Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report- Sunday 7th August 2016
Boat: M.V. Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsfield
Slight 1m swell inshore, up to 2m out wide. Winds initially westerly, swinging gradually to south-west then to south-east during the course of the day, never topping 10 knots but consistent enough to form a few white caps here and there. Rain fell for the first hour or so during the drift and many people got a good soaking. Water temperature at shelf break was around 22-23 degrees.
Departed wharf at 7:09am returning 4:59pm. Slow-going for the journey out due to the run0in tide and a coal ship we had to ‘give way’ to. After seeing very few birds on way out (literally just the one albatross and a few distant prions) we encountered a lot of activity at -32.92298, 152.55363 so decided to set up our drift there. In fact one of the first birds seen was a ‘pale-backed’ prion. The drift was slow, ending 3 hours later at 32.92628, 152.54362.
Slender-billed Prion. Photo: Allan Richardson
For the entirety of our time at the shelf there was something ‘interesting’ to look at or photograph, with the variety of prions keeping us very busy (many people missing their lunch!). With the prions sitting on the water quite often we were impressed by how distinctive the Antarctic/Slender-billed types were from the Fairies on the water. There was also a good flow of albatrosses coming into the boat to keep us on our toes. All in all it was a fantastic day at sea; easily the best winter pelagic out of Port Stephens thus far.
Antarctic Prion. Photo: Allan Richardson
19 species were recorded outside the heads. Moderate numbers of the more common species, but no large flocks recorded. Highlights would definitely have been the display of various prions, with several Antarctic and Slender-billed observed at close quarters amongst the Fairies. 2 Southern Giant-Petrels represent just the 3rd occasion a Port Stephens trip has recorded this species.
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.
Fluttering Shearwater: 8 (2) All Fluttering-type birds were identified as Fluttering (virtually all photographed).
Wilsons Storm-petrel: 2 (1) One bird arriving late in the day to feed in the slick, the other seen on the return leg just inside shelf break.
White-faced Storm-petrel: 3 (3) Birds present during the drift in the slick.
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross: 15 (8) Only seabird present with the boat for pretty much the entire day. One juvenile bird.
Black-browed Albatross: 4 (2) 2 adults and 2 sub-adults.
Black-browed type Albatross: 4 (1) Immature birds unable to be confirmed.
Shy-type Albatross: 2 (1) Likely White-capped, one arriving at start of drift, second bird on way back in.
Buller’s Albatross: 3 (1) Two pelagic, the 3rd on return leg.
Antipodean Albatross (likely Gibson's): 1, coming into the boat minutes before our departure from deep water.
Southern Giant-Petrel: 2 (2) One bird arrived at the boat a few minutes into the drift, staying until we left. The second bird came in and fed with the other one about half an hour before we departed.
Solander’s Petrel: 3 (1) Surprisingly few of these, given the high activity otherwise. One bird seen a few miles inside the neritic zone.
Grey-faced Petrel: 1, making a few passes of the boat late in the drift.
Fairy Prion: 50 (35) Never in big numbers, except at the shelf where numbers slowly grew, feeding in the slick.
ANTARCTIC PRION: 6 (3) 3 birds attending the slick in pelagic waters (though only for the first 40 minutes or so), remainder a few miles into our return journey home. An individual with a large bill assessed and dismissed as a possible candidate Salvin's (considered a ‘large-billed’ Antarctic, possibly from a NZ population).
SLENDER-BILLED PRION: 3 (2) One bird present when Antarctics present in the slick. Another 2 birds arrived later, again in the slick. A likely 4th bird was the ‘pale-backed prion’ seen just before we cut the motors. Both these and the Antarctics were observed at close quarters sitting on the water, feeding on small morsels of berley.
Australasian Gannet: 40 (10) Larger numbers seen inshore, occasional bird in pelagic waters.
Brown Skua: 1, coming in to the boat a few miles short of the pass of Boondelbah Island. When the Sea-eagles arrived the bird appeared to be spooked away.
Crested Tern: 18 (8) Most birds seen inshore.
Silver Gull: 20 (14) The group of 14 followed us to the shelf and sat-out our time there (not game to try and get at the berley because of the giant-petrels!).
White-bellied Sea-Eagle: 2 (2) An immature and an adult came in roughly level with Boondelbah Island, with the young bird making a few (half-hearted?) attempts at taking a Yellow-nosed Albatross from off the water in the wake of the boat.
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin: 100 – seen amongst feeding gannets; presumably schools of baitfish were present.
Indo-Pacific Common Dolphin: 10 – with the Spotteds.
Humpback Whale: 10 – the odd animal/blow seen throughout the day.