Sydney Pelagic Trip Report - Saturday 14 July, 2012

To: "birding-aus " <>
Subject: Sydney Pelagic Trip Report - Saturday 14 July, 2012
From: "Roger McGovern" <>
Date: Tue, 17 Jul 2012 12:26:50 +1000


For the past several days, the Sydney region had been under the influence of
light to moderate westerly and north westerly winds resulting in a long
period of benign sea conditions. We have found that, in these conditions,
the birds are able to find food with greater ease and are therefore less
likely to be attracted by our berley which in turn means that you are likely
to see less birds. Such was the case today with a bird species count of only
14 which is extremely unusual for July and noteworthy for the fact that none
of the six Wandering Albatross, nor any of the Providence Petrels, landed on
the water to feed on the berley during our offshore drifts.

If that introduction gives the impression that it was a dull day, nothing
could be further from the truth. A well seen LITTLE SHEARWATER provided some
of the most experienced birders on board with a life 'tick' and the cetacean
activity was nothing short of remarkable with Southern Right Whale, Humpback
Whales, False Killer Whales, a beautiful and obliging Dwarf Minke Whale,
Short-beaked Common Dolphins and a Shortfin Mako Shark  all being recorded
during the day.

It was a typical Sydney winter day with bright sunshine warming things up
after a bit of a chilly start and with the temperature getting up to around
18degC in the middle of the day. Surface water temperature was 15.6degC at
Sydney heads and it rose steadily all the way to the shelf where it reached
17.1degC. We departed from Rose Bay at 7.15am and returned just after
3.30pm. Sea conditions on the way out to Brown's Mountain were quite benign
with maybe a 0.5m chop on top of a small swell. However, the 5-8 knot WNW
breeze in the morning increased to 15-18 knots at lunchtime and the first
few miles of the trip back to Sydney were quite choppy. Only one case of sea
sickness was noted which was very good considering that we had a full boat.


We headed out of the harbour with a full complement of 40 passengers on
board, comprising local, interstate and overseas birders and including some
who were on board to see cetaceans rather than birds. I had my old job back
on the berley table as David James was overseas and we set up a berley trail
as soon as we left Rose Bay wharf - however the following Silver Gulls lost
interest shortly after we left the heads and it proved impossible to attract
a following of birds on our trip out to the shelf. Just as we reached the
heads a small group of Little Penguins were spotted and they showed well for
everyone on board. We had barely got under way once more before a whale was
seen close to South Head which turned out to be a Southern Right Whale much
to everyone's great excitement. It has been a good few years since we have
had a Southern Right Whale on the monthly pelagic trip and everyone had
excellent views. A few minutes later, two Humpbacks were seen breaching at
some distance but, after motoring to the presumed location, they did not
show themselves again.

After this exciting start to the trip, hopes were high for more rarities but
for most of the way to Brown's Mountain, we did not see an awful lot to get
the pulses racing. There were Australasian Gannets, a few Black-browed
Albatross (and, further out, even more Yellow-nosed Albatross), a large
flock of Fluttering Shearwaters was distantly seen but only the odd
straggler came near the boat and a Southern Giant-Petrel put in a brief
appearance. At the 8NM mark, we were joined by a small pod of Short-beaked
Common Dolphins and , at the 15NM  mark, Steve spotted a pod of False Killer
Whales but, despite our best efforts, they could not be relocated. The first
of many delightful little Fairy Prions began to appear and, with the
excellent light and their unusually close approaches, many photographic
opportunities were presented for all the keen photographers on board.

As we reached the continental shelf drop off, there were very few birds in
evidence despite the large number of fishing boats over Brown's Mountain.
However, a berley trail was set up and, after a slow start, became quite
well attended mostly by Yellow-nosed Albatross and a few Black-browed
Albatross. One of the juvenile Black-broweds had an unusually dark head
leading a few people to enquire as to why it was not a juvenile Grey-headed
Albatross. To see the characteristics that showed it to be a Black-browed,
see Nikolas Haass's posting to the SOSSA website at
k-browed-Albatross&p=290#post290 . Providence Petrels approached the berley
trail but did not stay around, several Wandering Albatross (all Gibsons)
flew past the boat but did not linger and a White-faced Storm-Petrel was
seen briefly by most on board before it quickly departed. Perhaps one of the
most interesting occurrences during the drift was the appearance of a medium
sized Shortfin Mako Shark which came up close to our gunwales and fed on the
fish scraps which were thrown over. Good photographs and even a movie were

The journey back to Sydney commenced earlier than usual as the freshening
westerlies would limit how fast we could travel without making the ride too
uncomfortable. As we headed back over the shelf break, the shout of LITTLE
SHEARWATER went out from Rob Hynson and good views of this rare species were
obtained as it passed across the back quarter and flew away with its
characteristic flight pattern. This is the fourth record of Little
Shearwater from the Halicat over the years and a submission will be made to
NSW ORAC. The last excitement of the day was arguably the best when a single
dorsal fin was spotted at some distance away as we were motoring at some
speed for Sydney. A decision was made to go back and investigate, which was
just as well since the dorsal fin was attached to a Dwarf Minke Whale! This
species is normally interested in boats and this individual was no exception
as it swam around the boat having a look at us and providing excellent views
for several minutes. Several Brown Skuas were seen on the journey back in,
thereby providing the last addition to the species count for the day.
Despite the fact that many of our 'normal' winter species (Shy Albatross,
Wilson's Storm-Petrel, Cape Petrel, Northern Giant-Petrel, Great-winged
Petrel) were not recorded, it was nevertheless a truly absorbing and
rewarding day to be out on the ocean.

(Note that the numbers in parentheses represent the maximum number of that
species in view at one time)

Little Penguin                  4         (4)
Southern Giant-Petrel           1       (1)
Providence Petrel                       10        (2)
Fairy Prion                             90        (6)
Fluttering Shearwater           120       (100)
LITTLE SHEARWATER                       1         (1)
Wandering Albatross           6       (2)  gibsoni 
Black-browed Albatross          12        (3) 
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross   35        (18)
White-faced Storm-Petrel        1       (1)
Australasian Gannet             30        (5)
Brown Skua                              4       (2)
Silver Gull                   100     (60) 
Crested Tern                  12      (5)


Humpback Whale                  6
DWARF MINKE WHALE                       1
False Killer Whale              6
Short-beaked Common Dolphin     5
Shortfin Mako Shark             1

The next Sydney pelagic trip will be on Saturday 11 August 2012 departing
Mosman Ferry Wharf at 6.45am and Rose Bay Ferry Wharf at 7.00am. Call Hal at
0411 311 236 to make a booking.

Roger McGovern  

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