Another brilliant day off Southport, 20/7/02

To: <>
Subject: Another brilliant day off Southport, 20/7/02
From: "Andrew Stafford" <>
Date: Sun, 21 Jul 2002 17:49:05 +1000
For anyone with an special interest in seabirds, the return of pelagic trips off Southport in 2002 have undoubtedly provided some of the highlights of the avian calendar. With outings in March and April producing birds the calibre of South Polar Skua, Black-winged and White-necked Petrels, the trips have been well attended, and yesterday no less than 22 keen seafarers boarded the gorgeous Skybird with high hopes. They weren't to be disappointed.
Land-based reports of prions extending from the Sunshine Coast to Sydney had many observers anticipating a good day for cold water birds, despite the water temperature of around 20 degrees being higher than the air temperature for most of the day. In overcast conditions and scattered showers, glare was kept to a minimum, and seas of less than a metre meant a reasonably comfortable day for most on board, with only a couple of unfortunates succumbing to the elements.
With shearwaters in short supply, the first hour was uneventful, although a breaching humpback whale was seen in the distance. A very unseasonal Arctic Jaeger also provided early intrigue. During the second hour, the fun really started as the first cry of "prion!" went up. With even Fairy Prions being uncommon most years in Queensland, nothing is taken for granted, especially with recent reports of live Antarctic Prions and beachwashed Salvin's Prions in Queensland fresh in the mind.
An argument quickly ensued: those upstairs were adamant the bird was indeed a standard Fairy Prion; those below equally intractable in the belief that the bird's obvious white supercilium and reduced tail band pointed towards the infamously difficult whalebird complex. Even as prions began to surround the boat in increasing numbers, no one twigged until much later that this was an obvious case of "two bird theory" in action!
With Providence Petrels making their appearance well short of the shelf, and lines of birds working a current slightly to our north, the stage was set. We were cruising into deep water when our attention was caught by a large-looking prion gliding past and then landing behind the boat. We stopped immediately and relocated the bird after a couple of anxious minutes. I recall someone shouting, "look at the bill!" and a gasp went up: to everyone's amazement, only five metres from the boat was a BROAD-BILLED PRION, busily filtering food through what looked like an outsize spatula.
After a minute or so's stunned staring, I called for ANYONE with a camera to take as many photos as possible. Kim Ford hurriedly went into the cabin and hopefully her photos will provide a definitive record of a bird almost never seen live at sea in Australian waters, with the vast bulk of records being beachwashed. Not that photos should really be necessary for ID purposes: with its pronounced dark grey collar, large size, seemingly enormous head and bowed bill, this bird was distinctive to say the least, even as it began to drift into the distance.
Then I noticed that most observers were looking in the opposite direction to myself. I cursed them collectively for not keeping their eyes on the prize. "But there's another one here," said someone casually, as if this was entirely to be expected. Wha?! Yet there it was - another Broad-billed Prion, again only a few metres from the boat and... wait... good lord, another... and another!
Somehow we'd managed to steer smack in the middle of a flotilla of Broad-billed Prions, a new bird for everyone on board.
By this time, Antarctic Prions were appearing in numbers, and a couple of birds (one of them next to a Broad-billed) looked suspiciously intermediate between the two - probably Salvin's Prions. A couple of times what appeared to be Slender-billed Prions were also called. This was becoming very difficult: sometimes having the opportunity of direct comparison doesn't necessarily make identification easier. It is entirely possible that we had five species of prion with us, but as the birds constantly flew around the boat, resettled on the water, took off again, disappeared behind waves and generally made life difficult, the best we could confirm was three species, with at least four Broad-billeds and probably a few more among them.
The day was far from over. The first of three dark morph Kermadec Petrels was a brief distraction - the third time this bird has been seen off Southport this year - and a BLACK-BELLIED STORM-PETREL made a late appearance. But the most astonishing new sighting was a dark morph HERALD PETREL, in view for at least two minutes and making two close approaches to the boat. With the birds from Raine Island thought to be all light or intermediate morph, this bird is more likely to have come from the central Pacific. This bird and the Broad-billed Prions will naturally require BARC submissions and one can understand some committee members being sceptical that they occurred on the same day!
I would advise anyone looking to join us in August to book early. Species list:
Great-winged Petrel - 2
Providence Petrel - 36
KERMADEC PETREL - 3 (all dark morphs)
HERALD PETREL - 1 (dark morph)
Fairy Prion - 7+, probably hundreds present
Hutton's Shearwater - 3
Fluttering/Hutton's - 2
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 1
Australasian Gannet - 8
Arctic Jaeger - 1 (unseasonal)
Silver Gull - 12
Crested Tern - 25
Common Noddy - 1
Cheers all, AS
<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>
  • Another brilliant day off Southport, 20/7/02, Andrew Stafford <=

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU