SYDNEY PELAGIC TRIP REPORT January 13, 2007
Despite initial expectations of low numbers of birders for the first Sydney
pelagic trip of 2007, the Halicat left Rose Bay Wharf with a group of 23 people on board despite the less than ideal weather conditions.
A cool Sydney summer day with overcast conditions throughout with temperatures in a range from 17 deg C to 24 deg C. Water temperature was 21.7 deg C at the shelf break after a curious two week period off Sydney where water temperatures had been at 24 deg C, cooled off to 19 deg C and now seemed to be on the way up again.
Departed at 0705hrs and returned at 1530hrs. 2.5 - 3.5m sea on a 1.5m swell, moderating slightly as the day progressed. Prevailing northerlies over the past few days had given way to a southerly change overnight causing disturbed and somewhat uncomfortable sea conditions. Southerly winds of 25 knots gusting to 35knots in the morning and easing to 20
There is an old adage to the effect that pelagic seabirding is wet, uncomfortable, cold, tiring and sick-inducing, but somebody has to do it. Well, this trip was one of the few in recent times that has reinforced that view. We departed Sydney Heads in a strong southerly blow and lumpy sea conditions. Despite the skipper's best efforts to improve comfort by motoring slowly and avoiding the worst of the waves, some people quickly succumbed to mal-der-mer and, as the trip progressed, a few more gallant birders joined them.
However, as is often the case in windy conditions, the birding was good and the lack of bird numbers was compensated by the good diversity of species. The main surprise inshore was the almost total absence of shearwaters with just a few Wedge-tailedís around. Indeed, there were more Pomarine Jaegers seen than all other species combined for the first few miles. One briefly seen Arctic Skua was the only one for the day and the only other notable bird seen on the way to Brown's Mountain was a passing Shy Albatross which we thought was good for January - but it was to be an unusual day for albatross numbers.
We arrived on the shelf break at Brown's Mountain much later than usual at
10.45, due to the difficult sea conditions, cut motors and began to berley. A good slick was quickly established and the birds began to appear from nowhere with Great-winged Petrels, Flesh-footed and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Pomarine Jaegers being the early arrivals. After some more Shy Albatross fly-bys, we were joined by a magnificent old Wandering Albatross (exulans) in pristine plumage to the great joy of many on board for whom it was their first Wanderer. Not long afterwards, more Wandering Albatross (all gibsoni) joined us and then Steve Anyon-Smith picked up on a huge pod of 150 Pantropical Spotted Dolphins which approached the boat closely enough to give excellent views. The first real rarity of the day to show up was a WHITE TERN which gave acceptable views for everyone despite not lingering. A brief visit from a sub-adult Black-browed Albatross was unheard of for January and this was followed by a Buller's Shearwater which came in on the slick and which was a lifer for several on board. Just before setting off back to Sydney, a Wilson's Storm-Petrel put in an appearance and good views of Hutton's Shearwaters and Short-tailed Shearwaters on the journey home rounded out the tally for the day.
Of particular note for the day were the numbers and species diversity of albatross for January (typically the worst month for albatross off Sydney), probably the biggest count ever from the Sydney boat of Pomarine Jaegers (26) and, of course, the stunning White Tern. In summary, it was a memorable day out on the water for everyone on board despite the difficult sea conditions.
(Note that numbers in parenthesises represent the maximum numbers seen at any one time)
Great-winged Petrel 30 (6)
Buller's Shearwater 1 (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 32 (4)
Short-tailed Shearwater 5 (2)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 10 (3)
Fluttering-type Shearwater 20 (2)
Hutton's Shearwater 3 (1)
Wandering Albatross 6 (5) one exulans and five gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross 1 (1)
Shy Albatross 10 (2)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 1 (1)
Australasian Gannet 2 (1)
Arctic Jaeger 1 (1)
Pomarine Jaeger 26 (7)
Silver Gull 30 (10)
Crested Tern 16 (5)
WHITE TERN 1 (1)
Pantropical Spotted Dolphins 150
Next Sydney pelagic trip will be on Saturday 10 February, 2007 departing Mosman Ferry Wharf at 0645 and from Rose Bay Public Wharf at 0700.
Call Hal on 0411 311 236 to make a reservation