Boat: M.V. Ocean Quest, skippered by John Duggan
Slight sou-east breeze initially, turning north-east as midday drew nearer. There was remnant swell from the East Coast Low that had been situated in the Tasman Sea for the previous week or so, though this abated noticeably during the morning. Overall conditions were very comfortable, though several people appeared to be seasick. Water temperature was measured at the shelf at 28 degrees.
Red-footed Booby. Photo: Allan Richardson
We powered out to the shelf at a speed of over 20 knots (22.1 was mentioned), taking around 90 mins to reach deep water (-32 14 8 / 153 0 46), where we set up the drift. There was a bit of shearwater activity inshore, mostly Wedge-tailed but with the odd Fluttering-type and Flesh-footed (the latter which became common towards the shelf). A few Gannets and a Pomarine Jaeger sat on the deck completed the initial sightings. About 45 minutes after reaching the shelf break we were treated to the emergence of two pale morph Red-footed Boobies of differing ages. The birds arrived at the boat together flying almost in unison, flew around the boat a few times and departed together.
Much of our time at the shelf was fairly quiet, being kept company by a group of Wedge-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwaters. However, we also saw a few Pomarine Jaegers, an immature Gannet and, unusually, a White-faced Heron before things picked up towards the end of our time out wide. Several Grey-faced Petrels and a dark morph Kermadec Petrel gave a few flybys, as did a Shy-type Albatross.
Kermadec Petrel. Photo: Mick Roderick
Upon arriving back in the coastal waters we spotted a trawler with a number of birds following it and so motored over to investigate. After actively berleying for a while the birds ditched the trawler and got into the goods we had on offer. Wedge-tailed Shearwaters dominated and a few more Pomarine Jaegers appeared, including a dark morph bird. We also added a few Crested Terns to the list and a distant Black-browed type Albatross made a bee-line for the trawler.
Many close-up dolphin sightings were also a highlight of the trip.
14 species (including ‘types’) were recorded outside the heads, representing moderate diversity. Highlights would be the two Red-footed Boobies and the dark morph Kermadec Petrel.
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.
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 1200 (900). The large count is from birds attending a trawler (and/or our boat) on the way back in. Estimated 300 other birds seen during the day.
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 100 (20). This species dominated the berley for the first hour or so at the shelf, but eventually Wedge-taileds did. Still, very good numbers for this species in recent times.
Short-tailed Shearwater: 1. Inshore.
Fluttering Shearwater: 2 (1) One inshore, another bird seen at the shelf.
Fluttering-type Shearwater: 7.
Black-browed type Albatross: 1. Inshore – was seen after about 10 minutes at our ‘trawler stop’ (the bird flew straight to the trawler).
Shy-type Albatross: 1. Indeterminate adult bird seen at the shelf.
Kermadec Petrel: 1. Dark morph bird arriving at the same time as one of the large pods of bottlenose dolphins. Did a few laps of the boat before disappearing.
Grey-faced Petrel: 6 (3). All at the shelf break and all within the final hour there.
Australasian Gannet: 15 (3). All but one or two inshore. All birds seen well were immature or sub-adult.
RED-FOOTED BOOBY: 2 (2). Both pale morph birds of different ages; one with dark feathers in the tail, as well as dark spots on some of the flight feathers, plus a darker bird with all-white body. They flew towards the boat almost in unison, split briefly as they checked the boat out, then flew off together. Submission to NSW ORAC will be made.
Pomarine Jaeger: 8 (3). Just 2 birds in deep water, remainder inshore.
Crested Tern: 5 (5). At the ‘trawler stop’.
Silver Gull: 3 (3). Not far from the heads, loafing on the surface.
White-faced Heron: 1. An adult bird flew right over the top of the boat at the shelf break. Seemed to be flying south.
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin: ~10. Near a bait-ball on the journey out. Not seen well as we were travelling at speed.
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin: ~100, in pelagic waters in several pods of at least 30 animals strong. Much acrobatics displayed by some animals and quite a bit of bow-riding on the trip home.
Free-jumping marlin sp.: 1.