Perth Western Australia Pelagic Trip Report Sunday 8th August 2004

Participants (26) :

Frank O'Connor (organiser), Margaret Armstrong, James Bennett, Hillary Brooke, John Brooke, Nick Brown, Alan Collins, Hazel Darnell, John Darnell, Belinda Forbes, John Hansen, Charles Hayward, Mel Lintern, Mike Lohr, Francis Marchant, Robyn Pickering, Jacqui Purvis, Shane Raidal, Maureen Redfern, Ian Rudd, Bill Rutherford, Bill Rutherford, Holly Smith, Soh Guat Lay, Alan Webb, Michael Willey

Conditions :

Departed Hillarys Boat Harbour at 7.10am. Returned at 4.00pm.  The forecast was for a cool fine day with a 1 metre sea and a 2.5 metre swell.  The winds were forecast to be light 10 to 15 knots NE in the morning reducing to less than10 knots in the afternoon.  The day started with little cloud, but the cloud increased which made the light difficult for photography.

Description :

A trip that will always be remembered for the sensational close up sightings of Dwarf Minke Whales.  It was generally a disappointing trip for birds except for the brief views of a pale SOUTH POLAR SKUA.  The trip was more like an early September pelagic with sightings of Flesh-footed Shearwater, Little Shearwater, Fairy Tern and high numbers of White-faced Storm-Petrel and the complete absence of winter birds such as Cape Petrel and Wilson's Storm-Petrel.  Despite extensive burleying it was very difficult to bring birds in very close to the boat and photo opportunities were disappointingly limited except for Great Skua and Yellow-nosed Albatross.

From Hillarys we headed roughly WSW.  Sightings were few except for a Southern Giant-Petrel seen by a few people and the first Great Skuas and Australasian Gannets.  The first bird of interest was a Hutton's Shearwater, a species regularly seen on August trips on its return to New Zealand.

Then a whale was sighted and we changed direction and approached slowly.  We stopped and two whales come past the boat showing enough to identify them as Dwarf Minke Whales.  This was only the second time this species has been seen on the Hillarys pelagic trips.  More Hutton's Shearwaters flew past and the first White-faced Storm-Petrel.

We continued until we saw a number of White-faced Storm-Petrels around a glassy patch of water with some floating weed.  A Little Shearwater was also seen in front of the boat, but as usual it never came close to the boat.  Two Welcome Swallows were unusual on the open sea.  Rottnest Island was in sight, but in the distance.  We burleyed briefly but with no success.

We headed for deeper water until we finally found the first Soft-plumaged Petrels and Great-winged Petrels in 215 metres depth.  We stopped and extensively burleyed which attracted a few Yellow-nosed Albatross and a couple of Flesh-footed Shearwaters and some White-faced Storm-Petrels on the slick.  While people were looking at the petrels, a skua flew across the front of the boat and was sighted by a number of people.  This skua attracted attention because it was considerably paler than the other Great Skuas.  Some key details were noted such as paler body, even paler nape, etc.  Suggestions were immediately made about South Polar Skua, but as they are extremely rare in Western Australia and usually only observed in Australia during northern migration in April, it was thought that this would be very unlikely.  The bird was observed and the details noted, while we hoped that it would come in close to the boat as almost all Great Skuas do, but it flew into the distance and was not sighted again.  Consulting the reference books after the trip, it became apparent that it had indeed been a SOUTH POLAR SKUA.  At least three people got sufficient views, and a submission is being prepared for the Birds Australia Rarities Committee (BARC).

We moved on, briefly stopping after a Sunfish had been sighted.  We kept moving, trying to find congregations of birds, but we were never successful.  Four Fairy Terns were unusual for August.  We stopped briefly for a Humpback Whale.

We eventually stopped for lunch near a deep sea fishing charter boat.  The main bird of interest was an immature Shy Albatross.

We finally headed for home, but stopped when we saw three more Dwarf Minke Whales.  We had good views as they passed under the boat, and surfaced not far from the boat.  We continued on, seeing two more individual Dwarf Minke Whales which we didn't stop for, but as were getting close to Hillarys we saw a school of dolphins and realised that there were more whales with them.  We approached them slowly and stopped 50 to 100 metres away.  Again, they approached the boat.  It became obvious that there were quite a few in the area.  They were generally in twos or threes, and the total was at least ten but could have been as many as twenty.  But it wasn't just the number of Dwarf Minke Whales that was impressive.  They were surfacing all around the boat, and people rushed around the boat trying to get the best photographs.  They came in exceptionally close to the boat, and on three occasions a whale passed within a metre of the bow on the surface giving exceptional views that will be remembered for a long time.  When we finally had to leave, most people had a smile on their face.

Thanks to the skipper Guy and deck hand Bubbles.

Time/Latitude/Longitude/Depth/Distance/Bearing from Hillarys of most stoppages:

07:10 S31 49' 34", E115 44' 16", 5m, 0.0km, 0 (Hillarys Wharf)
07:55 S31 54' 33", E115 32' 10", ??m, 21.1km, 244 (1st Hutton's Shearwater)
08:30 S31 59' 09", E115 25' 36", ??m, 34.3km, 239 (2 Dwarf Minke Whales)
09:05 S32 00' 53", E115 22' 51", 75m, 39.6km, 238, 19.7C (stop for storm-petrels until 9:55)
10:15 S32 05' 55", E115 10' 38", 215m, 60.9km, 240 (stopped until 11:00)
11:05 S32 05' 08", E115 08' 45", ???m, 62.8km, 243 (Sunfish)
11:45 S32 00' 54", E115 08' 36", 450m, 59.9km, 249 (Fairy Terns)
12:05 S32 00' 42", E115 12' 26", ???m, 54.1km, 247 (Humpback Whale)
12:25 S32 01' 09", E115 13' 26", 190m, 53.0km, 246 (Lunch until 13:00 near other boat)
14:25 S31 55' 35", E115 28' 07", ???m, 27.7km, 246 (3 Dwarf Minke Whales)
15:30 S31 51' 07", E115 38' 41", ??m, 9.3km, 252 (last White-faced Storm-Petrel)
15:40 S31 50' 52", E115 39' 11", 30m, 8.4km, 253 (Many Dwarf Minke Whales)

Bird List (Christidis & Boles order) Total Number (Maximum at Same Time) :

Southern Giant-Petrel 1 (1)
Great-winged Petrel 11 (3)
Soft-plumaged Petrel 25 (10)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 3 (2)
Hutton's Shearwater 18 (6)
Little Shearwater 1 (1)
Black-browed Albatross (race melanophrys) 1 (1 immature)
Shy Albatross (race cauta) 1 (1 immature)
Yellow-nosed Albatross (race bassi) 60 (20) mostly immatures
White-faced Storm-Petrel 21 (8)
Australasian Gannet 50 (12) mostly adults, a few immature & sub-adult
Great Skua 12 (4)
SOUTH POLAR SKUA 1 (1)
Silver Gull 17 (10)
Crested Tern 6 (2)
Fairy Tern 4 (4)

Mammal List :

Long-beaked Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) 15+ (15+)
Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) 1 (1)
Dwarf Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) 17+ (10+) (Five sightings of 2, 3, 1, 1, 10+)

Next Trip :

The next trip from Hillarys will be in late June 2005 (probably the last Sunday).  There will also be a pelagic trip from Albany probably on Saturday 16th October 2004.  For details contact Frank O'Connor on 08 9386 5694 or email foconnor@iinet.net.au

Copyright Frank O'Connor 1997-2004 Visits Last Modified 11th August 2004