Friday, February 20, 2015

Albany Pelagic Trip Report - 8 February 2015

Summary: This was also an interesting trip, with a reasonable variety of seabirds, though most species were the same as the previous day’s trip. 11 tubenose species were recorded, along with several skua and tern species. The highlights were more Sooty Terns and Short-tailed Shearwaters, and several close passes from a Wandering-type Albatross.

Wandering-type Albatross, suspected Gibson’s D. [e.] [antipodensis] gibsoni. Photo courtesy Plaxy Barratt.

Participants: Alan Collins (Organiser), John Graff (Organiser), Plaxy Barratt, Bill Betts, Nick Brown, Stewart Ford, Jacinta King, Dan Mantle, Wayne Merritt, Michael Morcombe, Mark Newman, Steve Reynolds, George Swann, Roy Teale

Conditions: Conditions were significantly rougher than experienced on the Saturday trip, with seas forecast at 1.5-2m with a primary swell SW’ly at 2-3m and a secondary swell E’ly at 1m. Winds were forecast easterly at 15-20knts, reaching 25knts inshore. Conditions were largely as forecast which made for a wet and rough trip!

We departed Emu Point Boat Harbour at approximately 0600. The outbound journey was quite rough and wet, particularly in the sloppy conditions just outside the heads. The first Flesh-footed Shearwaters began to appear as we entered King George Sound. A number of Arctic Jaegers were also active in the sound, with five individuals seen harassing a Silver Gull at one point. As we approached the heads, a small group of Common Bottlenose Dolphins were again seen briefly, in a similar area to the previous day. We cleared the heads and Flesh-footed Shearwater numbers increased. Not long afterwards, two Short-tailed Shearwaters were also seen behind the boat, and a few people saw three distant Long-tailed Jaegers. A single tern was also seen by several people, and considered to be a Bridled Tern. Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross were seen sporadically for most of the outbound journey, along with a couple of Shy Albatross and a single Black-browed Albatross seen by a few people. The first major excitement came as we approached the shelf break and a dark bird with an obvious white belly was seen off the starboard side – unfortunately, this turned out to be a leucistic Flesh-footed Shearwater rather than a crippling rarity! This was followed by a smaller bird with a pale belly that was initially suspected to be a Soft-plumaged Petrel. However, at least one observer suspected a shearwater, and was proven correct when photographs confirmed a Hutton’s Shearwater.

This leucistic Flesh-footed Shearwater caused some excitement as the overall pattern is superficially similar to a few major rarities such as Atlantic Petrel. Unfortunately the reality is not quite so exciting, though it is an interesting plumage variation – the dorsal surface also showed a few small white patches. Photo courtesy Steve Reynolds.

Hutton’s Shearwater – another cause of temporary excitement on the outbound journey. Photo courtesy Steve Reynolds.

We stopped the boat after reaching the 800m mark. Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and Flesh-footed Shearwaters immediately gathered around the boat, and occasional Great-winged Petrels and Short-tailed Shearwaters made passes. Several Wilson’s and White-faced Storm-Petrels also made appearance in the slick. Bird activity remained relatively high, but nothing new was seen until two Sooty Terns made a pass. A couple of Crested Terns were something of a surprise this deep given the relatively rough conditions. We were drifting west relatively quickly, but remaining in deep water. However, with nothing new coming in we decided to try something different and moved into shallower water where the shelf break was steeper.
Sooty Tern at the continental shelf edge of Albany – note the broader, shorter white forehead patch for separation from Bridled. Sightings of this species on these trips may represent the first records of the species off the south coast of WA.

Wandering-type Albatross. The plumage shown by this bird occurs in exulans, gibsoni and dabbenena, but the relatively small light build and small bill is suggestive of the latter two. Considering this, and location, Gibson’s Albatross Diomedea [antipodensis] gibsoni is considered the most likely candidate.

We stopped just short of midday in about 400 m of water. Initially, species were much the same as the previous stop, until the call went out for a Wandering-type Albatross. Unlike the Saturday bird, this individual made several close passes of the boat, showing a largely white body, with a moderate amount of white in the upperwing – this is a challenging plumage to identify with certainty, with Snowy exulans, Antipodean (Gibson’s) gibsoni and Tristan dabbenena all showing this plumage. The apparently relatively small and slight build, and location, suggest gibsoni may be the most likely candidate. Another Sooty Tern was also seen. We were drifting rapidly west, so we motored back to the start of the drift and started again. An adult Black-browed Albatross, showing some serious damage to the bill tip, arrived and remained in the vicinity for the remainder of the stop. It was later joined by a young Black-browed-type Albatross, which was suggested as a possible Campbell at the time. However, subsequent analysis of photos suggests it is more likely to be a Black-browed Albatross, and it may be best left as a Black-browed sp. Interestingly, the bird was banded, along with at least one of the Flesh-footed Shearwaters seen on the trip. Unfortunately, full band details couldn’t be ascertained in either case.

Adult Black-browed Albatross, showing significant damage to the maxillary unguis.

Immature Black-browed-type Albatross. Identification to species level at this age is still problematic. There was some suggestion at the time that this individual may be a Campbell Albatross but after examination of photographs and further research suggest the identity remains uncertain, with Black-browed Albatross possibly more likely. Pity we couldn’t get full band details!

We set off for home shortly before 1400, with the two Black-browed Albatross [sp.] following us for an extended period. The return trip was wet and fairly rough at times, with one particularly large wave sending the large plastic containers at the back of the boat flying. Bird-wise it was relatively uneventful until several Hutton’s Shearwaters were seen as we approached the heads. A single Little Shearwater was also seen briefly as it passed the bow, and two Bridled Terns were seen relatively close to the coast. We docked at approximately 1645. Many thanks as always to all the participants, and to Tony and Fred from Spinners Charters for their assistance.

Adult Black-browed-type Albatross with Flesh-footed Shearwaters.

Species List (Total count [Maximum seen at one time])
Wandering Albatross sp. 1 (1) – probable [antipodensis] gibsoni
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 25 (8)
Black-browed Albatross 3 (1)
Black-browed Albatross [sp.] 1 (1)
Shy Albatross 8 (2)
Great-winged Petrel 15 (2)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 400 (100)
Short-tailed Shearwater 20 (2)
Hutton's Shearwater 7 (6)
Little Shearwater 1 (1)
Wilsons Storm-Petrel 6 (4)
White-faced Storm-Petrel 15 (4)
Arctic Jaeger 8 (5)
Long-tailed Jaeger 3 (3)
Crested Tern 5 (2)
Sooty Tern 4 (2)
Bridled Tern 3 (2)
Australasian Gannet 3 (1)

Common Bottlenose Dolphin 3 (3)

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