Saturday, May 11, 2013

Albany Pelagic Trip Report - 4 May 2013

Participants: Alan Collins (Organiser), John Graff (Organiser), Sue Abbotts, Xenia Dennett, Stewart Ford, Peter Huggins, Darryl Jones, John Lillywhite, Dan Mantle, Michael Morcombe, Simon Nevill, Glen Pacey, Jon Pridham, Ray Turnbull, John Weigel

Conditions: Seas were forecast to 1m, with swell 1.5-2.5m, and light SE’ly winds. Conditions were reasonably close to the forecast though it was a little rougher in the morning, even within King George Sound, flattening through the day.

This was an excellent trip - 11 tubenose species were seen, but it was the skuas and terns that provided the major highlights with three South Polar Skuas, a breeding plumaged Arctic Tern, and at least one Long-tailed Jaeger seen.

The second South Polar Skua seen on the day. A dark bird but note the overall slimmer build (cf. Brown), very dark underwing lining, and slight pale nape.

We left Emu Point a little after 0700 and were surprised to immediately pick up our first true seabird – a Flesh-footed Shearwater flying around the boat harbour. As we crossed King George Sound we picked many more Flesh-footed Shearwaters, along with the usual Australasian Gannets. A few people also saw a single Brown Skua. We passed through the heads, but the first albatross took a while to appear, the first being a Shy Albatross seen briefly in the wake, heading east. This was followed by the first Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, and several adult Black-browed Albatross began following the boat, while Flesh-footed Shearwaters were ever present. As we approached the shelf, the first Wilson’s & White-faced Storm-Petrels were also seen.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel. Note the yellow webbing between the toes

We stopped the boat in about 600m of water at the continental shelf edge and started to chum. We were immediately joined by several adult Black-browed Albatross and the usual Flesh-footed Shearwaters. Wilson’s Storm-Petrel started gathering to feed in the slick, and the first confirmed Great-winged Petrel made a pass. The odd White-faced Storm-Petrel could be seen with the Wilson’s in the slick, and an immature Shy Albatross made an appearance. The first excitement came when a skua flew over the boat. It hung around for a while, but stayed frustratingly away from the boat. Nonetheless, the general opinion was that it was a South Polar Skua, which has since been confirmed from photos.

The skipper alerted us that we had drifted into shallower water, so we moved deeper again, stopping the boat when another skua made an appearance. This bird was darker than the first, but the general shape was good for South Polar Skua, which was again confirmed by photos. Unfortunately it did not hang around. The number of Black-browed Albatross around the boat grew to 7, mostly adults, while the odd Shy Albatross was also seen along with the usual Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses. One of the Shy Albatross was an adult with enough yellow in the bill to confirm it as a Tasmanian bird. Then the shout went out for a Wandering Albatross, which came in from the port side and crossed the bow but did not hang around. Identification of this complex is always tricky but the general consensus was that Gibson’s Albatross was the most likely candidate. A Northern Giant-Petrel also made a pass but did not stay, and the first Soft-plumaged Petrel was also seen.

A fuzzy photo of the only Wandering Albatross for the day. The hint of a dark cap and the dark tail, combined with some white in the wings and the impression of size at the time suggest Gibson's Albatross but Tristan and possibly female Snowy can't be excluded.

We repositioned for a final time, heading out to 800m of water. The birds here were similar until a tern was called off the stern. Fortunately, it made several close passes over the boat, allowing identification as an Arctic Tern in full breeding plumage. Another South Polar Skua (the palest individual yet) also made a few circuits, and a jaeger flew in from the port side. After some debate, the consensus was that it was a Long-tailed Jaeger, a first for WA pelagic trips. Presumably the same bird reappeared on the ocean not long afterwards. Then an intermediate morph Soft-plumaged Petrel appeared in the slick. Black-browed Albatross remained around the boat, but were joined by an adult Campbell Albatross to round out a successful trip.

Arctic Tern in breeding plumage, note the thin, neat black trailing edge to the primaries.

The third and palest South Polar Skua seen on the day. Note the extensive pale mantle/collar.

Long-tailed Jaeger, a first for WA pelagics. Note the overall shape, short bill and thick-necked appearance, extensive barring about the rump and undertail, and 1-2 white shafts in the primaries.

The return trip was relatively smooth and uneventful, the only sightings of note were more Black-browed Albatross just outside the heads, and a Brown Skua in the same area. We docked at approximately 1630. As always, many thanks to all the participants, and to Tony and Fred from Spinners Charters.

UPDATE: A photo by Darryl Jones revealed we missed a Black-bellied Storm-Petrel - a different bird to the Sunday bird

Campbell Albatross. Note the pale eye to distinguish from Black-browed.

Species List [Total Count (Maximum no. seen at one time)]
Wandering Albatross [prob. Gibson's] 1 (1)
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 20 (8)
Black-browed Albatross 14 (7)
Campbell Albatross 1 (1)

Shy Albatross 4 (1)
Northern Giant-Petrel 1 (1)
Great-winged Petrel 12 (6)
Soft-plumaged Petrel 2 (1) - 1 intermediate morph
Flesh-footed Shearwater 500 (100)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 120 (25)
White-faced Storm-Petrel 12 (1)

Black-bellied Storm-Petrel 1 (1) - only ID'd in post-trip photos
Brown Skua 2 (1)

Long-tailed Jaeger 1-2 (1)
Arctic Tern 1 (1) - breeding plumage

Australasian Gannet 18 (3)

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