A great autumn day's birding off Sydney with heaps of interesting birds for all on board the Halicat to enjoy. Yes, I know that I always say that, but it was a terrific day despite the uncomfortable sea conditions caused by the persistent southerly of the past few days and which caused 4 or 5 people to suffer some sea-sickness - none seriously. We altered our berleying technique today as Hal had been to the fish markets and collected a large esky full of rather smelly and disgusting fish scraps. We started putting this material out shortly after leaving Sydney Heads and we had an entourage of birds following us all the way to the shelf - it made a great difference to our usual somewhat quiet journey over the Abysmal Plain. The birds of the day were undoubtedly a WHITE-BELLIED STORM-PETREL which came quite close to the boat in great light showing all the diagnostic features and two GOULD'S PETRELS which stayed around our slick and occasionally passed close by for at least half an hour. The White-bellied Storm-Petrel is only the second seen off Sydney from the Halicat and will be submitted to the NSW ORAC

The weather for the day was a mix of overcast with some sunny periods staying dry until we approached Sydney Heads in the afternoon to be greeted with a couple of heavy rain showers. Air temperature ranged from 19 deg C in the morning up to 23 deg C later in the day. Sea water temperature in the harbour was 20.4 deg C, outside the heads was around 21.3 deg C and reached a maximum of 22.6 deg C at the shelf break. We left Rose Bay at 7.15am and returned at 4.15pm having travelled all day in sea conditions of a 1.5m sea on a 1.5m swell. The wind blew at a constant 12 to 15 knots all day from the south and this caused us to take a more northerly route than usual to avoid the discomfort of fighting into the southerly seas


We set off from Sydney Heads with about 15 passengers on board from NSW, interstate and overseas and travelled on a heading due east rather than our usual route to the ESE and Brown's Mountain. Initially, there didn't seem to be a lot of birds around except for the odd Wedge-tailed Shearwater. However, after deploying the fish offal, we began to attract some customers and, in fact, stopped about 3 miles off the heads for a berleying session. This brought in good numbers of Wedge-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwtaers, several Pomarine Jaegers and, surprisingly for March, an adult Black-browed Albatross. Short-tailed Shearwaters passed by and a few Australasian Gannets came along to see what was happening

We then continued motoring eastwards and berleying as we went with large numbers of shearwaters and the Pomarine Jaegers travelling with us. This activity brought a second Black-browed Albatross to the wake and then, to everyone's delight, an adult Wandering Albatross (ssp gibsoni) joined us for a short while. A single Hutton's Shearwater was seen by some on board and a Sooty Tern was seen by only one observer - but we were to see another later. The only cetaceans seen for the day approached the Halicat some 6 miles short of the shelf break and turned out to be a pod of about 50 Pantropical Spotted Dolphins, a new cetacean for many on board and one which is seen annually from the Halicat when the water temperatures are high

After a slow ride to the shelf break, we finally started a berleying drift at about noon some 12NM north of Brown's Mountain and, with the contingent of birds that we had 'brought with us' many more began to come to our slick. Great-winged Petrels of the NZ race gouldi appeared in small numbers, a couple more black-browed Albatross appeared, a few Wilson's Storm-Petrels came obligingly close to the boat and then, just as this observer was about to call a Long-tailed Jaeger on one side of the boat, the cry of 'Gould's Petrel' went up on the other! The Gould's (and a second one which arrived soon after) continued to draw everyone's interest since they provided fantastic views and a great opportunity to study the field marks. However, while this was going on, one of the several storm-petrels which were dancing around the back of the boat 'morphed' into a fregetta and, with it flying straight towards us in good sunlight, was clearly a White-bellied Storm-Petrel, a lifer for many on board. The interest continued with good views of a Sooty Tern, the arrival of a Shy Albatross (probably of the Australian nominate race) and another Wandering Albatross, this time a very young bird, again a gibsoni

Since it had taken so much time to get to the shelf, we had to reluctantly leave and set off back to Sydney. On the way, we added a couple of Fluttering Shearwaters and, in the harbour, a dark morph Arctic Jaeger to bring our species tally to a very respectable total of 19


(Note that the number in parentheses represent the maximum number seen at one time)

Great-winged Petrel 8 (2)
Gould's Petrel 2 (2)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 300 (150)
Short-tailed Shearwater 24 (6)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 80 (20)
Fluttering Shearwater 2 (1)
Hutton's Shearwater 1 (1)
Wandering Albatross 2 (1) both gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross 4 (2) all nominate race
Shy Albatross 1 (1) prob cauta
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 7 (4)
White-bellied Storm-Petrel 1 (1)
Australasian Gannet 26 (8)
Arctic Jaeger 1 (1)
Pomarine Jaeger 22 (6)
Long-tailed Jaeger 1 (1)
Silver Gull 60 (15)
Crested Tern 5 (4)
Sooty Tern 2 (1)


Pantropical Spotted Dolphin 50