Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report – Sun 30 March 2014
Boat: M.V. Argonaut, skippered by John Querns
Seas very slight with light to moderate at times winds from the SSE on a 1.5-2m swell. Wind squalls ahead of a rain front at the shelf were the strongest experienced for the day, but it was by no means a millpond. A strong downhill current made some waves stand up sharply against the southerly winds, creating quite a bit of pitching. Water was forecast to be 26 degrees at the shelf break.
Black Petrel - Photo: Allan Richardson
A somewhat disappointing day for the more experienced sea birders on board. As far as seabirds go the two highlights would have to be the Gould’s and Black Petrels, both seen very early on in the piece (the Gould’s seen frustratingly briefly a few miles short of the shelf break). The most ‘unusual’ sightings were of singles of Rufous and Grey Fantails, seen about 90 minutes apart – both completely unexpected and both firsts for the Argonaut.
Rufous Fantail - Photo: Mick Roderick
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0705 returning at 1705.
Once clearing the heads an almost carbon copy of last month’s trip occurred with just a few generally disinterested Wedge-tailed Shearwaters early on, replaced about 5 miles out by a gang of more attentive Fleshy-foots. However, the Fleshies never even close reached the numbers seen on the last two trips. A couple of Fluttering Shearwaters flew alongside the boat at a speed that enabled reasonable views, along with a single Short-tailed seen by only a couple of observers.
A small band of predominantly Wedge-taileds followed us to the shelf but jaegers were notably scarce. Some distance from deep water (perhaps 5 miles) the first Pterodroma for the day, in the form of a nice freshly plumaged Solander’s Petrel gave reasonable but brief views. Not too long after a white-bellied bird was picked up a long way back initially called as a Fluttering-type Shearwater, but it was soon evident that it was in fact a Gould’s Petrel. Unfortunately by the time that this had gelled the bird had made a typical Cookilaria rapid and deliberate departure.
We cut the engines about a mile past the shelf break (-32.92262 / 152.597) and started drifting south, feeling quite happy with the fact that we’d already notched up two petrel species. It didn’t take long before the first of a few Wilson’s Storm-petrels came in, much to my relief as we’d gone 3 pelagics with just a single stormy between them. The first Great-winged (Grey-faced) Petrel also flew in without much time having been spent drifting.
After having “missed” a Black Petrel on the previous trip I was scrutinising all “suspect” looking Fleshies and one bird in particular caught my eye and after making sure people’s attention were drawn to this individual it indeed turned out to be a Black. In another piece of utter frustration, once we’d gotten onto the bird properly, it decided to head away from the boat and not return.
Pomarine Jaeger - Photo: Allan Richardson
A small “animal” flew past the boat and initially I wasn’t even sure if it was a bird. It soon gelled and with the long-tailed appearance I shouted that a “fantail or something” had just flown past. The bird actually came back towards the boat and was shaping to potentially come and land on board. It made a couple of passes at the rear of the boat before flying north. From images taken it was immediately identified as a Rufous Fantail which had all on board in bemusement.
From this point, things really planed out, with only the occasional visit from Pomarine Jaegers and Great-winged/Solander’s Petrels to break the monotony of brown shearwaters and Wilson’s Stormies. This was thrown on its head though when yet another Passerine flew past, this one appearing more drab and with white edges to the tail feathers. From images studied later combined with the brief views at sea, this bird was identified as a Grey Fantail.
We couldn't manage a single species of albatross wide of the continental shelf, but we managed 2 species of fantail! Nothing much was seen in addition for the day on the return leg (from the end of the druft at -33.00272 / 152.56032) apart from a few different (and up to 4 dark) Pomarine Jaegers. All in all a good day, if a little disappointing in comparison to other trips this year so far. Cheers,Mick Roderick
Species seen outside the heads: Total (maximum number visible from the boat at one time) – note that some are approximations.
Wilson’s Storm-petrel: 40 (25)
Short-tailed Shearwater: 1
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 20 (7)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 400 (150)
Fluttering Shearwater: 4 (1)
Great-winged (Grey-faced) Petrel: 4 (2)
Solander’s (Providence) Petrel: 3 (1)
Gould’s Petrel: 1
BLACK PETREL: 1
Australasian Gannet: 15 (5)
Crested Tern: 7 (3)
Caspian Tern: 2 (1)
Pomarine Jaeger: 14 (3)
Silver Gull: 6 (3)
Great Cormorant: 2 (1)
RUFOUS FANTAIL: 1
GREY FANTAIL: 1
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin: 12
Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphin: 5