Sydney Pelagic Trip Report - October 9, 2010

To: "birding-aus " <>
Subject: Sydney Pelagic Trip Report - October 9, 2010
From: "Roger McGovern" <>
Date: Tue, 12 Oct 2010 12:05:28 +1100


The previous few days had seen a constant south to south-east wind blowing
and it continued for today's trip although the 15 knots of the morning eased
down to less than 10 knots in the afternoon. Consequently, the ride was
somewhat bumpy out to the shelf for the full complement of passengers that
we had onboard. There were several highlights during the day but the most
outstanding was the sighting of two LITTLE SHEARWATERS on the way to the
shelf - they were seen more than 45 minutes apart in time and so were
certainly two separate individuals. According to my records, this was the
first sighting of this species from the Halicat since January 1997 although
one or two others have been reported from the Wollongong pelagic trip and
from land-based birders since then. We thought that 20 species last month
was good but we topped this number with 21 today much to the enjoyment of
all on board. It was wonderful to be out on the water during the peak of
Short-tailed Shearwater migration - the sight of great skeins of these birds
beating south is one of the great pelagic experiences. It was also a
marvellous day for storm-petrels with 140 Wilson's Storm-Petrels and 30
White-faced Storm-Petrels, the latter being the highest count that I can
recall from the Halicat.

With summer approaching, surface water temperatures had increased from last
month with 16.7degC inshore rising to 18.2degC at the shelf break. We
departed from Rose Bay Ferry Wharf at 7.15am and returned at 3.40pm. Sea
conditions were about 1.0metre on a 1.0metre swell which gave a slightly
bumpy ride on the way out but a very smooth one on our return. Winds were
about 15 knots from the south east in the morning and they dropped off to
less than 10 knot easterlies in the afternoon. With so many people on board
I suppose that it was inevitable that there would be some cases of sea
sickness, but there didn't appear to be too many so afflicted fortunately.


We left Sydney Heads with a completely full boat of 40 passengers including
a large birding group from Sweden, visitors from the United States and the
UK plus some interstate and local enthusiasts. The weather was quite
overcast and cool and, as we headed into the head wind, we quickly began to
see good numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and the first of many groups of
migrating Short-tailed Shearwaters. Steve's eagle eyes picked up two Little
Penguins close to the boat and most people on board saw them in the choppy
water as they surfaced very briefly several times. Fluttering and Hutton's
Shearwaters flew obligingly close to the boat and gave very clear views of
their plumage differences - we also had a few Australasian Gannets and an
immature Black-browed Albatross fly by. At about 6 or 7 miles out from the
heads, our attention was drawn to a very small shearwater flying in the same
direction as the boat off our port quarter. We were therefore able to watch
the bird for some time and note it's very small size compared to the
Hutton's and Fluttering Shearwaters that we had been looking at, together
with its very different flight pattern which was rapid and continuous with
no gliding interspersed- an unmistakable LITTLE SHEARWATER. As we continued
out towards the 10 Mile mark, some observers at the stern of the boat picked
up the only Sooty Shearwater of the day and we were visited by more
Black-browed Albatross, a Shy Albatross and our first of many Wilson's
Storm-Petrel for the day. We passed our first sea monster of the day, an
Australian Fur Seal and shortly afterwards encountered our first Humpback
Whales of the day, a group of four. Amazingly, those of us on the upper deck
picked up another Little Shearwater which this time flew at a more oblique
angle to the boat and disappeared before many people had the chance to
locate it. A Brown Skua flew past quite high and then the first Yellow-nosed
Albatross of the day appeared which was then followed shortly by a
White-faced Storm-Petrel which not many people got onto - we were to see
many more out at the shelf however.

Prior to reaching Brown's Mountain, the underwater seamount located 22.5NM
from Sydney Heads, we saw two Cape Petrels neither of which approached the
boat which was unusual, but it became apparent that none of the birds
appeared to be hungry and they did not come into our berley slick as they
would usually do. Throughout the journey to the shelf and on the return, we
constantly encountered big flocks of Short-tailed Shearwaters on their way
south, a great sight that made the day very special. When we arrived at
Brown's Mountain, we drifted and set up a good berley slick and although
quite a good number of birds came to visit, they certainly did not approach
the boat in their usual way. We began to get very large numbers of Wilson's
Storm-Petrels on the slick along with smaller numbers of White-faced
Storm-Petrels. There were very few Providence and Great-winged Petrels (yet
again!) which makes me wonder what has happened to them this year. Our first
Wandering Albatross to arrive on the slick was a lovely male Antipodean and
the two more that showed up later were an adult Gibson's and an adult Snowy
making a remarkable trifecta of three Wanderers of three different
sub-species. After drifting the slick for the third time, a Buller's
Albatross put in an appearance confirming that this species is indeed a
regular bird off Sydney. 

We set off for a cruise to the north and, other than the amazing number of
sunfish encountered, we did not pick up any new species. On the trip back we
came across more Humpback Whales and, surprisingly, a single Common Dolphin
which paid a brief visit - we don't recall a trip with ONE dolphin on it
before! There were plenty of birds all the way back to the heads but nothing
new. We stopped to bring the shearwaters into our berley just off the heads
in the hope of adding a Flesh-footed to the list (they were seen on a trip
the week before) but to no avail. However, while we were watching the
shearwater scrum, we heard a familiar call and looked up to see a Whimbrel
fly past in a southerly direction which was a nice end to the day. With a
total of twenty one species recorded for the day, all on board had a most
enjoyable day.

(Note that the number in parentheses represents the maximum number within
sight at one time)

Little Penguin  2               (2)
Cape Petrel     3               (1)
Great-winged Petrel     4               (1)
Providence Petrel       3               (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 180             (50)
Sooty Shearwater        1               (1)
Short-tailed Shearwater >10,000                 (1,000)
Fluttering Shearwater   35                      (4)
Hutton's Shearwater     15                      (2)
Fluttering-type shearwaters     50
LITTLE SHEARWATER       2                       (1)
Wandering Albatross     3                       (1)  one each of
antipodensis, gibsoni and exulans
Black-browed Albatross  14                      (3)  one impavida
Yellow-nosed Albatross  8                       (2)
Shy Albatross   6                       (1)
Buller's Albatross      1                       (1)
Wilson's Strom-Petrel   140                     (50)
White-faced Storm-Petrel        30                      (3)
Australasian Gannet     20                      (5)
Brown Skua      2                       (1)
Silver Gull     300                     (40)
Crested Tern    9                       (3)


Australian Fur Seal     1
Short-beaked Common Dolphin     1
Ocean Sunfish   25
Humpback Whale  16

The next Sydney Pelaggic trip will be on Saturday 13 November 2010 departing
Mosman Ferry Wharf at 6.45am and Rose Bay Ferry Wharf at 7.00am. Call Hal at
0411 311 236 to make a booking.

Roger McGovern



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