Raine Island Herald Petrel pelagic TRIP REPORT

To: Birding-aus NEW <>, Richard Baxter <>
Subject: Raine Island Herald Petrel pelagic TRIP REPORT
From: Richard Baxter via Birding-Aus <>
Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2015 11:11:53 +0000
Raine Island QLD Seabird Expedition.

In search of Herald Petrel

In September 2015 I ran three back-to-back pelagic trips toRaine Island, which 
is situated on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reefabout 130km due east of 
Cape York’s Jardine NP and about 130km north ofPortland Roads (Lockhart River).

Raine Island is the site of Australia’s only breeding colonyof Herald Petrel 
and with only ten pairs, these are Australia’s rarest breedingseabirds 
(tubenoses).  This was the firstorganised pelagic trip to the Island by birders 
since 1995 and all three tripswere successful in finding the bird.  We used the 
boat Eclipse FNQ, which was a very stable andcomfortable motorised catamaran, 
starting and finishing each trip at LockhartRiver.  Most guests on board spent 
timebefore and after the trip in and around Iron Range NP, whilst staying at 
theIron Range Cabins at the Lockhart River Airport.
Trip 1: We departed Portland Roads on the 10September 2015 in very windy 
conditions forcing us to travel north inside thereef.  Our second night was 
spent atGreat Detached Reef with Raine Island tantalisingly visible in the 
distanceabout 5nm north and where one of our group had a brief sighting of a 
HeraldPetrel flying home, north along the reef, late in the afternoon.   We 
spent the next two days in a 2-3m swellmostly keeping in the lee of the island, 
taking cover from the wind andswell.  We still hadn’t seen our targetbird by 
our final afternoon and decided to make one last run out into the CoralSea east 
of Raine.  After two hours indeep water and 4nm south-east of the island an 
impressive Herald Petrel flew intowards the boat.  Everyone was 
perfectlypositioned to see the bird glide to within 50m of the back of the boat 
to avery relieved and happy group of sea birders.

Other species seen were Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Wilson’sStorm Petrel, 
Red-tailed Tropicbird, Black-naped Tern, Lesser & GreaterFrigatebird, Masked, 
Brown & Red-footed Booby, as well as hundreds of Blackand Brown Noddy.
Trip 2: We headed north from Portland Roadsinto a rapidly deceasing swell and 
much improved sea birding conditions,commensurate with what one would expect 
from the Great Barrier Reef.  At 10.45am on the first morning we saw ourfirst 
Herald Petrel as we cruised through the Black Rock Entrance at Wreck Bay,just 
north of Mantis Reef.  Aftertravelling north in deep water during the day we 
had our second sighting at3.15pm in 450m water depth, about 5nm south east of 
Raine and 127km north ofPortland Roads. 

Our third sighting came at 6.20am the following morningwhilst at anchor behind 
Great Detached Reef. A lone Herald Petrel flew in towards the back of the boat 
from shallowwater inside the reef.  This was followedby a further two sightings 
that morning both in about 400m of water.  Our final two sightings came after 
lunch onthe 16 September in 800m of water about 7nm off Raine Island.

Interestingly, all sightings involved inquisitive birds thatflew in towards the 
boat, with a few individuals coming to within 20m, beforecrossing the wake a 
couple of times then quickly departing.  In addition to the first trip we saw 
threedark phase Kermadec Petrels and several Black-bellied Storm Petrels. 

Trip 3: We departed Portland Roads on the 18September 2015 into perfect weather 
and sea conditions.  We made our way directly to the outer reefand spent the 
entire day travelling north between 500m and 2000m waterdepth.  There was not a 
breath of windand the ocean was calm as far as the eye could see. Great for 
boating butunfortunately not great for sea birding as most of the birds we 
encounteredwere sitting on the water.  We even had araft of 16 Wilson’s Storm 
Petrels sitting on the water. 

>From the top deck we scanned the horizon all day with not apetrel in sight.  
>At 3.20pm in 600m ofwater we came across our first and only Herald Petrel of 
>the trip and it toowas sitting on the water.  As we made aclose pass, it 
>alighted and like all the other birds we’d seen, came into theback of the boat 
>for a closer look.  Cameraswere fired off and it too eventually peeled off 
>towards the horizon.  Despite another two days of searching wefailed to see 
>another petrel in the doldrum like conditions. 

We traveled home inside the reef in search of other speciesand soon came across 
a feeding flock of 500 Black Noddy and 100 Black-napedTern working a school of 
bait fish.  Weall stood on the bow and slowly inched our way closer to the 
feeding frenzy,spending the next half an hour watching and photographing.  As 
we continued south we had lunch nearSunday Island and most of the group decided 
to spend a couple of hours insearch of Ashy-bellied (Pale) White-eye. After a 
short search we had excellent views of several birds as well asthe added bonus 
of Mangrove Robin, Collared Kingfisher, Mangrove GoldenWhistler and 
Rose-crowned Fruit Dove.  Wedisembarked the following morning, with most of the 
group spending a furthercouple of days of relaxed birding in Iron Range 
National Park.

In total we had ten separate sightings of our target speciesHerald Petrel, with 
most of those sightings being within 7nm of Raine Island, inbetween 400m-800m 
of water and to the south east of the island. 

I’m considering running another trip to Raine Island at thesame time of year 
either in 2016 or 2017. If you’re interested coming along, please let me know.

Richard Baxter

0412 540212


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