Sydney Pelagic Report - August 10, 2013

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: Sydney Pelagic Report - August 10, 2013
From: "Roger McGovern" <>
Date: Tue, 13 Aug 2013 11:38:22 +1000


As is often the case in Sydney during the middle of winter, light westerly
winds had prevailed during the days leading up to this trip leading to very
flat conditions inshore which, in turn, seems to make foraging for food
easier and, therefore, a lot less interest from the birds in our berley
trails. On a magnificent sunny day, this was very apparent from the start as
not even the Silver Gulls were interested in our offerings as we left the
harbour. Although there were no rarities on the day, there was always enough
action to keep everyone interested with plenty of albatross, whales,
dolphins, fur seals and even the odd flying fish. Of note were a group of
five White-fronted Terns, a fly-by Buller's Albatross and the Halicat's
first harbinger of spring, a single Wedge-tailed Shearwater. Species
conspicuous by their absence were Cape Petrels and both giant petrels.

We left the heads in almost calm conditions, with a light westerly breeze
and combined swell/sea of less than a metre. Conditions remained like this
until late morning when the wind increased and backed to the south west at
about 15 knots producing some short choppy waves which caused a few cases of
sea sickness. Sea water temperature was 17.4degC at the heads, rising to
18.4degC at Brown's Mountain which showed very little cooling since our June
2013 trip. Generally the sea conditions were comfortable but the first part
of the return journey was somewhat bumpy as we headed into the wind and
chop. We departed from Rose Bay at 7.15am but had to return to Mosman to
collect one passenger who had gone to the wrong wharf and it was close to
8.00am by the time we left the harbour. We returned to Rose Bay  at about


We departed through Sydney Heads with a full complement of passengers which
included regular and irregular local birders, interstate visitors (good to
see Nikolas back for the day), some international visitors and a number of
nature watchers along to see whales, dolphins and, of course, the birds.
With the inshore berley trail failing to draw a crowd, there were not large
numbers of birds around in the first couple of miles. However, a pair of
Humpback Whales were quickly spotted but were not cooperative and we
continued on our way after a few minutes. In addition to the usual Silver
Gulls and the odd Greater Crested Tern, there were initially several
Black-browed Albatross, an Australasian Gannet and then we began to see some
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross. Perhaps the most notable sighting during this
stage of the trip was a couple of good-sized groups of small shearwaters
that passed by with the bulk of them being Hutton's Shearwaters and only a
few Fluttering Shearwaters accompanying them. A group of small dark
cetaceans was seen to break the surface but, despite our best efforts, they
could not be relocated causing us to think that they were something unusual.
Shortly afterwards, a sea monster was seen making a series of very vigorous
splashes at some distance but, again, when we arrived on location it did not
show again. The most likely explanation for this one was that it was a
feeding marlin. As we moved further offshore, small numbers of Fairy Prions
began to appear, some Shy Albatross were well seen and a lone Wedge-tailed
Shearwater came past and kept on going. More Humpback Whales were seen with
one group of two showing very well and providing good views and photographic
opportunities. A couple of observers on board spotted a prion that had quite
a different flight pattern to the Fairy Prions around it but it moved away
without giving good views and the consensus was that it was either a
Slender-billed Prion or an Antarctic Prion.  

As we were approaching Brown's Mountain, a small group of Oceanic Bottlenose
Dolphins was briefly seen but they did not approach the boat and quickly
disappeared. We set up a berley slick as the wind began to freshen and there
was plenty of activity around the boat. The first one of two Antipodean
Albatross (Gibson's subspecies), adult Campbell Albatross, small numbers of
Providence Petrels, and some very smart-looking juvenile Shy (White-capped)
Albatross straight from fledging at their New Zealand breeding grounds were
all seen along with the good numbers of Black-browed Albatross, Indian
Yellow-nosed Albatross and Fairy Prions. It was of interest that none of the
adult Shy Albatross was seen with a yellow base to the culminicorn which may
have indicated that these birds were all White-capped Albatross (steadi) or
possibly that the nominate race (cauta) does not show this characteristic at
this time of the year. Before leaving Brown's Mountain, some people on board
spotted a Buller's Albatross fly by but the call did not get to everyone
unfortunately. A Brown Skua showed well but, with no new species appearing
for a while and the wind freshening, we set off back to Sydney. 

Our journey back was initially somewhat choppy but, as we got closer to the
protection of the shore, conditions once again became very comfortable. No
new birds were seen for most of the way back, but a pod of maybe 60
Short-beaked Common Dolphins delighted everyone by coming for a ride on our
bow and a couple of flying fish were well seen. As we were approaching the
heads, a small group of White-fronted Terns were seen fishing - a species
that we rarely record from the Halicat for reasons that I can't explain. In
the harbour we detoured over to the Quarantine Station to search for Little
Penguins and although we didn't find any, we were rewarded instead by the
sight of two Australian Fur Seals lazing on the rocks. Although it was not a
day for rarities, all on board enjoyed a great Sydney day on the ocean with
16 species recorded.


(Note that the numbers in parentheses represent the maximum number of that
species in view at one time)
Antipodean Albatross    2       (1) both gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross  20      (6)
Campbell Albatross      3       (2)
Shy Albatross   16      (4) only juvenile steadi identified as to
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross   34      (20)
Buller's Albatross      1       (1)
Prion (sp)      1       (1) Antarctic or Slender-billed
Fairy Prion     60      (8)
Providence Petrel       5       (2) 
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 1       (1)
Fluttering Shearwater   10      (6)
Hutton's Shearwater     200     (100)
Australasian Gannet     6       (3)
Silver Gull     90      (40)    
Greater Crested Tern    15      (5)
White-fronted Tern      5       (5)
Brown Skua      1       (1)


Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin      6
Short-beaked Common Dolphin     60
Humpback Whale  10
Flying fish     2
Australian fur Seal     2 

The next Sydney pelagic trip will be on Saturday 14 September, 2013
departing Mosman Ferry Wharf at 6.45am and Rose Bay Public Wharf at 7.00am.
Call Hal at 0411 311 236 to make a booking. Please try to book well ahead to
assist our planning.

Roger McGovern  

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