• Sunday, 15th October 2017, Port Stephens, NSW, Australia

    Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report- Sunday 15th October 2017

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

    A strong southerly change had dominated the day before today’s trip, blowing right up until about 3am when things began to ease. Overall we had a gentle onshore south to south-easterly breeze all day on a 1m southerly swell (though there was some lingering mess from the overnight southerly winds making the sea state a little confused). The skipper had to correct our line against a strong current on the way out and we ended up just slightly north of our standard position, starting our drift at -32.9095 / 152.585. Overall a pleasant day on the ocean. Water temperature was taken at the shelf a couple of times and ranged between 22.2 and 22.4 degrees.

    Soft-plumaged Petrel. Photo: Alex Berryman

    Departed wharf at 7:04am returning at 4:21pm. There was a paucity of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters inshore, and for the entire journey out we barely had a bird follow the boat. An adult Shy-type Albatross did join briefly, but otherwise our boat was unattended. Things were to change almost immediately once in deep water, with a flurry of species arriving at the boat. Solander’s and Grey-faced Petrels came to the boat within minutes of commencing the drift and were soon followed by Wilson’s Storm-petrels and a Wandering Albatross that sat and fed at the back of the boat. At about midday a White-faced Storm-petrel appeared and moments later the cry came out “what’s this!?”. A petrel with a pale underwing and grey head appeared and as soon as it banked to reveal its dark underwing we realised it was a Soft-plumaged Petrel – a first for the Hunter Region. The bird was faithful to the boat for a few minutes before disappearing to the south. This was followed by a procession of more good birds in the form of a Black Petrel that sat on the water reasonably distant from the boat, a Buller’s Shearwater that came into the boat down the slick, then a number of Black-bellied Storm-petrels that remained with the boat until we (reluctantly) set sail for home. A very busy day, though the journey back to port was something of an anticlimax, with just a dark Pomarine Jaeger and 2 White-bellied Sea-eagles added to the list as we approached the heads.

    Black-bellied Storm-petrel. Photo: Mick Roderick

    22 species were recorded outside the heads, representing a very good diversity of birds. Significantly, off these 22 species 17 were tubenoses; something only matched on Port Stephens pelagics in October 2010. 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.

    White-faced Storm-petrel: 5 (3). All pelagic, not arriving til about half way through the drift.

    Wilson’s Storm-petrel: 20 (12). All pelagic, arriving literally seconds after commencing the drift.

    Black-bellied Storm-petrel: 8 (4). All pelagic though arrived about 2 hours into the drift, as with the trip last Friday, bird were feeding right at the back of the boat.

    Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 1800 (1500). Largest flocks were inshore on the way in; surprisingly few birds on the way out.

    Buller’s Shearwater: 1. A bird appeared down the slick providing frustratingly distant views before eventually coming in to the boat.

    Short-tailed Shearwater: 35 (6). Not in great numbers. Some birds followed the boat for short periods.

    Sooty Shearwater: 4 (2). Mostly birds flying south, one bird seen at close range at the shelf.

    Flesh-footed Shearwater: 12 (5). Initially seen in pelagic waters but some birds followed boat back.

    Fluttering Shearwater: 3 (2). Very few of these today.

    Fluttering-type Shearwater: 1. Only the one unidentified bird.

    Antipodean Albatross: 2 (1). Both birds came to the boat whilst in transit.

    Wandering Albatross: 2 (2). Both birds pelagic. One bird fed at the back of the boat for over an hour.

    Black-browed Albatross: 2 (1). One pelagic, one inshore.

    Shy-type Albatross: 3 (2). One pelagic, two inshore

    Black Petrel: 1. Landed on the water about 100m from the boat, identified from photographs.

    Solander’s Petrel: 30 (10). All pelagic, though one bird did follow boat back for a while. Difficult to gauge turnover but there were periods when up to 10 birds were visible.

    Grey-faced Petrel: 25 (8). Slightly less prevalent than Solander’s. All pelagic.

    SOFT-PLUMAGED PETREL: 1. Pelagic waters. Appeared in the slick, called immediately as a Soft-plumaged once the underwing seen, then came right into the boat, doing a couple of laps, flying right over our heads and even alighted on the water briefly. New species for the Hunter Region.

    Australasian Gannet: 7 (2). Mostly inshore.

    Pomarine Jaeger: 1. Single dark bird appeared not far from the heads on the return to port.

    Crested Tern: 5 (3). Close to the heads.

    Silver Gull: 3 (2). Very few gulls today.

    White-bellied Sea-eagle: 2 (2). Both birds came in to investigate options for taking a shearwater but never transpired.


    Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin: 25 – several pods in deep water.

    Humpback Whale: 5 – thinly scattered individuals.