Vessel: 37 ft Steber monohull, MV Grinner.
Crew: Craig Newton (skipper)
Weather conditions: A slow moving high over south eastern Australia brought moderate S to SE winds to the SEQ coast, abating somewhat on the day, with light SW winds early, rising to 15+ knots from the SE by mid morning, then dying off late afternoon. Moderate cloud cover with rain squalls inshore, cloud lightening off slightly off the shelf but still with the occasional rain squall. Visibility very good, barometer 1031 hPa, maximum air temperature 23 ° C.
Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. Photo: Paul Walbridge
Sea conditions: Fairly calm seas on a low swell on leaving the seaway, rising to 1.5 metre sea on up to 1.7 metre swell out wide, with the wind picking up and dying down again on approaching the coast later afternoon. Sea surface temps. 21 ° C at the seaway, 23 ° C across the shelf and rising to 23.6 ° C at the widest point in slope waters. EAC running at 1.6 knots out wide.
Left the seaway at 0705 hrs and headed out toward the Riviera grounds ENE of Southport. Crossed the shelf break at 1005 hrs and on encountering numerous foraging birds decided to start the drift e few miles short of the grounds at 1025 hrs. Continued to drift slowly to the SW until 1230 hrs when decided to head back, arriving back at the Southport Seaway at 1515 hrs. Duration of trip, 8 hrs 5 minutes.
With the preceding days leading up to the cruise producing strong southerlies, there was no trawler activity and therefore little bird activity in the first few miles out of the seaway, with just a Pied Cormorant, a few Silver Gulls and Crested Terns plus a solitary Australasian Gannet in the first half hour. However a pod of four leisurely Humpback Whales did provide some entertainment. At 0740 hrs, just five miles from the coast the first Fairy Prions began to appear, always a good sign up here in the sub tropics and a steady stream appeared to be moving past the boat in low numbers in no particular direction. At 0800 hrs the first Providence Petrel was sighted, just eight nautical miles offshore and this indeed was a good sign of things to come. We were still well on the shelf at 0850 hrs when two prions dashed close by on the port side heading shoreward, one each of Fairy Prion and an Antarctic Prion, always a good bird to see this far north.
Antarctic Prion. Photo: Paul Walbridge
Just a few minutes later at 0905 hrs another Antarctic Prion was sighted and another, along with a lone foraging Australasian Gannet heading south at 0915 hrs and over the next 20 minutes several more Fairy Prions and Providence Petrels appeared as by now we were towing the berley bag full of shark liver. At 0935 hrs another two Antarctic Prions were sighted flying alongside the vessel and just 5 minutes later a large dark shape loomed astern, a juvenile Northern Giant Petrel. We stopped while patrons could snap off plenty of shots but this bird would follow us out to the final drift point and remain with us until we left for home. As we stopped for this bird, the first Wilson’s Storm-Petrel for the day also arrived, along with a lone Crested Tern and a couple of Providence Petrels. Over the next 30 minutes a couple more Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and Providence Petrels appeared astern, attracted by the berley bag, when at 1015 hrs the first albatross of the day, a young Black-browed Albatross appeared.
Fifteen minutes later, with birds appearing around us in some numbers, it was deemed not necessary to travel another half an hour to the Riviera grounds and we were already in slope waters so the drift began at 1025 hrs with three Providence Petrels, a Wilson’s Storm-Petrel and a Fairy Prion appearing immediately astern. As well as the usual shark liver being chopped up, Rob Morris had concocted a devilish mix of bulk pet food fish mix, mashed in with tuna oil and frozen into a large 12.5 kilo block and put into a mesh laundry bag, lowered over the back of the vessel and kept close. This would gradually release a myriad of tiny morsels that would be crucial to attracting the smaller seabirds, the ones that often get a bit nervous approaching the vessel when larger birds were present in numbers. What happens is, whilst the larger birds are lunging for the various sized chunks of sharks liver they largely ignore the specks of tiny bits of fish, leaving this for the much smaller storm-petrels and indeed even the prions, which would go for both the smaller chunks of liver and the finer mix.
Gradually, the slick started to spread out and birds began to move in, with a couple more Antarctic Prions at 1040 hrs and a youngish Gibson’s Albatross arriving with by now three young Black-browed Albatrosses squabbling around the vessel with the baby Northern Giant Petrel, along with around eight Fairy Prions and amazingly, at least thirty Antarctic Prions! At this point one, a young Antarctic Prion strayed too close to the young Northern Giant, which snapped out, grabbing the prion, first drowning it in the customary manner and then attempting to devour it, at which point the Gibson’s Albatross approached and stared the young Northern Giant down. We are unsure as to who actually won that battle for the prion! Another Black-browed type arrived at approx. 1038 hrs and on closer inspection after the trip this bird proved to be a second year Campbell Albatross. At 1100 hrs the first White-faced Storm-Petrel arrived in the slick, a typical Australian grey-rumped bird. At 1110 hrs another Black-browed Albatross arrived, along with a second juvenile Northern Giant Petrel, which gradually moved in and teamed up with the first bird.
A second Great Albatross fronted up, again from the NE and this bird was even younger than the first one, possibly a second year, still with quite a lot of dark plumage underneath but not a juvenile bird and considered to be an actual Wandering Albatross exulans, at this time the first Black-bellied Storm- Petrel arrived in the slick. Just after this at 1122 hrs a different storm-petrel briefly crossed astern, different enough to raise a shout from Rob Morris but it disappeared all to quickly and nothing else was said on the boat as only a few people at the stern saw it. Luckily the sharp shooting Raja captured some distant images of it because a week later while reviewing the images with Nikolas and Elliot it turned out to be Southport’s first Leach’s Storm-Petrel. Shortly after, at 1130 hrs, another one of the birds of the day arrived a juvenile Antipodean Albatross and while on the water its upswept wings showing some lovely fine reticulated patterning on the underwing. At the same time, a lone Grey-faced Petrel arrived, albeit but momentarily in the slick and then gone. At 1145 hrs, one of everyone’s favourite seabirds loomed in, a resplendent Cape Petrel, thought by some to be a nominate capense but the jury is still out for the moment. Right at this time after a bit of a lull, another wave of birds came through, involving up to ten Antarctic Prions, twenty Fairy Prions, three Providence Petrels, two White-faced Storm-Petrels, a Black-bellied Storm-Petrel, a Crested Tern and yet another Black-browed Albatross.
At 1215 hrs, with rain squalls approaching, a dark bird approached, again from the NE, a youngish Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, this bird hung around for quite a few minutes but didn’t appear to land to feed. Also at this time another White-faced Storm-Petrel arrived in the slick along with at least two Black-bellied Storm-Petrels and six Providence Petrels. At 1220 hrs, the last new bird for the day arrived, a Kermadec Petrel, along with another two Black-bellied Storm-Petrels. It was about this time, just as we were about to leave, that the juvenile Gibson’s Albatross decided that it would again fly low over the vessel, bow to stern. It got away with it the first time but not the second. I was at the rear when I heard someone shout and heard a heavy thud behind me, I looked down to see a wing wrapped around my legs. Rob Morris quickly gathered up the uninjured but shaken bird and released it off the rear of the vessel. I monitored it as it ran across the surface, then performed the customary de-humanising wing shaking/flapping rinse that albatrosses do when they have been handled and the bird appeared to be okay.
On heading for home, a few Providence Petrels continued to follow the vessel and at 1310 hrs a second Kermadec Petrel was observed on the starboard side heading east. Heading inshore, several more Providence Petrels and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were observed following in the vessels wake, along with one or two Fairy Prions and closer to shore an Australasian Gannet and a Crested Tern.
Leach’s Storm-Petrel – 1
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel – 10 (2)
White-faced Storm-Petrel – 4 (2)
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel – 7 (2)
Antipodean Albatross –2 (2) 1 Gibson’s
Wandering Albatross – 1
Black-Browed Albatross – 5 (3)
Campbell Albatross – 1
Light-mantled Sooty Albatross – 1
Northern Giant Petrel – 2
Cape Petrel – 1
Fairy Prion – 44 (20)
Antarctic Prion – 47 (30)
Kermadec Petrel – 2 (1)
Great-winged Petrel – 1
Providence Petrel – 44 (20)
Australasian Gannet – 3 (1)
Pied Cormorant – 1
Crested Tern – 7 (2)
Silver Gull – 6
This pelagic taught us a valuable lesson in not being overzealous in getting the report onto the website as if there was a deadline to be met. In this age of digital photography, nothing much is missed or overlooked anymore, particularly where these days more than half of the patrons have the latest Canon or Nikon gear. It pays to wait until everyone has reviewed their days work and also discuss at length any queries anyone may have about the days events, ideally this should be done on the vessel during the day. This particular day was hectic to say the least with all the prion activity and the Leach’s Storm-Petrel was forgotten about as it passed through so quickly, another thumbs up to digital photography. Prior to the middle of the first decade of this century, that bird more than likely would have gone unrecorded.