Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Sunshine Coast Pelagic Trip July 2017

Brown Skua
Brown Skua and a fine suite of cetaceans were the highlights of the July 30, 2017 pelagic trip off Mooloolaba on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. The outing was significant because it was the first time we had used the 17m Crusader 1, and all aboard as we departed Mooloolaba Marina on a crisp winter morning at 6.45am were looking forward to experiencing the new boat. We weren't to be disappointed.

Crusader 1
The forecast did not bode well, with a breeze struggling to reach 5 knots as we departed the river mouth and headed out to sea on a swell of under 1m. It was very pleasant weather (surface temperature 22 degrees at 9am) but the winds were not going to be of the right speed and direction to net a substantial avian hall.

Brown Booby
On the way out we had a small group of Hutton's Shearwaters and a smattering of migrating Humpback Whales. We stopped for whales and a Brown Booby perched on a trawler before reaching the shelf beyond the Barwon Banks 32 nautical miles offshore in 320 fathoms (26.4419S; 153.444E) at 9.15am. Without stops, it would have taken us a bit over 2 hours to reach the shelf.

Brown Skua with Providence Petrel victim

When he stopped at the shelf we saw a Brown Skua feeding on what we eventually identified as a Providence Petrel. The petrel had evidently been freshly killed as the skua was vigorously removing dry features from its victim. 

Brown Skua with Providence Petrel victim
The skua allowed close approach and we saw it a couple more times while we were out on the shelf. Brown Skua is a rare winter visitor to south-east Queensland so this sighting was welcome.

Providence Petrel
We began laying a berley trail and soon the first live Providence Petrel put in an appearance. This species and Crested Tern were the only birds we saw regularly out on the shelf as conditions remained stubbonly mild with very little wind.

Mammals were more co-operative. We had several pods of Risso's Dolphins, some of which showed nicely close to the boat.

Risso's Dolphins
Risso's Dolphins
Of particular interest was a small pod of Dwarf Minke Whales, another rare visitor to south-east Queensland waters. One of the whales surfaced briefly very close to the boat.

Dwarf Minke Whale
A single Tahiti Petrel put in an appearance – another winter record for a tropical species that is not supposed to be in these waters in winter. We saw a single Wilson's Storm-Petrel and a couple more Hutton's Shearwaters out wide.

Tahiti Petrel
Along with a few Australasian Gannets as we drifted eastwards for 7 knots before turning around in 470 fathoms and heading back to port. The wind picked up at this point to 10-12 knots, but from the north - not the best wind direction for seabirds in this part of the world. The Brown Booby was still at its trawler roost and the Humpbacks were plentiful if distant. We arrived back in port at 3.45pm.

Australasian Gannets
The boat fulfilled our most optimistic expectations in terms of creature comforts. Although 23 birders were on board, there was plenty of room to move about on deck and on the bow. Everyone was able to find a seat; hand rails were a welcome change; and an extensive roof provided shelter from the elements. Viewing conditions for seabirds from the deck were excellent. Most importantly, the deep-keeled, high speed monohull made for a smooth ride out and back. The boat is operated by Sunshine Coast Afloat, a Sunshine Coast family company with a solid reputation in this business. 

All aboard
PARTICIPANTS: Greg Roberts (organiser), Toby Imhoff (skipper), Zoe Williams (deckhand), Grayham Bickley, Todd Burrows, Chris Burwell, Jo Culinan, Jan England, Cecile Espigole, Alex Ferguson, Hendrik Ferreira, John Gunning, Nikolas Haass, Christian Haass, Bob James, Matt Latimore, Elliot Leach, Andrew Naumann, William Price, Jim Sneddon, Raja Stephenson, Ged Tranter, Paul Walbridge, Jamie Walker.

BIRDS Total Number Seen (Maximum seen at one time)
Tahiti Petrel 1 (1)
Providence Petrel 10 (2)
Hutton's Shearwater 5 (3)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 1 (1)
Brown Booby 1 (1)
Australasian Gannet 6 (2)
Brown Skua 1 (1)
Crested Tern 60 (20)
Silver Gull 1 (1)
Offshore Bottle-nosed Dolphin 4 (2)
Risso's Dolphin 25 (7)
Humpback Whale 20 (3)

Dwarf Minke Whale 3 (2)

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