SYDNEY PELAGIC TRIP REPORT - SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 11, 2010
After a strong westerly blow on the day before, the wind dropped off overnight to provide a picture-perfect Sydney spring day for our pelagic - albeit, the ride was quite bumpy in the morning with a good swell running. It is always a special day offshore when we record twenty species and we reached this mark late in the day with a Northern Giant-Petrel. Although there were no major rarities, a White-headed Petrel was the first for this year off Sydney and yet another Buller's Albatross record means that we will have to change our mantra of 'the four usual albatross species' to make it five from now on.
Surface water temperatures were down from last month in a narrow range from 15.2 deg C to 15.5 deg C. We departed Rose Bay Ferry Wharf (the public wharf being under repair) at 7.05am and returned at 3.35pm. Sea conditions were quite lumpy with a 1.0m sea on top of a 3.0m swell although this did moderate during the day - and the ride home was quite comfortable with the south-easterly swell giving us some surfing opportunities. Winds were a little stronger than forecast at about 15 knots from the south-west and easing to 10 knots from the south after lunch. Unfortunately, several people succumbed to sea sickness which was a shame because it really was a good day out on the water.
We left Sydney Heads with a complement of only 14 passengers with visitors
from the USA, Canada and the UK together with a contingent of local birders. As we headed out into the 3 metre swell, the ride was reasonably comfortable as the waves were not particularly steep. Our first sightings were some Hutton's Shearwaters (a lot more of this species today than we usually see) and the first returning Wedge-tailed Shearwaters of the spring, although not in great numbers. Despite the fact that there were not large numbers of birds around, there was always something to see all the way out to the shelf and the Abysmal Plain did not live up to its name today. As we motored out, we added Black-browed Albatross (mostly juvenile birds), Australasian Gannets, Brown Skuas, Shy Albatross (mostly juvenile White-capped), Yellow-nosed Albatross and a few Fluttering Shearwaters to the tally. At about the fifteen mile mark, we were visited by a small pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins which rode on our bow for a while - these turned out to be our only dolphins of the day.
As we approached the shelf break, we began to see the odd Providence Petrel and our first Wandering Albatross of the day put in an appearance. A late call on our only Buller's Albatross of the trip resulted in most people getting only distant views of it as it circled around behind the boat refusing to come in any closer. When we started our first drift at Brown's Mountain, there wasn't a bird to be seen and I had some concerns as to how things would turn out. However, the odd albatross and Providence Petrel began to drop in and, after a bit of a wait, we began to get a good flow of birds to the slick. Both White-faced and Wilson's Storm-Petrels gave really good views and a few Great-winged Petrels came in to provide everyone with a good comparison with the more numerous Providence Petrels. After motoring back to the top of the slick and starting a second drift, a couple of Cape Petrels (nominate race capense) put in an appearance followed shortly afterwards by a very obliging Southern Giant-Petrel. An Australian Fur Seal was seen close to the boat but only briefly by a couple of people and then the bird of the day, in the form of a White-headed Petrel came by and was seen by most people on board. September is a peak month for this species but, instead of the five or six birds in a day that we used to see ten years ago, we are lucky to get even one these days - a decline in numbers or just a change of habits?
It was soon time to head back to Sydney and, shortly after leaving Brown's
Mountain, we had our first of two Northern Giant-Petrels of the day, much to the delight of the overseas birding contingent. We came across our first Humpback Whales of the day shortly after leaving the shelf and the two animals showed very well to all on board although there were no gymnastics! Another two pairs that we saw on the way back were not so obliging and the views of these were at greater distance. As we approached Sydney Heads, there were large flocks of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Fluttering/Hutton's Shearwaters feeding around what were almost certainly schools of Australian Salmon and these wheeling birds made for a great spectacle to complete a very enjoyable day.
(Note that the number in parentheses represents the maximum number within sight at one time)
Southern Giant-Petrel 1 (1)
Northern Giant-Petrel 2 (1)
Cape Petrel 3 (1)
Great-winged Petrel 6 (1)
Providence Petrel 30 (3)
White-headed Petrel 1 (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 360 (250)
Fluttering Shearwater 20 (4)
Hutton's Shearwater 40 (6)
Fluttering-type Shearwater 200 (100)
Wandering Albatross 11 (4) all gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross 16 (3) all nominate race
Yellow-nosed Albatross 12 (2)
Shy Albatross 8 (1)
Buller's Albatross 1 (1)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 3 (1)
White-faced Storm-Petrel 4 (1)
Australasian Gannet 10 (5)
Brown Skua 7 (2)
Silver Gull 120 (30)
Crested Tern 15 (4)
Australian Fur Seal 1
Short-beaked Common Dolphin 30
Humpback Whale 6
The next Sydney Pelagic trip will be on Saturday 9 October 2010 departing
Mosman Ferry Wharf at 06.45am and Rose Bay Ferry Wharf at 07.00am.
Call Hal at 0411 311 236 to make a booking.