Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report- Sunday 22nd January 2017
Boat: M.V. Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsfield
A solid 2 to 3m swell emanating from a low pressure system north west of New Zealand with some small ‘mess’ in between made for a little bumpy ride out. In particular, when we approached the shelf break we passed through a few miles of strong current running ‘downhill’, causing some waves to stand up quite tall, rocking the boat heavily at times. The current also pushed us a few miles southward of our normal destination. The skipper decided to spend the first 75 minutes or so gently motoring head first into the waves so we didn’t get too side. After the swell abated somewhat we decided to head north to our traditional starting point, then drift south for a few miles into deeper water before heading home. Winds were relatively gentle out of the south-east for most of the day until a nor-easter at about 10 knots got up in the mid-afternoon.
Flesh-footed Shearwater. Photo: Allan Richardson
Departed wharf at 7:04am returning 4:45pm. There were some inshore feeding flocks of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, with one or two Fleshy-foots appearing. Some baitfish were seen breaking the surface and it was near here we saw some Common Dolphins. Singles of Hutton’s and Fluttering Shearwaters, Shy-type/ Black-browed type Albatross, a Pomarine Jaeger and a candidate Long-tailed Jaeger were seen briefly. As has been the case for the previous few years of summer trips, the Wedge-taileds initially showed no interest in the berley. However, about half way out, this suddenly changed and we were joined by a few dozen birds that we ended up ‘dragging’ to the shelf. The time spent in deep water was frustratingly unproductive, adding just 2 species to the day’s list, being two Gould’s Petrels and a single White-faced Storm-petrel. The absence of Grey-faced Petrels was notable.
Gould's Petrel. Photo: Mick Roderick
A distant white bird was picked up by a few people, all agreeing that it was pure white and given the height at which it was flying it was considered most likely to be a type of tropicbird but this would never been confirmed. The last half of the return leg was much more eventful, following the descending of a very large attendant flock of seemingly famished Wedgies. To our surprise, despite having well over one hundred shearwaters following the boat, no Fleshy-foots were amongst them (until just a few miles out, when several joined in). A pale morph Wedgie was picked out amongst the throng of ‘brown birds’ but did not give good views. At the same time a free-jumping marlin was also seen.
14 species (including ‘types’) were recorded outside the heads, representing moderate diversity. Highlights would be the two Gould’s Petrels and the pale morph Wedge-tailed Shearwater. The Common Tern was a first for a Port Stephens pelagic.
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: 1500 (400). For the first time in years there were good numbers of birds following the boat. Significantly, a pale morph bird was observed a few miles out from the heads on the return leg.
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 25 (10). Two or three birds seen on the way out, but no birds seen in deep water. Virtually no birds at all on the return leg until very close to the inshore islands. One bird showed ‘bleached’ ungues, giving the impression of a white tip to bill.
Short-tailed Shearwater: 4 (1). All inshore.
Hutton’s Shearwater: 3 (1) All inshore.
Fluttering Shearwater: 2 (1) One bird confirmed inshore, one bird (possibly a juvenile) seen at the shelf break.
Fluttering-type Shearwater: 10.
White-faced Storm-petrel: 1. Seen feeding in the slick.
Black-browed Albatross: 1; a single adult seen on the outward leg.
Black-browed type Albatross: 3 (2). One of these is considered a possible Campbell due to lightening of iris, but cannot be confirmed.
Shy-type Albatross: 4 (2). Two birds accompanied the boat for most of the outward leg and came and went from the boat whilst in deep water (where a 3rd younger bird also seen). A bird with a broken leg seen on the return trip.
Gould’s Petrel: 2 (1). One bird was seen distantly early on in pelagic waters. The second bird was much more obliging, affording great views as it did a few laps of the boat soon after we repositioned.
Australasian Gannet: 3 (2). All inshore.
Pomarine Jaeger: 7 (2). One bird spent most of the day with the boat. A dark phase bird was also seen in pelagic waters, remainder inshore.
Long-tailed Jaeger(??): Single bird close in looked very tern-like in flight and showed semblance of a short bill on very distant images – unable to be confirmed.
Crested Tern: 20 (1). Surprisingly few until very close to the heads when hungry birds joined in.
Common Tern: 1, high up and only identified from photographs after the event, close to heads.
Silver Gull: 4 (4). All virtually right at the heads.
Indo-Pacific Common Dolphin – 10 seen in vicinity of baitfish breaking surface on outward leg.
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin: 15, in pelagic waters in two separate pods.
Free-jumping marlin - 1.