I'm sure you would have heard about the severe weather event that the Hunter
and Central Coast regions experienced this week, which pushed south yesterday
to Sydney and the Illawarra. Normally, during and after such an event, keen
seawatchers would be out scoping the ocean for seabirds forced closer to shore.
A good recent example of this was ex-tropical Cyclone Oswald in late Jan 2013,
when many species of (mainly warm water) seabirds were seen off the NSW coast.
In Newcastle this included 100's of Sooty Terns, a Bridled Tern, Black and
Brown Noddies, Lesser Frigatebirds and Procellariiformes such as White-necked
and Tahiti Petrels, Streaked and Buller's Shearwaters amongst numerous others.
Some of the terns and frigatebirds were seen inside Newcastle Harbour and there
were examples of seabirds blown well inland (a good example of that was the
Bulwer's Petrel found near Toowoomba during Oswald).
I ventured out for a brief time on Tuesday, during the 'peak' of the low
pressure system (when I say 'peak', it lasted for at least 24 hours) to
investigate a report from local birder Ian Benson that one, possibly 2 Gould's
Petrels were flying around near Stockton Bridge in the Hunter River's North
Arm. He also reported Short-tailed Shearwaters and Fairy Prions.
It was a surreal scene, much akin to what we see on a "good" pelagic, with
seabirds flying into the wind along a stretch of the river, mostly upstream of
Stockton Bridge. Conditions were atrocious to say the least and the only
effective way of observing was from within the vehicle. In between rain squalls
I was able to take some photos, which can be seen at the link below. The most
Gould's I saw on a single scan was 3 birds, though I strongly suspect that
there were more than that as it was very difficult to see all birds flying
I then made the somewhat daunting journey to Fort Drive to look over the ocean.
All I could see through the rain was white water and massive waves. I did not
see a single bird of any description. Returning to the harbour, I saw more
Gould's Petrels and many more Short-taileds before the biggest surprise when I
saw one, then two storm-petrels. I was very distant to them and was being
battered by rain coming in sideways to the shelter I was in (plus I was the
only person within cooee, which was a bit disconcerting!) and managed some
pretty ordinary images, but they clearly show a White-faced and Fregetta sp.
storm-petrels which does not look too bad for a White-bellied.
Although it was a brief one (I had very little time) the experience will live
with me forever. "Surreal" is the best word I can find for it. I am very
curious about other people's experiences with similar events - not seabirds
blown closer to shore during extreme weather and seawatched, but actually being
observed within an estuary after where they presumably rode out the storm and
then returned to sea. A White-faced Storm-petrel was found along the Hunter
River yesterday and has been taken into care but that is the only recovery I'm
aware of. The fact that some of these were Procellariiformes that are normally
extremely rarely seen from shore (especially the Fregetta stormy), being inside
a river is remarkable. The Gould's upstream of Stockton Bridge were about 8km
up the river.
As opposed to Oswald, when birds were blown south from lower latitudes and
remained in the area for several days, there was not a single bird to be seen
yesterday (when conditions calmed) in any of these places except for resident
gulls and terns. People were in position at first light and nothing was seen
during the day. Virtually nothing could be seen over the ocean (and several
people were looking). I note that a Brown Noddy and White Tern were seawatched
off Kurnell yesterday though.
I would like to document this event locally, so am keen to hear from others who
have had similar experiences.
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