SYDNEY PELAGIC TRIP REPORT Saturday November 14, 2009
After missing several pelagic charters over the past few weeks due to unavoidable prior commitments (I know - nothing should get in the way of a pelagic trip...!), I was itching to get out on the water and this beautiful early summer day did not disappoint. Although, there were no great avian rarities, with Black Petrel being the best bird of the day, we recorded a total of 19 species which is a good total for the Sydney pelagic trip. The real highlight of the day was that we equalled our record of six cetacean species in a day and the encounter that we had with a big group of Sperm Whales in deep water east of Brown's Mountain was truly memorable – the first time in three years that we have seen this species.
The weather for the day comprised mostly clear sunny skies with warm air temperatures reaching the high 20's on land but probably only low 20's offshore. Water temperature at Sydney Heads was 18.3degC and it became progressively warmer as we travelled eastward, reaching 19.1 deg C at the 10 mile and as high as 20.3 deg C beyond the shelf break. We departed from Rose Bay at 7.05am and returned at 4.10pm. After a strong southerly blow on the day before, the wind had dropped off to a light westerly which backed around to the north east in the afternoon and picked up strength again. Conditions on board were quite comfortable with a half metre sea on a one metre swell for most of the day, getting up to a one metre plus sea with the afternoon north easterly.
We departed Sydney Heads on a glorious sunny morning with a small but enthusiastic group of local, interstate and overseas birders on board numbering about 18. One of the most enthusiastic was avid underwater photographer Professor Rob Harcourt, Director of Marine Science at Macquarie University, who was hoping to get into the water and film the albatross from below, if we got good numbers to the berley at Brown's Mountain. The trip had already got off to a good start with very obliging Little Penguins showing well right at Rose Bay Wharf. As we left the heads, it was apparent that there were not huge numbers of birds inshore and we picked up good numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, small groups of Short-tailed Shearwaters still flying south (although surely these would be first year non-breeders this late in the spring), a Crested Tern, our only two Australasian Gannets of the day, and small numbers of both Hutton's and Fluttering Shearwaters.
As we approached the 10 Mile gravels, we encountered our first albatross of the day, an immature Black-browed Albatross and then, not long after, our first Wandering Albatross in the form of a resplendent 'Snowy Albatross' the nominate sub-species exulans. As the shelf break began, some 5NM short of Brown's Mountain, we came across some very active cetacean feeding activity. Firstly, we had great looks at a pod of about 20 Risso's Dolphins, a lone large old Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin came to ride on our bow and then, after we stopped for a look around, a group of three Pygmy Killer Whales were seen at quite close quarters. Just as we were about to continue eastwards, a pod of four Humpback Whales was seen a kilometre to the west of us but, although we backtracked and waited around for a while, they could not be relocated - however, four cetacean species seen within a few minutes was quite exceptional.
As we approached Brown's Mountain, our first pterodromas began to appear with Great-winged Petrels at first and then a few late-lingering Providence Petrels. A couple more Wandering Albatross were keeping company with the recreational fishing boats and a distant Giant Petrel was seen, which unfortunately never approached closely enough to be identified to species. As we cut the motors to start our berley drift, two Black Petrels came to the boat and gave everyone excellent views and photographs. Although conditions appeared to be ideal, the slick did not attract large numbers of birds - we had visits from Black-browed and Wandering Albatross (including a stunning Campbell form of Black-browed), a couple of Wilson's Storm-Petrels, Flesh-footed Shearwaters and a single Cape Petrel. However, none of these birds stayed for very long and Rob's plans to do some underwater photography of albatross were not fulfilled!
After some time, we decided that we would head out into deeper water to see if we could find more birds and, maybe, Sperm Whales since conditions were very good to be able to see these large but somewhat unobtrusive animals. En route, we added our first Shy Albatross and Pomarine Jaeger to the trip list and then, after a period of inactivity, a Sperm Whale blow was seen and we headed over to find numbers of Sperm Whales resting on the surface between their deep dives. It was really interesting to see them resting together side-by-side, facing in the same direction and almost touching - in one case a group of four. Rob decided that he would like some underwater shots and set off with his snorkel and camera - rather him than me was my reaction (remember what happened to Captain Ahab!). One wag suggested that he shouldn't wear his Giant Squid outfit! However, it was fairly anticlimactic as the Sperm Whales just slowly moved away when they saw Rob - but he did get some nice underwater shots.
Our trip back to Sydney, as is often the case, was mostly uneventful but not entirely. As we were about 10 miles off, we had the visit of a pod of Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphins and then, what we had been hoping for, a large pod of about 100 Common Dolphins which brought us to the equal record figure of six cetacean species for the day! Since we still had some berley and buckets of fish scraps on board, we slowed down and started feeding this material over the back of the boat. The response was beyond anything that I have seen in a long time as streams and streams of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (with good numbers of Flesh-footed Shearwaters included) came from everywhere to make a seething mass of thousands of birds for a kilometre behind the boat - it was a fantastic sight and a memorable ending to another great day on the water.
(Note that numbers in parenthesises represent the maximum numbers seen at
any one time)
Little Penguin 4 (4)
Giant-Petrel (species) 1 (1)
Cape Petrel 1 (1)
Great-winged Petrel 30 (3)
Providence Petrel 14 (1)
Black Petrel 2 (2)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 3500 (3000)
Short-tailed Shearwater 190 (20)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 420 (400)
Fluttering Shearwater 4 (2)
Hutton's Shearwater 6 (2)
Wandering Albatross 8 (2) all gibsoni and one exulans
Black-browed Albatross 6 (2) one Campbell Albatross
Shy Albatross 2 (1)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 2 (1)
Australasian Gannet 2 (2)
Pomarine Jaeger 2 (1)
Silver Gull 40 (15)
Crested Tern 3 (1)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin 100
Risso's Dolphin 20
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin 30
Pygmy Killer Whale 3
Humpback Whale 4
Sperm Whale 20
Next Sydney pelagic trip will be on Saturday 12 December, 2009 departing Mosman Ferry Wharf at 0645 and Rose Bay Public Wharf at 0700.
Call Hal on 0411 311 236 to make a reservation.