Sydney Pelagic Trip Report - Saturday 14 April, 2012

To: "birding-aus " <>
Subject: Sydney Pelagic Trip Report - Saturday 14 April, 2012
From: "Roger McGovern" <>
Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2012 15:09:09 +1000


After several days of strong southerly winds, the weather turned quite
benign on Thursday evening and, by the time of our departure on Saturday
morning, two days of light northerlies had produced very calm conditions.
Consequently, we departed Sydney Harbour with no great expectations but, in
the back of our collective minds, we were recalling last April's Sydney trip
with Great Shearwater, South Polar Skua and White-tailed Tropicbird being
the star turns. Although today was somewhat quieter in birding terms, we did
have some excellent sightings including South Polar Skua (which is on the
BARC Review List), an intermediate morph Kermadec Petrel and our first
White-faced Storm-Petrel since April 2009. With no jaegers recorded and with
a low count of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, there was a definite feeling that
winter was on the way.

Surface water temperatures were actually warmer than they were a month ago
being 19.1degC at Sydney Heads and rising to as high as 21.8degC off the
continental shelf. We departed from Rose Bay at 7.20am and returned just
after 4.00pm. Seas conditions were quite calm all day with a small swell of
maybe 0.5m and a very small chop on top of that. The wind remained light
from the north all day and the birds were generally quite reluctant to fly.


We headed out of the harbour with a complement of 16 passengers on board,
comprising mostly local and interstate birders and including John Weigel who
notched up the 500th species of his Big Year Quest during today's trip. With
David James away in Christmas Island, I got my old job back on the berley
table ably assisted by Dion Hobcroft. However, although I started a berley
trial as soon as we left the wharf, the Silver Gulls soon lost interest and
we had no following entourage of birds for the entire trip to the shelf and
beyond. Instead of our usual course of ESE to Brown's Mountain, we had a
change of plan today and motored ENE (75deg) bound for a deepwater canyon
dubbed J11 where the water depth reaches almost 2000 metres. For the first
few miles, activity was very sparse with several Australasian Gannets, a few
Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, a couple of Crested Terns and a single
Black-browed Albatross being the sum total of our sightings. At about 8NM
offshore, we found a strange 'footprint' or current line which contained
several feeding Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, our first Wilson's Storm-Petrel of
the day and two Little Penguins which were seen once and did not reappear. A
Yellow-nosed Albatross raised interest levels a notch and the odd
Flesh-footed and Short-tailed Shearwaters were seen. 

As we reached the continental shelf drop off, our first Great-winged
(Grey-faced) Petrel appeared followed by several Providence Petrels looking
absolutely pristine in their fresh plumage. Our first cetacean of the day
was a single Risso's Dolphin and, whilst observing the dolphin, a lovely
Campbell (Black-browed) Albatross flew past at close quarters and followed
the boat for a while. As we continued on into deeper water, a pale
coffee-coloured skua flew quickly right over the boat at low altitude and
was immediately identified as a SOUTH POLAR SKUA. The bird did not stop and,
with Raja's camera temporarily out of action, we were fortunate that Nigel
Miller was able to get a couple of photographs to assist with the BARC
submission. Shortly after this excitement and before arriving at J11 we had
our first Wandering Albatross of the day, a young female gibsoni and a fly
by White-faced Storm-Petrel, the first seen from the Halicat since April
2009. As we arrived at J11, we were greeted by a pod of about 30 Pilot
Whales, considered likely to be Short-finned. We then set up a good slick
for over an hour and brought in reasonable numbers of birds including two
Wandering Albatross, a Yellow-nosed Albatross, several Great-winged and
Providence Petrels, several Wilson's Storm-Petrels and a few Wedge-tailed
Shearwaters. We then motored further to the south east and set up another
slick where Dion's sharp eyes picked up an intermediate morph Kermadec
Petrel. Although the bird stayed a few hundred metres from the boat, Raja
managed to get some shots which confirmed the identification.

The journey back to Sydney was did not produce any further new species for
the trip but two more Little Penguins, another Wandering Albatross, some
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphins and two more Risso's Dolphins kept interest
levels up for the trip. About five miles out from the heads, the call of
'egret' went out and there was an Intermediate Egret flying northwards, our
first record from the Halicat. Considering the very calm conditions with
birds lounging on the water everywhere, it turned out to be a productive and
absorbing day on the water which was enjoyed by all. 

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

Little Penguin                  4       (2)
Great-winged Petrel           15      (5)   all gouldi 
Providence Petrel                       24        (8)   
Kermadec Petrel                 1         (1)  intermediate morph
Short-tailed Shearwater       2       (1) 
Wedge-tailed Shearwater       30      (8) 
Flesh-footed Shearwater       6       (2) 
Wandering Albatross           3       (2)  all gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross          3         (1)  one impavida 
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross   2         (1)
Wilson's Strom-Petrel           15      (6)
White-faced Storm-Petrel        1       (1)
Australasian Gannet             35        (10)
SOUTH POLAR SKUA                        1       (1)
Silver Gull                   60      (25) 
Crested Tern                  5       (2)


Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin      8
Risso's Dolphin                 3
(Short-finned) Pilot Whale      30
Flying fish                             5

The next Sydney pelagic trip will be on Saturday 12 May 2012 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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