9 Mar 2013 Report


After several days of north to north westerly airstreams and with sea water temperatures as high as they get off Sydney, there was an expectation that today would bring some tropical 'goodies' to the waters off Sydney. To a degree this was the case with two White-tailed Tropicbirds and a White Tern all seen well but, for the older hands on the Halicat, there was a slight feeling of disappointment that more northern vagrants did not turn up. Having said that, the weather was ideal for a pelagic trip and, for those participants who rarely get out on the ocean, it was a fantastic day on the water.Weather conditions were excellent with a partly cloudy sky, very occasional showers and the air temperature getting up to about 26 deg C. Surface water temperatures were very high being 23.9 deg C at the Heads and rising to 27.2 deg C at our furthest point of travel beyond the shelf break. Winds were very light from the north in the morning but increased to 15-18 knots from the north east early in the afternoon. We departed from Rose Bay at 7.20am and returned at 3.00pm.


We started the day in a somewhat interesting way with those passengers waiting for the Halicat at Mosman Wharf hearing the calls of a very late-staying Channel-billed Cuckoo from across the bay. With the harbour a complete flat calm, three Little Penguins were seen as we motored over to Rose Bay. Having collected the remainder of our complement, we set off back towards Bradleys Head and found two more Little Penguins loafing on the surface and providing great photo opportunities. We finally set off through the Heads a little late with about 25 passengers on board and with a screaming mass of Silver Gulls and the odd Crested Tern following the berley trail. These harbour birds were soon joined by good numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, one or two occasional Short-tailed Shearwaters and increasing numbers of Flesh-footed Shearwaters. Pomarine Skuas began to put in an appearance but no Arctic or Long-tailed Jaegers were seen during the entire trip. A pod of about 12 Short-beaked Common Dolphins put in an appearance and then an unexpected adult Shy Albatross joined the mass of shearwaters in the berley trail and stayed with us for several kilometres. As we approached the shelf break, our first Great-winged Petrel was seen (NZ race gouldii or 'Grey-faced Petrel') but there were not many pterodromas seen today. Our first drift at Brown's Mountain brought nothing new for awhile until an early returning Providence Petrel flew by and then Steves potted a high flying white bird approaching from the north which turned outto be an adult White-tailed Tropicbird, a new species for quite a few of those on board. A pod of about 15 Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphins swam closely by the Halicat as we drifted, seemingly attracted by the berley trail. With no new birds showing, we set off on a slow motor eastwards into deeper water which didn't produce anything new until Steve called another tern-likebird which he could see some distance away in the middle of a feeding group of shearwaters. As we motored towards it, we had great views of a White Tern which was busy diving for fish. With several flying fish seen in this area, we wondered whether the tern and the shearwaters were feeding on these fish. We continued motoring east in increasing wind and chop when another call of 'tropicbird' went up. I ran from the berley table to the front of the boat and there was another White-tailed Tropicbird flying higher than the first and looking to be an immature bird. We then had one of those quintessential pelagic birding moments when we hit a large swell and three of us on the bowwere enveloped in a sheet of water. As I stood there saturated and dripping with fish scraps from the berleying, I just thought this was an amazing place to be! We set off home a little early with the seas getting up and no new birds appearing, but a Hutton's Shearwater flew by while we were still off the shelf and was seen well by some on board. As we approached the Heads, a distant Black-browed Albatross was spotted but it did not approach the boat and views were therefore unsatisfactory. For the first time in memory, we stopped the boat to have a good look at an Australasian Gannet, the reason being that there had been two reports of Masked Booby off Sydney in the past week. However, this bird remained, stubbornly, an Australasian Gannet. The last sighting of note was a sea turtle at the Heads and presumed to be a Green Turtle. With only 15 species recorded, it was not one of our most prolific pelagic trips, but all on board were delighted with the White-tailed Tropicbirds and the White Tern and it was a great day to be out on the ocean.


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

Little Penguin 5 (2)
Shy Albatross 2 (1)
Black-browed Albatross 1 (1)
Great-winged Petrel 8 (2) all gouldii
Providence Petrel 1 (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 400 (250)
Short-tailed Shearwater 3 (1)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 35 (8)
Hutton's Shearwater 1 (1)
White-tailed Tropicbird 2 (1)
Australasian Gannet 1 (1)
White Tern 1 (1)
Silver Gull 150 (120)
Greater Crested Tern 4 (1)
Pomarine Skua 8 (4)


Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin 15
Short-beaked Common Dolphin 12
Flying fish 15
Green Sea Turtle 1