With very strong southerly winds prevailing for the previous days before this trip creating some huge seas off Sydney, I was quite concerned that things would not settle down in time for us to get out to sea on Saturday. In the event, the pelagic gods smiled on us ( I could say ‘for a change’ after our five cancelled trips last year!) and we were treated to a day of mostly sunshine and light winds. There had been some good sightings from shore recently (notably a Black-winged Petrel from Mistral Point) and there was a degree of optimism that it would be a good day – certainly March has been a productive month in recent years with tropicbirds being recorded on all March trips since 2010. As it turned out, we saw no tropical species perhaps because the water temperatures had cooled to 24.5degC after the strong southerlies, but we did a have a major rarity in the form of a WHITE-BELLIED STROM PETREL and two lesser rarities in the form of a White-necked Petrel and a Gould’s Petrel. Although the strong winds had largely dissipated, there were still large swells up to 3 or 4 metres and these swells reduced noticeably during the course of the trip and only a couple of people succumbed to mild sea sickness for a while.
Gould's Petrel. Photo: Rob Hynson
After some delays getting into the public wharf at Rose Bay, we finally got underway at 7.30am with a full complement of 23 passengers comprised almost entirely of local birders, and we motored out through the Heads at 7.45am with a throng of hungry Silver Gulls accompanying us. A couple of Great Crested Terns came by as did some juvenile Australasian Gannets and, very soon, we were joined by the first of many very hungry Wedge-tailed Shearwaters which followed the boat all the way out beyond the continental shelf break and back to the Heads in the afternoon! In the gloomy morning overcast, a dark Arctic Jaeger was briefly seen flying away close to the water but most people did not get on to it. We were then joined by our first Pomarine Skua of the day and, in very short time, we had five ‘Pom’s’ around the boat joining in the feeding frenzy. As we continued out towards the 8 mile mark, we started to see the odd Flesh-footed Shearwater amongst all the Wedge-taileds and, every so often, a Fluttering or Hutton’s Shearwater would pass by giving everyone the opportunity to hone their skills on distinguishing the two species. A Short-tailed Shearwater passed by, one of four seen during the course of the day and then, at some unseen signal, all the Silver Gulls dropped off the boat and returned to shore and the Pomarine Skuas all departed at the same time.
White-bellied Storm-petrel. Photo: Jon Spicer-Bell
As we continued out towards the shelf, the pattern remained unchanged for a while and then, a few miles short of Brown’s Mountain, a group of five Shy Albatross joined the feeding shearwaters behind the boat and stayed with us for a couple of hours or so. Just before reaching the shelf break, a shout came from the front of the boat and a Gould’s Petrel appeared on the starboard side at reasonably close range – it did not linger but everyone got good views. As we started our berley drift at Brown’s Mountain, the first of several Grey-faced Petrels put in an appearance and then, a few minutes later, another shout from the front of the boat alerted us to another pterodroma on the starboard side, this time an elegant White-necked Petrel. March is probably the most likely month to see this species but they have been scarce off Sydney in recent years and this was our first in about four years. For me, one of the events of the day was the appearance of an Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross which, although a common species off Sydney, has never before been recorded on a Sydney pelagic in March – it is usually a later arrival in mid-April or so. We stopped our berley drift and decided to head off slowly into deeper water to the east and this tactic was rewarded by the brief appearance of a fregetta storm petrel which was only briefly seen but which was, fortunately, photographed. Rob Hynson had probably the best view of the bird and thought that it was a White-bellied Storm Petrel and the back-of-camera shots in the bright sunshine were not good enough to be certain that it wasn’t the more common Black-bellied Storm Petrel. However, subsequent examination of the photographs that were obtained by Jodi Osgood and Jon Spicer-Bell clearly showed the clear white belly, high level demarcation between the dark lower neck and white breast, and the lack of any toe projection beyond the tail all showing this bird to be a White-bellied Storm Petrel. Rob Hynson will be coordinating a submission to BARC for this species which is rarely seen in coastal mainland Australia. Although we were accompanied by shearwaters and albatross all the way back to Sydney, no new species were added to the trip list and it was disappointing that, unusually, we saw no cetaceans of any sort on the trip. However, with three good rarities, everyone agreed that it had been an enjoyable and productive day on the water.
Many thanks to Jodi Osgood, Jon Spicer-Bell, Hal Epstein and Rob Hynson for supplying the photographs attached to this report.
(note that the number in parentheses represents the approximate maximum number of that species in view at any one time)
WHITE-BELLIED STORM PETREL 1 (1)
Shy Albatross 8 (5)
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 1 (1)
Grey-faced Petrel 7 (2)
White-necked Petrel 1 (1)
Gould’s Petrel 1 (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 160 (120)
Short-tailed Shearwater 4 (1)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 16 (8)
Fluttering Shearwater 8 (2)
Hutton’s Shearwater 5 (1)
Australasian Gannet 9 (3)
Silver Gull 70 (50)
Greater Crested Tern 5 (2)
Pomarine Skua 5 (5)
Arctic Jaeger 1 (1)
The next Sydney pelagic trip will be on Saturday 8 April, 2017 and all details of our trips and contact details can be found on our website at www.sydneypelagics.info and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sydneypelagics