Location: Southport, Queensland
Vessel: 37 ft Steber monohull MV Grinner
Crew: Craig Newton (skipper)
A Strengthening high over the Tasman brought moderate SE-ESE winds 10-20 knots onto the southern Queensland coast. Changing lighting conditions with loud passing through, and the occasional rain squall, visibility generally very good. Maximum air temp. 24 C, barometer 1028 hPa.
Hardly any sea on a variable 1-1.5 metre swell at the seaway rising 1 metre seas, on up to 2+ metre swell out wide, with a messy chop. Sea surface temps. 22.8 C at the seaway, with a maximum of 24.3 C out wide. EAC out wide running just above 1 knot.
Left the seaway at 0635 hrs and with the prevailing conditions decided to head roughly east and head for the 120 fathom line just outside the shelf-break where the skipper had noted several current lines and a load of baitfish, just a few days prior. We travelled at reduced speed for the conditions, reached the drift point at 1015 hrs and drifted slowly SW until 1255 hrs, then headed for home. Arrived back at the Southport seaway at 1520 hrs, total time of cruise, 8 hrs 45 mins.
No trawler activity on leaving the seaway due to the adverse conditions leading up to the day and only one charter boat ventured out with us and not far, in fact out wide it was a lonely sea, not even the usual game boats joined us. Little outside the seaway, with just a couple of Crested Terns and Silver Gulls, not even any Australasian Gannets which were entirely absent for the day. At 0740 hrs and still only 9 nautical miles from shore the first Providence Petrel appeared, followed 30 minutes later by another single bird, always encouraging seeing pterodromas this close in, on the shelf. At 0852 hrs a real surprise appeared in the shape of a Kermadec Petrel, only the second sighting off Southport for May but more were to arrive.
With one or two Providence Petrels now appearing around the vessel, we stopped for the drift at 1015 hrs and were immediately joined by two Providence Petrels and the second Kermadec Petrel of the day. At 1030 hrs the first Great-winged Petrel arrived, another uncommon May species, with the number of Providence Petrels now building to six yet another Kermadec Petrel arrive on the scene. A solitary Crested had now joined us and decided to take a rest on the bow, when an adult Brown Booby passed to starboard heading coastward. The first two Black-bellied Storm-Petrels arrive at 1055 hrs one of which being one of those enigmatic very white bellied birds, which hung off deep into the slick but final closer scrutiny confirmed ID. Even when the feet projection can*t be determined a quick snap of the underwing pattern should be sufficient. Three Wilson's Storm-Petrels and a single White-faced Storm-Petrel arrived in the same flurry.
Storm-Petrels were starting to arrive in increasing numbers and hanging around much closer to the vessel and this was due mainly I feel to Rob Morris' innovative ultra fine berley bag, which let only extra fine frozen fish particles out into the water which the larger petrels ignored but the storm-petrels honed into. It was a photographers dream especially with the stiff SE wind holding the birds up. At 1124 hrs the last new bird for the day arrived, the first of three Tahiti Petrels, another rare bird for May but not too surprising given the water temperature.
Over the next hour and a half, it was a close up storm-petrel show with the three species present getting into double figures for the day. Providence Petrels peaked at 30 and a few more Great-winged Petrels arrived sitting side by side on the water, providing the newcomers on board a great comparison, although, especially at this time of year there are obvious plumage differences, physically they are extremely alike, that is, Providence Petrel and the New Zealand P. m. gouldi. Just as we were to head for home a 4th Kermadec arrived Up to 3 Black-bellied Storm-Petrels, 3 Wilson's Storm-Petrels and a couple of Providence Petrels followed the vessel back across well onto the shelf for several miles. A feeding flock of about 20 Crested Terns was all that was noted just north of the seaway on return and still no Gannets.
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 29 (6)
White-faced Storm-Petrel - 15 (4)
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel - 24 (5)
Tahiti Petrel - 3 (2) Kermadec Petrel - 4 (1)
Great-winged Petrel - 5 (2)
Providence Petrel - 88 (30)
Brown Booby - 1
Crested Tern - 24 (20)
Silver Gull - 3