SYDNEY PELAGIC TRIP REPORT September 30, 2006
This trip was a private charter for Field Guides Inc. led by John Coons. Steve Anyon-Smith and Roger McGovern were on board to provide assistance to the group.
A cool Sydney spring day with mostly bright sunshine but with a south easterly change shortly after departing Sydney Heads. The change brought some localised heavy cloud and showers together with the incredible sight of no less than four waterspouts.
Water temperature was consistently between 19 deg C and 20 deg C from the heads to the shelf break
Departed at 0730 and returned at 1330.
1.0m sea on a 1.5m swell initially but increasing to a 3.0m sea as the south easterly winds kicked in.
Initially westerly breeze of 5-10knots increasing to a 25knot south easterly after the change had passed through.
This trip turned out to be extremely interesting for a number of reasons including the weather, numbers of bird species and of birds, a terrific rarity and, most of all, for a bird that Steve Anyon-Smith and this observer could not identify.
We left Sydney Heads in a fairly benign westerly breeze but the heavy black clouds to the east indicated that the forecast south easterly change was upon us. As we approached these rather foreboding clouds, we saw a number of waterspouts form, some complete and others just 'reaching down' from the underside of the cloud base - it was a spectacular sight.
For the first few miles from the heads we saw good numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, groups of Short-tailed Shearwaters on their way south, and just a few Fluttering Shearwaters. As we passed through the 'Abysmal Plain' en route to the shelf break, the sea conditions deteriorated noticeably and we saw few birds - just a fly by Black-browed Albatross, a Wandering Albatross and a brief view of a Brown Skua. When we reached Brown's Mountain, we cut the engines and began to berley in fairly high sea conditions, but the large numbers of birds made up for the discomfort. We quickly had good numbers of Wandering Albatross around the boat (all gibsoni and one exulans) along with plenty of Great-winged Petrels and smaller numbers of Providence Petrels. Shortly afterwards, Cape Petrels put in an appearance along with a very confiding Northern Giant Petrel and singles of Sooty Shearwater and Flesh-footed Shearwater. After an hour or so, storm petrels began to arrive with firstly a Wilson's followed a little later by a White-faced. We then had a visit from a 'Fregetta' which was frustratingly difficult to see well at first because it stayed at some distance up the slick and the sea conditions did not allow long looks - a split second and then it was behind a big swell again. However, it eventually circled around and made a good close pass in good light, and we could immediately see the clean white belly and lack of foot projection beyond the tail which pegged it as a WHITE-BELLIED STORM-PETREL, a first for the Halicat and for all observers on board.
The drive back to Sydney was slow and a bit uncomfortable but, as we approached the heads, we could see immense flocks of shearwaters on the water chasing schools of Australian Salmon, which in turn were chasing baitfish. We motored over to see if there was anything unusual in these huge flocks which comprised mostly Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, some Short-tailed Shearwaters and a few Silver Gulls. As one group of birds lifted off, we noticed that there was a gull which was the same size as a Silver Gull but which had a totally different plumage in that the plumage appeared speckled black and white (a little in the manner of the upperparts of Cape Petrel) and the primaries and primary coverts were very dark. Bearing in mind that the seas were running at 3-4meters and that we couldn't get very close to this bird, it was difficult for anyone on board to get a really good 'read'. A brief look that I had of the head was that it seemed to be all pale but with a small 'dirty' patch around the eye and I had the impression of a robust bill rather than a slender one. Other observers thought that the tail was a little wedge shaped and there was no terminal or sub-terminal band. A Swedish birder on board tried to get some long distanced photos of the bird and we will see if these show anything useful. We eventually lost track of the bird in the huge flocks and it was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, so the search was called off.
(Note that numbers in parenthesises represent the maximum numbers seen at any one time)
Little Penguin 2 (2)
Northern Giant-Petrel 1 (1)
Cape Petrel 8 (4)
Great-winged Petrel 50 (15)
Providence Petrel 30 (5)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 2000 (1500)
Sooty Shearwater 1 (1)
Short-tailed Shearwater 600 (50)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 1 (1)
Fluttering Shearwater 12 (3)
Wandering Albatross 16 (12) gibsoni plus one exulans
Black-browed Albatross 4 (1)
Yellow-nosed Albatross 4 (2)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 2 (1)
White-faced Storm-Petrel 2 (1)
WHITE-BELLIED STORM-PETREL 1 (1) pale morph
Australasian Gannet 12 (3)
Brown Skua 1 (1)
Silver Gull 100 (40)
Crested Tern 20 (6)
Next Sydney pelagic trip will be on Saturday 14 October, 2006 departing Mosman Ferry Wharf at 0645 and from Rose Bay Public Wharf at 0700.
Call Hal on 0411 311 236 to make a reservation