SYDNEY PELAGIC TRIP REPORT May 9, 2009
With the Wedge-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwaters having departed Sydney's coastal waters for a few months, bird numbers on this trip were well down on the norm particularly since the warm water temperatures seemed to have delayed the arrival of some of our winter visitors. However, it was a fascinating day on the water with a major rarity in the form of a Westland Petrel and what is becoming almost a non-rarity off Sydney and Wollongong these days, two Buller's Albatross. Another curiosity of the day was that we saw only four shearwaters during the entire trip, but they were of four different species! Sixteen species were recorded for the day and a frustratingly distant pterodroma that may have been a Kermadec Petrel could have made it seventeen.
The weather was fine and sunny for most of the day with the maximum air temperature reaching about 21 deg C. Sea water temperature inshore was 21.5 deg C and, surprisingly, did not vary much offshore dropping to 21.3 deg C at the shelf break. We departed Rose Bay at 07.15am and returned at 3.45pm and travelled in a moderate 1.5metre south easterly swell all day with perhaps a 1 metre sea on top of that. Conditions were therefore quite reasonable and there was only one serious case of sea-sickness on board. The wind started in the west and backed around to the south during the day and was a consistent 10 knots all day.
A good contingent of 24 local, interstate and overseas birders departed Sydney Heads with high expectations of a good day since conditions appeared ideal. However, there was almost a complete absence of birdlife in the inshore zone with just a few Australasian Gannets and a couple of Black-browed Albatross to stir the interest. As we passed the five mile mark, a Hutton's Shearwater flew obligingly across our bow and, a little later, a brief view of a Wilson' Storm-Petrel was had by some of the onboard observers. Things remained quiet out to the shelf break but, just before reaching Brown's Mountain, a Wandering Albatross (gibsoni) flew past giving everyone good views, but it was the only one of the day. A flying fish showed that our water temperatures were still high and one or two Providence Petrels began to appear. Just before stopping for our first berleying drift, a couple of birders on the upper deck sighted a Buller's Albatross but were unable to alert the others in time to get on to it. Small numbers of Yellow-nosed Albatross put in an appearance and some of these settled on our berley slick. Several Wilson's Storm-Petrels came and investigated the slick and then we had a fly-by Shy Albatross, again the only one of the day. As we motored back up the slick to start a second drift, far distant views of a pale pterodroma were had by several observers but the views were such that it could only go down as a 'possible' Kermadec Petrel.
As we commenced our second drift, we were visited by a second (or possibly a return of the first) Buller's Albatross and this time everyone had good looks at it, although it did not stay around. Shortly after this there was a call from Steve Anyon-Smith of a possible giant petrel approaching. However, it became immediately clear that it was actually a very large and bulky procellaria and, to me, had to be a Westland Petrel. Over the past year or so, we have seen about six Black Petrels from the Halicat and the size differential with the Westland Petrel was very obvious. Subsequent examination of the photographs of this bird showed a bill structure and a dark maxillary unguis that confirmed the identification. (Many thanks to Nevil Lazarus and Christina Port for taking the photographs) A submission will be made to the Birds Australia Rarities Committee.
On the way back to Sydney, we encountered a pair of marlin lounging on the water surface and were then entertained by our only cetaceans of the day in the form of a pod of at least 100 Short-beaked Common Dolphins. A single Short-tailed Shearwater was briefly seen, to be followed by a single Fluttering Shearwater and an over-flying White-fronted Tern. Just before reaching the heads, we encountered our sixteenth species for the day, a very late Wedge-tailed Shearwater - it seemed strange to get excited about a Wedge-tailed! Despite the lack of bird numbers, there was a good diversity and everyone agreed that it was yet another good day on the water.
(Note that numbers in parenthesises represent the maximum numbers seen at any one time)
Providence Petrel 5 (1)
WESTLAND PETREL 1 (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 1 (1)
Short-tailed Shearwater 1 (1)
Fluttering Shearwater 1 (1)
Hutton's Shearwater 1 (1)
Wandering Albatross 1 (1)
Black-browed Albatross 6 (1)
Yellow-nosed Albatross 13 (4)
Shy Albatross 1 (1)
BULLER'S ALBATROSS 2 (1)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 7 (3)
Australasian Gannet 23 (5)
Silver Gull 50 (15)
Crested Tern 16 (6)
White-fronted Tern 1 (1)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin 100
Flying fish 1
Next Sydney pelagic trip will be on Saturday 13 June, 2009 departing Mosman Ferry Wharf at 0645 and Rose Bay Public Wharf at 0700.
Call Hal on 0411 311 236 to make a reservation.