To: Roger McGovern <>, birding-aus <>
From: Mick Roderick <>
Date: Sun, 10 Nov 2013 18:14:32 -0800 (PST)
Hi Roger,
Another great report. We were on the wrong side of the weather gods (again) as 
the Port Stephens trip was planned for Sunday. Alas it became our 8th 
cancellation for the year due to an unfavourable forecast. We hope that you 
guys find a boat and that we have better luck with the weather!
Your comment about the 'Shy-types' is very relevant because under BirdLife 
Australia's Working List of Australian Birds (see ;), White-capped (T. 
steadi) is split from Shy (T. cauta) as separate species. This is going to make 
the recording of 'Shy-type Albatrosses' very tricky indeed. 
There has been some discussion on the topic of 'Shy-type' ID on the SOSSA forum 
(see ;) 
but mostly the 'Shy-type' discussions there surround possible or purported 
Salvin's Albatrosses as opposed to separating Shy and White-capped. 
As far as I understand it (and to wrap it up in a tight nutshell), breeding 
adult Shy's with yellow at the base of the bill are likely Shy's (i.e. T. 
cauta), but if an adult lacks the yellow at the base of the bill it could be 
either a Shy OR a White-capped. Juveniles are best identified by the time of 
year that the birds are seen, with White-capped fledging later than Shy's (i.e. 
in July/August).
T. steadi wasn't even recognised at the time that HANZAB Vol 1 went to the 
printers though there is some discussion of steadi in the Geographical 
Variation section that is not surprisingly, inconclusive. Onley and Scofield 
say "Non-breeding, immatures and juveniles of two (sub)species indeterminable 
at sea."
And we thought the Wandering and Black-browed types were hard!?! I agree that 
the hypotheses need to be backed up by research as I've heard conflicting 
stories on what is what and how to tell them apart. 
>From what I can tell from fisheries and radio-tracking data, White-capped is 
>likely to be the more regular one found in waters off NSW (at least, north 
>from Wollongong anyway).
Comments this will be something very relevant when the BirdLife 
Working List is adopted. 

On Sunday, 10 November 2013 5:00 PM, Roger McGovern <> 

The final Sydney pelagic trip of the 'Halicat Era' had extraordinarily good
fortune from the weather gods - had it been scheduled a day earlier or a day
later, it would not have got out. After a few days of very strong north
winds, the conditions calmed right down on Friday night and then, the
southerly buster forecast to hit at lunchtime on Saturday did not arrive
until we entered the Sydney Heads at about 3.30pm. The last couple of trips,
and most recently the Sunbird/Wings trip ten days ago had been characterised
by huge numbers of extremely hungry Short-tailed Shearwaters which were
prepared to fight the albatrosses for food and, in conjunction, there were
very few Wedge-tailed Shearwaters at a time when this species should be the
most numerous off Sydney. Today, normal November service was resumed with
very good numbers of Wedgies, fewer and less desperate Short-taileds and
reasonable numbers of Flesh-footed Shearwaters, the latter being our first
record of the summer. Good numbers of birds were present for the entire trip
and the species count of 20 meant that a lot of our visitors added some
species to their life lists. The only minor rarity of the day was Black
Petrel, with two birds arriving together on our slick and staying to feed
for quite a while and then another bird was seen about halfway back to

Incidentally, with regard to the Sunbird/Wings pelagic on December 1st,
another era came to an end as it was David Fisher's last visit to Australia
as the leader of this group since he will be retiring in March 2014. I
mention this as a lot of birding-aus subscribers will know David - he is a
fine field ornithologist and one of the nicest people you will meet.

We left the heads in remarkably benign conditions with light winds and a
swell of 1.0m to 1.5m and no sea on top of that. The conditions remained
this way for the entire journey to the shelf break but, with the expectation
of a strong southerly change at lunchtime we made our berley stop about 5NM
short of Brown's Mountain in anticipation of an early return. As it turned
out, the three hour trip back was equally comfortable and we were hit with
very strong south winds just as we entered Sydney Harbour. Surface sea water
temperatures were in the range of 20.5degC to 21.0degC for the entire trip.
We departed from Rose Bay at 7.20am and returned at 4.15pm.

We left the harbour on the MV Lormar with a full complement of 24 passengers
with several visiting from overseas and the remainder from around Sydney and
the Central Coast. While still in the harbour, we encountered our first
cetaceans of the day with views of the resident pod of Inshore Bottlenose
Dolphins lounging around near Watson's Bay. David had the berley going
straightaway and, although we saw a few moribund Short-tailed Shearwaters
just inside the harbour, it was immediately obvious that the hoards of
starving birds which descended on us in recent trips were no longer there.
We quickly attracted a following of shearwaters but the Wedge-taileds easily
outnumbered the Short-taileds. As is usually the case at this time of the
year, there were fewer Australasian Gannets in evidence and we had a couple
of Greater Crested Terns follow the boat and a few well seen Hutton's and
Fluttering Shearwaters pass by. It was not long before we were joined by our
first albatrosses, immature Black-browed and both juvenile and adult Shy.
The usual discussions regarding the separation of the NZ White-capped from
the Tasmanian nominate race took place and I always think that many of our
hypotheses need to be backed up with a lot more research. A Pomarine Jaeger
began to follow the boat as did an Arctic Jaeger shortly afterwards thereby
allowing those on board to study the difference in structure between the two
species. At about the 10 mile mark, we had a brief visit from a couple of
Pantropical Spotted Dolphins and, then, a few minutes later a larger pod of
these cetaceans came to the boat and rode on our bow for a while. Just
before reaching our berley location, a Common Tern approached the boat for a
close look at us and quickly disappeared and we then came across the only
Southern Ocean Sunfish of the day.

With our concerns for deteriorating weather, we decided to make our berley
stop about 5NM short of Brown's Mountain, just over the beginning of the
continental shelf break. With David laying down a good slick, new species
began to appear on a regular basis. The first of these was a handsome adult
Campbell Albatross which was joined later by two more. David and I were
wondering why, at this time of the year, all the Black-browed Albatross are
immature birds and the Campbells are all adults. A very late immature
Yellow-nosed Albatross was the next new species to appear followed by the
first of several Wilson's Storm Petrels, a couple of Providence and
Great-winged Petrels, and the our only Wandering-type Albatross of the day,
an Antipodean Albatross ssp gibsoni. The principal excitement of the day
came with the arrival of two Black Petrels which came and fed on the berley
close to the boat giving great views to everyone. The journey back to Sydney
did not bring any new species, although a third Black Petrel was seen by
some on board at about 8NM from the heads. We also had our third cetacean
species of the day when a group of Short-beaked Common Dolphins came by
close to the boat and kept on going. With the excellent weather conditions,
the good numbers of birds present and the species count of 20, all on board
had a great time and we finished off in the harbour with drinks and snacks
to celebrate the end of an era.

Although, I had said previously that Hal and I were retiring from organising
pelagics, we have been re-thinking this position because there is a real
danger that without the continuity from the Halicat period, it would be very
difficult for a new organiser to start from scratch. We have tentatively
identified a boat that might be suitable for pelagic work and we plan to
meet with the owner in the next few weeks to see what sort of arrangement
could be made. We are hopeful that we will be in a position to run the next
pelagic in February 2014 so please put February 8th into your diary with a
question mark.

Note that the number in parentheses represents the maximum number of that
species present at one time)

Antipodean Albatross    1    (1)  adult gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross    15    (7)
Campbell Albatross    3    (3)
Shy Albatross    10    (5)
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 1    (1)
Great-winged Petrel    4    (2)
Providence Petrel    2    (1)
Black Petrel    3    (2)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater    360    (200)
Short-tailed Shearwater    130    (100)
Flesh-footed Shearwater    20    (10)
Fluttering Shearwater    11    (2)
Hutton's Shearwater    14    (3)
Wilson's Storm Petrel    9    (6)
Australasian Gannet    3    (1)
Silver Gull    250    (200)
Greater Crested Tern    8    (3)
Common Tern    1    (1)
Pomarine Skua    3    (2)
Arctic Jaeger    2    (1)


Inshore Bottlenose Dolphin    10
Short-beaked Common Dolphin    25
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin     20
Southern Ocean Sunfish    1

AS stated above, there are no firm plans at the moment for the next Sydney
pelagic but, hopefully, there will be one scheduled for February 8, 2014.
Please contact Hal at  or me at 
if you have any questions.

Roger McGovern



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