SYDNEY PELAGIC TRIP REPORT July 8, 2006
For the first time in a long while, the Halicat had a full complement of 40
local and international birders together with some whale watchers, this being peak season for the northerly migration of Hump-backed Whales.
A stunning Sydney winter day with bright sunshine and cool temperatures in a range from 8 deg C to 15 deg C.
Water temperature was a consistent 19 deg C from the heads to the shelf break
Departed at 0725 and returned at 1545
1.5m sea on a 2.5m swell, moderating as the day progressed
Fresh south-west winds of 20-25 knots in the morning backing to the north-west and easing to 10 knots later.
Although the 'old hands' on board might have been disappointed with the absence of any rarities, this was a really typical Sydney winter pelagic trip that brought new sightings for many of the observers on the boat. The sea conditions as we went out through the heads were quite lumpy and uncomfortable with several people soon succumbing to the effects of mal-de-mer. A lone Common Dolphin was spotted just inside the heads (the only one of the day) and then, as we headed north along the coast, we encountered several Black-browed Albatross and numbers of Fluttering Shearwaters. We quickly sighted a group of five Hump-backed Whales travelling northwards and despite our efforts to maintain distance from them, they insisted on coming alongside of us and giving everybody memorable sightings. In the same area, we had our only Giant-Petrel of the day but, unfortunately, it did not come close enough to be identified to species. In this inshore area also, we had three White-fronted Terns approach the boat and we were to see two more later out on the edge of the shelf.
The journey out to the shelf was quite slow due to the prevailing sea conditions and, as is usually the case across what we have dubbed the 'Abysmal Plain', few birds were seen except for distant prions, large numbers of Australasian Gannets and occasional Black-browed and Yellow-nosed Albatross.
As we approached Brown's Mountain at the shelf break, the wind began to back to the north west and drop off to 10 knots and sea conditions became noticeably more comfortable. Due to the extended time that it had taken to reach the shelf, we drifted at only one location for about one and a half hours berleying up and setting a good slick. Yellow-nosed and Black-browed Albatross immediately began building up in numbers around the boat and we had occasional fly-bys of Providence Petrels. Two of the Black-browed Albatross feeding by the boat were of the subspecies impavida or Campbell Albatross giving stunning views to all on board. Several Fairy Prions came close to the boat giving the opportunity to note the identification features of this species, and many more prions were seen at greater distances. Wandering Albatross began to appear with two adult gibsonsi settling in to feed and others, including a stunning Stage 1 gibsoni, merely doing fly-bys. Two Shy Albatross put in a brief appearance (one showing characteristics of White-capped Albatross) and several Cape Petrels and a Brown Skua added to the mix of birds around the boat.
All too soon, we had to make our way back to Sydney but we had a couple of interesting non-avion sightings en route. Firstly, Steve's sharp eyes spotted some interesting cetaceans at some distance and, as we approached, we were thrilled to the sight of a group of about 20 Risso's Dolphins spearing towards us like pale torpedoes. Just before reaching Sydney Heads, a large turtle was spotted swimming in the water, a rare occurrence off Sydney let alone in the middle of the winter. Although fairly good views of the turtle with a brown carapace and reddish-brown head were obtained, identification to species was not made although it was almost certainly a Green Turtle.
In summary, it was a memorable day out on the water for everyone on board.
(Note that numbers in parenthesises represent the maximum numbers seen at any one time)
Giant-Petrel (sp) 1 (1)
Cape Petrel 5 (2)
Providence Petrel 6 (2)
Fairy Prion 200 (60)
Fluttering Shearwater 40 (5)
Wandering Albatross 6 (3) all gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross 18 (9) two impavida
Shy Albatross 2 (2) prob one Shy and one White-capped
Yellow-nosed Albatross 10 (6)
Australasian Gannet 90 (40)
Brown Skua 1 (1)
Silver Gull 30 (10)
White-fronted Tern 5 (3)
Crested Tern 4 (2)
Oceanic Common Dolphin 1
Risso's Dolphin 20
Hump-backed Whale 10
Green Turtle (prob) 1
Next Sydney pelagic trip will be on Saturday 12 August, 2006 departing Cremorne Point or Mosman (check ahead with Hal) at 0645 and from Rose Bay at 0700.
Call Hal on 0411 311 236 to make a reservation