Sunshine Coast Pelagic Bird Watching Tour, June 3, 2018

Shy Albatross
With fresh memories of a rocky ride on our May 2018 pelagic a week ago, fingers were crossed for a smoother run as we departed Mooloolaba Marina at 6.55am on Sunday June 3 with a brisk 10-knot SW breeze blowing. The wind picked up as we headed out but it was behind us so the trip was relatively comfortable. We encountered a smattering of Crested Terns and Australasian Gannets and two fly-by Hutton’s Shearwaters before spotting two Humpback Whales – the first of the season.
Humpback Whales
We were 19 nautical miles offshore in 60 metres when we spotted a Fairy Prion and the first Grey-faced Petrel of the day. Then we picked up a Shy Albatross in 115m 25 nautical miles offshore sitting on the water behind a trawler whose crew were cleaning its catch from the night before. This was the first record of the species for a Sunshine Coast pelagic and the bird was of the race cauta, a scarce visitor to south-east Queensland.
Shy Albatross
Shy Albatross
We began laying a berley trail on the edge of the continental shelf 32 nautical miles offshore in 350 metres (S26.3.1; E 153.43.4) at 9.55am. By this time we had a steady S-SW wind of 15-20 knots and a hefty swell of 2-3 metres which remained the order of the day. We soon had Providence Petrels and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels coming to the slick and quite a few of both were about the boat while we out wide.
Providence Petrel
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel
It wasn’t long before an Antarctic Prion made an appearance and we had this species come and go several times while we were on the shelf.
Antarctic Prion
Antarctic Prion
A Grey-faced Petrel was looking good as it approached the boat – the second sighting of this species for a Sunshine Coast pelagic following last week’s first. Satellite tracking of Grey-faced Petrel suggests it does not stray north of Brisbane (it is seen regularly on the Southport pelagics) and today is likely the most northerly Australian record of the species.
Grey-faced Petrel
Grey-faced Petrel
We’d been floating for a couple of hours before a Black-bellied Storm-Petrel showed up, with one or two birds about for the next hour before we turned around to head back at 1.15pm. We had drifted 4.7 nautical miles in a north-westerly direction to 150 metres.
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel

On the way back we had a flock of Hutton’s Shearwaters with 2 Fluttering Shearwaters among them; the image here was the best I could manage of the latter. We arrived back at the marina at 4.05pm. Elist.

Fluttering Shearwater


Greg Roberts (organiser), Toby Imhoff (skipper), Zoe Williams (deckhand),
Eric Anderson, Margie Baker, Tony Baker, Warren Bennett, Jane Cooksley, Ken Cross, Phil Cross, Rick Franks, Richard Fuller, Malcolm Graham, Geoff Glare, John Gunning, Nikolas Haass, Bob James, James Martin, Paul Marty, Steven Pratt, Allan Pratt, Liam Pratt, Trevor Ross, Esme Ross, Raja Stephenson.
SPECIES: Total (Maximum at one time)
Shy Albatross 1
Grey-faced Petrel 1
Providence Petrel 60 (8)
Fairy Prion 1
Antarctic Prion 6 (2)
Hutton’s Shearwater 15 (12)

Fluttering Shearwater 2 (2)
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel 2 (1)

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel 30 (5)
Australasian Gannet 30 (6)
Silver Gull 4 (4)
Crested Tern 80 (30)
Humpback Whale 2 (2)

With all the erratic weather we have been having over the last five months, we were, once again, having to cancel our fishing charters but the decision was made to head out with our local Bird Watchers last Sunday.

The winds were blowing from the south-east at 15-18 knots with gusts up to 20-22 knots. The swell refused to ease off all day but this hardy group headed out some 23 nautical miles offshore looking for some bird activity and more impressively, stayed out the whole time as well.

Some of the bird life spotted were there Brown Booby, a Red-footed Booby, Providence Petrel and a Grey-faced Petrel which I believe is not common for the Sunshine Coast area.

See the full report from Greg Roberts –

We are hoping to get some better conditions for the group on their next trip, which is this weekend but again, I don’t think we are in luck.

Surely the weather on the Sunshine Coast has to settle soon.





Sunshine Coast Pelagic Bird Watching Trip August 2017

sunshinecoastbirds blog.

Humpback spy-hopping. Pic by Rick Franks
Prolonged, multiple and unusually close encounters with multiple Humpback Whales were the highlight of the pelagic bird watching trip off the Sunshine Coast on Sunday August 27, 2017. No particularly unusual birds were encountered due to relatively calm conditions, though winter records of Tahiti Petrel and Sooty Tern were interesting.
Humpback Whale
Hopes were high with a forecast of winds from the right direction (E-SE) at 15 knots as we departed Mooloolaba Marina at 6.35am on another clear winter day. A Sooty Oystercatcher on the rocks at the Mooloolah River mouth was unexpected. This was the second pelagic foray on our 17m boat, Crusader 1, operated by Sunshine Coast family company Sunshine Coast Afloat. The deep-hulled vessel ploughed effortlessly through a swell of up to 2m that had been whipped up by strong winds offshore in the preceding days.
Humpback Whale with calf
We spotted quite a few Humpback Whales on the way out and a couple of small groups of Hutton’s Shearwaters, along with the first Wedge-tailed Shearwaters of the season. After a few stops we reached the shelf at 9.10am at 400m, 32 nautical miles offshore: 26.42.174S; 153.42.680E. We had an excellent encounter with a pod of Humpbacks in 300m and that set the pattern for the whole time we were out on the shelf, with whales frequently in sight and often venturing close to the boat. It is unusual to find Humpbacks out on the shelf and to see so many this day was quite extraordinary.
Providence Petrel
The first Providence Petrel soon appeared as began laying a berley trail and we were to have small numbers of these about while we off the shelf.
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel
Wilson’s  Storm-Petrel
Several Wilson’s Storm-Petrels put in an appearance along with a few more Wedge-tailed Shearwaters.
Hutton’s Shearwater
A single Tahiti Petrel was unexpected at this time of the year. A couple more Hutton’s Shearwaters flew by.
Sooty Tern – Pic by Malcolm Graham
Two Sooty Terns were seen distantly and Crested Terns were constantly about the vessel. A Tiger Shark was seen to surface briefly.
Humpback Whale head’s encrusted barnacles
The Humpback Whale encounters got better and better with the huge mammals on several occasions swimming under the vessel in clear view. These interactions culminated in a superb performance by an adult female and attendant adult male which in unison spy hopped several times, raising their massive, barnacle-encrusted heads above the water within a few metres of the boat to check us out.
Humpback Whale – Pic by Rick Franks
The whales were so close that my prime 400 lens was of little use; thanks to Rick Franks for some of these images. It was as well that the whales put on a show because the forecast fresh south-easterlies did not materialise, with a gentle breeze struggling to reach 8-10knots despite the vigorous swell. After drifting 3 nautical miles eastward to 800m, we turned around at 12.45pm to head back.
Humpback Whale

We saw plenty more Humpbacks and more Hutton’s Shearwaters, some not far from shore. We managed reasonable views of most shearwaters and there did not appear to be any Fluttering among them.

Offshore Bottle-nosed Dolphins

We had a nice encounter with a large pod of Offshore Bottle-nosed Dolphin, including a small juvenile.

Brown Booby

We found a Brown Booby perched on a trawler as the winds picked up quickly, sharply and belatedly.

Eastern Reef-Egret

We returned to the marina at 3.40pm, spotting an Eastern Reef Egret perched incongruously by the swimming pool of a canal home. Again, all aboard were impressed by the comfort, space and amenities of Crusader 1, along with the enthusiasm of its crew.

PARTICIPANTS: Greg Roberts (organiser), Toby Imhoff (skipper), Zoe Williams (deckhand), Chris Attewell, Duncan Cape, George Chapman, Jo Culinan, Robyn Duff, Rick Franks, Malcolm Graham, Matteo Grilli, John Gunning, Jane Hall, Mary Hynes, Russ Lamb, Davydd McDonald, John Merton, Trevor Ross, Eske Ross, Jim Sneddon, Raja Stephenson, Ged Tranter, Jamie Walker, Chris Watts, Chris Wiley.

SPECIES: Total (Maximum at one time)
Providence Petrel 25 (5)
Tahiti Petrel 1 (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 15 (3)
Hutton’s Shearwater 22 (6)
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel 10 (2)
Brown Booby 1 (1)
Crested Tern 70 (20)
Sooty Tern 2 (2)
Pied Cormorant 2 (2)
Humpback Whale 80 (9)
Offshore Bottle-nosed Dolphin 25 (10)

Sunshine Coast Pelagic Bird Watching Trip July 2017

sunshinecoastbirds blog.

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 Sunshine Coast Afloat’s 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 on 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.
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)