SYDNEY PELAGIC TRIP REPORT – SATURDAY 13 AUGUST 2016
With last month’s regular trip being cancelled and rescheduled due to bad weather, it was good to resume normal operations on the second Saturday of the month in superb winter weather conditions. The weather had been reasonably settled during the past week and the forecast was for a day of slight seas and light winds. In the event, the seas were a bit choppier than expected and the wind did not drop off during the morning as had been forecast – however, nobody was sea sick and the weather stayed sunny throughout the trip. We had a good mix of winter birds with good numbers and diversity of albatross and, although there were no rarities, it was a very enjoyable and interesting day on the water. Notable events on the trip were two early returning Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (first record of spring for NSW), six species of albatross and a breaching Minke Whale which was a first sighting for many on board. We recorded five Wilson’s Storm Petrels and, after Greg McLachlan examined all the historical trip reports for Sydney, Wollongong and Port Stephens, we believe this to be the first record of this species in NSW in August, a statistic that completely surprised me. It would be interesting to know whether this is an indicator of the species movements in the winter months or is just a random quirk caused by the small amount of data gathered.
The weather was cool with bright sunshine and 10 -15 knot south westerlies for most of the day which gave quite benign sea conditions closer to shore but up to a 2 metre chop further out and the water temperature was around 19.5degC. We departed through the Heads at around 7.35am, motored out to Brown’s Mountain some 22.5NM ESE of the Heads arriving there at 10.20am, then drifted for two hours until it was time to head back to shore. We normally spend some time motoring into deeper water off the shelf but we deemed the choppy conditions would make things uncomfortable for the observers and stayed on the drift for the entire time on the shelf break. We arrived back at Rose Bay Wharf at 3.35pm.
Juvenile Campbell Albatross. Photo: Jodi Osgood
We left the Rose Bay Wharf at 7.15am with 22 passengers on the MV Avalon IV with a mixture of regulars and first timers and an overseas birder from Poland. Before we reached the Heads, we had a following of Silver Gulls feeding on our fish offal and a single Little Penguin was seen distantly by Steve Anyon-Smith but we considered it too hard to find in the chop and did not stop to relocate it. Once through the Heads, we were quickly joined by a number of Black-browed Albatross and Greater Crested Terns and a number of Australasian Gannets came by to see what all the activity was about. A Hutton’s Shearwater was well seen followed by several Fluttering Shearwater and the first of several Brown Skuas joined the feeding throng. We were somewhat surprised when a early returning Wedge-tailed Shearwater came by the boat but it did not linger and must not have been hungry. At 12NM from the Heads, we had our first major excitement of the day when Steve spotted a whale blowing just ahead of the boat and it promptly breached showing itself to be a Minke Whale – it showed a few more times but was moving too quickly for us to follow it.
The first Shy Albatross of the day was a newly fledged NZ White-capped (ssp steadi) in fresh plumage and a lovely grey head and around the same time we began to see Fairy Prions at regular intervals – despite best efforts we could not pick any Antarctics or Slender-billeds which we had expected after last weekend’s Port Stephens trip. Our first Campbell Albatross of the day was an immature bird but old enough to have a distinctive pale eye and at around the same time the first and only Buller’s Albatross joined us followed by the first of many Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross. As we arrived at the shelf break at Brown’s Mountain, the first Providence Petrel came past but it did not stay around the boat as was the case with all Providence Petrels on the day. A few minutes after starting the drift and setting out the oil slick, a White-faced Storm Petrel was well seen on the slick and stayed around for several minutes – this is a species that we seem to see much less often than in the past and was my first record since November 2014. The only wandering type albatross of the day joined the boat and stayed with us for over an hour – it was a gibsoni ssp of Antipodean Albatross under the IOC taxonomy which is a label that I am not very happy with as it bears little resemblance to its nominate species form. Our final new avian species of the day was a Wilson’s Storm Petrel and we saw several more during the duration of the drift.
Minke Whale. Photo: Jodi Osgood
On the way back to shore, we spotted a large flock of feeding Australasian Gannets and motored over to see what else might be around. We were joined by a pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins which swam with the boat and, swimming with them, was a brightly lit Striped Marlin spotted by Steve. The gannets were catching small baitfish called Sauries and the water was heaving with the swirls of Yellowfin Tuna which were also hunting the Sauries. This magical scene was capped off by seeing a group of four Humpback Whales travelling through the area of activity. We later sighted two fur seals in the water and most observers had good views of two Little Penguins as we came back in through the Heads which was a good end to an entertaining day on the water.
(Note that the numbers in parentheses represent the approximate maximum number of that species in view at any one time)
Little Penguin 3 (2)
Wilson’s Storm Petrel 5 (1)
White-faced Storm Petrel 1 (1)
Antipodean Albatross 1 (1) ssp gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross 45 (30)
Campbell Albatross 4 (2)
Shy Albatross 5 (1) one juvenile steadi (White-capped Albatross)
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 38 (25)
Buller’s Albatross 1 (1)
Fairy Prion 14 (2)
Providence Petrel 8 (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 2 (1)
Fluttering Shearwater 25 (15)
Hutton’s Shearwater 20 (12)
Fluttering-type Shearwaters 40
Australasian Gannet 110 (90)
Silver Gull 120 (70)
Greater Crested Tern 11 (6)
Brown Skua 6 (4)
Minke Whale 1
Humpback Whale 4
Short-beaked Common Dolphin 60
Striped Marlin 1
Fur Seal (sp) 2
All information on our trips including dates and contact details can be found in the website at www.sydneypelagic.info and you can also find us on Facebook and post photos at https://www.facebook.com/sydneypelagics