Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report- Sunday 13th November 2016
Boat: M.V. Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsfield
Slight 1m swell with even slighter offshore breeze made for a pleasant journey out. Very little wind to speak of for almost the entire day, until we entered the ‘westerly zone’ about 7 miles from the heads on the return journey when we literally crossed a line entering 20-25 knot westerly winds. Water temperature not noted.
Back-browed Albatross. Photo: Mick Roderick
Departed wharf at 7:11am returning 4:53pm. A very unusual day in that not a single bird came into the boat, except for one lone Silver Gull that took some chicken mince berley from about 4 miles out to the heads, on the return leg. We have never had a trip where no birds have come in to the boat! There were a remarkable number of insects over the ocean; to the extent that we needed repellent at the shelf (I was even bitten by a mosquito!). We wondered if this had any impact on the birds not feeding. The lack of wind also saw many birds sat on the water, including rafts of shearwaters and the occasional jaeger. Apart from the fact that no birds came into the boat, the other real frustration (for the organiser anyway) was the fact that many one-off birds stayed well away from boat and gave poor and/or distant views only.
Bullers Albatross. Photo: Mick Roderick
16 species were recorded outside the heads. Moderate numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, but no large flocks recorded. Highlights would have been the Gould’s Petrel (albeit a frustratingly brief view) and the ‘latest’ record for Buller’s Albatross on any Hunter-based pelagic. An unidentified “pale-billed brown bird” was considered most likely a Black Petrel (or a Procellaria anyway) but could not be confirmed from the poor images taken.
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 V2.0.
Little Penguin: 3 (2). Single bird, followed by a pair, both within 5 miles of the heads.
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 400 (210). Many scattered individuals, with larger numbers in shore (the 210 figure coming from 2 loafing flocks a few miles out from the heads on the outbound leg)
Short-tailed Shearwater: 10 (4). Most seen flying by with one or two loafing with the Wedge-taileds.
Sooty Shearwater: 3 (1). Individuals flying past, all inshore.
Fluttering Shearwater: 6 (4). None seen in pelagic waters.
Fluttering-type Shearwater: 10
Wilsons Storm-petrel: 20 (6). Mostly single birds (with the occasional small group of birds moving through), all in pelagic waters.
White-faced Storm-petrel: 1; a bird that stayed frustratingly distant from the stern of the boat.
Black-browed Albatross: 2 (1). 2 adults, one in pelagic waters, the other sat on the water surface about 2/3 the way back in.
Shy-type Albatross: 2 (1). One bird seen on the journey out, the other pelagic. Both sub-adult and impossible to assign to species level.
Buller’s Albatross: 1; a bird with a broken left leg that we have seen in the past (presumably). This is the first spring record for this species off the Hunter coast.
Gould’s Petrel: 1; seen very briefly off the bow almost at the exact start of the drift.
Grey-faced Petrel: 1; making a single pass of the boat early in the drift.
Australasian Gannet: 6 (1). All that were seen well were sub-adult birds.
Pomarine Jaeger: 11 (3). No birds seen in pelagic waters.
Crested Tern: 8 (2). Most birds close-in, but a couple >15 miles out.
Silver Gull: 6 (2). Close to heads, with one bird being the sole bird of the day to feed on the berley.
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin: 20 – seen only in pelagic waters.
Humpback Whale: 10 – the odd animal/blow seen during the day, with 2 animals breaching close in on the way home.
(Southern Ocean?) Sunfish – 3 seen separately.