10 Mar 2012 Report


What an absolute ripper of a late summer pelagic trip off Sydney with great conditions and several notable species recorded. The bird of the day had tobe the BRIDLED TERN which flew gracefully across the front of the boat at arange of about 100 metres giving excellent views to most on board. If accepted by NSW ORAC, this will be the fourth confirmed record for NSW. Other great sightings that would normally be noteworthy on their own were a high RED-TAILED TROPICBIRD which flew directly away and did not provide great views, a very obliging WHITE-CHINNED PETREL which fed on the berley close to the boat for several minutes, and a WHITE-NECKED PETREL which circled the boat several times giving good views to all. An early returning Buller's Albatross stayed with the boat for a couple of hours, and the Shy and Black-backed Albatrosses (our first this year) gave the feeling that winter may be on the way! With all three jaeger species well seen and a total of 20 species recorded, it was indeed a noteworthy day. Surface water temperatures were cooler than last month being 18.6 deg C just outside the heads and rising to as high as 20.9 deg C off the continental shelf. We departed from Rose Bay at 7.15am and returned at 3.35pm. Sea conditions as we departed Sydney Heads were quite benign with just an oily swell of 1.5 to 2.0 metres and no chop. The conditions became even calmer as the day progressed and there were no cases of sea sickness noted. For most of the day, the wind was very light from the west and, later in the afternoon, a south easterly at about 15 knots picked up but, by that time,we were almost back to the heads.


We headed out of the harbour with a complement of 25 passengers on board,comprising overseas visitors, and local and interstate birders. David started the berley trail before we left the harbour and the attendant scrum of Silver Gulls and Crested Terns were soon displaced by a following of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Flesh-footed Shearwaters and Pomarine Skuas as we headed out to sea - these three species remained with the boat for the duration of the trip. In the first five miles or so, we recorded our first albatrosses of the year with firstly an adult Black-browed, followed soon afterwards by a two year old bird of the same species. A couple of Fluttering Shearwaters and Short-tailed Shearwaters put in an appearance and then we had our first (of several) Shy Albatross for the day. The first major sighting of the day was an adult Buller's Albatross which stayed with the boat for at least two hours giving great views as it fed on the berley. Our first Australasian Gannet put in an appearance and then, as we approached the shelf, our first Great-winged Petrels of the day began to be seen in numbers. The Great-winged were almost all gouldi but, during the course of the day, a couple of macroptera were picked up indicating again the change in the season. Just before reaching Brown's Mountain, we encountered a large pod of Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphins which rode on the bow for some time. We set up a berley trail at Brown's Mountain surrounded by large numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Flesh-footed Shearwaters, Great-winged Petrels, Pomarine Skuas, Shy Albatross and the lone Buller's Albatross. The first new arrival was a WHITE-NECKED PETREL which circled the boat for some time giving everyone great views and photo opportunities. This was followed shortly afterwards by the first of two Long-tailed Jaegers of the day and then, another star bird, a RED-TAILED TROPICBIRD. Unfortunately, when Nikolas picked the bird up, it was quite high and flying away so that most people on board had only distant views which was a bit disappointing. After a period where no new species were coming to the boat, we set off in a south-easterly direction to the location of a very deep trench (1700 metres water depth) located about 29.5 miles off Botany heads. There were noticeably more Great-winged Petrels present at this wider location and,after drifting for a few minutes, Steve picked up a bird that was much bulkier than the attendant Great-wings and Flesh-footed Shearwaters. It very obligingly landed close to the boat to feed on the berley revealing itself as a WHITE-CHINNED PETREL, the first procellaria that we have had from the Halicat in a couple of years. A few minutes later, a tern was sighted flying across behind the boat which was immediately identified as a BRIDLED TERN based on its brown (rather than black) upperparts, the supercillium which extended beyond the eye, and the flight style which was more buoyant than that of Sooty Tern. This was a new species for the Halicat (the second month in a row that this has occurred) and, if accepted by NSW ORAC, will be the fourth confirmed sighting in NSW.The journey back to Sydney was less eventful with no major rarities seen but we did manage to add a further three species to the day's list. The first was an obliging Hutton's Shearwater which circled the boat at close quarters giving everyone the opportunity to see clearly the ID characteristics separating this species from Fluttering Shearwater. As we approached the heads with a shearwater throng behind the boat, David picked up our first Sooty Shearwater of the day and then, at the heads, we were joined by two Arctic Jaegers which neatly brought our species count to twenty. It was a truly memorable day on the water and everyone went home talking about one of their 'best pelagic days'.


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

Great-winged Petrel 50 (15) all gouldi except for a couple of macroptera
White-necked Petrel 1 (1)
Sooty Shearwater 1 (1)
Short-tailed Shearwater 5 (2)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 300 (80)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 150 (25)
Fluttering Shearwater 6 (1)
Hutton's Shearwater 1 (1)
Black-browed Albatross 2 (1) both nominate race
Shy Albatross 13 (6)
Buller's Albatross 1 (1)
Australasian Gannet 3 (1)
Arctic Jaeger 2 (2)
Pomarine Skua 16 (6)
Long-tailed Jaeger 2 (1)
Silver Gull 80 (40)
Crested Tern 9 (3)


Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin 100