Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report – Sunday 12 October 2014
Boat: M.V. Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsfield
A stiff nor-easter was supposed to have blown right through Saturday night but we were treated to pleasant conditions for the first hour or so of the day with just a slight northerly breeze. The nor-easter did pick up and by about 0900 we had 15 to 20 knots of wind hitting our post side and creating quite short wind waves, making a bumpy ride. By the time we started the motor to head home the wind was a consistent 25 knots, gusting to 30 knots, creating 2-3m wind waves that we only a couple of seconds apart. Needless to say it was a bumpy ride home! A total of 6 people fell seasick, including our decky!
The highlight bird was probably a Black-bellied Storm-petrel that not many people actually go to see. Having 5 Wandering-type Albatrosses in October was a thrill, as was having a Solander’s Petrel join the inshore feeding flock of shearwaters about 7 miles from the heads. Not only that, but it stayed with the boat til only a couple of hundred metres from the rocks on the northern side of Point Stephens. It was actually a disappointingly quiet day, with only 11 confirmed taxa recorded (and noting Roger’s comment about Sydney the day before in benign conditions; they recorded a greater diversity than we did). It was good to see Fleshies in reasonable numbers at this time of year (in comparison to the 2 previous seasons anyway).
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0712 returning at 1755.
Things were pretty quiet as we motored past the islands until we hit the first wave of migrating Short-tailed Shearwaters a few miles out. There were also some Wedge-taileds about, but weren't interested in the berley. The first ‘customer’ was a Fleshy-footed Shearwater, of which we saw about half a dozen on the outward leg. Despite the wind picking up, the number of birds did not, with just migrating Short-taileds and the odd Fluttering-type Shearwater seen. As we neared the deep water we had some early sightings of Solander’s Petrels and 3 separate and frustratingly distant views of ‘Cookilaria’ petrels. On the choppy sea with the boat pitching heavily, and with the birds so far away, these went down on the list as “Pterodroma sp.”. The one bird I saw through binoculars definitely appeared to have a quite pale grey back, but that was the only feature I could manage.
A container ship was drifting along the shelf break, riding the current and we carefully motored past it and set up a drift at -32 58 3 / 152 34 17. Still no shearwaters came in to the back of the boat, but it wasn’t long before a Wandering-type Albatross was seen, but this particular bird stayed aloof.
It was then just a matter of watching ‘brown shearwaters’ flying past the boat, including waves of Wedge-taileds that gave the impression of being on migration as well. The only birds that actually landed on the water to have a peck at the berley offerings were Solander’s Petrels, which were in good numbers. Amongst the Solander’s there were a small number of Great-wingeds picked out.
The monotony was broken when 2 Wandering-type Albatrosses were picked up from a long way out, both of which fortunately came close to the boat for a few passes. One was a young bird that did give the impression of looking quite large (candidate exulans?), whereas the second appeared to be a smaller bird, probably a female Gibson’s. It took nearly an hour before the first of only a handful of Wilson’s Storm-petrels flew in. At one point a storm-petrel was called and watched as it flew away from the boat. A couple of people did get the impression of pale underparts through bins and an image confirmed it as a Black-bellied.
With a few people down for the count and very little action on the bird diversity front, we pulled up stumps at about 1330 (at -33 00 57 / 152 31 51) and started the long haul home, punching into the sizeable and closely separated wind waves, making for a rather wet ride home for the berley boy.
We saw 2 more Wandering Albatrosses on the way back in, the last of which could have been a female Antipodean. Other than that it was just a slow slog home with nothing at the rear of the boat until we encountered the inshore feeding Wedge-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwaters. We were surprised to see a Solander’s Petrel materialise and feed in with the shearwaters as if it was one of them. This bird remained in the wake of the boat all the way to and then past Point Stephens and was only a couple of hundred metres off the rocks before it decided to peel away when the bulk of the shearwaters did.
The Solander's Petrel that followed the boat past Point Stephens.
Species: Total outside the heads (maximum number visible from the boat at one time) – many are estimates and especially the shearwaters. Taxonomy follows the BirdLife Australia Working List V1.1
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel: 6 (2)
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel: 1
Antipodean Albatross: 5 (2) (likely 2 or 3 Gibson’s + one bird a candidate Wandering exulans)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 300 (60)
Short-tailed Shearwater: 2000 (300)
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 35 (8)
Fluttering-type Shearwater: 7
Solander’s Petrel: 30+ (4)
Great-winged Petrel: 3 (1)
Pterodroma sp. (‘Cookilaria sp.’): 3 (1)
Australasian Gannet: 6 (2)
Crested Tern: 14 (5)
Silver Gull: 7 (3)
Humpback Whale: 2