• Saturday 13th November 2010, Sydney, Pelagic Trip Report, Sydney, NSW, Australia



    A private pelagic charter out of Sydney last Monday had produced only one albatross and very few pterodromas and so, with the northerlies still blowing, we surmised that our best chance of a rarity today might be something tropical. For once, a theory voiced prior to a trip came to fruition and our top bird of the day was a BLACK NODDY which gave everyone excellent views during our second drift about 5NM east of Brown's Mountain. Although the pelagic sightings on Tony Palliser's website have not been updated for a while, there is only a single record of Black Noddy for Sydney and/or Wollongong for the period over which the statistics were compiled. There was of course a Sydney record earlier this year of an individual which stayed on Long Reef from about April 6 until April 19. The other notable highlights of the trip were the good numbers of Great-winged Petrels which fed avidly alongside the boat, the continued migration of Short-tailed Shearwaters and a sighting of a huge Ocean Sunfish (or Common Mola). The sunfish that we normally see off Sydney is the Southern Ocean Sunfish (Mola ramsayi) but this Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) was distinctly larger and far paler in the water. They average up to 4 meters in length and weigh in at upwards of 1000 kg which this one certainly did - see this website for more information. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_sunfish

    Surface water temperatures were only a little up on last month's, with 18.8 deg C inshore rising to 19.1 deg C at the continental shelf. We departed from Rose Bay ferry wharf at 7.10am and returned at 3.45pm. Sea conditions were a little bumpy with a north easterly sea of a metre on a swell of 2 to 3 metres. The wind started off quite light at 5 knots from the north to north east but freshened during the day to 15 - 20 knots. The weather was mostly sunny and warm but the sea conditions caused a few cases of sea sickness unfortunately, although the majority of those on board coped well.


    Those who boarded the boat at Mosman Wharf had brief views of a Little Penguin on the way over to Rose Bay but, fortunately, we were to get great views of another one in Rose Bay itself on the way back in, so nobody dipped on the sighting. We departed Rose Bay with a complement of 23 passengers from Australia, USA, Canada and the UK and, unusually, had a Peregrine Falcon fly overhead near Vaucluse. As we headed out into a fairly brisk chop, we immediately began to see Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, a few Short-tailed Shearwaters, the odd Fluttering Shearwater and an immature Australasian Gannet. The first brief excitement of the day was when a distant pale bird flying close to the water was touted as a Buller's Shearwater, but the continuous laboured flight pattern soon revealed that it was, in fact, a pale morph Arctic Jaeger. A sleeping Australian Fur Seal was approached giving good views to all, and migrating groups of Short-tailed Shearwaters began to appear with greater frequency. A Pomerine Jaeger and a Flesh-footed Shearwater were the only other new species seen before we reached the shelf, and we began our first drift at Brown's Mountain with very few birds in evidence. The berley slick began to attract a few Great-winged Petrels (all of the NZ race, gouldi), one Providence Petrel and a lone immature Black-browed Albatross. After returning to the head of the slick for another drift with no positive results in terms of bird species, we decided to head into deeper water to our Sperm Whale site to see whether we would fare better. Well, we didn't see any Sperm Whales but our first drift had immediate results in term of bird numbers with up to 40 or 50 Great-winged Petrels feeding hungrily close to the boat and being joined by the odd Providence Petrel, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Pomarine Jaeger and Wilson's Storm-Petrel. Steve noticed a huge pale object in the water a couple of hundred meters from the boat and we interrupted the bird attracting to head over and check it out. As described at the beginning of this report, the object was a massive Ocean Sunfish and we had a great opportunity to observe it in the water at quite close quarters. Back to the slick for one more drift and in came a pristine BLACK NODDY which drifted past us at a fairly close distance and then just kept going. Shortly afterwards, two Sooty Shearwaters were sighted some 300 metres from the boat but did not approach and were missed by many people on board.

    On the way back to Sydney, we sighted a mature Wandering Albatross (gibsoni) which came past the boat giving great views and great joy to those overseas birders for whom it was a coveted lifer. The Great-winged Petrels followed the Halicat for some distance, well inshore of the shelf break, but they eventually left us and the only new species seen was a Common Tern about 5 NM east of Sydney Heads. The combination of the warmer water and the consistent northerly winds conspired to move our 'normal' November species to the south of Sydney resulting in a modest species count of eighteen but it was an absorbing day's birding for all on board.

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

    Little Penguin 2 (1)
    Great-winged Petrel 50 (70)
    Providence Petrel 6 (1)
    Wedge-tailed Shearwater 90 (25)
    Sooty Shearwater 2 (2)
    Short-tailed Shearwater 500 (50)
    Flesh-footed Shearwater 15 (3)
    Fluttering Shearwater 9 (3)
    Wandering Albatross 1 (1) gibsoni
    Black-browed Albatross 2 (1)
    Wilson's Storm-Petrel 4 (2)
    Australasian Gannet 2 (1)
    Arctic Jaeger 1 (1)
    Pomerine Jaeger 4 (1)
    Silver Gull 50 (15)
    Crested Tern 8 (4)
    Common Tern 1 (1)
    BLACK NODDY 1 (1)


    Australian Fur Seal 1
    Southern Ocean Sunfish 1
    Ocean sunfish 1

    The next Sydney pelagic trip will be on Saturday 11 December 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.

    Roger McGovern