Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report – Sunday 10 August 2014
Boat: M.V. Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsfield
Following a fairly benign week of gentle winds, a strong wind warning was issued for today, with westerly winds forecast to reach 25 knots during the morning. There was barely a breath of wind to speak of until about 10am when the nor-wester started to get up, eventually pushing 20 knots by the time we were at the shelf. There was also some south in the wind as well, which made some of the waves stand up steeply against the current. Water temperature inshore 18 degrees and 20 degrees in deeper water.
No outstanding highlights but good numbers of Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses and Solander’s Petrels, as well as at least 2 Buller’s Albatross – now a regular bird on winter Port Stephens trips. An unusual young Shy-type albatross with very uniformly dark primaries had many on board thinking it to be a candidate Salvin’s, though the bird has since been shown not be a Salvin’s but an “interesting Shy-type”!
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0725 returning at 1655.
There was an air of trepidation from some of the punters milling at the picnic tables at the wharf, with a strong wind warning issued for Hunter waters, with BOM talking about westerly winds to 25 knots. The wind was supposed to have gotten up overnight but there was barely a breath of wind to speak of as the boat pulled into the wharf. Of we set with the attitude of “see how it goes” and the first Procellariiform seen as we just rounded the islands was a Wedge-tailed Shearwater – a bird largely off everyone’s radar as they are just starting to return to their breeding grounds. Gradually more and more were seen, including a feeding flock of about 150 birds to the south. Suddenly the trip had a summery feel to it.
Continuing on we saw small groups of Fluttering-type Shearwaters, amongst which were some definite Fluttering. The first of many Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses made its way up the wake and soon enough there were half a dozen in pursuit. A distant Brown Skua kept its distance and unfortunately was the only one for the day. The westerlies then set in and when we were approaching deeper water the white caps were substantial and some quite steep wind waves were chasing the boat. I did think that it would be fun returning to port in this!
Quite a few breaching Humpback Whales were seen and probably close to 5 miles short of the shelf break we started seeing our first Solander’s Petrels as well as the first Black-browed Albatross-type and Hutton’s Shearwater. Dozens of gannets were seen in every direction and we saw one of reasons they were likely in the area when a Yellow-nosed Alby drop onto the water and plucked a reasonably-sized garfish from the water. We reached the start of the drift in about 250m of water (at -32.881676 152.598679), with the boat being pushed into deeper water by the stiff westerly wind.
A few Fairy Prions, more Yellow-nosed Albatross and another Hutton’s Shearwater were seen before an adult Shy-type Albatross joined in. This bird was joined by a very short-staying second-year bird and then a juvenile. The juvenile gave some cause for excitement because of the jet black primaries, forming a beautifully demarcated line with the remaining white underwing. This bird was later studied in detail and was later considered to be a Shy-type (most likely a cauta) with very dark primaries (in high resolution images, a very slight amount of pale could be made out on the inner primary feathers too).
A second Black-browed type Albatross came in (another young bird) and the first of 3 White-faced Storm-petrels flew by the stern and fed in the slick. There was the occasional Wedge-tailed Shearwater out wide and a consistent turnover of Solander’s Petrels was noticed, with 9 being the maximum count at one time. It was a while before the first Antipodean (Gibson’s) joined in and then more excitement as a Buller’s Albatross also joined the fray. Always popular, there was some excitement too when a Cape Petrel flew in.
We departed from -32.932312 152.620071 and had a second Buller’s Albatross and Antipodean join us for a period, though we could not manage to see any more Black-broweds. We made a detour on the way back in to see a number of fur seals loafing on the rocks on the northern shore of Cabbage Tree Island.
Species: Total outside the heads (maximum number visible from the boat at one time) – many are estimates. Taxonomy follows the BirdLife Australia Working List V1.1
White-faced Storm-Petrel: 3 (3)
Black-browed type Albatross: 2 (1)
Shy-type Albatross: 5 (2) (1x likely White-capped, 1x likely Shy)
Yellow-nosed Albatross: 90 (25)
Buller’s Albatross: 2 (1)
Antipodean Albatross: 2 (1)
Cape Petrel: 1
Fairy Prion: 8 (2)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 180 (150)
Fluttering Shearwater: 6 (4)
Fluttering-type Shearwater: 20
Hutton’s Shearwater: 2 (1)
Solander’s Petrel: 40+ (9)
Australasian Gannet: 120 (30)
Brown Skua: 1
Crested Tern: 7 (2)
Silver Gull: 6 (4)
Humpback Whale: 7
Fur Seal: 1
On Cabbage Tree Island
Topknot Pigeon: 2
Great Cormorant: 2
Sooty Oystercatcher: 1
Fur seal: 17