Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report – Sunday 11 January 2015
Boat: M.V. Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsfield
Overcast and drizzly rain virtually the entire day, with some heavy rain periods experienced out beyond the shelf. Winds south to south-east, light inshore, 10-15 knots offshore. Sea/swell 1-1.5m, with some larger, steeper waves along current lines.
Kermadec Petrel. Photo Allan Richardson
Despite what felt like a pretty slow day, we managed a pretty impressive list with White-necked / Kermadec Petrels and 2 Buller’s Shearwaters being the highlights. 60+ Sooty Terns was the most ever recorded on a Port Stephens pelagic by a considerable margin. 12 White-faced Storm-petrels is the most seen (and first double-figure count) since December 2010.
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0708 returning at 1650.
White-necked Petrel. Photo: Allan Richardson
With a week of onshore winds and easterly trade winds having blown across the Pacific (and a Great Frigatebird and Sooty Tern being seen in Newcastle Harbour during the week) expectations were high for today’s pelagic. Despite initial forecasts predicting strong nor-east winds, a southerly change had hit during the night and the day was characterised by drizzly rain (at times heavy) and southerly winds.
As always, the Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were the first seabirds observed, initially as individuals but a few miles out we encountered the first feeding flocks. Several Fleshy-foots were amongst this and other feeding flocks seen on the way out and a group of 6 Little Penguins were huddled together about 5 miles from the heads. A few Hutton’s Shearwaters were seen and then it was into the long journey beyond the inshore flocks (which were mostly associated with dolphin pods) to the deep water. The drizzly rain was consistent and made for a very damp day and very poor conditions for the photographers on board.
As we neared the deeper water the first of the Sooty Terns were seen, then a Wilson’s Storm-petrel (the only for the day) followed by a magnificent White-necked Petrel that investigated the boat for a little while. Some White-faced Stormies were also seen a few miles short of the deep water. We set up a drift at -32.92557 / 152.57734 and it wasn’t long before more Sooty Terns came into view. At one stage there was a pod of Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins with about 15 Sooty Terns feeding above it and then only minutes later a similar scenario but with slightly fewer Sooty Terns. The count for the day was at least 60 of these birds.
Buller's Shearwater. Photo: Allan Richardson
Apart from Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, very little else came into the boat and when a band of heavy rain set upon us the addition of any birds whatsoever literally ceased. After getting a good soaking for zero reward we decided to head back to the waters slightly landward of the shelf break. We left from -32.97159 / 152.53623 and it was a wise decision as we immediately started to see much more activity. A Buller’s Shearwater was the first ‘uncommon’ bird seen, followed by a dark Kermadec Petrel that unfortunately did not hang round for long. A Sooty Shearwater did a rapid flyby, as is often the case seemingly oblivious to the boat. Of interest, not a single Great-winged Petrel was seen. There was, however, the almost customary “getaway” Cookilaria sighting. This time, it was a bird about 400m off the bow that literally disappeared as it crossed the bow. Its identity will remain a mystery, though one observer did get an impression of a dark head, suggesting that Gould’s was the most likely candidate.
With much lighter winds in the inshore waters, conditions were almost glassy for much of the return leg, which was largely uneventful apart from a second Buller’s Shearwater, 2 more Sooty Shearwaters and large inshore (some loafing) flocks of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, with good numbers of Fleshy-foots present with them.
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
Little Penguin: 6 (6)
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel: 1
White-faced Storm-Petrel: 12 (6)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 2500+ (500)
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 150 (30)
Short-tailed Shearwater: 14 (4)
Sooty Shearwater: 3 (1)
BULLER’S SHEARWATER: 2 (1)
Fluttering-type Shearwater: 5+
Hutton’s Shearwater: 4 (1)
WHITE-NECKED PETREL: 1
KERMADEC PETREL: 1
Unidentified ‘Cookilaria sp.’ petrel: 1
Australasian Gannet: 2 (1)
Pomarine Jaeger: 12 (3)
Arctic Jaeger: 1
Sooty Tern: 60 (24)
Crested Tern: 10 (4)
Silver Gull: 2 (1)
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin: 40+
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin: 5