19 Feb 2013 Report


As most of the readers of birding-aus will know by now from Nikolas Haass's postings on Eremaea and birding-aus, this pelagic trip brought one of the major sightings since Sydney pelagic trips have been in operation in the form of the first-ever Australian east coast record of BARAU'S PETREL. Certainly, there hasn't been such a major rarity since Tony Palliser's Tristram's Storm Petrel seen on a private charter back on October 9, 2000. The circumstances of the sighting were that we were motoring slowly eastwards in deep water after an initial drift at Brown's Mountain and,after sighting at least two Gould's Petrels earlier, another superficially similar pterodroma appeared. It was first spotted at some distance off the starboard side and travelled diagonally across the starboard beam of the Halicat and continued out of view directly behind the boat. This did not provide a lot of opportunity to study the bird as it was in sight for quite a brief period, but it did allow excellent photographic opportunities as it passed by at quite close range of maybe 30 metres. Raja Stephenson obtained some fantastic images (as she always does!), see http://www.adarman.com/Pelagics/New-...February-09-Sydney/27944290_xW68HX#!i=2358692013&k=FncTxpd and there were plenty of other pictures taken by others on board. Although the consensus was that it was a bigger, longer winged bird than Gould's Petrel, thoughts turned towards Black-winged Petrel even though there were some inconsistencies with that species. With Barau's Petrel being a new bird for everyone on the boat (as far as I am aware), this possibility was not immediately considered, eventhough the initial call of White-necked Petrel may, in retrospect, have given a strong clue as to the size of the bird. However, later scrutiny ofthe photographs confirmed that the bird was indeed a BARAU'S PETREL, subject of course to acceptance by BARC. In addition to the human passengers on board the Halicat, we had an avian passenger in the form of a Great-winged Petrel (New Zealand race gouldi)which was found at Circular Quay by Joan Dawes on January 23, 2013 and was taken to the Taronga Wildlife Hospital coated in fine oil. Libby Hall and her team cared for the bird for two weeks and Nikolas and Raja collected it on the Friday afternoon for release offshore from the Halicat. With the recent spate of tropical vagrants brought in by Cyclone Oswald, there was an expectation that the day would bring a lot of northern birds but, despite the very warm water temperatures, this proved not to be the case. The day was bright, sunny and warm all day and the wind, which was a constant 15 knot northeaster, created a slightly bumpy 1 to 2 metres chop. Surface water temperature ranged from just over 21 deg C inshore to as high as 26 deg C beyond the shelf break. We left Rose Bay at 7.35am and returned at 3.45pm.


We headed out of the harbour with some 25 birders on board, most of them regular local sea-birders along with a few overseas visitors. With David James off on an Antarctic expedition, I returned to my old job on the berley table and began a berley trail from the harbour which continued out to the shelf. (Note that, being thus occupied and wearing rubber gloves covered in smelly fish scraps, I was not able to take notes en route and hence some of the sequencing in this report may not be exactly correct. However, the bird numbers and species were cross checked with several people on board on return to Sydney and should be accurate.) As we left the heads, the screaming mass of Silver Gulls following the boat were soon joined by good numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters along with the odd Crested Tern, Pomerine Jaeger and Short-tailed Shearwater. As we continued offshore, we encountered the odd Fluttering Shearwater, a single adult Australasian Gannet, an Arctic Jaeger and a Long-tailed Jaeger - also the first Flesh-footed Shearwaters of the day joined the Wedge-taileds in the large flock following the boat. A group of about 20 Short-beaked Common Dolphins came along for a ride on our bow but only an intrepid few braved the spray at the bow to have a close look. As we approached the shelf break, a Hutton's Shearwater flew around the boat at close quarters giving everyone excellent views, another small pod of Short-beaked Common dolphins appeared and our first Great-winged Petrels began to feed around the boat. A juvenile Sooty Tern passed over at some height and continued westwards. As soon as we began our first drift Nikolas took the Great-winged Petrel from its carry case and gave it a couple of minutes to take in its surroundings, during which time it gave Nikolas a gentle bite on the finger drawing plenty of blood! When released, the bird flew very briefly down onto the water and then quickly took off strongly to applause from all. The first bird of note during the first drift was a Gould's Petrel followed by one or two more - analysis of the photographs suggest that only two individuals were seen. Melbourne refugee and Manchester City football tragic Ed Williams finally nailed his bogey seabird when a single White-faced Storm Petrel passed close by the boat, our only stormy of the trip. With no new birds showing, we set off on a slow motor eastwards into deeper water encountering two Southern Ocean Sunfish and a pod of about 60 Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphins. Shortly thereafter came the epic moment when the BARAU'S PETREL came past the boat although of course, the real euphoria came later when the identification was established. An adult Sooty Tern and a single Sooty Shearwater, the latter seen by only a few but photographed by Raja, were our last new birds of the day. After the trip, I heard that one observer thought they may have seen a beaked whale on the return journey but no call was made which was a great pity. Needless to say, the day will stay in the memory of all on board as the day of the Barau's Petrel.


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

Great-winged Petrel 15 (5) all race gouldi
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 300 (200)
Sooty Shearwater 1 (1)
Short-tailed Shearwater 10 (2)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 40 (10)
Fluttering Shearwater 5 (1)
Hutton's Shearwater 2 (1)
White-faced Storm Petrel 1 (1)
Australasian Gannet 1 (1)
Arctic Jaeger 2 (1)
Pomarine Skua 12 (4)
Long-tailed Jaeger 2 (1)
Silver Gull 200 (150)
Crested Tern 3 (1)
Sooty Tern 2 (1) one juvenile and one adult


Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin 60
Short-beaked Common Dolphin 30
Southern Ocean Sunfish 2