Sydney Pelagic Trip Report - Saturday 12 September 2015

To: "birding-aus " <>
Subject: Sydney Pelagic Trip Report - Saturday 12 September 2015
From: Roger McGovern <>
Date: Mon, 14 Sep 2015 00:39:02 +0000

After more than twenty years of going out on Sydney pelagic trips, I never
cease to be amazed at what they can sometimes throw up in surprises. On
Saturday, after being out for most of the day in gorgeous spring sunshine
and benign conditions, everyone on board was resigned to the fact that this
was one of our quietest days on the water with hardly any birds or cetaceans
around. And then, as we were about to set course back to Sydney, we came
across a group of eight SPERM WHALES which remained on the surface and
allowed excellent views and, shortly afterwards, we encountered a pod of
about 40STRIPED DOLPHINS, a very uncommon cetacean off Sydney and one which
we hadn't seen for many years. Throw in an epic encounter with a Yellowfin
Tuna (more of that later) and a forgettable day suddenly became a day which
all the participants will remember.

Weather conditions had been quite settled for a couple of weeks prior to
this trip and the birds had obviously had plenty of opportunity to feed
because none of them showed the slightest interest in the boat or our
berley, not even the Silver Gulls. Highlights of the trip were one Antarctic
Prion, two White-fronted Terns and a single Antipodean Albatross (race
gibsoni).We departed the Heads at about 7.50am in bright sunshine, very
slight seas of less than a metre and water temperatures up to 19.8degC.Winds
were very light and variable all day and sea conditions became even flatter
around lunchtime. We motored out to the underwater sea mount known as
Brown's Mountain approximately 22.5NM ESE of the Heads, arriving there at
about 10.30am and we then drifted and set up a berley trail and slick. With
hardly any birds around, we headed eastwards into deeper water and, after
extensive delays due to the hook up of a big Yellowfin Tuna and then
encounters with the Sperm Whales and Striped dolphins, we headed back
towards Sydney at about 1.45pm and arrived at Rose Bay at 4.40pm.

We set off from Rose Bay at 7.30am with 22 passengers on the MV Avalon
comprising mostly local birders but also visitors from the USA and
Switzerland. As we left the Heads in stunning weather conditions but with
hardly a bird to be seen, I had a bad feeling about the day, particularly as
not even the gulls would come near the boat for the berley on offer. In the
first hour or so, the only birds seen were the occasional passing
Wedge-tailed Shearwater, one or two Australasian Gannets and the odd
Hutton's Shearwater. Those sitting at the front of the boat saw a couple of
groups of Fluttering-type shearwaters passing by distantly but too far to be
called as to species. Even a Humpback Whale which was seen blowing not far
away disappeared and failed to materialise when we drifted close to where it
had been spotted. A pair of Little Penguins were seen by some on the boat
and then, in a current line, we found two White-fronted Terns which did not
give great views as they continued to move away from the approaching boat.
Some interest was stirred up by the discovery of an Australian Fur Seal
which was tending a ball of redfish and allowed a close approach as he/she
was absorbed by keeping the fish ball in place. A distant Shy Albatross was
our first albatross of the day but continued on its way without approaching
the boat and another Humpback was spotted which gave marginally better views
than the one seen earlier. Around the fishing boats at the Twelve Mile we
came across a Brown Skua sitting on the water and it allowed a close
approach for the photographers on board.

When we arrived at Brown's Mountain there was only the odd Providence Petrel
occasionally in view and, after 30 minutes of berleying with nothing coming
to the slick, we started the motors and headed off slowly into deeper water.
A prion put in a very brief and unsatisfactory appearance but photographs
showed it to be an Antarctic Prion and shortly afterwards we saw our only
wandering-type albatross off the day, an Antipodean Albatross (gibson's
ssp), but again, it did not approach the boat and continued on its way. We
were visited by a large pod of maybe 200 Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphins, many
of which came for a ride on our bow giving splendid views to all. As we
continued eastwards and with nothing happening on the avian front, some tuna
were spotted on the surface nearby and the crew decided to troll a couple of
lures off the back of the boat. One of these was hit almost immediately and
Eddy was fast into a very large Yellowfin Tuna which he proceeded to battle
with for the best part of two hours. In the meantime, we continued to see
the occasional Providence Petrel, a couple of Fairy Prions and our first
Yellow-nosed and Black-browed Albatross of the day. At about 1.15pm and with
no end in sight to the battle with the tuna, discussions were held as to
what we do to get going back to Sydney in a reasonable time frame. George
came up with a very innovative solution by calling a friend of his who was
fishing nearby to come alongside and take the rod with fish attached and to
continue to battle it on our behalf! As we came through the Heads later on
at 4.30pm, the news came from the radio that the fish had been boated and
weighed 40kg but there was an ongoing discussion about ownership of such a

Having freed ourselves of the fish, we were about to set off home when some
interesting whale blows were seen which, on approach, turned out to be a
group of eight Sperm Whales resting on the surface. We had great views of
these magnificent creatures which showed no interest or shyness of our
presence and after many photographs, we reluctantly tore ourselves away to
start the return journey to Sydney. Almost immediately afterwards, we
encountered a pod of small beaked dolphins which we thought would be
Short-beaked Common Dolphins but these animals behaved in a very unusual
manner being very shy, even a little fearful, of the boat. Also, their
markings did not look right for common dolphins and, after some photographs
were examined, it became clear that they were in fact Striped Dolphins, a
very rare visitor to waters off NSW. The rest of the trip back was very
quiet with no new bird species and with the visit of two Short-beaked Common
Dolphins becoming the fifth cetacean species of the day. With only 15 bird
species for the day, many of them not well seen, it could have been quite
disappointing, but the experiences with the Sperm Whales, Striped Dolphins
and the saga of the tuna made it a day that will be talked about in future

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

Little Penguin                 2  (2)
Antipodean Albatross           1  (1) ssp gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross         2  (1)
Shy Albatross                  2  (1)
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross  3  (2)
Antarctic Prion                1  (1)
Fairy Prion                    3  (2)
Providence Petrel              10 (4)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater        35 (6)
Fluttering-type shearwater     60 (30)
Hutton's Shearwater            5  (2)
Australasian Gannet            16 (3)
Silver Gull                    30 (10)
Greater Crested Tern           5  (2)
White-fronted Tern             2  (2)
Brown Skua                     1  (1)

Humpback Whale                 3
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin     200
Short-beaked Common Dolphin    2
SPERM WHALE                    8
STRIPED DOLPHIN                40
Australian Fur Seal            1

The next Sydney trip is scheduled for Saturday 10 October 2015 and, at the
time of writing this, the trip is full. Please let me know if you would like
to go on the waiting list.

All details of our trips and contact details are in the website at and you can also find us on Facebook and post
photos at

Roger McGovern

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