• Friday, 6th October 2017, Port Stephens, NSW, Australia

    Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report- Friday 6th October 2017

    Boat: M.V. Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsfield

    CONDITIONS
    Gentle offshore breeze early on with a slight 1m southerly swell. Once we arrived at the shelf a southerly breeze started to stiffen and before long we had white-caps and reasonable wind-waves generated by winds gusting to 30 knots. Despite the strong southerly wind we still managed to drift a couple of miles south, so the current must have been ripping through. We set up a drift at -32.9536885 / 152.5695949 at about 10:20am, though with the sea state deteriorating the skipper made the decision to head back to port not long after midday.


    Black-bellied Storm-petrel. Photo: Mick Roderick

    ACTIVITY
    Departed wharf at 7:07am returning at 4:23pm. Good numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters inshore, though gannet numbers well down on last month, with 2 Brown Skuas joining us briefly. Things were pretty quiet early on once in deep water, with the odd Solanderís Petrel joining the hungry Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. With the arrival of the southerly, activity at the shelf picked up markedly and a rather dark-looking petrel flew in, becoming apparent that it was a dark Kermadec Petrel; a species normally associated with warmer water and much more often recorded Jan to Feb on NSW pelagics. A second bird arrived soon after this bird departed (though it was only confirmed as a different bird later when scrutinising images). Wilsonís Storm-petrels were the first of 3 species of stormy to join the boat, with 3 Black-bellieds and a lone White-faced enabling good comparisons of size and behaviour. Two Wandering Albatrosses were seen in deep water (along with a Shy-type) and another bird was picked up ~7 miles from the heads (as well as an immature Black-browed and White-capped). Two more skuas on the way back in plus a visit to Cabbage Tree Island rounded out a great day at sea.


    Kermadec Petrel. Photo: Mick Roderick

    BIRDS
    18 confirmed species were recorded outside the heads, representing a good diversity of birds. Counts are totals for birds seen outside the heads (with the maximum number visible from the boat at one time in brackets) Ė many are estimates. Taxonomy follows the BirdLife Australia Working List V2.0.

    White-faced Storm-petrel: 1. Joined the slick late in the drift.

    Wilsonís Storm-petrel: 4 (3). Most birds present around the boat for much of the deep water drift.

    Black-bellied Storm-petrel: 3 (3). One bird joined the boat not long after the southerly arrived, with the others arriving about an hour later. The first bird gave great views, feeding right at the back of the boat.

    Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 2000 (500). Largest flocks were inshore, but numerous marauding birds seen all day, including in pelagic waters. Birds appeared much Ďhungrierí than our experience has been in the past 5 or so years.

    Short-tailed Shearwater: 50 (10). Reasonable tally, but certainly no migrating flocks seen. Biggest numbers were inshore amongst Wedge-tailed Shearwater flocks in the afternoon.

    Flesh-footed Shearwater: 3 (3). All at the shelf just after we commenced our homeward journey. Did not hang around the boat for long at all. Early arrivals based on recent yearsí experiences.

    Fluttering Shearwater: 10 (2). Scattered individuals seen during the day.

    Huttonís Shearwater: 1. Only a single bird able to be confirmed (from photographs).

    Fluttering-type Shearwater: 5. Only a few unidentified birds, mostly inshore.

    Wandering Albatross: 3 (1). One bird seen briefly at the shelf early in the drift, followed by a second bird that appeared about twenty minutes after we started motoring back. A 3rd bird joined the boat late in the day, about 7 miles out. We stopped the boat at about the 5 mile mark to allow the bird to come closer in, which it did briefly.

    Black-browed Albatross: 1. An immature bird at the 5 mile mark where we had stopped for the Antipodean. This bird fed at the rear of the boat until we were inside Little Island.

    White-capped Albatross: 1. Single immature bird that came in to the boat at the same time as the Black-browed described above.

    Shy-type Albatross: 1. An adult bird at the shelf that flew north rapidly with the southerly and kept going. Analysis of images show a slight yellowish wash to the base of bill, suggesting the bird could have been a Shy (images too distant to be certain).

    Solanderís Petrel: 8 (2). All pelagic. As always, difficult to assess the amount of turnover but some birds were seen to appear on the differently horizon to which another had just flown out of sight, suggesting some turnover.

    Kermadec Petrel: 2 (1). Both dark phase birds that arrived about half an hour into the drift. The first bird did several laps of the boat and was around for ~10 minutes before disappearing. Second bird arrived 8 minutes later (on photo data) but did not stay long. Unusual here at this time of year.

    Australasian Gannet: 100 (15). Numbers well down on the September count, mostly in neritic waters.

    Brown Skua: 4 (2). 2 birds on the way out, 2 on the way back in (shown to be different birds in photos).

    Common Tern: 3 (3). These 3 birds appeared suddenly in the wake about 10 miles out on the outbound journey, fed at the rear of the boat for about 5 minutes and disappeared. An uncommon species on these trips and likely transient birds.

    Crested Tern: 20 (5). Mostly inshore, though a few birds followed us to the shelf.

    Silver Gull: 10 (6). A flock of 6 birds followed us for a while, 2 or 3 making it to the shelf.


    MAMMALS:

    Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin: 20, in a single pod that spectacularly appeared as individuals leaping from the water, soon joining the boat (in deep water).

    Short-beaked Common Dolphin: 10, about 10 miles out from the heads.

    Pantropical Spotted Dolphin: 15, as a pod very close to shore near Point Stephens.