14 February 2015 Report
Historically, February is the month when we see the most tropical vagrants off Sydney and, with very warm water coming in off the Eastern Australian Current together with recent reports from Sydney land-based birders of Streaked Shearwaters, Sooty Tern and Red-tailed Tropicbird, we set off in the MV Lormar with some anticipation of a good summer trip. Conditions were pleasant with light to moderate winds and some cloud cover, and with 16 species (possibly 17) recorded on the day, it turned out to be a productive day on the water. The highlight of the day was the Red-tailed Tropicbird which was seen taking off from the water surface and disappearing to the north east. However, to everyone’s relief, we caught up with it and had good views as it flew languidly away from the boat to the north. For many on board, another major highlight was the huge shoals of flying fish which launched themselves from the water at frequent intervals – we usually see the odd flying fish when the water is warm and blue, but never in the numbers that we saw on this trip. Strangely, we saw no cetaceans of any sort during the trip – a very rare occurrence.
We left the heads in reasonable sea conditions of a less than one metre sea on top of a one to one and a half metre swell and, with light northerly winds in the morning strengthening to maybe 15 knots from the north east after lunch, conditions stayed much the same for the whole trip. Despite the good conditions, there were three cases of sea-sickness all of which affected people who had not been on a pelagic before – two had taken no medication and the third had taken the medication only just before getting on the boat. Our journey out to the shelf was in a direct easterly direction under partially cloudy skies with an odd rain squall around us. We left the heads at about 7.40am and arrived at the shelf break some distance north of Brown’s Mountain at 11.15am – we took this track to ensure that the stronger afternoon north east wind would be behind us for the journey back. We did one berley drift at the shelf break and then started back to Sydney at around 12.15pm arriving in Rose Bay at 3.30pm. Sea water temperatures were as warm as we have ever seen off Sydney reaching 25.5degC at the shelf break.
We departed from Rose Bay in the Lormar with 16 passengers, mostly locals but with visitors from France and the UK. We should have had 17 passengers but unfortunately one of our regular birders mistakenly thought that it was a 7.30am departure and just missed us which was very unfortunate. If he had had our cell phone numbers he could have called us back to pick him up – they can be found on the website at http://www.sydneypelagics.info . As we left the harbour, the Silver Gulls showed no interest in our trail of fish offal but a Pomarine Skua and a couple of Greater Crested Terns got the trip list up and running. Shortly after leaving the heads, the shearwaters finally picked up on our berley trail and, in a short space of time, we had a good following of shearwaters which stayed with us all the way out to the shelf break. They were mostly Wedge-tailed Shearwaters with surprisingly good numbers of Flesh-footed Shearwaters along with them. In the inshore zone, we also had a single adult Australasian Gannet, a single Fluttering Shearwater (as well as a few distant fluttering-like shearwaters) and several Pomarine Skuas along with a single Arctic Jaeger. The odd Short-tailed Shearwater and Sooty Shearwater, the latter in heavy moult, were seen from time to time. A distant jaeger was thought to a long-tailed but did not approach the boat – however, we were to have good sightings of this species later.
As we headed out into deeper water, the mix of birds did not change for some time. Steve Anyon-Smith came back from a lone stint at the bow of the boat to report that he had seen what was almost certainly a LITTLE SHEARWATER, but it flew away from the boat in that fast direct style that this species displays and it was never seen again – so it went down only as a ‘possible’. We began to be entertained by the large numbers of flying fish that were coming out of the water in shoals of 50 or 60 and then Steve and I saw a white bird come of the water surface ahead of us and the cry of ‘tropicbird’ went up. The bird flew off to the north east and was lost in the glare of the sun but we kept motoring in that direction and, after five minutes or so, relocated it with everyone getting great views of an adult (or possibly an older sub-adult) RED-TAILED trOPICBIRD. The bill did not appear to be bright red (which may have been caused by the back lighting) and the eye patch was a little smudgy – however, there was no suggestion of any immature plumage characteristics. When we arrived at the shelf break, we began to see small numbers of Great-winged Petrels (ssp gouldi) but not much else for a while except shearwaters. However, the appearance of one and then two more Long-tailed Jaegers which approached quite close to the boat was a highlight for many. There was great excitement when the call went up from the front of the boat of an approaching large white albatross. Some on board were thinking that it might be a Southern Royal but a couple of close fly-bys showed all the identification characteristics of a young adult Wandering Albatross (D. exulans) – nevertheless, it was a fabulous bird. The trip back to Sydney brought two more new species for the day. An unexpected Immature Black-browed Albatross (most unusual for February) made a close pass of the boat and then, sometime later, we came across an adult Sooty Tern which gave great views to all on board.
All in all, it was a really good summer’s day on the water with enough action to keep everybody’s attention.
(Note that the numbers in parentheses represent the approximate maximum number of that species in view at one time)
|Great-winged Petre||12||(3) all gouldi|
|Fluttering type shearwaters||4||(2)|
|(LITTLE SHEARWATER?)||1||(1) brief sighting by one observer|
|Greater Crested Tern||3||(1)|
|Parasitic (Arctic) Jaeger||1||(1)|
|Parasitic (Arctic) Jaeger||1||(1)|
|Flying fish||> 500|
The next Sydney pelagic trip is scheduled for Saturday 14 March, 2015 departing from Mosman at 6.45am and Rose Bay at 7.00am. We intend to use the large catamaran ‘Explorer’ for this trip and with its speed and size, we will be able to extend the trip beyond Brown’s Mountain into deeper waters. Please book early so that we have a good idea of numbers by contacting Hal or me at the numbers and e-mail addresses shown in the Sydney Pelagic website. http://www.sydneypelagics.info
(The photographs attached were taken by Hal Epstein – Wandering Albatross and Sooty Tern, Rod Stiles – Flying Fish, Steve Hey – Long-tailed Jaeger and Red-tailed Tropicbird and Andy Woods – Pomarine Skua)