Sydney Pelagic Trip Report - October 11, 2014

To: "birding-aus " <>
Subject: Sydney Pelagic Trip Report - October 11, 2014
From: "Roger McGovern" <>
Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2014 14:47:30 +1100


The weather off Sydney had been very good for the past several days and this
trip was conducted in picture perfect spring conditions with clear skies,
warm temperatures, light winds and fairly benign sea states. As is often the
case when we go out in such beautiful weather, the numbers and variety of
birds seen were down on what might have been hoped for in what is often a
very productive month for rarities. However, a count of 17 bird species is
probably about the average for Sydney trips and we had a whole range of 'sea
monsters' to supplement the birds, so there was plenty to make it an
absorbing day for all on board. By far the greatest highlight of the trip
was not a bird but a very obliging DWARF MINKE WHALE which circled our boat
for at least 20 minutes giving close views and great photo opportunities. A
shot taken by Steve Hey is attached to this e-mail.   

We left the heads in good sea conditions of less than one metre sea on a one
metre swell and with light north easterly breezes in the morning, and
conditions remained very similar for the entire trip despite the forecast of
strengthening winds after lunch time. The  journey out to the shelf was
under clear skies with warm temperatures and it remained this way for the
whole day. We left the heads at about 7.25am and arrived at Brown's Mountain
on the shelf break at just after 10.00am. With no birds showing at Brown's,
we did not stop but continued for about 5NM eastwards into deeper water
where we then stopped and carried out a berley drift after seeing a few
birds in the area. At 11.30am, we departed the berley location and motored
for about 5 or 6 NM north eastwards from where we turned for home and
arrived back at Rose Bay at around 3.20pm. Sea water temperatures were about
the norm for this time of the year running from 19.5degC to just over


We departed from Rose Bay in the Zane Grey with 20 passengers, mostly locals
but with visitors from the UK and Canada. We set up a trail of fish offal
behind the boat before leaving the harbour and soon had large numbers of
Silver Gulls and several Great Cormorants following the boat. As we passed
through the heads, those on the upper deck had distant views of the resident
pod of Inshore Bottlenose Dolphins and we soon had good numbers of
Wedge-tailed Shearwaters joining the gulls behind the boat. A single
Hutton's Shearwater was well seen behind the boat and several more were seen
close in to the heads. Small numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters showed well
and we soon had our first views of a distant group of Humpback Whales -
although we saw up to 10 Humpbacks on the way out, none were close enough
for us to observe at closer quarters unfortunately. The small group of Great
Cormorants continued to stay with the boat until about 4NM off the heads
which is most unusual behaviour. As we travelled through the first half of
the 22NM journey to Brown's Mountain, we added good numbers of Fluttering
Shearwaters to the tally along with a few Australasian Gannets, Greater
Crested Terns and our first albatrosses of the day, young Shy Albatross (ssp
steadi or 'White-capped' Albatross) and a single immature Black-browed
Albatross, and a few Flesh-footed Shearwaters were spotted amongst the
Wedge-taileds behind the boat. A distant jaeger was seen harassing the
Silver Gulls behind the boat and although it was almost certainly an Arctic
Jaeger, it was too far away to be certain. As we headed into deeper water,
the number of birds following the boat began to drop off but we had a number
of sea creatures to maintain our attention as we came across a breaching
marlin, two Southern Ocean Sunfish (one of which was well seen close to the
boat), a couple of fur seals and a shark near a ball of bait fish which may
have been a Tiger Shark.

As we approached Brown's Mountain, a giant petrel was seen behind the boat
and made a couple of reasonably close passes showing the pale green bill tip
which confirmed that it was a Southern Giant Petrel. Although there were a
few Providence Petrels around the shelf break, we decided to keep motoring
into deeper water to try and find greater concentrations of birds. This was
not particularly successful but we eventual stopped about 5NM east of
Brown's Mountain and set up a berley slick to see what would come in. A few
Providence Petrels, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and the odd Great-winged Petrel
came by and then several Wilson's Storm Petrels came to the slick and
provided good, close views. The first Wandering-type Albatross of the day
approached the boat and settled on the slick revealing itself to be an
Antipodean Albatross ssp gibsoni. With no new species coming in to the
berley trail, we motored back up the slick to give close views of this bird
before taking off on a course to the north east. We continued to see a few
birds but no new species - the highlight of this period was a passing look
at a very young Wandering-type Albatross (probably another gibsoni)
resplendent in its chocolate brown plumage and white face.    

On the journey back to Sydney, no new bird species were seen and it was
generally a very quiet trip back to the heads. Another fur seal was well
seen and showed itself to be an Australian Fur Seal. By far the highlight of
the day occurred about 10NM off the heads when a glimpse of a medium size
whale was seen near the boat. We immediately stopped and cut the engines and
the whale surfaced again nearby showing itself to be a DWARF MINKE, a
species that we rarely see off Sydney possibly because off the difficulty in
locating them rather than because of their extreme rarity. As we drifted
quietly, the Dwarf Minke continued to swim around the boat, obviously
curious, and it surfaced several times in close proximity. It was still with
us more than 20 minutes later when we decided to resume our homeward trip.
As we approached Sydney Heads, a couple of us on the upper deck found a
Sooty Shearwater amongst the many Wedge-tailed Shearwaters but it had
quickly gone from view before others could be alerted.

Although there were not huge numbers of birds evident on the day, there was
plenty to keep the attention and everyone on board enjoyed a typical Sydney
pelagic experience on a beautiful spring day.

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

Antipodean Albatross    2       (1)  both gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross  3       (1) all immature with one looking much like
a Campbell Albatross 
Shy Albatross         7 (2) all steadi
Southern Giant Petrel   1       (1)
Great-winged Petrel     3       (1)
Providence Petrel             10        (2)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 120     (60)
Short-tailed Shearwater 150     (40)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 3       (1)
Sooty Shearwater              1 (1)
Fluttering Shearwater   30      (5)
Hutton's Shearwater     8       (3)
Wilson's Storm Petrel   9       (5)
Australasian Gannet     8       (3)
Greater Crested Tern    4       (2)
Jaeger sp                   1   (1) probably an Arctic Jaeger 
Silver Gull                 200 (120)


Humpback Whale  10
Inshore Bottlenose Dolphin      3
Fur Seal (sp)   5       one confirmed Australian Fur Seal
Southern Ocean Sunfish  2
Marlin (sp)     1
Shark (sp)      1       probably a Tiger Shark

The next Sydney pelagic trip is scheduled for Saturday 8 November 2014
departing from Mosman Bay ferry wharf at 06.45am and Rose Bay public wharf
at 07.00am. Please e-mail me or Hal at  to make a
booking. Booking well ahead is a great help in our planning.

Roger McGovern  


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