Sydney Pelagic Trip Report - May 11, 2013

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: Sydney Pelagic Trip Report - May 11, 2013
From: "Roger McGovern" <>
Date: Tue, 14 May 2013 18:17:19 +1000


Sydney had been experiencing an extended spell of 'Indian Summer' with warm
temperatures and light winds for the past couple of weeks. This factor
combined with the awkward time of the year when the summer birds have
departed but the warm water delays the arrival of winter species, meant that
my expectations for this trip were fairly moderate. As it turned out, we had
some excellent sightings and, had the birds been a bit more cooperative in
approaching the boat, we would likely have had even more unusual records.
Top bird of the day was undoubtedly a pale morph SOFT-PLUMAGED PETREL which,
although seen at some distance, was clearly identifiable and, in fact, there
is a photograph good enough to hopefully get a submission through NSW ORAC.
A very obliging Black-bellied Storm-Petrel which gave great photographic
opportunities was also outstanding but distant views of what may have been
Cook's Petrel and Antarctic Prion were very frustrating. The other highlight
of the trip was the largest number of Australasian Gannets ever seen from
the Halicat with more than 500 birds seen during the course of the day with
some spectacular fishing displays just outside of the heads.   

Weather conditions were somewhat mixed with good conditions on the way to
the shelf suddenly overtaken by some rain storms and squalls just before
reaching Brown's Mountain at around 10.00am.Winds were light at 5 to 8 knots
from the south initially but veered to the north west at 15 - 20 knots
creating a very uncomfortable short, steep chop of 1.5 to 2 metres. Sea
water temperatures were 19.5degC inshore rising to 21.9degC approaching the
shelf - quite warm for mid-May. A couple of cases of sea-sickness occurred
as a result of the bumpy conditions but were not too serious. We departed
from Rose Bay at 7.10am and returned at 3.05pm.   


We departed through the heads with a small contingent of 10.5 passengers
(don't even ask...) mostly locals but with a couple of overseas visitors. I
started the berleying as we left Rose Bay and we soon had a large following
of Silver Gulls, Crested Terns and Australasian Gannets. Not long after
leaving the heads behind, we were joined by Black-browed Albatross, Campbell
Albatross, a few Short-tailed Shearwaters, a couple of Sooty Shearwaters,
and Shy Albatross (both cauta and steadi). At about the 10 mile mark, our
first of several Fairy Prions was seen, the first record for this winter.
Another prion appeared some distance behind the boat which appeared to have
the characteristics of an Antarctic Prion but it quickly disappeared and had
to become a prion (sp). 

With the weather beginning to deteriorate, we decided to stop about 4NM
short of Brown's Mountain since we were heading into a bone jarring heavy
chop which was reducing our boat speed to about 3 knots. The berley trail
brought in a couple of Wilson's Storm-Petrels and then I saw way behind the
boat, our first pterodroma of the day. As soon as I got my binoculars onto
the bird, the combination of the all dark underwings, capped forehead, chest
band and white underparts were immediately diagnostic of  SOFT-PLUMAGED
PETREL which was a lifer for most people on board. With one useful
photograph being taken, I think a submission to NSW ORAC will be worthwhile
even though the bird was at long range. Not very long after this a
storm-petrel came into view behind the boat which was obviously a fregetta
and it then came in very close to confirm that it was a very smart looking
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel. A few fresh-plumaged Providence Petrels came by
and then David James spotted a small, distant cookilaria petrel which, by
the very pale underwing and small size, we thought was probably a Cook's
Petrel. Alas, it kept on going and disappeared from view to become a
cookilaria (sp) for the record. We then went on a slow cruise to the north
west and then east to avoid the worst of the squalls and, on our next drift,
were delighted to have the visit of a huge mature Wandering Albatross (D.
exulans) which created great excitement for all on board. A rather strange
looking bird seen behind the boat caused some debate but later examination
of a photograph showed it to be a Flesh-footed Shearwater seen in very poor
light - and it was the only one of the day!

With weather conditions not improving, we set off back to Sydney a little
earlier than normal and the trip back was quiet for the most part. However,
we added to the day's tally with a well seen Hutton's Shearwater, a couple
of late Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, a Fluttering Shearwater and a heard-only
Little Penguin. As we approached the heads, we found our first and only
cetaceans of the day, a pod of about 20 Short-beaked Common Dolphins which
rode our bow wave for a while. We then encountered a massive flock of
feeding Australasian Gannets numbering at least 500 along with bait fish and
tuna breaking the water everywhere - a spectacular way to finish the day.
With 20 species and a couple of excellent rarities, it was a memorable May
day on the water.


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

Little Penguin  1       (1)  heard only
Providence Petrel       7       (2)
Cookilaria sp   1       (1)  probably Cook's Petrel
Fairy Prion     8       (1)
Prion sp        1       (1)  probably Antarctic Prion
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 2       (1)
Sooty Shearwater        2       (1)             
Short-tailed Shearwater 27      (6)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 1       (1)
Fluttering Shearwater   1       (1)
Hutton's Shearwater     1       (1)
Wandering Albatross     1       (1)  exulans
Black-browed Albatross  14      (6)
Campbell Albatross      7       (3)
Ind. Yellow-nosed Albatross     8       (2)
Shy Albatross   7       (2)  cauta and steadi
Wilson's Storm-Petrel   4       (1)
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel      1       (1)     
Australasian Gannet     650     (500)   
Silver Gull     300     (160)   
Greater Crested Tern    18      (8)


Short-beaked Common Dolphins    20

The next Sydney pelagic trip will be on Saturday 8 June, 2013 departing
Mosman Ferry Wharf at 6.45am and Rose Bay Public Wharf at 7.00am. Call Hal
at 0411 311 236 to make a booking. Please try to book well ahead to assist
our planning.

Roger McGovern  

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