• Sunday 10th December 2016, Sydney Pelagic Trip Report, Sydney, NSW, Australia

    Our final pelagic trip for the calendar year almost ended up being cancelled for weather as five previous trips in 2016 had been – an unprecedented occurrence. Very strong southerlies on Thursday and Friday had finally given way to much lighter winds for the trip but we had to deal with the legacy of a very large southerly swell with some of the larger ones estimated at 7 metres in height. The ride out to the shelf was surprisingly acceptable but some passengers found the high walls of water coming towards the boat to be a little intimidating. We had a brief shower of rain as we departed the Heads but the day developed into a pleasant Sydney early summer day with blue skies and warm temperatures. The water temperature was around 21degC and the large swells offshore were diminishing noticeably in the afternoon as we neared the coast on our return journey.

    Grey-faced Petrel. Photo: Greg McLachlan.

    We departed from Rose Bay at 7.10am with only 14 passengers on board, our worst turn out of the year presumably due to the proximity of the festive season. As we left the harbour and headed out into the big swells, it became apparent once again that the birds were well fed and not interested in our berley trail. The deckhand said that there has been an abundance of bait fish out near the shelf break for several weeks and that the birds and cetaceans have been very well fed, as have the predatory fish species. As we tracked out in the gloom and light rain, there were a number of passing Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and, surprisingly to me, several small groups of Short-tailed Shearwaters migrating southwards. With egg laying generally occurring in the Bass Strait colonies in late November, it could be that these late migrating birds are non-breeders. A couple of Hutton’s Shearwaters passed close to the boat and a little later, a small group of Fluttering Shearwaters were well seen. Small groups of Short-tailed Shearwaters continued to stream past the boat and Steve (who was braving the swells at the front of the boat) saw a Pomarine Jaeger which flew up from the water – we were to see a couple more of this species later in the trip. Our first albatross of the day, a juvenile Shy Albatross of the NZ sub-species steadi came past the boat about 90 minutes after leaving the heads and this proved to be the first of a steady number of this species seen during the day. A single Flesh-footed Shearwater suddenly put in a cameo appearance near the back of the boat and promptly disappeared – it was the only one seen during the trip. Around 7 or 8 miles short of the shelf break we had the first real excitement of the day as Steve spotted an all dark albatross some distance from the boat and going away. A couple of people saw the bird before the huge swells caused it to disappear from view and the feeling was that it was very likely a Light-mantled Albatross but, frustratingly, it can only be a possibility. An immature Black-browed Albatross showed up amongst the far more numerous Shy’s and a couple of poor views of Wilson’s Storm Petrels were had by some from the moving boat. Another moment of excitement came when a small, pale cookilaria petrel was spotted, again at some distance and, again, going away from the boat and disappearing behind the swells – the consensus was that it was most likely a Cook’s Petrel but this could not be confirmed.

    Shy Albatrosses. Photo: Hal Epstein

    As we approached the shelf drop off at Brown’s Mountain, Steve spotted a marlin swimming with the boat just off the starboard bow and most observers had a good view of its dorsal fin cutting through the water. For the first time in 25 years of going on these trips, I had to have a discussion with the skipper to decide whether it would be safe to drift and berley in the big swells. We agreed to drift with motors on idle to keep the bow to the oncoming swells and, when that worked satisfactorily, we cut the engines and drifted for an hour or so. We had a good numbers of Shy Albatross coming in to the berley trail together with immature and sub-adult Black-browed Albatross. The odd Grey-faced Petrel came to visit and small numbers of Wilson’s Storm Petrels which came close to the boat were well seen by all. With seas not really improving at all and with no new species seen for a while, we decided to head back a little earlier than normal and arrived back at Rose Bay a little after 3.00pm. On the way in, a few people got on to a Sooty Shearwater and Steve spotted a Little Penguin as we came in through the Heads – with large swells and busy boating traffic, we decided not to stop and relocate it. It was not really a classic day at sea but it could have been different if those two rarities had been properly seen and photographed.

    (Note that the numbers in parentheses represent the approximate maximum number of that species in view at any one time)

    Little Penguin – 1 (1)
    Wilson’s Storm Petrel - 9 (5)
    (Light-mantled Albatross -1 (1) an individual possibly of this species not seen well enough for positive identification)
    Black-browed Albatross – 5 (2) four immature birds and one sub-adult
    Shy Albatross – 28 (15) all believed to ‘White-capped Albatross’ with a mixture of adults and juvenile birds
    Grey-faced Petrel – 4 (1)
    (Cook’s Petrel – 1 (1) an individual possibly of this species not seen well enough for positive identification)
    Wedge-tailed Shearwater - 60 (6)
    Sooty Shearwater – 1 (1)
    Short-tailed Shearwater - 140 (50)
    Flesh-footed Shearwater – 1 (1)
    Fluttering Shearwater – 7 (3)
    Hutton’s Shearwater – 5 (3)
    Silver Gull – 40 (12)
    Greater Crested Tern - 1 (1)
    Pomarine Jaeger – 3 (1)

    Marlin sp 1

    The first Sydney pelagic trip in 2017 will be on Saturday 11 February and all details of our trips and contact details are shown in the website at www.sydneypelagic.info and you can also find us on Facebook and post photos at https://www.facebook.com/sydneypelagics

    Roger McGovern.