St Helens Tasmania pelagic birding trip report 24 to 26 July 2008
A gentle sea and good light provided excellent conditions for bird
observing and photography for all three days, the birding was excitingly
productive and highlights were many. Beyond the continental shelf we
approached a drifting stern trawler. It was a buzz to see at least 63
Great Albatross http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_albatross scattered
around in a "gaggle" the flock composition approximately 2:10 Royal
Albatross/ Wandering Albatross. Although such numbers of Great
Albatross together in Australian waters are likely to be a record, at
the time not much was spoken but you could feel an aura of appreciation
on board generated by this magnificent sight.
On each of the three days we enjoyed good views of Sooty Albatross,
Southern Royal Albatross, Northern Royal Albatross, Grey-backed Storm
Petrel and all the expected birds as well but on the third day we were
especially rewarded with multiple sightings of Grey Petrel. Pleasingly
nobody missed out on any of the rarer species seen.
At each stop we released fresh shark liver mixed with selected fish oils
as a light berley trail and this proved a great attractant to the birds;
several times its effectiveness could be seen when a large commercial
stern trawler passed followed by masses of sea birds comprising hundreds
of Albatross, Giant Petrels, and Cape Petrels etc. By releasing a
light trail of our berley mix, almost all the sycophantic followers of
the fishing vessels were immediately drawn to us.
Departing St Helens wharf at 0700 hrs., clearing George Bay barway at
about 07.30, each day we headed for "The Hill", (41 13'S, 148 45'E) an
area of up welling currents surrounding a Tasman Seamount about 23 Nm
off shore that has proved to be a very productive birding spot. However
we followed a different course each day with stops on the way and
arriving about 10.00 am and departing about 1.00 pm.
Releasing a light trail of berley at most stops; we were soon surrounded
by numbers of albatross and petrels. Heading back to shore with more
stops on the way we were invariably followed by a loyal squadron of
albatross and Cape Petrels. We passed many Common Diving Petrels and
other delights on the way back in, the pelagics diminished as we
approach the entrance to George Bay. Stopping to observe roosting
waders on sand spits beside the channel after passing through the
barway, we made our way to port arriving back at St Helens about 3.00
On this occasion the regular charter boat Nifty II was not available so
we used the stand in vessel, Norseman III with skipper Gerald Spalding
and Paul as crew.
For all three days the weather was good for pelagic birding with a
blocking high hovering over Tasmania. We experienced a lull situated
between an extreme front that passed two days earlier on the 21st and an
approaching weak front forecast for the 27th. Wind was variable 5 - 15
knots, air temperatures cold to mild and sea surface temperature beyond
the continental shelf was an average C14.3.
An MSLP Analysis chart loop showing the weather synopsis for the period
can be viewed here.
Day 1 (Thursday 24 July 2008): Michael Kearns, Crispin Marsh, Grant
Penrhyn, Bill Wakefield, Bill McLean, Ted Nixon Andrew Stafford, Ian May
Day 2 (Friday 25/07/2008): Michael Kearns, Crispin Marsh, Grant
Penrhyn, Bill Wakefield, Bill McLean, Ted Nixon, Andrew Stafford,
Shirley Tongue, John Tongue, Ian May (organiser)
Day 3 (Saturday 26/07/2008: Michael Kearns, Crispin Marsh, Grant
Penrhyn, Bill Wakefield, Dirk Tomsa, Wulan Tomsa, Bill McLean, Ted
Nixon, Andrew Stafford, George Appleby, Hazel Britton, Peter Britton,
Ian May (organiser).
We all agreed that Michael Kearns earned the grand prize for first
spotting a Sooty Albatross, a copy of Albatrosses, Petrels and
Shearwaters of the World: Derek Onley & Paul Scofield see;
http://press.princeton.edu/images/k8395.gif . Well done Michael.
The bird list.
Diversity was good although gadfly petrels and other small
procelleraformes were scarce. Pelagic species recorded (30) Total
Species recorded 54. For the purpose of our list, pelagic observations
= > 2 Nm from land. Coastal observation = < 2 Nm from land. The
numbers shown are conservative estimates with the minimum daily count
for each species shown in parentheses.
I haven't worked out yet, a successful way of including a table within
birding-aus posts so decided on a repetitive system showing recording
days for each pelagic species. Also included are species links to
Wikipedea or where not available, to Ocean Wanderers "Annotated list of
the Seabirds of the World"
http://www.oceanwanderers.com/Seabird.Home.html . Opportunities exist
to add pictures and expert text to some Wikipedea entries.
Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Penguin
Day 1 1, (1). Day 2 0, (0). Day 3 1, (1).
The distinctive barking call heard at "the Hill" One seen at the shelf.
Common Diving Petrel (Pelecanoides urinatrix)
Day 1 25, (16). Day 2 200, (150). Day 3 60, (40).
These were common in the near shore zone from 50 to 140 meters depth.
Southern Giant Petrel (Macronectes giganteus)
Day 1 4, (4). Day 2 2, (2). Day 3 10, (5).
Mainly outside the shelf at "the Hill" and in the vicinity of the stern
Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli)
Day 1 23, (15). Day 2 20, (8). Day 3 100, (63).
Mainly observed beyond the continental shelf at "the Hill" and in the
vicinity of the stern trawler.
Cape Petrel http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_petrel also see:
Snares Cape Petrel (Daption capensis australi)
Day 1 50, (14). Day 2 120, (50). Day 3 200, (56).
Cape Petrels were common beyond the 700 meter contour. Attracted to
berley, numbers were present at all locations. Returning to St Helens
and trailing a berley bucket, some birds followed to within 3 Nm of the
Antarctic Cape Petrel (Daption capensis capensis)
Day 1 0, (0). Day 2 0, (0). Day 3 2, (2).
At the Hill, with more than 50 Cape Petrels around us, at least two of
the birds displayed extensive white chequered back rump and wings.
(Snowy) Albatross (Diomedea exulans exulans)
Day 1 12, (8). Day 2 21, (15). Day 3 64, (49).
Exceptional numbers of Snowy Albatross seen at each stop beyond the
continental shelf. Flock composition was approx half of the great
albatross present as they loafed about in the vicinity of commercial
fishing vessels that were operating in the area.
Gibson's Albatross (Diomedea exulans gibsoni)
Day 1 3, (3). Day 2 7, (7). Day 3 16, (16).
Flock composition was about 3:10 of the Great Albatross present
Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi)
Day 1 1, (1). Day 2 2, (2). Day 3 1, (1).
Southern Royal Albatross (Diomedea epomophora)
Day 1 4, (4). Day 2 15, (11). Day 3 20, (12).
A highlight of the trip were large numbers of Royal Albatross numbers
comprising about 2:10 ratio of great albatross present.
Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta cauta)
Day 1 150, (33). Day 2 200, (50). Day 3 140, (70).
Commonly observed from the 40 meters depth zone, usually in view either
gliding in our wake or aggressively feeding on berley at each stop.
Birds present in various plumage stages.
Salvin's Albatross (Thallasarche cauta salvini)
Day 1 2, (2). Day 2 1, (1). Day 3 1, (1).
Observed each day at "the Hill". A smaller bird than the Shy with pale
grey bill and dark tip to lower mandible showing grey head and neck with
white cap and darker base to primaries.
Black-browed Albatross (Thlassarche impavada melanophrys)
Day 1 1, (1). Day 2 4, (3). Day 3 8, (5).
Although a few birds were seen at various locations, less common than
Campbell's Albatross (Thalassarche impavada) impavada)
Day 1 4, (2). Day 2 3, (2). Day 3 0, (0).
Less common compared to May trips.
Buller's Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri bulleri)
Day 1 10, (3). Day 2 10, (3). Day 3 10, (3)
Present at most stops, attracted to the boat with berley and aggressive
feeder. Usually in view when traveling beyond shelf, their numbers are
much reduced compared to December and May trips..
Northern Buller's Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri platei?)
Day 1 0, (0). Day 2 1, (1). Day 3 0,(0).
One conspicuous bird, possibly small\er with darker grey face and neck
appeared timid compared to usual bulleri. Swimming in vicinity of boat
from 20 to 50 meters away for up to an hour on Day 2.
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassache carteri)
Day 1 1, (1). Day 2 0, (0). Day 3 4, (2).
Commonly seen in summer however few observed on this trip.
Sooty Albatross (Phoebetria fusca)
Day 1 1, (1). Day 2 2, (1). Day 3 2, (1).
A single bird was observed gliding past the boat on several occasions
but showing no interest in our berley trail. On the second day a bird
with a paler back caused some excitement however, it was soon confirmed
as Sooty. On Day 3 a single bird passed close by on several occasions at
different locations allowing excellent views.
Fairy Prion (Pachyptila turtur) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairy_Prion
Day 1 30, (10). Day 2 75, (40). Day 3 70, (30).
Common at the Hill where on Day 1, there were several birds feeding
among floating kelp probably brought to the surface by upwelling
currents that occur here. Single birds and small numbers seen at other
locations beyond the 100 meter line.
Grey-backed Storm-Petrel (Garrodia nereis)
Day 1 50, (20). Day 2 30, (9). Day 3 50, (17).
Good numbers observed at the Hill some feeding around floating kelp with
Prions. Smaller numbers elsewhere beyond the continental shelf. None
seen inside shelf and did not appear attracted to the boat.
<>Great-winged Petrel (Pterodroma macroptera)
Day 1 2, (2). Day 2 2, (2). Day 3 2, (1).
Showing little interest in the boat, birds were seen briefly as they
passed by. One bird circled the boat several times on Day 2
Providence Petrel (Pterodroma solandri)
Day 1 0, (0). Day 2 2, (2). Day 3 0, (0).
One bird showing pale lower breast and large pale outer wing patches
circled the boat at some distance and created some discussion re
possibility of dark Kermadec however long wedge shaped tail and stout
bill clinched solandri.
Grey Petrel (Procellaria cinerea) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_Petrel
Day 1 0, (0). Day 2 0, (0). Day 3 3, (1).
On day 3, there was much excitement when a single Grey Petrel passed by
on several occasions at various spots beyond the continental shelf.
Showing not much interest in the boat or berley, eventually one bird
passed several times under excellent light, treating all on board to
Fluttering Shearwater (Puffinus gavia)
Day 1 1, (1). Day 2 1, (1). Day 3 0, (0).
Seen when boat underway
Short-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris)
Day 1 0, (0). Day 2 0, (0). Day 3 5, (2).
A few stragglers appeared at the Hill, attracted by the berley and
settling near the boat.
Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus)
Day 1 3, (1). Day 2 1, (1). Day 3 6, (2).
Each day, Single birds passed by on various occasions sometimes
attracted to the boat.
Brown Skua (Catharacta antarctica) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Skua
Day 1 0, (0). Day 2 1, (1). Day 3 1, (1).
Crested Tern (Sterna bergii)
Day 1 6, (2). Day 2 17, (5). Day 3 10, (3).
White-fronted Tern Sterna striata
Day 1 0, (0). Day 2 5, (3). Day 3 0, (0).
Attracted to berley at rear of boat on Day 3
Black-faced Cormorant (Phalacrocorax fuscescens)
Day 1 2, (2). Day 2 2, (2). Day 3 2, (2).
Australasian Gannet (Sula serrator)
Day 1 2, (2). Day 2 2, (2). Day 3 30, (22).
Kelp Gull (Larus dominicus) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelp_Gull
Day 1 5, (5). Day 2 1, (1). Day 3 2, (2).
Pacific Gull (Larus pacificus) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Gull
Day 1 1, (1). Day 2 0, (0). Day 3 3, (3).
Silver Gull (Larus novaehollandiai) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_gull
Day 1 1, (1). Day 2 12, (5). Day 3 1, (15).
Coastal observations = < 2 nM from land
Species observed from the boat while passing through George Bay are
listed below however, except for some birds of interest, numbers are not
shown as no consistent trend counting method was used.
Australasian Gannet (12)
Little Pied Cormorant
Bar-tailed Godwit (21)
Double-banded Plover (18)
Hooded Plover (5)
Red-capped Plover (35)
Red-necked Stint (35)
White-breasted Sea Eagle
December 2008, Sunday 28, Monday 29 and Tuesday 30. Confirmation date,
26th September 2008.
May 2009, Thursday 7, Friday 8, Saturday 9. Confirmation date, 27th
July 2009, Thursday 24, Friday 25, Saturday 26. Confirmation date,
24th April 2009
PO Box 110
St Helens Tasmania, 7216
Phone (03) 6312 1123
Mobile 0428 337956
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