St. Helens, Tasmania - Trip report July 24-26 2008
A gentle sea and good light provided excellent conditions for bird observing and photography for all three days, the birding was excitingly productive and highlights were many. Beyond the continental shelf we approached a drifting stern trawler. It was a buzz to see at least 63 Great Albatross scattered around in a “gaggle” the flock composition approximately 2:10 Royal Albatross/ Wandering Albatross. Although such numbers of Great Albatross together in Australian waters are likely to be a record, at the time not much was spoken but you could feel an aura of appreciation on board generated by this magnificent sight.
On each of the three days we enjoyed good views of Sooty Albatross, Southern Royal Albatross, Northern Royal Albatross, Grey-backed Storm Petrel and all the expected birds as well but on the third day we were especially rewarded with multiple sightings of Grey Petrel. Pleasingly nobody missed out on any of the rarer species seen.
At each stop we released fresh shark liver mixed with selected fish oils as a light berley trail and this proved a great attractant to the birds; several times its effectiveness could be seen when a large commercial stern trawler passed followed by masses of sea birds comprising hundreds of Albatross, Giant Petrels, and Cape Petrels etc. By releasing a light trail of our berley mix, almost all the sycophantic followers of the fishing vessels were immediately drawn to us.
Departing St Helens wharf at 0700 hrs., clearing George Bay barway at about 07.30, each day we headed for “The Hill”, (41 13’S, 148 45’E) an area of up welling currents surrounding a Tasman Seamount about 23 Nm off shore that has proved to be a very productive birding spot. However we followed a different course each day with stops on the way and arriving about 10.00 am and departing about 1.00 pm.
Releasing a light trail of berley at most stops; we were soon surrounded by numbers of albatross and petrels. Heading back to shore with more stops on the way we were invariably followed by a loyal squadron of albatross and Cape Petrels. We passed many Common Diving Petrels and other delights on the way back in, the pelagics diminished as we approach the entrance to George Bay. Stopping to observe roosting waders on sand spits beside the channel after passing through the barway, we made our way to port arriving back at St Helens about 3.00 pm.
On this occasion the regular charter boat Nifty II was not available so we used the stand in vessel, Norseman III with skipper Gerald Spalding and Paul as crew.
For all three days the weather was good for pelagic birding with a blocking high hovering over Tasmania. We experienced a lull situated between an extreme front that passed two days earlier on the 21st and an approaching weak front forecast for the 27th. Wind was variable 5 – 15 knots, air temperatures cold to mild and sea surface temperature beyond the continental shelf was an average C14.3.
An MSLP Analysis chart loop showing the weather synopsis for the period can be viewed here.
Day 1 (Thursday 24 July 2008): Michael Kearns, Crispin Marsh, Grant Penrhyn, Bill Wakefield, Bill McLean, Ted Nixon Andrew Stafford, Ian May (organiser)
Day 2 (Friday 25/07/2008): Michael Kearns, Crispin Marsh, Grant Penrhyn, Bill Wakefield, Bill McLean, Ted Nixon, Andrew Stafford, Shirley Tongue, John Tongue, Ian May (organiser)
Day 3 (Saturday 26/07/2008): Michael Kearns, Crispin Marsh, Grant Penrhyn, Bill Wakefield, Dirk Tomsa, Wulan Tomsa, Bill McLean, Ted Nixon, Andrew Stafford, George Appleby, Hazel Britton, Peter Britton, Ian May (organiser).
We all agreed that Michael Kearns earned the grand prize for first spotting a Sooty Albatross, a copy of Albatrosses, Petrels and Shearwaters of the World: Derek Onley & Paul Scofield see; Princeton Images . Well done Michael.
The bird list.
Diversity was good although gadfly petrels and other small procelleraformes were scarce. Pelagic species recorded (30) Total Species recorded 54. For the purpose of our list, pelagic observations = > 2 Nm from land. Coastal observation = < 2 Nm from land. The numbers shown are conservative estimates with the minimum daily count for each species shown in parentheses.
I haven’t worked out yet, a successful way of including a table within birding-aus posts so decided on a repetitive system showing recording days for each pelagic species. Also included are species links to Wikipedea or where not available, to Ocean Wanderers “Annotated list of the Seabirds of the World”. Opportunities exist to add pictures and expert text to some Wikipedea entries.
Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor)
Day 1 1, (1). Day 2 0, (0). Day 3 1, (1).
The distinctive barking call heard at “the Hill” One seen at the shelf.
Common Diving Petrel (Pelecanoides urinatrix)
Day 1 25, (16). Day 2 200, (150). Day 3 60, (40).
These were common in the near shore zone from 50 to 140 meters depth.
Southern Giant Petrel (Macronectes giganteus)
Day 1 4, (4). Day 2 2, (2). Day 3 10, (5).
Mainly outside the shelf at “the Hill” and in the vicinity of the stern trawler.
Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli)
Day 1 23, (15). Day 2 20, (8). Day 3 100, (63).
Mainly observed beyond the continental shelf at “the Hill” and in the vicinity of the stern trawler.
Snares Cape Petrel (Daption capensis australi)
Day 1 50, (14). Day 2 120, (50). Day 3 200, (56).
Cape Petrels were common beyond the 700 meter contour. Attracted to berley, numbers were present at all locations. Returning to St Helens and trailing a berley bucket, some birds followed to within 3 Nm of the coast.
Antarctic Cape Petrel (Daption capensis capensis)
Day 1 0, (0). Day 2 0, (0). Day 3 2, (2).
At the Hill, with more than 50 Cape Petrels around us, at least two of the birds displayed extensive white chequered back rump and wings.
(Snowy) Albatross (Diomedea exulans exulans)
Day 1 12, (8). Day 2 21, (15). Day 3 64, (49).
Exceptional numbers of Snowy Albatross seen at each stop beyond the continental shelf. Flock composition was approx half of the great albatross present as they loafed about in the vicinity of commercial fishing vessels that were operating in the area.
Gibson’s Albatross (Diomedea exulans gibsoni)
Day 1 3, (3). Day 2 7, (7). Day 3 16, (16).
Flock composition was about 3:10 of the Great Albatross present
Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi)
Day 1 1, (1). Day 2 2, (2). Day 3 1, (1).
Southern Royal Albatross (Diomedea epomophora)
Day 1 4, (4). Day 2 15, (11). Day 3 20, (12).
A highlight of the trip were large numbers of Royal Albatross numbers comprising about 2:10 ratio of great albatross present.
Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta cauta)
Day 1 150, (33). Day 2 200, (50). Day 3 140, (70).
Commonly observed from the 40 meters depth zone, usually in view either gliding in our wake or aggressively feeding on berley at each stop. Birds present in various plumage stages.
Salvin’s Albatross (Thallasarche cauta salvini)
Day 1 2, (2). Day 2 1, (1). Day 3 1, (1).
Observed each day at “the Hill”. A smaller bird than the Shy with pale grey bill and dark tip to lower mandible showing grey head and neck with white cap and darker base to primaries.
Black-browed Albatross (Thlassarche impavada melanophrys)
Day 1 1, (1). Day 2 4, (3). Day 3 8, (5).
Although a few birds were seen at various locations, less common than expected.
Campbell’s Albatross (Thalassarche impavada) impavada)
Day 1 4, (2). Day 2 3, (2). Day 3 0, (0).
Less common compared to May trips.
Buller's Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri bulleri)
Day 1 10, (3). Day 2 10, (3). Day 3 10, (3)
Present at most stops, attracted to the boat with berley and aggressive feeder. Usually in view when traveling beyond shelf, their numbers are much reduced compared to December and May trips.
Northern Buller’s Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri platei?)
Day 1 0, (0). Day 2 1, (1). Day 3 0,(0).
One conspicuous bird, possibly smaller with darker grey face and neck appeared timid compared to usual bulleri. Swimming in vicinity of boat from 20 to 50 meters away for up to an hour on Day 2.
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassache carteri)
Day 1 1, (1). Day 2 0, (0). Day 3 4, (2).
Commonly seen in summer however few observed on this trip.
Sooty Albatross (Phoebetria fusca)
Day 1 1, (1). Day 2 2, (1). Day 3 2, (1).
A single bird was observed gliding past the boat on several occasions but showing no interest in our berley trail. On the second day a bird with a paler back caused some excitement however, it was soon confirmed as Sooty. On Day 3 a single bird passed close by on several occasions at different locations allowing excellent views.
Fairy Prion (Pachyptila turtur)
Day 1 30, (10). Day 2 75, (40). Day 3 70, (30).
Common at the Hill where on Day 1, there were several birds feeding among floating kelp probably brought to the surface by upwelling currents that occur here. Single birds and small numbers seen at other locations beyond the 100 meter line.
Grey-backed Storm-Petrel (Garrodia nereis)
Day 1 50, (20). Day 2 30, (9). Day 3 50, (17).
Good numbers observed at the Hill some feeding around floating kelp with Prions. Smaller numbers elsewhere beyond the continental shelf. None seen inside shelf and did not appear attracted to the boat.
Great-winged Petrel (Pterodroma macroptera)
Day 1 2, (2). Day 2 2, (2). Day 3 2, (1).
Showing little interest in the boat, birds were seen briefly as they passed by. One bird circled the boat several times on Day 2
Providence Petrel (Pterodroma solandri)
Day 1 0, (0). Day 2 2, (2). Day 3 0, (0).
One bird showing pale lower breast and large pale outer wing patches circled the boat at some distance and created some discussion re possibility of dark Kermadec however long wedge shaped tail and stout bill clinched solandri.
Grey Petrel (Procellaria cinerea)
Day 1 0, (0). Day 2 0, (0). Day 3 3, (1).
On day 3, there was much excitement when a single Grey Petrel passed by on several occasions at various spots beyond the continental shelf. Showing not much interest in the boat or berley, eventually one bird passed several times under excellent light, treating all on board to excellent views
Fluttering Shearwater (Puffinus gavia)
Day 1 1, (1). Day 2 1, (1). Day 3 0, (0).
Seen when boat underway
Short-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris)
Day 1 0, (0). Day 2 0, (0). Day 3 5, (2).
A few stragglers appeared at the Hill, attracted by the berley and settling near the boat.
Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus)
Day 1 3, (1). Day 2 1, (1). Day 3 6, (2).
Each day, Single birds passed by on various occasions sometimes attracted to the boat.
Brown Skua (Catharacta antarctica)
Day 1 0, (0). Day 2 1, (1). Day 3 1, (1).
Crested Tern (Sterna bergii)
Day 1 6, (2). Day 2 17, (5). Day 3 10, (3).
White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata)
Day 1 0, (0). Day 2 5, (3). Day 3 0, (0).
Attracted to berley at rear of boat on Day 3
Black-faced Cormorant (Phalacrocorax fuscescens)
Day 1 2, (2). Day 2 2, (2). Day 3 2, (2).
Australasian Gannet (Sula serrator)
Day 1 2, (2). Day 2 2, (2). Day 3 30, (22).
Kelp Gull (Larus dominicus)
Day 1 5, (5). Day 2 1, (1). Day 3 2, (2).
Pacific Gull (Larus pacificus)
Day 1 1, (1). Day 2 0, (0). Day 3 3, (3).
Silver Gull (Larus novaehollandiai)
Day 1 1, (1). Day 2 12, (5). Day 3 1, (15).
Coastal observations = < 2 nM from land
Species observed from the boat while passing through George Bay are listed below however, except for some birds of interest, numbers are not shown as no consistent trend counting method was used.
Australasian Gannet (12)
Little Pied Cormorant
Bar-tailed Godwit (21)
Double-banded Plover (18)
Hooded Plover (5)
Red-capped Plover (35)
Red-necked Stint (35)
White-breasted Sea Eagle
December 2008, Sunday 28, Monday 29 and Tuesday 30. Confirmation date, 26th September 2008.
May 2009, Thursday 7, Friday 8, Saturday 9. Confirmation date, 27th February 2009.
July 2009, Thursday 24, Friday 25, Saturday 26. Confirmation date, 24th April 2009.
PO Box 110
St Helens Tasmania, 7216
Phone (03) 6312 1123
Mobile 0428 337956