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From: "Roger McGovern" <>
Date: Mon, 16 Nov 2009 17:41:49 +1100

Saturday November 14, 2009 

After missing several pelagic charters over the past few weeks due to
unavoidable prior commitments (I know - nothing should get in the way of a
pelagic trip...!), I was itching to get out on the water and this beautiful
early summer day did not disappoint. Although, there were no great avian
rarities, with Black Petrel being the best bird of the day, we recorded a
total of 19 species which is a good total for the Sydney pelagic trip. The
real highlight of the day was that we equalled our record of six cetacean
species in a day and the encounter that we had with a big group of Sperm
Whales in deep water east of Brown's Mountain was truly memorable - the
first time in three years that we have seen this species.

The weather for the day comprised mostly clear sunny skies with warm air
temperatures reaching the high 20's on land but probably only low 20's
offshore. Water temperature at Sydney Heads was 18.3degC and it became
progressively warmer as we travelled eastward, reaching 19.1degC at the 10
Mile and as high as 20.3degC beyond the shelf break. We departed from Rose
Bay at 7.05am and returned at 4.10pm. After a strong southerly blow on the
day before, the wind had dropped off to a light westerly which backed around
to the north east in the afternoon and picked up strength again. Conditions
on board were quite comfortable with a half metre sea on a one metre swell
for most of the day, getting up to a one metre plus sea with the afternoon
north easterly.

Trip Summary
We departed Sydney Heads on a glorious sunny morning with a small but
enthusiastic group of local, interstate and overseas birders on board
numbering about 18. One of the most enthusiastic was avid underwater
photographer Professor Rob Harcourt, Director of Marine Science at Macquarie
University, who was hoping to get into the water and film the albatross from
below, if we got good numbers to the berley at Brown's Mountain. The trip
had already got off to a good start with very obliging Little Penguins
showing well right at Rose Bay Wharf. As we left the heads, it was apparent
that there were not huge numbers of birds inshore and we picked up good
numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, small groups of Short-tailed
Shearwaters still flying south (although surely these would be first year
non-breeders this late in the spring), a Crested Tern, our only two
Australasian Gannets of the day, and small numbers of both Hutton's and
Fluttering Shearwaters.

As we approached the 10 Mile gravels, we encountered our first albatross of
the day, an immature Black-browed Albatross and then, not long after, our
first Wandering Albatross in the form of a resplendent 'Snowy Albatross' the
nominate sub-species exulans. As the shelf break began, some 5NM short of
Brown's Mountain, we came across some very active cetacean feeding activity.
Firstly, we had great looks at a pod of about 20 Risso's Dolphins, a lone
large old Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin came to ride on our bow and then, after
we stopped for a look around, a group of three Pygmy Killer Whales were seen
at quite close quarters. Just as we were about to continue eastwards, a pod
of four Humpback Whales was seen a kilometre to the west of us but, although
we backtracked and waited around for a while, they could not be relocated -
however, four cetacean species seen within a few minutes was quite

As we approached Brown's Mountain, our first pterodromas began to appear
with Great-winged Petrels at first and then a few late-lingering Providence
Petrels. A couple more Wandering Albatross were keeping company with the
recreational fishing boats and a distant Giant Petrel was seen, which
unfortunately never approached closely enough to be identified to species.
As we cut the motors to start our berley drift, two Black Petrels came to
the boat and gave everyone excellent views and photographs. Although
conditions appeared to be ideal, the slick did not attract large numbers of
birds - we had visits from Black-browed and Wandering Albatross (including a
stunning Campbell form of Black-browed), a couple of Wilson's Storm-Petrels,
Flesh-footed Shearwaters and a single Cape Petrel. However, none of these
birds stayed for very long and Rob's plans to do some underwater photography
of albatross were not fulfilled!

After some time, we decided that we would head out into deeper water to see
if we could find more birds and, maybe, Sperm Whales since conditions were
very good to be able to see these large but somewhat unobtrusive animals. En
route, we added our first Shy Albatross and Pomarine Jaeger to the trip list
and then, after a period of inactivity, a Sperm Whale blow was seen and we
headed over to find numbers of Sperm Whales resting on the surface between
their deep dives. It was really interesting to see them resting together
side-by-side, facing in the same direction and almost touching - in one case
a group of four. Rob decided that he would like some underwater shots and
set off with his snorkel and camera - rather him than me was my reaction
(remember what happened to Captain Ahab!). One wag suggested that he
shouldn't wear his Giant Squid outfit! However, it was fairly anticlimactic
as the Sperm Whales just slowly moved away when they saw Rob - but he did
get some nice underwater shots.

Our trip back to Sydney, as is often the case, was mostly uneventful but not
entirely. As we were about 10 miles off, we had the visit of a pod of
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphins and then, what we had been hoping for, a large
pod of about 100 Common Dolphins which brought us to the equal record figure
of six cetacean species for the day! Since we still had some berley and
buckets of fish scraps on board, we slowed down and started feeding this
material over the back of the boat. The response was beyond anything that I
have seen in a long time as streams and streams of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters
(with good numbers of Flesh-footed Shearwaters included) came from
everywhere to make a seething mass of thousands of birds for a kilometre
behind the boat - it was a fantastic sight and a memorable ending to another
great day on the water.

Bird List 
(Note that numbers in parenthesises represent the maximum numbers seen at
any one time) 

Little Penguin          4       (4)
Giant-Petrel (species)  1       (1)
Cape Petrel                     1       (1)
Great-winged Petrel     30      (3)
Providence Petrel               14      (1)     
Black Petrel            2       (2)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 3500    (3000)
Short-tailed Shearwater 190     (20)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 420     (400)
Fluttering Shearwater   4       (2)
Hutton's Shearwater     6       (2)
Wandering Albatross     8       (2) all gibsoni and one exulans
Black-browed Albatross  6       (2)      one Campbell Albatross
Shy Albatross           2       (1)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel   2       (1)
Australasian Gannet     2       (2)
Pomarine Jaeger         2       (1)  
Silver Gull             40      (15)
Crested Tern            3       (1)

Cetacean  Sightings
Short-beaked Common Dolphin     100             
Risso's Dolphin 20
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin      30              
Pygmy Killer Whale      3
Humpback Whale  4
Sperm Whale     20                          

Next Sydney pelagic trip will be on Saturday 12 December, 2009 departing
Mosman Ferry Wharf at 0645 and Rose Bay Public Wharf at 0700. Call Hal on
0411 311 236 to make a reservation.

Roger McGovern 


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