Monday, December 8, 2014

Albany Pelagic Trip Report - 16 November 2014

Summary: Once again, the calm conditions made this a relatively disappointing trip with low species variety and bird activity in general. The highlights were the first records of White-chinned Petrel on a WA pelagic trip, and more Wandering Albatross (though fewer than were recorded on the Saturday). Overall, 8-9 tubenose species were recorded, depending on the specific identity of the Wandering Albatrosses seen.

White-chinned Petrel, a first for Albany pelagics. Photo courtesy Plaxy Barratt.

Participants: Alan Collins (Organiser), John Graff (Organiser), Sue Abbotts, Plaxy Barratt, Xenia Dennett, Stewart Ford, Clive Garland, Phil Knott, John Litherland, Dan Mantle, Jon Pridham, Chris Sanderson, Francis Searles, Sabine Searles, Pam Smith, Roy Teale, Nathan Waugh, Gavin White.

Conditions: Seas were forecast up to 1m, with a swell of 1.5-2m throughout the day, which promised relatively flat conditions. Winds were forecast variable up to 10knts. Conditions were reasonably close to the forecast, with very flat and calm conditions through the middle of the day

We left Emu Point at approximately 0700. As with the Saturday trip there was almost no bird activity as we crossed King George Sound; however a small group of Bottlenose Dolphin were seen briefly. As we approached the heads, the first Flesh-footed Shearwaters started to be seen, along with an Arctic Jaeger. The outbound journey mirrored that of the Saturday trip, with Flesh-footed Shearwaters and the occasional Indian Yellow-nosed and Shy Albatross. The sea conditions were very calm for an Albany trip, and a surprising level of activity was noted on the surface. This included many fish, a New Zealand Fur Seal, and several animals considered by several observers to be Little Penguins. Unfortunately, none stayed on the surface for a proper look. Several Bridled Terns were also seen.

The skipper Tony knew of a deep sea crab boat pulling pots at the shelf edge which he thought would be attracting the birds, so we headed for it, locating it in about 700m of water. The crab boat was accompanied by large numbers of Flesh-footed Shearwaters and a handful of Shy Albatross. We stopped nearby and deployed our own chum. The first Great-winged Petrel made an appearance, and shortly afterwards the first Wandering Albatross was called. It made a couple of circuits and was soon joined by more. Wandering Albatross remained present for most of the stop, with up to four visible at one time. However, photos suggest at least seven different individuals moved through during this period. One bird landed briefly beside our boat, and photos later revealed that this individual was banded. Specific identification within the Wandering Albatross complex is challenging; it is suspected that many of the birds seen were Snowy Albatross (exulans), but several individuals are suspected to be Gibson’s Albatross (gibsoni). We hope to post further discussion on the assorted Wanderers seen on the day to the blog in time. One Wandering Albatross landed near the boat briefly, and photographs revealed it was banded with a metal band on the left leg. Unfortunately it was not possible to discern details of the band. The first Wilson’s Storm-Petrel of the weekend also put in a relatively brief appearance in the slick. The crab boat was attracting more birds than us, so we relocated a couple of times to stay close to it, deviating during one of the moves to check a couple of Wandering Albatross on the water; unfortunately they took off as we got close.

Young Shy Albatross, with deep sea crab boat pulling pots in the background.

Another young Shy Albatross.

Eventually the crab boat finished pulling pots and moved on, so we moved deeper, setting up in 1000m of water in a similar location to the previous day. The action was relatively slow, but a second Wilson’s Storm-Petrel was seen. Then the call went out for a White-chinned Petrel amongst the Flesh-footed Shearwaters. This is the first record of the species for these trips, and this individual had a significant white chin patch, even starting to bend up towards the cheek. A second individual soon arrived at the boat, this one with a more reduced white chin. Despite, overall activity levels remained low. A White-faced Storm-Petrel was seen in the slick behind the boat, but kept its distance and was not seen by everyone. A Wandering Albatross was then noticed on the water ahead of the boat, so we slowly motored over to it. It remained on the water near the boat for an extended period but slowly drifted away. A third White-chinned Petrel also made an appearance, and just prior to starting the return journey, a final Wandering Albatross for the weekend made a pass.

White-chinned Petrel - the first of the three seen for the day. Note the very extensive white chin, starting to form a partial spectacle

Second White-chinned Petrel for the day. Note the white chin, whilst still relatively extensive, are somewhat broken.

White-chinned Petrel, the third of the day, with the least extensive white chin (albeit still more obvious than most birds seen on the east coast).

We headed for home at about 1330, but had not been travelling for long and were still in 750m of water when the call went out for a whale off the port side. Unfortunately only a few people saw the blows, and one or two people saw the animal briefly. We changed course to investigate but no further sightings were made. The tall blow, and impressions of the surfacing animal, suggested a Blue or Fin Whale, so it was disappointing not to see any more of it. Little else of note was seen on the return journey, with a few Australasian Gannets seen just outside the heads the only new species seen, before we docked at about 1630. As always, many thanks go to all the participants, who make these trips possible, and to Tony and Fred from Spinners Charters for their usual assistance.

Wandering-type Albatross showing a metal band on the left leg - unfortunately no details could be made out. The plumage of this bird suggests gibsoni but exulans and dabbenena are also possibilities.

Species List [Total Count (Maximum no. seen at one time)]

Wandering Albatross [sp] 9 (4) – (most apparently exulans, one photographed with metal band on left leg)
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 12 (4)
Shy Albatross 15 (5)
White-chinned Petrel 3 (2)
Great-winged Petrel 5 (1)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 400 (75)
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel 2 (1)
White-faced Storm-Petrel 1 (1)
Arctic Jaeger 1 (1)
Bridled Tern 5 (3)
Crested Tern 8 (6)
Australasian Gannet 2 (1)

Whale sp. 1 (1) – suspected large rorqual, possibly Blue Whale or Fin Whale
Common Bottlenose Dolphin 6 (3)
New Zealand Fur Seal 1 (1)

Wandering-type Albatross on the water. Suspected exulans on plumage and bill size, but male gibsoni cannot be ruled out.

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