Sydney Pelagic Trip Report - Saturday 13 August 2016

To: "birding-aus " <>
Subject: Sydney Pelagic Trip Report - Saturday 13 August 2016
From: Roger McGovern <>
Date: Tue, 16 Aug 2016 06:45:38 +0000

With last month’s regular trip being cancelled and rescheduled due to bad
weather, it was good to resume normal operations on the second Saturday of
the month in superb winter weather conditions. The weather had been
reasonably settled during the past week and the forecast was for a day of
slight seas and light winds. In the event, the seas were a bit choppier than
expected and the wind did not drop off during the morning as had been
forecast – however, nobody was sea sick and the weather stayed sunny
throughout the trip. We had a good mix of winter birds with good numbers and
diversity of albatross and, although there were no rarities, it was a very
enjoyable and interesting day on the water. Notable events on the trip were
two early returning Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (first record of spring for
NSW), six species of albatross and a breaching Minke Whale which was a first
sighting for many on board. We recorded five Wilson’s Storm Petrels and,
after Greg McLachlan examined all the historical trip reports for Sydney,
Wollongong and Port Stephens, we believe this to be the first record of this
species in NSW in August, a statistic that completely surprised me. It would
be interesting to know whether this is an indicator of the species movements
in the winter months or is just a random  quirk caused by the small amount
of data gathered.

The weather was cool with bright sunshine and 10 -15 knot south westerlies
for most of the day which gave quite benign sea conditions closer to shore
but up to a 2 metre chop further out and the water temperature was around
19.5degC. We departed through the Heads at around 7.35am, motored out to
Brown’s Mountain some 22.5NM ESE of the Heads arriving there at 10.20am,
then drifted for two hours until it was time to head back to shore. We
normally spend some time motoring into deeper water off the shelf but we
deemed the choppy conditions would make things uncomfortable for the
observers and stayed on the drift for the entire time on the shelf break. We
arrived back at Rose Bay Wharf at 3.35pm.

We left the Rose Bay Wharf at 7.15am with 22 passengers on the MV Avalon IV
with a mixture of regulars and first timers and an overseas birder from
Poland. Before we reached the Heads, we had a following of Silver Gulls
feeding on our fish offal and a single Little Penguin was seen distantly by
Steve Anyon-Smith but we considered it too hard to find in the chop and did
not stop to relocate it. Once through the Heads, we were quickly joined by a
number of Black-browed Albatross and Greater Crested Terns and a number of
Australasian Gannets came by to see what all the activity was about. A
Hutton’s Shearwater was well seen followed by several Fluttering Shearwater
and the first of several Brown Skuas joined the feeding throng. We were
somewhat surprised when a early returning Wedge-tailed Shearwater came by
the boat but it did not linger and must not have been hungry. At 12NM from
the Heads, we had our first major excitement of the day when Steve spotted a
whale blowing just ahead of the boat and it promptly breached showing itself
to be a Minke Whale – it showed a few more times but was moving too quickly
for us to follow it.

The first Shy Albatross of the day was a newly fledged NZ White-capped (ssp
steadi) in fresh plumage and a lovely grey head and around the same time we
began to see Fairy Prions at regular intervals – despite best efforts we
could not pick any Antarctics or Slender-billeds which we had expected after
last weekend’s Port Stephens trip. Our first Campbell Albatross of the day
was an immature bird but old enough to have a distinctive pale eye and at
around the same time the first and only Buller’s Albatross joined us
followed by the first of many Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross. As we arrived
at the shelf break at Brown’s Mountain, the first Providence Petrel came
past but it did not stay around the boat as was the case with all Providence
Petrels on the day. A few minutes after starting the drift and setting out
the oil slick, a White-faced Storm Petrel was well seen  on the slick and
stayed around for several minutes – this is a species that we seem to see
much less often than in the past and was my first record since November
2014. The only wandering type albatross of the day joined the boat and
stayed with us for over an hour – it was a gibsoni ssp of Antipodean
Albatross under the IOC taxonomy which is a label that I am not very happy
with as it bears little resemblance to its nominate species form. Our final
new avian species of the day was a Wilson’s Storm Petrel and we saw several
more during the duration of the drift.

On the way back to shore, we spotted a large flock of feeding Australasian
Gannets and motored over to see what else might be around. We were joined by
a pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins which swam with the boat and, swimming
with them, was a brightly lit Striped Marlin spotted by Steve. The gannets
were catching small baitfish called Sauries and the water was heaving with
the swirls of Yellowfin Tuna which were also hunting the Sauries. This
magical scene was capped off by seeing a group
of four Humpback Whales travelling through the area of activity. We later
sighted two fur seals in the water and most observers had good views of two
Little Penguins as we came back in through the Heads which was a good end to
an entertaining day on the water.

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

Little Penguin                                     3                (2)
Wilson’s Storm Petrel                              5                (1)
White-faced Storm Petrel                           1                (1)
Antipodean Albatross                               1                (1)  ssp
Black-browed Albatross                             45              (30)
Campbell Albatross                                 4                (2)
Shy Albatross                                      5                (1)  one
juvenile steadi (White-capped Albatross)
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross                      38              (25)
Buller’s Albatross                                 1                (1)
Fairy Prion                                        14              (2)
Providence Petrel                                  8                (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater                            2                (1)
Fluttering Shearwater                              25              (15)
Hutton’s Shearwater                                20              (12)
Fluttering-type Shearwaters                        40
Australasian Gannet                                110            (90)
Silver Gull                                        120            (70)
Greater Crested Tern                               11              (6)
Brown Skua                                          6                (4)

Minke Whale                                                             1
Humpback Whale                                                     4
Short-beaked Common Dolphin                        60
Striped Marlin                                                            1
Fur Seal (sp)                                                              

All information on our trips including dates and contact details can be
found in the website at  and you can also find us on
Facebook and post photos at

Roger McGovern

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