Saturday, May 17, 2014

Albany Pelagic Trip Report - 3 May 2014

Summary: This trip was another excellent trip, continuing the recent success of early May trips from Albany – at least18 tubenose species were seen, a record for Albany pelagics, highlighted by several prions, including a Fairy Prion (a rarity in WA). A South Polar Skua (and probably a second) were also seen, strengthening suspicions that the species is a regular passage migrant off the WA coast in April-May – unfortunately views were frustratingly brief and distant. Although we saw a good variety of species, total albatross numbers were notably low.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel are abundant on passage off WA at this time of year. Photo courtesy Stewart Ford.

Participants: Alan Collins (Organiser), John Graff (Organiser), James Bennett, Alan Danks, Rose Ferrell, Stewart Ford, Dougald Frederick, Nigel Jackett, David Mitford, Margot Oorebeek, Stuart Pickering, Jon Pridham, Colin Reid, Mark Stanley, Peter Taylor, Ray Turnbull, Nathan Waugh, John Weigel

Conditions: Seas were forecast to be 1-1.5m, with a swell of 2.5-3m, easing a little through the day, which promised a bumpy ride on the outbound journey particularly. Moderate SSW’ly winds of 15knts were forecast, easing to 10knts through the day. Conditions were reasonably close to the forecast, though winds appeared more westerly.

We left Emu Point a little after 0700, and picked up the first Flesh-footed Shearwaters as we crossed King George Sound. A few people also had brief views of three Little Penguins, and we stopped briefly for a close pass from a Humpback Whale. We passed through the heads, but there was little activity initially. We did eventually hit some activity, with a Hutton’s Shearwater and the first White-faced Storm-Petrel making an appearance. A Little Shearwater was seen briefly off the bow but as is frustratingly often the case with this species, it quickly disappeared amongst the waves. The major excitement came when two skuas were seen ahead. The nearer of these was a nice pale intermediate South Polar Skua. The second was probably another one, but no-one was able to get IDable views. Unfortunately, they both continued purposefully east. The first Wilson’s Storm-Petrel was seen soon after, but things quietened down for a period until we approached the shelf edge. Albatross were almost non-existent, with two Shy Albatross the only ones seen on the entire outbound journey. As we approached the shelf break, we picked up the first Great-winged and Soft-plumaged Petrels, and a giant-petrel was seen briefly – views were insufficient to confirm the species with certainty, though it appeared to be a Southern.

We stopped the boat in 800m of water and started to chum. The Flesh-footed Shearwaters and Wilson’s Storm-Petrel started to gather immediately, and were joined by an immature Black-browed Albatross. The numbers of storm-petrels grew quickly, and within minutes the call went out for Black-bellied Storm-Petrel, which made a pass across the back of the boat allowing excellent views. This proved to be the first of many, as up to five individuals were everpresent in the slick for the rest of the day, making many close passes of the boat. Great-winged and Soft-plumaged Petrels made regular passes, along with Shy Albatross and the first Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross of the day. After an hour and a half or so, we moved back up the slick as far as the skipper was able to follow it. The numbers of Wilson’s Storm-Petrel in the slick continued to grow, with Black-bellied and White-faced Storm-Petrels joining them in smaller numbers. Then the call went out for a Wandering Albatross, which made a circuit of the boat before disappearing. The plumage characteristics of this bird made taxon identification uncertain, with any of exulans, gibsoni or dabbenena possible. Two sharks were seen near the boat in the area, the first was considered to be a Blue Shark and the second a whaler sp. (possibly a Bronze Whaler, but there are at least two similar species that would be inseparable on the views obtained).

Black-bellied Storm-Petrel, apparently a regular passage migrant in early May
The first Wandering Albatross of the day. The plumage of this individual is difficult, as it occurs in exulans, gibsoni and dabbenena, though the extent of white in the wings with a lot of black still in the tail may suggest exulans

We made our final move of the day at midday, travelling out to 1000m of water and setting out a new slick. Not long after stopping, an adult Campbell Albatross made a pass, but otherwise it remained quiet until a container ship passed in the mid-distance off the stern. The call went out for a Wandering Albatross (probably most likely gibsoni), which was rapidly followed by an immature or sub-adult Campbell Albatross, and then a third Wandering Albatross for the day. This Wanderer landed at the back of the boat, the first time one has come into the boat for several trips – the extensive white in the plumage and apparent heavy bill suggested this bird was most likely exulans. The major excitement came shortly afterwards, when a prion was called in the slick. Widely varying opinions were voiced on the identification; this may be explained by the two-bird theory as photos suggested there may have been two birds present; a Slender-billed Prion and a Fairy Prion. The Fairy Prion showed reasonably well in the slick, and a number of photos were obtained. Unfortunately, no conclusive photos of the possible Slender-billed Prion have been obtained, so it remains unconfirmed. Fairy Prion is a particularly good record; the species is considered rare in WA waters and this is the first record for a WA pelagic trip. 

Sub-adult Campbell Albatross, the amber-coloured iris and perhaps more extensive black brow separate it from the similar Black-browed Albatross

Several images of the Fairy Prion, note the rounded head, extaensive black tail tip, small bill, and prominent M across the back. The species is common off the south-eastern Australia but there are few record off WA

We had to head for home at about 1400, but within minutes of commencing the return journey another prion was seen off the stern and we stopped the boat. Unfortunately the bird did not hang around, but photos indicate it was an Antarctic/Salvin’s type, with the size and shape of the head suggesting Salvin’s Prion. However, after discussion, it was concluded that conclusive identification was not possible on the available evidence. A shark was also seen briefly while we were stopped. The rest of the return trip was relatively uneventful aside from a couple of Black-browed Albatross, although it was interesting to see both Wilson’s and White-faced Storm-Petrel within King George Sound. We docked relatively late, a little short of 1700. As always, many thanks to all the participants, and to Tony and Fred from Spinners Charters.

The second Wandering Albatross of the day. The all-dark upperwings and relatively extensive brown markings on the body may suggest gibsoni or possibly dabbenena, though the bill is relatively large.

The third Wandering Albatross of the day. The large bill and extensively white plumage strongly suggest exulans

The Salvin's/Antarctic Prion. The relatively large head with steep forehead, and apparently heavy bill suggest Salvin's Prion, but there is insufficient evidence for confirmed identification

Species List [Total Count (Maximum no. seen at one time)]
Little Penguin 3 (3)
Wandering Albatross [sp] 3 (1) – 1+ exulans, 1 probable gibsoni
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 6 (2)
Black-browed Albatross 4 (2)
Campbell Albatross 2 (1)
Shy Albatross 12 (2)
Giant-Petrel sp. [probably Southern] 1 (1)
Great-winged Petrel 35 (6)
Soft-plumaged Petrel 25 (3)
Antarctic/Salvin’s Prion [probable Salvin’s] 1 (1)
Slender-billed Prion 1 possible (1)

Flesh-footed Shearwater 150 (30)
Hutton’s Shearwater 3 (2)
Little Shearwater 1 (1)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 500 (85)
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel 30 (5)
White-faced Storm-Petrel 12 (1)
South Polar Skua 1 (1) – second skua seen travelling with this bird also likely a South Polar
Australasian Gannet 15 (7)

Humpback Whale 1 (1)
Blue Shark 1 (1)
Shark [Whaler sp.] 1 (1)
Unidentified shark 1 (1)

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