SYDNEY PELAGIC TRIP REPORT June 13, 2009
With the Humpback Whale northerly migration underway and with the strong north westerly winds of the past few days having subsided, we were looking forward to an interesting and productive day on the water. In the event, although we found no major rarities, it was indeed a great day with large numbers of albatross seen, several Humpbacks (although none of them showing very well) and a respectable total bird species count for the day of sixteen.
The weather was fine and partly cloudy with the maximum air temperature reaching about 16 deg C. Sea water temperature inshore was 17.2 deg C and reached just over 20degC at the shelf break. We departed Rose Bay at 07.35am (due to a late arriving passenger) and returned at 4.15pm and travelled in a moderate 1.5metre south easterly swell all day with only a 0.5metre sea on top of that. Conditions were therefore quite reasonable and there were no cases of sea-sickness on board. The wind started in the north west and became a straight northerly during the day, 10 -15 knots in the morning and dropping off to less than 10 knots in the afternoon.
A good contingent of 24 local, interstate and overseas birders departed Sydney Heads with high expectations of a productive day since conditions appeared to be very good. We initially headed southwards along the coastline to look for whales and found several Black-browed Albatross, a couple of Shy Albatross and an obliging Southern Giant-Petrel in the inshore zone off Maroubra. Two pairs of Humpback Whales were located and we followed each of them for some distance but they appeared very intent on their steady northward journey and did not offer any spectacular displays.
We then set course for Brown's Mountain which is located 22.5NM SSE of Sydney Heads on the continental shelf break. Our passage across the 'Abysmal Plain' was more productive than is often the case with albatross being seen at regular intervals, a large pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins coming in to ride on our bow wave, and a large feeding flock of Australasian Gannets provided a spectacular sight as they dived for fish. As well as the gannets, an Australian Fur Seal was also enjoying the fish meal and gave good photo opportunities. As we continued eastwards, it was noticeable that Yellow-nosed Albatross began to seriously outnumber the Black-browed – a reversal of the relative numbers inshore.
As we approached the shelf break, a Wilson's Storm-Petrel made a brief appearance as did a couple of Fairy Prions and a Sooty Shearwater which was seen by only a couple of observers. We cut the engines at Brown's Mountain and commenced our first drift as we set up the berley trail. Although a few Providence Petrels and our first Wandering Albatross put in an appearance, it seemed surprisingly quiet. The reason became apparent a few minutes later when we saw an approaching trawler surrounded by large numbers of birds, mostly Black-browed, Yellow-nosed and Shy Albatross. We abandoned our drift and followed the trawler a short way before starting a new drift and successfully 'stealing' most of the trawler's birds. We very quickly had a large flock of feeding albatross around the boat with as many as 40 Yellow-nosed at one time - the biggest gathering of this species that I can remember seeing off Sydney. Additionally, we were visited by more Black-browed Albatross (two of them Campbell Island ssp), Shy Albatross, Wandering Albatross (all gibsoni), Wilson's Storm-Petrels, Brown Skuas, a few Cape Petrels, a Buller's Albatross (now a regular bird it seems!), Fairy Prions, our only Northern Giant-Petrel and an obliging Sooty Shearwater which came to feed in the slick. The journey back to Sydney did not bring anything new but everyone on board had an excellent day of seabird watching.
(Note that numbers in parenthesises represent the maximum numbers seen at any one time)
Southern Giant-Petrel 1 (1)
Northern Giant-Petrel 1 (1)
Cape Petrel 4 (1)
Providence Petrel 22 (2)
Fairy Prion 20 (3)
Sooty Shearwater 2 (1)
Wandering Albatross 5 (1) all gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross 45 (12) two impavida
Yellow-nosed Albatross 70 (45)
Shy Albatross 24 (4)
BULLER'S ALBATROSS 1 (1)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 4 (2)
Australasian Gannet 90 (35)
Brown Skua 4 (1)
Silver Gull 50 (15)
Crested Tern 12 (3)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin 60
Australian Fur Seal 1
Humpback Whale 6
Next Sydney pelagic trip will be on Saturday 11 July, 2009 departing Mosman Ferry Wharf at 0645 and Rose Bay Public Wharf at 0700.
Call Hal on 0411 311 236 to make a reservation.