1645.
On the 4th attempt to get a boat out of Swansea we finally succeeded, but from the extreme weather events that had cancelled the first 3, today was the antithesis. The ocean was literally a rolling series of glassy waves as there was literally not a breath of wind for the majority of the day. This made for very comfortable conditions but placed us in a position where we were expecting much the same in the bird-diversity stakes that we’d experienced on the Port Stephens double-header recently.
It was a good 15 minutes before the first shearwater (Wedge-tailed) was seen. This was eventually followed by Fleshy-footed Shearwaters, who again dominated the shearwater attendance for the journey out. A couple of Australian Fur Seals were seen loafing at a distance on the rudders of one of the parked coal ships and a White-faced Heron was picked up flying north at about 5 miles from the heads. The only jaeger for the day, a dark bird, was seen about an hour out from the heads and a small number of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were noted on the outward leg.
Otherwise it was a long and reasonably uneventful journey to the shelf break at a location called The Canyons (33 14 23 / 152 14 53). The customary Wedge-tailed and Fleshy-footed Shearwaters were now with us, but with the complete lack of wind, even they seemed too lazy to fly to the stationary boat. As the slick built nicely, the numbers of Wilson’s Storm-petrels grew and these birds were checked thoroughly. After about an hour of drifting Michael Kearns alerted us to a storm-petrel with white underparts. The bird was quite distant and no one else got onto the bird but he was certain that it was a Fregetta-type bird.
Several pods of Risso’s Dolphins swam by and we too noticed the interesting “living debris” that the Sydney pelagic described (though none of us went overboard to inspect it!). Then, after about 8 consecutive hours of time spent eastward of the continental shelf in 3 pelagic trips, we finally managed a Pterdroma petrel as a wonderfully fresh-plumaged Solander’s Petrel flew by.
Nothing new came to the boat except for a continued increase in Wilson’s SP numbers and one more fly-by by a second Solander’s Petrel and by about 1245 there was a general feeling in the boat that once again (for the 3rd consecutive pelagic) it might be more fruitful to look for inshore feeding shearwaters. Just as the skipper suggested we head for port Mike Kuhl called a “storm-petrel with white belly!”. This bird was within 20m of the starboard side of the boat and everyone that wasn’t on the bow got reasonable views as it flew towards the bow.
I alerted those on the bow to the bird and I could hear the rapid fire of camera shutters going ballistic. It was obvious from how the bird blended in with the Wilson’s that it wasn’t a Fregetta-type bird. It was soon lost and a scouring of the stormies in the slick failed to relocate it immediately but about 5 minutes later it was called once again. The way that this bird was just so hard to pick out amongst the Wilson’s was very reminiscent of the NZSP we’d seen off Port Stephens in 2010 and when things settled down a bit Allan Richardson and I had a look at the back of his camera.
He gave me a grin as if to suggest it was what I was suspecting it might be. Both of us were 90% certain it was a New Zealand Storm-Petrel but without the ability to lighten and crop images on-board we had to wait until later that night to confirm what the bird was.
A single Fluttering Shearwater was the only new bird for the return leg but much entertainment was to be had by the shearwaters flying right up the wake and nearly into the boat on a few occasions. A group of about a dozen Wilson’s Stormies also followed the boat to about 8 miles from the heads.
Later that night when a few of us were able to look more closely at the images of the stormy, it was confirmed that it was indeed a New Zealand. A rather quiet (but enjoyable) day with a last minute special find – another great day at sea.
Total (maximum number visible from the boat at one time)
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel: 100 (40)
NEW ZEALAND STORM-PETREL: 1
Fregetta-type Storm-Petrel: 1
Fluttering Shearwater: 1
Fluttering-type Shearwater: 2 (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 80 (35)
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 60 (25)
Solander’s Petrel: 2 (1)
Australasian Gannet: 15 (4)
Crested Tern: 8 (3)
Pomarine Jaeger: 1
Silver Gull: 11 (5)
White-faced Heron: 1
Risso’s Dolphin: 20+
Australian Fur Seal: 2