Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report – Sunday 7 February 2016
Boat: M.V. Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsfield
Initially quite a solid 2.5-3m southerly swell that although widely spaced, had a bit of sea in the troughs, making for a bit of topsy-turvy on the journey out. Wind was steady at around 10 knots from the south-east, which dropped off markedly not long after reaching the shelf and did not return to any great extent for the remainder of the day. The swell also tailed off; at one point appearing as if it had flattened out completely. Water temperature at shelf break ~24 degrees according to local marlin fishermen.
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0708 returning at 1652. We headed straight out to -32 55 58 / 152 34 48, drifting rapidly (current was running hard downhill and we drifted at about 3.5-4 knots) for nearly 2 hours to -33 00 28 / 152 31 53 from where we headed back north to start another small southerly drift. Plenty of interested shearwaters on the way out, though as has been the case for the past couple of years, only Fleshy-foots really coming to the water to investigate. There was cause for much excitement a few miles short of deep water when one, then two, Red-tailed Tropicbirds were picked up against the bright sky; the long-lenses reeling them in for easy identification. A free-jumping Striped Marlin was also a great spectacle and a group of small dolphins had some people considering Spinners, but this wasn’t able to be confirmed. Generally quiet at the shelf break with a slow turnover of birds and low diversity of species. Good numbers of (mostly Wedge-tailed) shearwaters inshore on our return.
12 species identified outside of the heads represents a low diversity for Port Stephens and in particular only 6 Procellariiformes was a bit disappointing (including no storm-petrels at all). However, the Red-tailed Tropicbirds kept the Hunter Region listers on board happy, with 2 people racking up their 400th Hunter species with this sighting. Any day you see 3 Gould’s Petrels at sea has got to be a good day too. Counts are totals for birds seen outside the heads (with the maximum number visible from the boat at one time in brackets) – many are estimates. Taxonomy follows the BirdLife Australia Working List V1.2.
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 400 (300) – attendant birds all day, with large flocks inshore on our return. Birds with aberrant plumage suggested at least a small turnover in deep water.
Short-tailed Shearwater: 15 (4) – scattered birds seen in inshore waters only.
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 140 (100) – a very good count of this species today, with them being the dominant shearwater for much of our time in deep water.
Fluttering Shearwater: 2 (1) – both in inshore waters.
Hutton’s/Fluttering-type Shearwater: 2 – both birds too far away for ID. A very quiet day for this group of birds.
Great-winged (Grey-faced) Petrel: 6 (4) – all pelagic, with no birds following the boat back across the shelf break. One bird in particular had an extremely white face.
GOULD’S PETREL: 3 (1) – all pelagic and seen at largely spaced intervals. Two of the three birds seen were quite obliging, coming close to the boat for reasonably prolonged views.
RED-TAILED TROPICBIRD: 2 (2) – initially picked up as a single “white bird” high in the sky a few miles short of the shelf. As an identification was made, a second bird came into view. Generally poor views of this scarce bird for Hunter waters, being the first time it has been recorded on a Port Stephens pelagic.
Australasian Gannet: 4 (2) – two birds seen close inshore on the way out with another pair of birds seen sitting on the water further out on the return leg.
Pomarine Jaeger: 13 (4) – one dark bird early on with far greater numbers inshore on the return leg.
Arctic Jaeger: 1 – a single bird seen just outside the heads on the return leg.
Crested Tern: 11 (6) – all inshore and all on the return leg only.
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin: ~10
Unidentified dolphin sp. – possibly Spinner??
Flying Fish: ~20
Striped Marlin: 1 – seen free-jumping a number of times not long after the Red-tailed Tropicbird sighting.