Vessel: 37 ft monohull, MV Steber
Crew: Craig Newton (skipper)
Weather conditions: A high over the Tasman maintained a ridge over the east Queensland coast, bringing moderate SE to NE winds onto the SEQ coast. On the day E-NE winds 10-15 knots early on, easing slightly as the day progressed. Moderate high cloud cover with frequent sunny spells, maximum air temp. 27° C, barometer, 1020 hPa.
Sea conditions: Fairly calm conditions on leaving the seaway rising to one metre seas, on up to a 1.7 metre swell across the shelf, easing slightly in slope waters as the morning progressed. Minimum sea surface temperature close to shore, 24.9° C, rising to 25.8° C on the shelf and up to 26.8° C at the widest point.
Left the Southport seaway at 0600 hrs and headed ENE to Jim’s Mountain, crossing the shelf-break at just after 0900 hrs and reaching the final drift point at 0955 hrs, actually a couple of miles short of the original destination. Drifted there until 1245 hrs, when it was decided to head for home, reaching the seaway at 1610 hrs. Total time of cruise, 10 hrs 10 mins.
On leaving the seaway, several trawlers in succession were encountered, the first one having already cleaned up having very little around it. The second trawler was not much better but did show the first Arctic Jaeger of the day plus a few Silver Gulls and a Wedge-tailed Shearwater. The third trawler at 0620 hrs was a bit more interesting, with forty each of Crested Tern and Silver Gull, a Caspian Tern and around twenty Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, just after at 0625 hrs two Common Noddies were sighted astern, heading NW. The fourth trawler at 0628 hrs produced a young Australasian Gannet, a few Silver Gulls and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and a couple of Pomarine Jaegers.
Over the next hour or so a few more birds sighted whilst crossing the shelf, mainly one or two more Australasian Gannets and Common Noddies, plus singles of Pomarine and Arctic Jaegers and several more Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. At 0803 hrs, at just sixteen nautical miles from shore and still well on the shelf, the first Providence Petrel appeared, followed quite quickly by others, a promising sight. By 0905 hrs and nearing the shelf break the first Flesh-footed Shearwaters began appearing, along with more Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Providence Petrels. At 0955 hrs and still a couple of miles short of Jim’s Mountain a White-necked Petrel was sighted on the water in front of us, which promptly put to flight and after a couple of quick circuits disappeared to the SW. With a Tahiti Petrel joining us almost immediately after, it was decided to stop right there and drift.
Kermadec and Providence Petrels. Photo: Paul Walbridge
By 1015 hrs it became apparent that any birds that were around were ravenous as we were joined by up to half a dozen Providence Petrels, the first Kermadec Petrel of the day, up to a dozen Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, six Flesh-footed Shearwaters and four Tahiti Petrels. At this time a lone small black and white shearwater joined us, an extremely hungry Hutton’s Shearwater, most likely a young bird with a rather large tick on its crown and this bird had no trouble mixing it with the much larger shearwaters and petrels. In fact the berley was being picked off before it could move twenty metres and little was drifting past the birds. By 1030 hrs up to 30 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, twenty Providence Petrels, five Flesh-footed Shearwaters, a couple more Tahiti Petrels and another Kermadec Petrel were around the stern of the vessel and finally the first Wilson’s Storm-Petrel made a belated appearance.
By 1050 hrs more Tahiti Petrels were arriving and up to three Kermadec Petrels were around the vessel, in fact the Kermadec Petrels were landing at the back of the vessel and competing even with the Tahiti Petrels. At 1104 hours, the lone Sooty Tern for the day passed by and then what appeared to be two Arctic Jaegers approached, first one chasing the other then the roles reversed, turns out one was indeed an Arctic Jaeger, the other a Kermadec Petrel, extraordinary! At 1105 hrs the first White-faced storm-Petrel appeared in the slick but never approached close and over the next hour or so nothing much changed, with Wedge-tailed Shearwater numbers now building to fifty and Providence Petrels to twenty, plus more Tahiti and Kermadec Petrels and one or two more Wilson’s Storm-Petrels. It wasn’t until 1207 that the next new species for the day turned up in the form of a Black Noddy, which came in to investigate as this species often does. At this time the numbers of Wilson Storm-Petrels suddenly rose to five and the second White-faced Storm-Petrel also arrived in the slick.
By 1225 hrs, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel numbers had risen to ten with at least four Tahiti Petrels and yet another Kermadec Petrel. By 1245 hrs it was time to head for home, which we did at a leisurely pace as there were still plenty of birds around. Heading back over the shelf a good variety of birds were still being encountered including Tahiti Petrels, Flesh-footed Shearwaters, Hutton’s and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. Just before arriving back at the seaway we headed north a couple of miles up parallel to Deadman’s Beach off the southern end of South Stradbroke Island, where there are often foraging shearwaters and terns. Not to be disappointed two new species for the day were added, Fluttering Shearwater and Little Tern with up to forty Common Terns to make up the numbers. Just before entering the seaway another Australasian Gannet, Pied Cormorant and four Little Terns were added to the final tally, a fascinating days seabirding.
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel – 23 (10)
White-faced Storm-Petrel – 2 (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater – 153 (50)
Flesh-footed Shearwater – 20 (5)
Fluttering Shearwater – 1
Hutton’s Shearwater –3 (1)
Tahiti Petrel – 19 (4)
Great-winged Petrel – 1 (P. m gouldae)
Kermadec Petrel – 9 (3)
Providence Petrel – 51 (20)
White-necked Petrel – 1
Australasian Gannet – 5 (1)
Pied Cormorant – 2 (1)
Pomarine Jaeger – 3 (2)
Arctic Jaeger – 3 (1)
Common Noddy – 5 (2)
Black Noddy – 1
Sooty Tern – 1
Little Tern – 6 (4)
Caspian Tern – 1
Common Tern – 42 (40)
Crested Tern – 48 (40)
Silver Gull – 89 (40)