Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report – Sun 14th July 2013
Boat: M.V. Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsefield
Very calm seas with barely a breath of wind to talk of. Sea and swell combined probably <0.5m with glassy conditions prevailing all day, save for a slight nor-easter that lifted as we approached the heads. Water temperature at the shelf approximately 19 degrees.
No outstanding highlights but the glassy conditions and attendant albatrosses made for a pleasant day at sea. A large pod of Striped Dolphins was also a great spectacle.
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0710 returning at 1705.
The first bird to show interest in the boat once clearing the heads was a very obliging Fluttering Shearwater that gave great views for some first-timers on board. This bird was at the “longer-billed” end of the spectrum and discussions were made on how best to pick them from Hutton’s (though unfortunately we didn't see any of the latter). The occasional Fairy Prion was also encountered early on, but not in the same numbers as three weeks earlier. Albatross numbers also seemed to be down and there was a turn-around in the dominant species, with Yellow-nosed clearly outnumbering any of the others seen (as opposed to Black-browed in June). An early Northern Giant Petrel was appreciated by all on board, except for one observer who is committed to seeing a Southern – a bird that we seem to struggle to see these days. Some Humpback Whales also had the cameras out and clicking.
The most obvious feature though was the number of Silver Gulls that followed the boat out, with just under 100 birds counted following us all of the way out. Despite the calm conditions there appeared to be a good amount of albatross activity near the shelf break (and an unidentified petrel flying south), though this activity had completely disappeared by the time we reached our drifting point (-32 58 16 / 152 33 55).
There was barely a bird for the first 45 minutes of the drift apart from the Silver Gulls and many comments were being made that we needn’t have left the confines of Port Stephens or the local park to see the birds and the behaviour we were seeing! Our attention was soon turned though to a large pod of Striped Dolphins that moved through, with smaller animals making spectacular series of leaps clear out of the water. Slowly, though the albatross numbers built and the occasional Fairy Prion would get everyone on their toes in case there was a different species at hand. The only storm-petrel sighting came in the form of a single White-faced that kept rather wide of the boat and actually out of view of most of the punters on board.
A few Wandering-type Albatrosses generated discussions about identification, though it was accepted that there was at least one Snowy (exulans) bird, the rest likely being Antipodean/Gibson’s. An ever-popular Buller’s Albatross also chimed in before a close fly-by by the first of two Solander’s Petrels. The journey back to port actually produced some of the best opportunities for photographs with flying birds set against the glassy surface setting the scene. An unusual Fairy Prion with what initially was suspected to be an abnormally large lower mandible caused some interest, but later research revealed that it was likely to have been a distended gular pouch, indicating that the bird had recently had a very good feed! Thanks to Jeff Davies for his advice on that one. Approaching the heads, the customary Sea-eagle sentry from Tomaree came to greet us but did not make an attempt at any of the birds in the wake on this occasion.
Species: Total (maximum number visible from the boat at one time)
White-faced Storm-Petrel: 1
Black-browed Albatross: 5 (2) – 1x impavida
Shy Albatross: 6 (2)
Yellow-nosed Albatross: 30 (9)
Buller’s Albatross: 1
Wandering Albatross: 5 (1) – at least 1x exulans
Northern Giant-Petrel: 3 (1)
Fairy Prion: 80 (17)
Fluttering Shearwater: 15 (2)
Fluttering-type Shearwater: 5 (1)
Solander’s Petrel: 2 (1)
Australasian Gannet: 120 (40)
Crested Tern: 15 (4)
Silver Gull: 140 (95)
White-bellied Sea-Eagle: 1
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin: 5
Striped Dolphin: 100+
Humpback Whale: 12