• Saturday 14th March 2009, Sydney, Pelagic Trip Report, Sydney, NSW, Australia



    It was a beautiful early autumn day in Sydney and hopes were high for a good day of pelagic birding with the warm water temperatures giving some hope of a tropical rarity or two. The day was mostly sunny with quite warm temperatures for the time of year, reaching perhaps 25 deg C when we were offshore. The sea water temperature was 22.1 deg C inshore and became much warmer at the shelf break reaching 24.4 deg C which is the warmest sea temperature that we have recorded on a Sydney trip.

    The MV Halicat departed from Rose Bay at 07.05hrs and returned at 15.45hrs. The sea conditions were somewhat lumpy with a north easterly swell running at about 1.0 metre and a steep sea of 1.5 metre on top of that. These somewhat bouncy conditions caused several people on board to succumb to bouts of sea sickness during the course of the day. The wind was northerly at about 15 knots in the morning and increased to perhaps 20 or 25 knots during the day.

    Trip Summary

    As we departed Sydney Heads with about 25 local, interstate and overseas birders on board, there were not the usual large numbers of shearwaters foraging in the inshore zone. However, as we motored north to look for perhaps a Streaked or Buller's Shearwater, we came across a large pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins feeding on a school of fish (Australian Salmon perhaps) and being accompanied by large numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and several Flesh-footed Shearwaters. Despite our best efforts we failed to find anything else, although an obliging Pomarine Jaeger did some close passes over our heads, and so we set off for the continental shelf break and the underwater sea mount known as Brown's Mountain.

    Our long journey out through the Abysmal Plain produced very few birds with just a few Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and a couple of long distance Short-tailed Shearwaters. Another pod of Common Dolphins joined us and rode on our bow wave for a while and then, as we reached the shelf break, small numbers of Great-winged Petrels began to show. As we slowed down upon reaching Brown's Mountain, we were amazed to see a large albatross approaching which we assumed would be a Wanderer (quite unexpected in 24 deg C water temperatures) but, as it passed within 50 metres of the back of the boat, the pure white body, all dark upper wings and somewhat dainty head with a gentle sloping forehead revealed it to be an adult Northern Royal
    Albatross. After the first recorded Northern Royal from the Halicat on October 5, 2008 it was amazing to see another and in the month of March.

    Berleying operations now began and almost immediately we had a fly by Wandering Albatross (gibsoni) but it was quickly becoming apparent that the birds were not hungry and were not interested in our food supply. A distant pale pterodroma caused frustration since it was too far away and conditions were too bouncy to get a good look at it - probably a White-necked Petrel but not seen well enough to go on the record. An early returning Providence Petrel was picked up amongst the Great-winged Petrels, one of three seen on the trip. With nothing coming to our berley slick we decided to motor along the edge of the shelf break and see what we could find. A pod of Oceanic Bottle-nosed Dolphin provided some entertainment and some birders had fun catching Striped Tuna on the lures that we trolled behind the boat. However, all attention was back to birds when we flushed a tropicbird off the sea and, when it resettled nearby, we slowly approached it and had great views and photo opportunities as we recorded our second big rarity of the day, an immature White-tailed Tropicbird. After this excitement, things were again quiet but a twenty minute tussle (successful) with a 14kg mahi mahi provided the evening's fresh fish meal for many on board!

    A couple more Wandering Albatross and another Pomarine Jaeger were added to the tally (together with several flying fish which are always fun to see) and then it was time to set off back to Sydney. No new bird species were seen on the way back but a juvenile Green Turtle was seen by some of the birders on board. It was not a day with a large number of bird species recorded but the two major rarities sent us home very contented with a great day on the water.

    Bird List
    (Note that numbers in parenthesises represent the maximum numbers seen at any one time)

    Providence Petrel 3 (1)
    Great-winged Petrel 45 (5)
    Wedge-tailed Shearwater 500 (150)
    Short-tailed Shearwater 2 (1)
    Flesh-footed Shearwater 60 (4)
    Wandering Albatross 3 (1)
    all gibsoni
    Northern Royal Albatross 1 (1)
    White-tailed Tropicbird 1 (1)
    Pomarine Jaeger 3 (1)
    Silver Gull 120 (40)
    Crested Tern 2 (1)

    Other Sightings

    Short-beaked Common Dolphin 80
    Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin 20
    Green Turtle 1

    Next Sydney pelagic trip will be on Saturday 11 April, 2009 departing Mosman Ferry Wharf at 0645 and Rose Bay Public Wharf at 0700.

    Call Hal on 0411 311 236 to make a reservation.