SYDNEY PELAGIC TRIP REPORT April 11, 2009
Anyone perusing the bird list for this pelagic trip might assume that it was perhaps a boring and uneventful day, but nothing could be further from the truth. Firstly it must be said that pelagic trips are never boring (quiet sometimes, but not boring!) but this one was a cracker of a day on the water. The ocean was a flat calm all day which does keep the birds from flying to an extent but, on the other hand, you get great looks and photographs of birds in perfect conditions. We had a White-faced Storm-Petrel 'dibbling' the surface 10 metres ahead of the Halicat while we travelled almost a kilometre - the bird being totally unconcerned with our presence and unaware that at least 200 photographs were being taken! We had great cetaceans at close quarters, we had loads of flying fish taking off close to the boat and planning for great distances, and we even had a beautiful 90kg blue marlin caught and released by our skipper Craig.
The weather was warm for the time of year reaching about 24 deg C, with a mixture of cloud and sun all day. Water temperature inshore was 19.2 deg C but, when we reached the shelf break, the water was a deep cobalt blue and, at 24.4 deg C, was as warm as we have ever encountered. We departed Rose Bay wharf at 07.10am and returned at 3.40pm travelling in calm sea conditions throughout the trip with perhaps a 0.5 metre swell. Winds were very light and variable mostly from the north.
Since the conditions were benign and we suspected that berleying at our usual location on Brown's Mountain might be unproductive, we decided to take a different path to the shelf by heading north to Long Reef, east to the shelf and then south to Brown's Mountain travelling at reasonably slow speeds to enable good looks at any avian life en route. We had a small contingent of birders on board but the low numbers were compensated for by the high level of enthusiasm. As we headed north along the shoreline, we encountered reasonable numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, a few Australasian Gannets recently returned from their breeding activities in the south, and then a stunning view of a Hutton's Shearwater which planed across the back of the boat and landed in the wake. Shortly after turning east into deeper water, we came across a lone adult Black-browed Albatross resting on the water and a close approach gave excellent views to all. A Fluttering Shearwater flew past at close range providing a good opportunity to clearly see the plumage differences between our two small shearwaters. The journey across the Abysmal Plain was more interesting than usual in that there were steady sightings of birds all the way to the shelf break. A few Flesh-footed Shearwaters were picked out amongst the more numerous Wedge-taileds, our first Wilson's Storm-Petrel came past close to the boat and then we encountered our first cetaceans of the day, a pod of about 10 Risso's Dolphins which allowed us to approach close enough to get excellent views. Flying fishes began to appear on a regular basis and we marvelled at how far these fish can 'fly' - an estimated 100 metres in some cases.
As we approached the shelf break, we had our greatest surprise of the day when an early Fairy Prion came by just after we had seen a flying fish – it seemed an unlikely combination! However, three more Fairy Prions shortly afterwards confirmed that the first one was not just a lost individual. As we turned south along the edge of the shelf break, we found a group of about 40 Short-finned Pilot Whales which were consorting with some 20 lounging Oceanic Bottle-nosed Dolphins. A few Providence Petrels began to appear and we then flushed a group of five Wilson's Storm-Petrels from the water. As we approached Brown's Mountain, we came across our first White-faced Storm-Petrel of the day, another lone Black-browed Albatross (an immature bird this time) and our only Great-winged Petrel for the trip. A frustrating long range rear view of a pale grey pterodroma with a 'V' pattern across its back indicated that we had probably seen a Kermadec Petrel but the view was not good enough to record it on the trip list.
After a fruitless half hour of berleying at Brown's Mountain, we decided to motor slowly back towards Sydney with some trolling lures out the back. One of these was hit hard shortly afterwards and after a 10 minute struggle, Craig was able to unhook and release a beautiful 90kg blue marlin. Two separate groups of Short-beaked Common Dolphins rode on our bow wave on the way back but no new bird species were added to the list. It was remarkable to find that large numbers of Australasian Gannets had gathered outside Sydney Heads since our departure in the morning with one single group on the water numbering 33 individuals. After dropping off the Rose Bay passengers, those travelling across to Mosman had a further treat when we came across five Little Penguins just resting on the water and ignoring passing ferries and our close approach. We had remarkable views of these lovely little birds and it capped off a great day.
(Note that numbers in parenthesises represent the maximum numbers seen at any one time)
Little Penguin 5 (5)
Providence Petrel 14 (2)
Great-winged Petrel 1 (1)
Fairy Prion 4 (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 280 (50)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 60 (4)
Fluttering Shearwater 1 (1)
Hutton's Shearwater 3 (1)
Black-browed Albatross 3 (1)
Yellow-nosed Albatross 1 (1)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 14 (5)
White-faced Storm-Petrel 4 (2)
Australasian Gannet 60 (33)
Silver Gull 120 (40)
Crested Tern 8 (2)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin 40
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin 20
Risso's Dolphin 10
Short-finned Pilot Whale 40
Flying fish 30
Next Sydney pelagic trip will be on Saturday 9 May, 2009 departing Mosman Ferry Wharf at 0645 and Rose Bay Public Wharf at 0700.
Call Hal on 0411 311 236 to make a reservation.