Location: Southport, Queensland.
Vessel: 37 ft Steber monohull MV Grinner
A weak ridge extended along the tropical Queensland coast combined with a surface trough over the south eastern interior, bringing unsettled conditions to the south east coastline. Light S-SE winds early turning to strengthening E-NE winds by late morning, to 15-20 not northerly by mid afternoon. Heavy cloud, with storm activity on leaving the coast but easing when heading out wide until late morning when a suspected rain squall turned into a full blown electrical storm. Cloud cover, moderate to heavy with visibility good to poor.
Max. air temp. 27 C, barometer 1010 hPa.
Calm seas on .5 metre swell early on, rising to 1 metre seas, on a 1.8 metre swell with the deteriorating conditions. Sea surface temps. 23.7 C at the seaway rising to 27 C at the shelf-break and a maximum of 27.8 C at the widest drift point, quite warm for November.
EAC running at 2.5 knots.
Left the Southport Seaway at 0600 hrs and headed ENE to the undersea structure known as Jim*s Mountain, a distance of 28 nautical miles. Crossed the shelf-break at 0800 hrs and arrived at the final drift point at 0850 hrs. Drifted SSW until severe weather forced us to head back inshore at 1130 hrs, arriving back at the seaway at 1400 hrs. Duration of trip 8 hours.
On leaving the seaway, it was no surprise to see Short-tailed Shearwaters still foraging around but fewer moribund birds noted, which was good to see. Shortly after at 0605 hrs the first trawler was encountered, with at least 40 Short-tailed and 5 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters present along with about 20 Crested Terns. A few minutes later at 0620 hrs a second trawler was encountered and this produced a few more Crested Terns, the seasons* first Arctic Jaegers and 3 Great Cormorants. Crossing the shelf it was heartening to see many south moving, undulating skeins of Short-tailed Shearwaters in normal migration mode, a welcome change to the recent inshore mayhem. At 0715 hrs the first Pomarine Jaeger of the Spring was sighted moving south, with another single bird a few minutes later. At the 50 fathom mark the customary shark liver filled berley bag was lowered and almost immediately several Wedge-tailed Shearwaters began to follow the vessel.
Arrived at the drift point at 0850 hrs with a couple of Wedge-tailed, a single Short-tailed Shearwater and a single Tahiti Petrel (most likely recently fledged) cruising in almost immediately. Over the next hour and a half these three species dominated and unlike last month, this time Wedge-tailed Shearwater numbers prevailed. The first Wilsonís Storm-Petrel turned up in the slick at 0935 hrs and it wasnít until 1015 hrs that the first Flesh-footed Shearwater turned up. All the birds were ravenous, and the berley had little time floating, being snapped up right at the rear of the vessel. The Tahiti Petrels in particular were vocally aggressive and sat on the water less than 1 metre from the boat; even the Flesh-footedís werenít game to take those brutish beaks on. I was shooting Tahiti Petrels at 80-100 mm on the 70-300 ĎLí lens. Tahiti Petrel has an enormous gape and I can envisage one easily accounting for a Wilsonís Storm-Petrel for example.
By now the Wedge-tailed Shearwater numbers had built up to 120+ and being continuously replenished as were numbers of Tahiti Petrel and Flesh-footed Shearwater. Small parties of up to 4 Sooty Terns approached the vessel and as often happen a pair of adults with a single juvenile bird would approach quite closely, calling loudly. At 1030 hrs the sole Black-bellied Storm-Petrel appeared but only briefly, before disappearing down the slick. Shortly afterward a fresh plumaged intermediate Kermadec Petrel charged in with resplendent primary flashes, landing briefly on the water amongst the other birds, before making several passes around the vessel over the next few minutes. About this time as the electrical storm approached a large, dark, rotund shearwater arrived amongst the throng of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, a lone Sooty Shearwater, not often recorded in Spring in these waters.
With the rain now quite heavy and thunder and lightning around us, with up to 50 knot gusts predicted it was decided to head home at 1130 hrs, a shame as more birds were still arriving and we normally would have another hour to go at least. On the way back over the shelf, mostly Wedge-tailed Shearwaters sighted with the occasional south bound flock of Short-tailed Shearwaters and another Flesh-footed Shearwater. Also another Pomarine Jaeger passed to the south just a few miles off the seaway.
Wilsonís Storm-Petrel - 11 (3)
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel - 1
Wedge-tailed Shearwater - 287 (120)
Flesh-footed Shearwater - 12 (6)
Sooty Shearwater - 1
Short-tailed Shearwater - 372 (60)
Tahiti Petrel - 18 (4)
Kermadec Petrel - 1
Great Cormorant - 3
Pomarine Jaeger - 4 (1)
Arctic Jaeger - 2
Sooty Tern - 11 (4)
Crested Tern - 36 (20)
Silver Gull - 1