Saturday, May 17, 2014

Albany Pelagic Trip Report - 4 May 2014

Summary: This trip was another excellent trip, following on from the Sunday trip. 13 tubenose species were recorded, highlighted by more excellent views of Black-bellied Storm-Petrels, a dark intermediate morph Soft-plumaged Petrel, and large numbers of Little Shearwaters. Two South Polar Skuas were also seen on the return journey, unfortunately views were again rather brief and distant, and several Arctic Terns were seen at the shelf. As on the Saturday trip, albatross numbers were notably low.

Arctic Tern, one of three present around the boat for an extended period, note the fine, neat dark trailing edge to the primaries and relatively short, dagger bill. Photo courtesy Bernie O'Keefe

Participants: Alan Collins (Organiser), John Graff (Organiser), John Bailey, Stewart Ford, Nigel Jackett, John Litherland, Wayne Merritt, David Mitford, Bernard O’Keefe, Stuart Pickering, Jon Pridham, Colin Reid, Bev Thiele, Nathan Waugh, John Weigel, Gavin White

Conditions: Conditions were forecast to be flatter than the Saturday trip, with seas of 1m, and a swell of 2-3m, easing further during the day. Variable light winds (5-10knts) were forecast. Conditions were reasonably close to the forecast, making for a relatively flat ride throughout the trip.


We left Emu Point a little after 0700. The journey across King George Sound was quiet, with the first Flesh-footed Shearwaters not appearing until quite close to the heads. Two Brown Skuas were also seen, causing some brief excitement in the hope of South Polars. We passed through the heads, but as with the previous day there was little activity initially. Both Wilson’s and White-faced Storm-Petrel were seen, along with a single Hutton’s Shearwater, another Brown Skua, and a Soft-plumaged Petrel (shallower than usual). The only albatrosses seen were singles each of Black-browed, Shy and Indian Yellow-nosed, as activity remained low until just before the shelf edge. Here, a distant tern was called off the port side; this was probably a ‘Commic’ type but before it could come closer, attention was drawn to several Little Shearwaters flying along with the boat, allowing better than normal views. Several more were seen over the next few minutes, along with a number of Hutton’s Shearwater

Little Shearwater, a regular species on WA pelagics, but the numbers on this trip were relatively high, and views were unusually good! Photo courtesy Stewart Ford

We stopped the boat in 600m of water and started to chum. The light winds meant birds were slow to arrive, but the Flesh-footed Shearwaters and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels started to trickle in. The first major interest came when the first Black-bellied Storm-Petrel put in an appearance – though numbers appeared to be down compared to Saturday, the species was again almost everpresent in the chum slick. A dark or dark intermediate morph Soft-plumaged Petrel followed shortly afterwards. Typical pale Soft-plumaged Petrels, Great-winged Petrels, and Shy and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross all made appearances, but the action was slower than on Saturday in the lighter winds. We drifted into 100m of water, so followed the slick out again; however, the depth had only reached 150m by the time we reached the deep end of the slick. Nonetheless, a short stop here proved worthwhile as an Arctic Tern made an appearance. Several more Little Shearwater were also seen, with more good views.

Dark intermediate Soft-plumaged Petrel (left) with Great-winged Petrel. Intermediate and dark birds have been recorded regularly off WA in recent years

A typical pale Soft-plumaged Petrel. Photo courtesy Bernie O'Keefe

At about 1145, we repositioned to the deep edge of a sharp drop-off, in about 600m of water, and set up a slick. Once again, bird numbers were slow to build, but an Arctic Tern reappeared, followed by a second, then later a third. They continued to remain in the slick for an extended period, and made several close passes. A few Black-bellied and White-faced Storm-Petrels continued to share the slick with numerous Wilson’s Storm-Petrels. A shark, thought to be another whaler sp., was also seen around the boat for an extended period, but it kept away from the surface. An immature Black-browed Albatross added to the tally, and then the call went up for a Wandering Albatross. The presence of numerous vermiculations in the plumage, and little white in the wings suggested gibsoni or dabbenena. Occasional Little Shearwaters continued to pass, and the final interest came when the first Cape Petrel of the weekend appeared.

A Cape Petrel, the only one seen for the weekend. Photo courtesy Bernie O'Keefe

We headed for home at about 1345, and for most of the journey bird activity was quiet. A few Little Shearwaters were the main birds of interest. As we approached the heads, activity increased again. An Arctic Jaeger passed across the bow, and some people also saw a skua at the same time. Closer to the heads, two Black-browed Albatross were seen, including an adult. We decided to stop briefly to use the last of our chum. We waited for 15 minutes, but only a young Black-browed Albatross showed any interest, so we motored on. However within minutes of setting off, two skuas passed behind the boat, heading west. Views were frustratingly distant, but prominent white wing flashes and relatively pale body colouration on both birds indicated two South Polar Skuas. This was confirmed by some distant photographs. This was the last major excitement of the trip, though another Brown Skua and (interestingly) two Hutton’s Shearwaters were seen in King George Sound. We finally docked at approximately 1645. As always, many thanks go to all the participants, and to Tony and Fred from Spinners Charters.

Distant South Polar Skua. Note the dark underwing coverts contrasting with the pale underbody, the pale nape, and the extensive white flashed in the primaries. The presence of South Polar Skuas on both days, after being seen on both May trips last year, was suggestive of regular passage. Unfortunately, views this year were frustratingly brief and distant. Photo courtesy John Weigel

Species List [Total Count (Maximum no. seen at one time)]
Wandering Albatross [sp] 1 (1) – prob gibsoni/dabbenena
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 13 (4)
Black-browed Albatross 7 (2)
Shy Albatross 10 (3)
Cape Petrel 1 (1)
Great-winged Petrel 30 (4)
Soft-plumaged Petrel 15 (3) – including 1 dark intermediate morph
Flesh-footed Shearwater 100 (20)
Hutton’s Shearwater 20 (10)
Little Shearwater 35 (8)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 500 (95)
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel 20 (3)
White-faced Storm-Petrel 45 (3)
Brown Skua 5 (2)
South Polar Skua 2 (2) – second skua seen travelling with this bird also likely a South Polar
Arctic Jaeger 1 (1)
Arctic Tern 3 (3)
Australasian Gannet 12 (5)

Common Bottlenose Dolphin 2 (2)
Shark [Whaler sp.] 1 (1)

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