10 Aug 2013 Report
As is often the case in Sydney during the middle of winter, light westerly winds had prevailed during the days leading up to this trip leading to very flat conditions inshore which, in turn, seems to make foraging for food easier and, therefore, a lot less interest from the birds in our berley trails. On a magnificent sunny day, this was very apparent from the start as not even the Silver Gulls were interested in our offerings as we left the harbour. Although there were no rarities on the day, there was always enough action to keep everyone interested with plenty of albatross, whales, dolphins, fur seals and even the odd flying fish. Of note were a group of five White-fronted Terns, a fly-by Buller's Albatross and the Halicat's first harbinger of spring, a single Wedge-tailed Shearwater. Species conspicuous by their absence were Cape Petrels and both giant petrels.
We left the heads in almost calm conditions, with a light westerly breeze and combined swell/sea of less than a metre. Conditions remained like this until late morning when the wind increased and backed to the south west at about 15 knots producing some short choppy waves which caused a few cases of sea sickness. Sea water temperature was 17.4 deg C at the heads, rising to 18.4 deg C at Brown's Mountain which showed very little cooling since our June 2013 trip. Generally the sea conditions were comfortable but the first part of the return journey was somewhat bumpy as we headed into the wind and chop. We departed from Rose Bay at 7.15am but had to return to Mosman to collect one passenger who had gone to the wrong wharf and it was close to 8.00am by the time we left the harbour. We returned to Rose Bay at about 3.20pm.
We departed through Sydney Heads with a full complement of passengers which included regular and irregular local birders, interstate visitors (good to see Nikolas back for the day), some international visitors and a number of nature watchers along to see whales, dolphins and, of course, the birds. With the inshore berley trail failing to draw a crowd, there were not large numbers of birds around in the first couple of miles. However, a pair of Humpback Whales were quickly spotted but were not cooperative and we continued on our way after a few minutes. In addition to the usual Silver Gulls and the odd Greater Crested Tern, there were initially several Black-browed Albatross, an Australasian Gannet and then we began to see some Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross. Perhaps the most notable sighting during this stage of the trip was a couple of good-sized groups of small shearwaters that passed by with the bulk of them being Hutton's Shearwaters and only a few Fluttering Shearwaters accompanying them. A group of small dark cetaceans was seen to break the surface but, despite our best efforts, they could not be relocated causing us to think that they were something unusual. Shortly afterwards, a sea monster was seen making a series of very vigorous splashes at some distance but, again, when we arrived on location it did not show again. The most likely explanation for this one was that it was a feeding marlin. As we moved further offshore, small numbers of Fairy Prions began to appear, some Shy Albatross were well seen and a lone Wedge-tailed Shearwater came past and kept on going. More Humpback Whales were seen with one group of two showing very well and providing good views and photographic opportunities. A couple of observers on board spotted a prion that had quite a different flight pattern to the Fairy Prions around it but it moved away without giving good views and the consensus was that it was either a Slender-billed Prion or an Antarctic Prion.
As we were approaching Brown's Mountain, a small group of Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphins was briefly seen but they did not approach the boat and quickly disappeared. We set up a berley slick as the wind began to freshen and there was plenty of activity around the boat. The first one of two Antipodean Albatross (Gibson's subspecies), adult Campbell Albatross, small numbers of Providence Petrels, and some very smart-looking juvenile Shy (White-capped) Albatross straight from fledging at their New Zealand breeding grounds were all seen along with the good numbers of Black-browed Albatross, Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and Fairy Prions. It was of interest that none of the adult Shy Albatross was seen with a yellow base to the culminicorn which may have indicated that these birds were all White-capped Albatross (steadi) or possibly that the nominate race (cauta) does not show this characteristic at this time of the year. Before leaving Brown's Mountain, some people on board spotted a Buller's Albatross fly by but the call did not get to everyone unfortunately. A Brown Skua showed well but, with no new species appearing for a while and the wind freshening, we set off back to Sydney.
Our journey back was initially somewhat choppy but, as we got closer to the protection of the shore, conditions once again became very comfortable. No new birds were seen for most of the way back, but a pod of maybe 60 Short-beaked Common Dolphins delighted everyone by coming for a ride on our bow and a couple of flying fish were well seen. As we were approaching the heads, a small group of White-fronted Terns were seen fishing - a species that we rarely record from the Halicat for reasons that I can't explain. In the harbour we detoured over to the Quarantine Station to search for Little Penguins and although we didn't find any, we were rewarded instead by the sight of two Australian Fur Seals lazing on the rocks. Although it was not a day for rarities, all on board enjoyed a great Sydney day on the ocean with 16 species recorded.
(Note that the numbers in parentheses represent the approximate maximum number of that species in view at one time)
Antipodean Albatross 2 (1) both gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross 20 (6)
Campbell Albatross 3 (2)
Shy Albatross 16 (4) only juvenile steadi identified as to sub-species
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 34 (20)
Buller's Albatross 1 (1)
Prion (sp) 1 (1) Antarctic or Slender-billed
Fairy Prion 60 (8)
Providence Petrel 5 (2)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 1 (1)
Fluttering Shearwater 10 (6)
Hutton's Shearwater 200 (100)
Australasian Gannet 6 (3)
Silver Gull 90 (40)
Greater Crested Tern 15 (5)
White-fronted Tern 5 (5)
Brown Skua 1 (1)
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin 6
Short-beaked Common Dolphin 60
Humpback Whale 10
Flying fish 2
Australian fur Seal 2