Sydney Pelagic Trip Report - Saturday 10 December

To: birding aus <>
Subject: Sydney Pelagic Trip Report - Saturday 10 December
From: Roger McGovern <>
Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2016 05:47:06 +0000
Our final pelagic trip for the calendar year almost ended up being cancelled
for weather as five previous trips in 2016 had been - an unprecedented
occurrence. Very strong southerlies on Thursday and Friday had finally given
way to much lighter winds for the trip but we had to deal with the legacy of
a very large southerly swell with some of the larger ones estimated at 7
metres in height. The ride out to the shelf was surprisingly acceptable but
some passengers found the high walls of water coming towards the boat to be
a little intimidating. We had a brief shower of rain as we departed the
Heads but the day developed into a pleasant Sydney early summer day with
blue skies and warm temperatures.  The water temperature was around 21degC
and the large swells offshore were diminishing noticeably in the afternoon
as we neared the coast on our return journey.

We departed from Rose Bay at 7.10am with only 14 passengers on board, our
worst turn out of the year presumably due to the proximity of the festive
season. As we left the harbour and headed out into the big swells, it became
apparent once again that the birds were well fed and not interested in our
berley trail. The deckhand said that there has been an abundance of bait
fish out near the shelf break for several weeks and that the birds and
cetaceans have been very well fed, as have the predatory fish species. As we
tracked out in the gloom and light rain, there were a number of passing
Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and, surprisingly to me, several small groups of
Short-tailed Shearwaters migrating southwards. With egg laying generally
occurring in the Bass Strait colonies in late November, it could be that
these late migrating birds are non-breeders. A couple of Hutton's
Shearwaters passed close to the boat and a little later, a small group of
Fluttering Shearwaters were well seen. Small groups of Short-tailed
Shearwaters continued to stream past the boat and Steve (who was braving the
swells at the front of the boat) saw a Pomarine Jaeger which flew up from
the water - we were to see a couple more of this species later in the trip.
Our first albatross of the day, a juvenile Shy Albatross of the NZ
sub-species steadi came past the boat about 90 minutes after leaving the
heads and this proved to be the first of a steady number of this species
seen during the day. A single Flesh-footed Shearwater suddenly put in a
cameo appearance near the back of the boat and promptly disappeared - it was
the only one seen during the trip. Around 7 or 8 miles short of the shelf
break we had the first real excitement of the day as Steve spotted an all
dark albatross some distance from the boat and going away. A couple of
people saw the bird before the huge swells caused it to disappear from view
and the feeling was that it was very likely a Light-mantled Albatross but,
frustratingly, it can only be a possibility. An immature Black-browed
Albatross showed up amongst the far more numerous Shy's and a couple of poor
views of Wilson's  Storm Petrels were had by some from the moving boat.
Another moment of excitement came when a small, pale cookilaria petrel was
spotted, again at some distance and, again, going away from the boat and
disappearing behind the swells - the consensus was that it was most likely a
Cook's Petrel but this could not be confirmed.

As we approached the shelf drop off at Brown's Mountain, Steve spotted a
marlin swimming with the boat just off the starboard bow and most observers
had a good view of its dorsal fin cutting through the water. For the first
time in 25 years of going on these trips, I had to have a discussion with
the skipper to decide whether it would be safe to drift and berley in the
big swells. We agreed to drift with motors on idle to keep the bow to the
oncoming swells and, when that worked satisfactorily, we cut the engines and
drifted for an hour or so. We had a good numbers of Shy Albatross coming in
to the berley trail together with immature and sub-adult Black-browed
Albatross. The odd Grey-faced Petrel came to visit and small numbers of
Wilson's Storm Petrels which came close to the boat were well seen by all.
With seas not really improving at all and with no new species seen for a
while, we decided to head back a little earlier than normal and arrived back
at Rose Bay a little after 3.00pm. On the way in, a few people got on to a
Sooty Shearwater and Steve spotted a Little Penguin as we came in through
the Heads - with large swells and busy boating traffic, we decided not to
stop and relocate it. It was not really a classic day at sea but it could
have been different if those two rarities had been properly seen and


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

Little Penguin                                    1          (1)

Wilson's Storm Petrel                             9          (5)

(Light-mantled Albatross                          1          (1)   an
individual possibly of this species not seen well enough for positive

Black-browed Albatross                            5          (2)  four
immature birds and one sub-adult

Shy Albatross                                     28        (15)  all
believed to 'White-capped Albatross' with a mixture of adults and juvenile

Grey-faced Petrel                                 4          (1)

(Cook's Petrel                                    1          (1) an
individual possibly of this species not seen well enough for positive

Wedge-tailed Shearwater                           60        (6)

Sooty Shearwater                                  1          (1)

Short-tailed Shearwater                           140      (50)

Flesh-footed Shearwater                           1          (1)

Fluttering Shearwater                             7          (3)

Hutton's Shearwater                               5          (3)

Silver Gull                                       40        (12)

Greater Crested Tern                              1          (1)

Pomarine Jaeger                                   3          (1)


Marlin sp                                         1

The first Sydney pelagic trip in 2017 will be on Saturday 11 February and
all details of our trips and contact details are shown in the website at  and you can also find us on Facebook and post photos


Roger McGovern.

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