Albany deep ocean pelagic trip report - 23rd May 2015

To: "" <>, Birding-Aus <>
Subject: Albany deep ocean pelagic trip report - 23rd May 2015
From: John Graff <>
Date: Tue, 28 Jul 2015 03:49:47 +0000
Hi all,

I've finally compiled the trip reports from the Albany pelagic weekend in May. 
It was another solid weekend of trips, though we didn't see anything different 
by heading further offshore. The highlight of the Saturday trip was another 
South Polar Skua sighting, our fifth consecutive record for May Albany 
pelagics. Better than usual views of Little Shearwater, and two Sperm Whale at 
the shelf break were also good to see

The full report is available online at
 I've included the text only version below


This was a good trip, with a good variety of seabirds seen (including 13 
tubenose species). However, we didn't see anything different as a result of 
travelling further offshore to deeper water. The highlights were at least one 
South Polar Skua, an intermediate-type Soft-plumaged Petrel, better-than-usual 
views of a number of Little Shearwater, several Wandering Albatross, and a pair 
of Sperm Whales.

Alan Collins (Organiser), John Graff (Organiser), Plaxy Barratt, Damian Baxter, 
Richard Baxter, Bill Betts, Martin Cake, Stewart Ford, Geoff Glare, William 
Gye, Neil Macumber, Dan Mantle, Ian Mayer, Bernard O’Keefe, Claire Payne, Peter 

The wind was forecast N/NW at 15-20knts in the morning, swinging W then SW 
through the day and increasing to 25knts in the afternoon with the passage of a 
small front. Seas were forecast at 1m, increasing to 1.5-2m during the day, 
with the swell forecast SW’ly at 1.5m increasing to 2-2.5m. Conditions were 
very comfortable on the outbound journey with only a modest swell and little 
spray. The cold front passed through after lunch, bringing a heavy shower and 
an increase in the wind. The W'ly wind and rougher seas made the return trip 
less comfortable and necessitated the use of the spray sheet on the port side.

In order to give us more time to travel further offshore, we departed earlier 
than on usual trips, leaving Emu Point Boat Harbour a little behind schedule at 
0515. We crossed King George Sound and cleared the heads in darkness, and were 
well offshore before the first dark shapes started appearing against the dawn 
light. A Black-browed Albatross was the first identifiable bird seen, and was 
followed by several more, along with Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and 
Great-winged Petrel. These three species proved to be the most regular 
sightings throughout the outbound journey, but we soon added the first Wilson’s 
Storm-Petrel, along with brief views of a Cape Petrel and a pair of Little 
Shearwaters. A Tree Martin crossing the stern about 20km offshore was also a 
surprise. The first Wandering-type Albatross (a suspected Snowy exulans) made a 
pass as we reached deeper water, a sure sign we’d crossed the shelf break, but 
we continued deeper before finally stopping in approximately 3,000m of water.

We deployed the chum and were immediately joined by several Black-browed and 
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, with Great-winged Petrels making regular passes. 
A few Wilson's Storm-Petrel also arrived to feed in the slick. However, 
although there was a reasonable level of activity, it took a while for anything 
different to arrive. A couple of Flesh-footed Shearwaters arrived at the boat; 
surprisingly these were the only confirmed records for the weekend, and it 
appears the bulk of the population has left by mid-late May. A few Little 
Shearwaters were seen in the mid-distance, with several providing relatively 
good views for this species, which is notoriously difficult to see well on 
pelagics! Another WA special arrived shortly afterwards with the first 
Soft-plumaged Petrel making an appearance. This was made more interesting as it 
was an intermediate-plumaged individual; such individuals are reportedly rare, 
but several have been seen off the south west in recent years. More excitement 
came when a skua approached the boat, bringing hopes of a South Polar Skua. The 
bird came in and landed by the boat, but the general consensus on board was 
that it was a Brown Skua. However, subsequent discussion based on photos 
obtained raised some questions about this identification, with a dark South 
Polar being considered. Photos show a relatively cold-toned body, contrasting 
with the wings, while a pale collar is also evident. Conversely, the bill looks 
quite heavy in some photos, and there is noticeable foot projection. Despite 
further discussion, it has so far been identified only as a skua sp.

As things continued to remain relatively quiet overall, a concentration of 
birds in the distance eventually proved too interesting to resist and we 
abandoned the slick and motored over. The majority of birds turned out to be 
Great-winged Petrels, with a few Soft-plumaged Petrel scattered amongst them. A 
few people also saw a skua in the throng, but once again identification has 
proven problematic. The overall structure, small head, and suggestions of both 
a pale collar and pale bill blaze hint at a possible South Polar, but the 
overall plumage tone is still quite brown. Once again, the identification has 
been left at a skua sp. With activity in the area, we deployed a new slick. 
Most of the common species from the first stop remained present, and we were 
treated to a few more brief Little Shearwater fly-bys. The first White-faced 
Storm-Petrel made an appearance amongst the Wilson's Storm-Petrels, then the 
call went out for a Wandering-type Albatross. Pleasingly, this bird came in and 
landed near the boat which few Wanderers have done in recent years. The large 
size, long and heavy bill, and extensively white plumage indicated that this 
bird was almost certainly a Snowy Albatross (Diomedea [exulans] exulans). Also 
of interest was a second intermediate-type Soft-plumaged Petrel, this one 
showing a broader dusky collar and grey streaking on the flanks. A fourth skua 
made a brief appearance, but consensus on the specific identification was not 
reached on the brief views and the few photos obtained.

With a cold front looming, we decided to move inshore a little to compare the 
results with our foray deeper. We motored back towards the shelf break and 
stopped at a more typical stopping depth, in around 1,000m of water. A handful 
of Black-browed and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross arrived immediately, and were 
joined by the Snowy Albatross from the previous stop. The move started paying 
dividends quickly, as a second Wandering-type Albatross circled and landed at 
the back of the boat. This bird showed extensive mottled brown plumage, but 
comparisons of both bill size and overall size with the Snowy Albatross at the 
back of the boat suggested that this was also likely a Snowy Albatross, albeit 
a much younger individual. These were also joined at the back of the boat by a 
Northern Giant-Petrel, while Wilson's and occasional White-faced Storm-Petrels 
remained around the slick. A third Wandering-type Albatross (possibly another 
Snowy) made a pass in the mid-distance but did not approach the boat. A Cape 
Petrel also made an appearance, but more excitement was caused by yet another 
skua approaching the boat. This bird proved to be a clear South Polar Skua, 
which landed on the water near the boat to allow most people good views. 
Shortly after this, a whale blow off the starboard side attracted attention. 
The combination of a relatively low and bushy blow, and the location off the 
shelf edge suggested a Sperm Whale, and further observations confirmed the 
identification and indicated two animals were present. We drifted towards one 
of the whales and were able to make out the back of the animal, before it blew 
one final time and fluked as it dived for the depths.

The approaching weak cold front hit us not long after lunch, bringing a brief 
but heavy shower and an increase in the wind and seas. The dark cloud also 
brought a change in the light, and an albatross with a very dark grey hood and 
dark underwing caused some excitement; unfortunately it proved to be a dark 
hooded juvenile Black-browed Albatross made to appear darker in the poor light. 
The first (and only) Shy Albatross of the day made a pass of the boat, but with 
choppy seas threatening a longer-than-usual return trip, we headed for home at 
around 1330.

The rougher seas and strong wind in the wake of the cold front made the inbound 
journey a little rough, with enough spray to necessitate the use of a spray 
sheet on the exposed side of the boat. Several Soft-plumaged Petrels gave 
excellent fly-by views as we travelled, but there was little else of note until 
we reached the heads. A single distant skua was seen but few details could be 
made out. A few people also saw a small pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphin off 
the stern just after we entered the heads, a first confirmed record for Albany 
trips. A loafing flock of Australasian Gannets provided some interest in the 
sound, and a single Wilson's Storm-Petrel feeding amongst the lines of 
fisherman at the entrance to Oyster Harbour was a major surprise. We docked 
shortly afterwards at 1635. As always, thanks go to all trip participants for 
making these trips possible, and the boat crew Tony and Fred from Spinners 
Charters for their usual patience and friendly assistance.

Species List [Total count (Max. seen at one time)]
Wandering Albatross 4 (3) - 2+ Snowy, 1 Antipodean (gibsoni)
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 15 (7)
Black-browed Albatross 15 (6)
Shy Albatross 1 (1)
Northern Giant-Petrel 1 (1)
Cape Petrel 2 (1)
Great-winged Petrel 150 (26)
Soft-plumaged Petrel 12 (3) - 2 intermediate birds
Flesh-footed Shearwater 3 (2)
Little Shearwater 20 (2)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 70 (43)
White-faced Storm-Petrel 10 (3)
Brown Skua 1 (1)
South Polar Skua 1 (1)
Skua sp. 3 (1)
Silver Gull 5 (5)
Crested Tern 2 (1)
Australasian Gannet 35 (25)

Sperm Whale 2 (2)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin 6+ (6)

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