Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report 12th Dec 2010

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report 12th Dec 2010
From: Mick Roderick <>
Date: Tue, 14 Dec 2010 13:22:52 -0800 (PST)
Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report - Sun 12th December 2010
Boat: M.V.Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsefield
Michael Kearns, Nick Livanos, Liz Livanos, Greg Little, Judy Little, Dick 
Jenkin, Marj Kibby, Neil Fraser, Dick Holroyde, Allan Richardson, Mike Newman, 
Alan Stuart, Steve Roderick and Mick Roderick (leader and organiser). 

Too good! A gentle westerly was in our backs as we crossed the sea that had an 
approximate 0.5m swell. Not far from the shelf the influence of the offshore 
breeze dropped off completely such that the sea surface was very smooth once in 
the deep water. This was to be the trend for the day until a welcome nor-easter 
hit us when we were about 4 miles from the heads (and which appeared to spring 
the birds into action). Water temperature at the shelf not noted but the 
presence of species such as Dolphinfish and Pan-tropical Bottlenose Dolphins a 
good sign that it was at least in the low 20’s. 

Interestingly, a recent unrelenting bout of nor-easters had potentially caused 
(via Coriolis effects and Ekman transport phenomenon) the warm water currents 
that had been pushing down the NSW coast to remain eastwards of the shelf 
with cold (reportedly as low as 15 degrees) water persisting near the coast 
south of about Port Macquarie (much to the ire of my surfer mates). I mused 
such an effect could work favourably in terms of sea-surface food (i.e. cold 
water meeting warm water and resulting in upwelling of nutrients) and according 
to the MHL maps these waters met right at the shelf. The large number of sea 
creatures at the shelf could have been a result of this? If anyone has a theory 
or input into this I’d be very interested to hear it. 

The fish and mammals. There were no clear avian highlights on this trip, apart 
perhaps from the good numbers of Pomarine Jaegers at the back of the boat once 
the Shearwaters decided to start feeding close to port. 

DepartedNelson Bay Public Wharfat 0710, returning at 1745.
After some initial interest shown by a couple of Arctic and Pomarine Jaegers, 
was a very lonely trip out for the Argonaut and the punters. In fact, it stayed 
that way for virtually the whole day. Two Wandering Albatross were seen 
distantly sitting on the water about half-way out, and aside from the 
Wedge-tailed or Short-tailed Shearwater flying past, these were the only birds 
seen en-route to close to the drop-off. 

Just short of the shelf break a few White-faced Storm-petrels were seen feeding 
along a current line, but we decided to push on into deeper water. A drift was 
set-up at 32 56 49 / 152 33 47 and almost at the instant that we did a Sooty 
Shearwater zoomed past. But for the next 90 minutes or so not a single bird 
in to the back of the boat. There was barely any activity in the slick, apart 
from some incidental Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and White-faced Stormies. A large 
pod of Risso’s Dolphins cruised past not long after our arrival and at one 
a medium-sized shark (probable Whaler, possibly Black) cruised up to boat to 
check us out. But for birds it was one of those days when set the slick and 
berley trail up and you wait for birds to come to you. It never happened. The 
conditions were decidedly calm and we all willed on the nor-easter forecast to 
hit during the afternoon.
After reaching 33 01 48 / 152 31 47 we decided to head back to the current line 
where the Stormies had been bouncing around and although there was more 
at this spot, it was still a big zero for birds behind the boat. We did add 
Wilson’s Storm-petrel (2) and Flesh-footed Shearwater (1) to the day’s list 
here. Finally, the only Pterodroma for the day, in the form of a Great-winged 
(Grey-faced) Petrel came and went. The highlight however, was an extensive, 
loose pod of Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins that moved through and stretched 
across quite a section of ocean to the east. A single Dolphinfish showed 
interest in the boat and along with the dolphins was an indication of warm 
in the vicinity. 

Feeling a little deflated at the almost absolute lack of birds, we headed back 
for port. In a great twist, about 4 miles from the heads (and almost at the 
exact moment the nor-easter got up) we were suddenly descended upon by a couple 
of hundred Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and a dozen or so Fleshy-foots. Good 
of Pomarine Jaegers then came in, along with an immature Black-browed 
a Hutton’s Shearwater, a couple more Sooty Shearwaters and a handful of Crested 
Terns – there was now a complete frenzy behind the stern! We enjoyed this 
spectacle until we rounded Point Stephens (especially one passenger who was on 
their maiden pelagic). 

Mick Roderick
Species: Approximate total (maximum number around the boat at one time)
White-faced Storm-petrel: 15 (4)
Wilson’s Storm-petrel: 2 (2)
Black-browed Albatross: 1
Wandering Albatross: 2 (1) 
Hutton’s Shearwater: 1
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 250 (200)
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 11 (10)
Short-tailed Shearwater: 5 (1)
Sooty Shearwater: 3 (1)
Great-winged (Grey-faced) Petrel: 1
Australasian Gannet: 10 (8)
Crested Tern: 7 (4)
Pomarine Jaeger: 14 (7) 
Arctic Jaeger: 5 (2)
Inshore Bottlenose Dolphin: 12
Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin: 20
Risso’s Dolphin: 40
Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphin: 200+ 
Hammerhead Shark: 1
(Black?) Whaler Shark: 1
Dolphinfish: 1

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