• Saturday 22nd August 2015, Sydney, Pelagic Trip Report, Sydney, NSW, Australia

    22nd August 2015 Report

    Overview

    This trip was a re-run of the 8 August trip that had been postponed due to poor conditions offshore (wave heights had been reported at 5.5 metres by the offshore wave recording buoys apparently). As Roger McGovern was otherwise engaged, I was co-opted in to write the trip report apologies if some of the usual details are lacking! We were fortunate to have a nice sunny day with a reasonable NE breeze running which we hoped would get the birds moving. The wind was forecast to increase in strength across the day, but this did not seem to eventuate.

    In the end, it was a quiet trip with both numbers and species count quite low, with only 14 species identified outside the heads. The highlights were two separate Northern Giant Petrels, one of which fed hungrily at the boat at our last burley stop, and good numbers of Fairy Prions seen from quite close inshore to our furthest out point.

    TRIP SUMMARY

    The MV Avalon departed from Rose Bay at about 7am with 23 birders on board, comprising a mix of local and visiting birders. We departed the Heads shortly thereafter in bright sunshine, seas of about 1.0 to 1.5m and moderate northerly breezes. The berley trail was started not long after we left the heads and at first seemed to hold no interest for the small groups of Fluttering Shearwaters and several loose groups of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters that we had encountered moving southwards. After about 5 minutes of berleying, it was as if a switch had been flicked and a mixed group of birds suddenly materialised in our wake. The group was mostly Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Silver Gulls, supplemented by sporadic stops from Fluttering Shearwaters (which normally ignore the trail), 2 Greater Crested Terns and 2 immature Black-browed Albatross. We were surprised that a big group of following birds did not attract a Brown Skua, which we expected to be around at this time of year.


    As we moved out, we saw several Australasian Gannets in both adult and immature plumage (passing us at height and close to the water) and we started to encounter small groups of Fairy Prion. Our trail was joined by an immature Shy Albatross and then four or five Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross. We crossed the path of a small pod of Short-beaked Bottlenose Dolphins, but they were hunting and not interested in the boat. We motored out to the continental shelf drop off, arriving there at around 10.30am. At some point as we approached deeper water, we had a sudden flat spot in both the wind and swell and the following birds dropped away. The numbers of birds stayed down for the rest of the trip. On the way out, an Antipodean Albatross did a fly-by heading the other way and did not stop to allow extended observation.
    We did not go to Browns Mountain on this trip. The expectation of a rising NE wind for the homeward trip meant we headed further north than usual to make the passage home at least across the wind rather than into it. Also it was expected that there would be few fishing boats out at the mountain in the conditions. We drifted at our first deep water location setting up a berley trail. We picked up our first Providence Petrels at this location and another Antipodean Albatross came past, although this one did not linger for long either. The Prions remained in attendance but none showed any signs of being anything other than Fairy Prions. We were joined by some more Shy Albatross, including an adult bird, and more Black-browed and Yellow-nosed Albatross. We finally managed to pick out a small shearwater that qualified as a Huttons Shearwater.


    After about 45 minutes of drifting, we motored north where we did another berley drift. This second drift produced at least two Great-winged Petrels to add to the list, as well as more Providence Petrels, shearwaters, Fairy Prions, a second Huttons Shearwater and various Albatross. Towards the end of this drift, a Northern Giant-Petrel materialised from the downwind side as if from nowhere, and settled on the slick some way from the boat. I had been watching closely downwind so quite how I missed something as big as a Giant-Petrel coming in was a surprise! However, its arrival showed that the smell from the berley trail was working which also led us to conclude that there were no storm-petrels around in that part of the sea given their acute sense of smell.


    We set off homewards at about 12.30pm and tried a third berley drift closer in at about 1:30. This stop produced nothing new for the day, although it did attract a second Northern Giant-Petrel that settled in right next to the boat and feasted on the berley, allowing good views of the orangey bill-tip. At all three berley stops, the numbers of birds was low, with perhaps no more than 30 birds close by at times.


    After exhausting the berley, we headed back to shore, arriving back at Rose Bay at 3.45pm after brief stops to look at an unidentified fur-seal and to watch some whales close inshore. As we came back to the heads some larger groups of Fluttering Shearwaters were seen heading north. Although the wind had not got up as much as expected, the trip back was a bit bouncy and those on the rear starboard benches enjoyed plenty of spray. However, no-one on board succumbed to seasickness (or not that I saw anyway). With fourteen bird species recorded for the trip, it was perhaps a slightly below average sort of winter trip. Perhaps more disappointing was the number of birds was also down we were certainly never surrounded by birds when drifting as can occur sometimes. Nonetheless, it was, as always an absorbing day on the water.

    BIRD LIST

    (Note that the numbers in parentheses represent the approximate maximum number of that species in view at one time)
    Black-browed Albatross 15 (5)
    Shy Albatross 6 (3)
    Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 25 (10)
    Northern Giant Petrel 2 (1)
    Fairy Prion 50 (10)
    Providence Petrel 10 (5)
    Great-winged Petrel 2 (1)
    Fluttering Shearwater 200 (60)
    Hutton's Shearwater 2 (1)
    Australasian Gannet 40 (10)
    Silver Gull 120 (20)
    Greater Crested Tern 8 (3)


    OTHER

    Humpback Whale 5
    Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin 10
    Fur Seal sp. 1


    If you are interested in pelagic trips, all details of dates and contact details for making bookings are in the Sydney Pelagics website at http://www.sydneypelagics.info and you can also find details on Facebook and post photos at https://www.facebook.com/sydneypelagics