Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report – Sunday 13 September 2015
Boat: M.V. Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsfield
Winds very slight from the north early on, with barely any swell to speak of. Gradually as the day progressed the northerlies stretching and were a nice 10-15 knots during our drift. For most of the journey home these winds had hit the 20 knots mark virtually from the due north, forming quite steep wind waves at our starboard side, giving the berley boys at the rear starboard a good soaking on occasions. Drift Start -32.937890 152.618710 in ~300 fathoms, end at -32.997780 152.622990 in ~430 fathoms.
Wandering Albatross and Southern Giant-Petrel. Photo: Mick Roderick
Whilst no ‘rarities’ as such were seen, this was the first Port Stephens pelagic where both Giant-petrels were seen and was only the second one that a Southern had been recorded on (the only previous one was 23-09-2012 when we had 2 of them). Cape Petrels have been scarce enough in recent years for them to qualify as a ‘highlight’ and we had one of those come into the boat a few miles inside the shelf on the return leg. It was also fantastic to have 4 Wandering-types behind the boat for much of the journey home too. Non-avian highlights were the sheer number of Humpback Whales, following the ‘downhill’ current line near the shelf break.
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0712 returning at 1752 (a late arrival back at port).
Similar to the Sydney report from the day before, activity was extremely low for much of the journey out. There were occasional Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, the odd Hutton’s/Huttons-type, a small raft of Fluttering Shearwaters on the deck, a lone Wilson’s Storm-petrel and a young Black-browed type Albatross that checked us out briefly. However it was mostly it was a birdless trip to the shelf in that we weren't followed by any birds. There were quite a few Humpback Whales seen mostly on the horizon too.
Hutton's Shearwater. Photo: Mick Roderick
Upon reaching deep water (we motored a few miles past the shelf break as there was zero activity) a new-design oily rag (read: oily jumpsuit) was deployed and within minutes we had a 50m wide slick to complement the edible berley on offer. Wedge-tailed Shearwaters started appearing from nowhere and it wasn’t long before a giant-petrel fly in. This was cause for eager excitement for one Hunter-lister who has been desperate to see a Southern since these pelagics started, bustling his way for a closer look at the bird, almost knocking the berley boy off the back of the boat in the process. He was to be disappointed (yet again) as this particular bird was a Northern, However it was noted that the pinkish colouration to the tip of the bill was extremely slight and the bill looked almost completely uniform in colour from some angles.
A few Solander’s Petrels came in, some looking very worn and brown-backed. The odd Wilson’s, then White-faced, Storm-Petrels appeared in the slick and a few Hutton’s Shearwaters were seen, including a flock of 33 birds that was photographed. After a couple of hours, with still just the one fly-by albatross earlier on, we were scratching our heads wondering if we were going to have any albies come into the boat. Finally, a Wandering Albatross (thought to be an adult female) came in, though disappointingly barely looked sideways at the boat.
Realising we’d drifted over 4 miles south we decided to head back to port at about 1315hrs. The same Wandering Albatross joined the throng of Wedgies and then a second (younger) bird, a probable Gibson’s (Antipodean), came in. The bird had a metal band on its right leg, far too difficult to see or photograph properly. The first half an hour of the journey back was full of close encounters with travelling humpbacks and pods of dolphins (mostly Offshore Bottlenose) and when we stopped near the shelf-break to let a humpback pass to the front of the boat, the only Grey-faced (Great-winged) Petrel for the day came into the boat.
Southern Giant-Petrel. Photo: Mick Roderick
Setting off again we had a 3rd Wandering-type join in before another giant-petrel appeared. Al Richardson ‘reeled’ the bird in with his zoom lens and only needed to smile before Dan Williams began rejoicing in great style the fact that it was a Southern. When yet another Wandering-type and the first Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross flew in we decided to stop the boat (about 5 miles inside the shelf break). Finally we had good views of albatrosses sitting on the water and there was much tussling over the chicken skins brought especially for the albies but being hotly contested by the SGP. Suddenly the cry of “Cape Petrel!” went up and sure enough a bird of the race australe was flitting about the boat in its inimitable style.
With time getting away on us, we had to set off, just as things were getting really interesting. Several more Hutton's and Hutton's-type Shearwaters kept us busy before we added one final species to the day’s list in the form of a quite dark-headed juvenile Shy-type Albatross, almost certainly a White-capped. Another immature Black-browed-type also made a late appearance.
Unfortunately for the Sydney birders on board, it was a late arrival back at port (pushing 6pm) due to the fact that we’d made a few stops on the way home. But the flurry of activity where we had the Cape Petrel fly in was well worth it. A very slow start to what turned out to be a very entertaining and enjoyable pelagic.
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
White-faced Storm-petrel: 3 (2)
Wilson’s Storm-petrel: 4 (3)
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross: 1
Black-browed type Albatross: 3 (1)
Shy-type Albatross: 1, very likely White-capped
Wandering Albatross: 2 (2)
Antipodean Albatross: 2 (2), both likely gibsoni
Northern Giant-Petrel: 1
Southern Giant-Petrel: 1
Cape Petrel: 1, race australe
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 800 (350)
Hutton’s Shearwater: 70 (33)
Hutton’s-type Shearwater: 40
Fluttering Shearwater: 12 (6)
Solander’s Petrel: 12 (2)
Great-winged (Grey-faced) Petrel: 1
Australasian Gannet: 35 (8)
Crested Tern: 8 (4)
Silver Gull: 20 (11)
Humpback Whale: 60+
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin: Many (>100?)