SYDNEY PELAGIC TRIP REPORT - SATURDAY OCTOBER 9, 2010
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 16.7 deg C inshore rising to 18.2 deg C 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 1.0 metre 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.