14 Apr 2012 Report


After several days of strong southerly winds, the weather turned quite benign on Thursday evening and, by the time of our departure on Saturday morning, two days of light northerlies had produced very calm conditions. Consequently, we departed Sydney Harbour with no great expectations but, in the back of our collective minds, we were recalling last April's Sydney trip with Great Shearwater, South Polar Skua and White-tailed Tropicbird being the star turns. Although today was somewhat quieter in birding terms, we did have some excellent sightings including South Polar Skua (which is on the BARC Review List), an intermediate morph Kermadec Petrel and our first White-faced Storm Petrel since April 2009. With no jaegers recorded and with a low count of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, there was a definite feeling that winter was on the way. Surface water temperatures were actually warmer than they were a month ago being 19.1 deg C at Sydney Heads and rising to as high as 21.8 deg C off the continental shelf. We departed from Rose Bay at 7.20am and returned just after 4.00pm. Seas conditions were quite calm all day with a small swell of maybe 0.5m and a very small chop on top of that. The wind remained light from the north all day and the birds were generally quite reluctant to fly.


We headed out of the harbour with a complement of 16 passengers on board, comprising mostly local and interstate birders and including John Weigel who notched up the 500th species of his Big Year Quest during today's trip. With David James away in Christmas Island, I got my old job back on the berley table ably assisted by Dion Hobcroft. However, although I started a berley trail as soon as we left the wharf, the Silver Gulls soon lost interest and we had no following entourage of birds for the entire trip to the shelf and beyond. Instead of our usual course of ESE to Brown's Mountain, we had a change of plan today and motored ENE (75deg) bound for a deepwater canyon dubbed J11 where the water depth reaches almost 2000 metres. For the first few miles, activity was very sparse with several Australasian Gannets, a few Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, a couple of Crested Terns and a single Black-browed Albatross being the sum total of our sightings. At about 8NM offshore, we found a strange 'footprint' or current line which contained several feeding Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, our first Wilson's Storm Petrel of the day and two Little Penguins which were seen once and did not reappear. A Yellow-nosed Albatross raised interest levels a notch and the odd Flesh-footed and Short-tailed Shearwaters were seen. As we reached the continental shelf drop off, our first Great-winged (Grey-faced) Petrel appeared followed by several Providence Petrels looking absolutely pristine in their fresh plumage. Our first cetacean of the day was a single Risso's Dolphin and, whilst observing the dolphin, a lovely Campbell (Black-browed) Albatross flew past at close quarters and followed the boat for a while. As we continued on into deeper water, a pale coffee-coloured skua flew quickly right over the boat at low altitude and was immediately identified as a SOUTH POLAR SKUA. The bird did not stop and,with Raja's camera temporarily out of action, we were fortunate that Nigel Miller was able to get a couple of photographs to assist with the BARC submission. Shortly after this excitement and before arriving at J11 we had our first Wandering Albatross of the day, a young female gibsoni and a flyby White-faced Storm Petrel, the first seen from the Halicat since April 2009. As we arrived at J11, we were greeted by a pod of about 30 Pilot Whales, considered likely to be Short-finned. We then set up a good slick for over an hour and brought in reasonable numbers of birds including two Wandering Albatross, a Yellow-nosed Albatross, several Great-winged and Providence Petrels, several Wilson's Storm Petrels and a few Wedge-tailedShearwaters. We then motored further to the south east and set up another slick where Dion's sharp eyes picked up an intermediate morph Kermadec Petrel. Although the bird stayed a few hundred metres from the boat, Raja managed to get some shots which confirmed the identification. The journey back to Sydney was did not produce any further new species for the trip but two more Little Penguins, another Wandering Albatross, some Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphins and two more Risso's Dolphins kept interest levels up for the trip. About five miles out from the heads, the call of 'egret' went out and there was an Intermediate Egret flying northwards, our first record from the Halicat. Considering the very calm conditions with birds lounging on the water everywhere, it turned out to be a productive and absorbing day on the water which was enjoyed by all.


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

Little Penguin 4 (2)
Great-winged Petrel 15 (5) all gouldi
Providence Petrel 24 (8)
Kermadec Petrel 1 (1) intermediate morph
Short-tailed Shearwater 2 (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 30 (8)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 6 (2)
Wandering Albatross 3 (2) all gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross 3 (1) one impavida
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 2 (1)
Wilson's Strom-Petrel 15 (6)
White-faced Storm Petrel 1 (1)
Australasian Gannet 35 (10)
Silver Gull 60 (25)
Crested Tern 5 (2)


Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin 8
Risso's Dolphin 3
(Short-finned) Pilot Whale 30
Flying fish 5