Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report Sun 20th Nov 2011

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report Sun 20th Nov 2011
From: Mick Roderick <>
Date: Sun, 20 Nov 2011 23:51:16 -0800 (PST)
Boat: M.V.Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsefield
Graeme O’Connor, Michael Kearns, Greg and Judy Little, Lorna Mee, Ann Lindsey, 
Dick Jenkin, Mike Newman, Peter Alexander, Steve Edwards, Allan Richardson, 
Steve Roderick and Mick Roderick (co-organisers). 
Despite 25 knot northerlies and 3m seas forecast by BOM, it was a reasonably 
languid day on the sea with a smallish swell and winds that never got over 15 
knots coming from a northerly direction all day. Seas were between 1-1.5m and 
it was a comfortable tea-bag for the punters on the shelf. To my knowledge no 
one was sea-sick. 
A great day at sea, with 20 species recorded outside of the heads. Without 
doubt the highlight was a very attentive GREAT SHEARWATER, which to my 
knowledge is the first bird in Australian waters since the flurry of records in 
autumn this year and would also be the northernmost record on the east coast 
(please correct me if I’m wrong here – I have been in SE Asia for the past 4 
months!). Other highlights included having 3 BLACK PETRELS around the boat, 
good views of a single GOULD’S PETREL and a couple of SOOTY TERNS. A rather 
unseasonal Brown Skua was also seen.
DepartedNelson Bay Public Wharfat 0705, returning at 1655.
It was a nervous exit through the heads with the incredibly varied forecasts in 
mind. Various websites such as Seabreeze and Willyweather predicted gentle 
northerlies on slight to moderate seas, whereas the bureau was talking about 25 
knot winds creating a 3m sea. Fortunately they were wrong (as is often the case 
– the bureau does seem to err on the side of extreme caution with their 
forecasts) and it was pleasant journey to the shelf with the usual brigade of 
shearwaters in attendance. Large flocks of mainly Wedge-taileds were seen 
behind trawlers not far from the heads whilst small groups (max 40 birds) of 
Short-taileds were seen zooming south as we made our way to the drop-off. The 
highlight of the journey out was an unexpected Brown Skua that parted the small 
throng of Silver Gulls and Pomarine Jaegers briefly. We were all surprised to 
see one of these guys at this time of year (noting that the SOSSA website shows 
a presumably single sighting of
 Antarctic Skua for November).
Once at the shelf it was the usual gaggle of brown customers at the back of the 
boat when suddenly a cry of “Buller’s Shearwater!” went up. Initially that was 
what we all thought we were looking at in the slick until the underwing and 
tail pattern could be seen, with it dawning on us that we had a Great 
Shearwater on our hands. What didn’t help was the fact that this bird’s 
hindneck was completely brown, robbing it of any “capped” appearance. Just as 
this was happening a Sooty Tern flew overhead and the first Great-winged Petrel 
came in. 
The Great-wings (some in heavy moult with only 5 primaries) were very attendant 
to the boat and seemed fairly hungry, jostling out other birds for the minced 
pickings. In fact the Wedgies were largely uninterested in the berley for most 
of the day, content to sit some distance from the boat. This was to be a 
dangerous occupation for the birds as we were joined by a 2-metre Mako Shark 
that cruised around the boat for about an hour. On several occasions we had to 
draw our oily rag from the water as it made half-hearted swipes at it and on at 
least one occasion it made a very quick bee-line for the shearwaters which were 
wise to its approaches.
The Great Shearwater came and went perhaps 5 or 6 times, with new excitement at 
every return. We were confident that it was the same bird due its lack of a 
distinct cap. Wilson’s Storm-petrels started to appear in the slick after about 
90 minutes (longer than normal), peaking at about twenty birds. A lone 
White-faced also joined them. At around midday Steve got onto a distant 
Cookilaria which obligingly came straight towards our starboard side, giving 
great views of a Gould’s Petrel as it flew past. 
Not too much later another Sooty Tern flew over and then the first of 3 Black 
Petrels appeared, one of which stayed with the boat til about 5nm from the 
heads on the rather uneventful trip back to port. Finally we were all treated 
to another attempt of a Sea Eagle to take a shearwater, this time unsuccessful. 
All in all a very entertaining and diverse day at sea. 
Mick Roderick
Species: Total (maximum number visible from the boat at one time)
Wilson’s Storm-petrel: 25 (12)
White-faced Storm-petrel: 1
Fluttering Shearwater: 1
Hutton’s Shearwater: 1
Fluttering-type Shearwater: 3 (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 1200 (1000; though maximum 20 around our boat)
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 40 (20)
Short-tailed Shearwater: 150 (40)
Sooty Shearwater: 1
Great-winged Petrel: 10 (4; most gouldi, one possible macroptera)
Solander’s (Providence) Petrel: 2 (1)
Australasian Gannet: 5 (2)
Crested Tern: 7 (4)
Pomarine Jaeger: 15 (5) 
Brown Skua: 1
Silver Gull: 6 (4)
White-bellied Sea-Eagle: 1
Offshore Bottle-nosed Dolphin: ???, but large pod of probably 100+ amongst 
schooling fish
Humpback Whale: 2
Southern Ocean Sunfish: 1
Mako Shark (probably Shortfin): 1

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