Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report – Sunday 16 November 2014
Boat: M.V. Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsfield
Initially calm with light and variable winds and little sea to talk of for much of the outward journey. Upon reaching the shelf a squall of southerly winds associated with a big rain front passed through. Once this passed we experienced calm conditions again until a stiff sou-wester got up and blew consistently for the remainder of the day, gusting to 30 knots and making the return trip to port a very slow and bumpy ride.
White-chinned Petrel. Photo Mick Roderick
The highlight bird was definitely a White-chinned Petrel that came in and hung round the boat for over half an hour; just the 2nd of this species to have been found during a pelagic birding trip out of Hunter port and the first since the commencement of Port Stephens pelagics. A Gould’s Petrel provided good views, albeit briefly, and there were the best numbers of Great-winged Petrels seen on a Port Stephens trip for quite some time. A ‘lowlight’ and somewhat of a mystery was the complete lack of a single Flesh-footed Shearwater.
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0706 returning at 1815.
As we passed the offshore islands it was unusual to see as many Short-tailed Shearwaters as Wedge-taileds feeding in the wake on the chicken mince berley on offer. A handful of Fluttering-type Shearwaters were confirmed to reveal both Fluttering and Hutton’s present. Frustratingly distant Pomarine Jaegers were seen and a young Long-tailed Jaeger appeared distantly in the wake about half way out (the same bird returned to the boat throughout the day). Black-browed-type and Shy-type Albatrosses were also seen en-route. Nearing the shelf we started seeing Great-winged Petrels and we’d probably seen half a dozen before we reached the deep water, as the big rain squall headed our way. Great-wingeds basically filled the niche normally filled by Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, with a constant assemblage of birds near the rear of the boat and several birds visible on the horizon at the same time.
Long-tailed Jaeger. Photo Mick Roderick
Raincoats came out as we set up a drift at -32 55 18 / 152 34 19. It wasn’t long before the first Wilson’s Storm-petrel appeared, though numbers were to be low for this species with about half a dozen seen across the day. The first of a small number of Solander’s Petrels came in as the wind died off for a short time. A repositioning was made not long after the offshore winds reached us and a cry of “Cookilaria!” went out as a Gould’s Petrel worked its way down the slick, giving better-than-acceptable views for this species. The bird made another couple of brief returns before being lost.
Young Black-browed and Shy-types continued to visit the boat, one adult Shy-type sporting a broken leg that was badly festered. A fresh juvenile Shy-type was identified as a White-capped, the only claimed identification to species level of any albatross seen on the day. Some very acrobatic groups of Pantropical Spotted Dolphins kept everyone on board entertained in between new birds.
Just after midday the call of “Black Petrel!” sounded as a Procellaria flew right over the punters gathered at the stern. For a while this was what we’d assumed we were looking at because with the bird flying away it was difficult to ascertain size. We all paused for a moment and thought of Mr Weigel in Torres Strait being monstered by mosquitoes and logistical nightmares in an effort to add to his year list, while we notched up our second new bird for him for the day. But that wasn’t to last long, as Ashwin identified it as a White-chinned after getting a good view at the bill. White-chinned it was and just the 2nd one seen from an organised pelagic off the Hunter since they began nearly 15 years ago. The excitement for Hunter birders of course was not shared by Bernie, who had driven from Melbourne almost specifically to see a Black Petrel!
The journey home was a particularly long one, due to the 25 knot offshore winds that formed wind waves of a couple of metres spaced barely seconds apart. It took just over 4 and half hours to reach the heads with very little of note as far as birds were concerned apart from a sea-eagle and some inshore feeding flocks of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters.
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-browed type Albatross: 4 (2) – all immature birds.
Shy-type Albatross: 6 (1)
White-capped Albatross: 1
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 700 (500)
Short-tailed Shearwater: 40 (6)
Fluttering Shearwater: 4 (1)
Fluttering-type Shearwater: 5+
Hutton’s Shearwater: 3 (1)
Solander’s Petrel: 4 (1)
Great-winged Petrel: 40+ (12)
Gould’s Petrel: 1
WHITE-CHINNED PETREL: 1
Australasian Gannet: 7 (2)
Pomarine Jaeger: 4 (1)
Long-tailed Jaeger: 1
Crested Tern: 3 (1)
Silver Gull: 10 (10)
White-bellied Sea-eagle: 1
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin: 10
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin: 15-20?