11 April 2015 Report
After last month’s trip when we had a record breaking 42 passengers on board, this month was very different with only a disappointing number of 13 enthusiastic birders heading out on the MV Avalon. However, all those who were on the boat today agreed that it was one of the best Sydney pelagics in a long time. This was not only because of the number of rarities (although there were a couple of good ones) but also because we had good numbers of birds around the boat for the entire trip and the weather conditions were absolutely perfect. There had been very strong southerlies blowing for the past few day with seas up to 5 or 6 metres but it settled down during the course of Friday and we went out in light winds to encounter a lot of very hungry birds. There were many highlights on the day and the main rarities seen were a beautiful GREY TERNLET which flew around the boat at very close quarters for several minutes and a WHITE-CHINNED PETREL which came in and fed on our berley right next to the boat. The diversity (six species) and number of albatross was notable particularly for an April trip, good numbers of Wilson’s Storm Petrel was also a feature of the day and the overall species count of 20 was very good. To finish off the trip in grand style, the South Island Pied Oystercatcher which has been in Sydney Harbour for several weeks was rediscovered on the rocks of Shark Island and was photographed together with a Pied Oystercatcher and a Sooty Oystercatcher in the same shot – with only eleven oystercatcher species in the world, it is likely that this was the first ever photograph of three oystercatcher species together.
We departed Sydney Heads in misty rain at 7.25am and headed out towards Brown’s Mountain in seas of 0.5m on top of a 1.5 to 2.0m swell – very comfortable conditions for the Avalon which is an excellent sea keeping boat. There were light winds of less than 10 knots from the south and, within about 30 minutes or so, the rain stopped and the skies cleared to a lovely sunny autumn day. We arrived at Brown’s Mountain at around 9.45am and drifted for some time with a good berley slick and then did a slow motor into deeper water to the east, stopping again for another drift. We departed the shelf at around 12.45pm and arrived back at Rose Bay at 3.30pm after an extended look at the oystercatchers on Shark Island. Water temperature during the trip was around 21.5degC and with the benign sea conditions there were no cases of sea sickness on board.
We departed from Rose Bay at 7.10am and spent a few minutes searching unsuccessfully for the South Island Pied Oystercatcher on the shores of Shark Island. The weather was dull and drizzly as we went out through the Heads and the following Silver Gulls were soon joined behind our berley trail by several Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, and the odd juvenile and mature Australasian Gannet and Greater Crested Tern flew past. The weather quickly improved to a pleasant sunny day and two Pomarine Skuas were seen before the first of many Black-browed Albatross and Shy Albatross (all of the NZ ssp steadi) joined the feeding flock behind the boat. Surprisingly, there were no Hutton’s or Fluttering Shearwaters in their usual inshore habitat but Flesh-footed Shearwaters put in an early appearance and albatross numbers continued to increase. There were brief views of Short-tailed Shearwaters passing by, and then the first Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross of the day joined our berley trail followed shortly by a beautiful Buller’s Albatross. All the birds appeared extremely hungry and, once they had joined the berley trail, they generally stayed with the boat for a long time. Our only cetaceans of the day were a pod of about 30 Pantropical Spotted Dolphins which were too busy hunting to come and ride on our bow wave. As we began to get closer to Brown’s Mountain, the first of many Wilson’s Storm Petrels put in an appearance and a lovely adult Campbell Albatross, which stayed with the boat until we were well on our way back to Sydney, was a lifer for several people on board. We started our berley drift at Brown’s Mountain and were soon seeing a few Providence Petrels, two more Buller’s Albatross, and an Antipodean Albatross (ssp gibsoni) along with a large throng of Black-browed, Shy, Yellow-nosed Albatross and the lone Campbell Albatross. A distant prion had been seen earlier – too far away to identify, but another (or perhaps the same?) bird appeared at closer range and was identified as a Fairy Prion.
With no new species appearing for a while, we decided to take a slow motor eastwards into deeper water and, as we went up our slick, we came across a flock of around 30 Wilson’s Storm Petrels, one of the larger aggregations that we have seen for a while. After travelling about 4NM there was great excitement as a GREY TERNLET was sighted coming close to the boat. All of my Grey Ternlet sightings off Sydney previously (perhaps six in the last 20 years) have involved fairly distant birds and brief sights but this bird delighted everyone by flying around the boat several times at close range giving magnificent views and photographic opportunities. While we watching the Grey Ternlet, a Procellaria flew in which was soon revealed to be a WHITE-CHINNED PETREL when the bill structure and colour was clearly seen. This bird was also very obliging in that it settled on the water next to the boat to feed which gave everyone the chance to examine its structural details. Although no Great –winged Petrels had been seen at Brown’s, several came in to the boat and fed at this deeper water location, a phenomenon that we have noted on some previous trips.
The trip back to Sydney was marked with flocks of birds following the boat but with no new species appearing until, about 5NM off the heads, a dark morph Arctic Jaeger was seen at some height harassing some Silver Gulls becoming our 20th species for the day. Only one fluttering-type shearwater was seen on the way in but was too distant to call as to species. For some on board, the real highlight of the day occurred as we again motored slowly past Shark Island looking for the elusive SIPO. As we approached the southern tip of the island, three oystercatchers were seen on the rocks and, as we got closer they revealed themselves to be the South Island Pied Oystercatcher, a Pied Oystercatcher and a Sooty Oystercatcher all close enough to each other to be captured in a single photograph! There was great jubilation amongst the group particularly by some who had previously searched unsuccessfully for the SIPO and for whom it was a life bird! It was a great finish to a terrific day on the water and it was a pity that more birders were not there for the experience!
Our thanks to the crew of the Avalon (George and Eddie) for their help and interest during the trip – we will be using this boat for our trips this year until at least October.
(Note that the numbers in parentheses represent the approximate maximum number of that species in view at one time)
|Antipodean Albatross||1||(1) ssp gibsoni|
|Shy Albatross||11||(4) all ssp steadi or ‘White-capped Albatross’|
|Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross||10||(4)|
|Great-winged Petrel||6||(2) all gouldi|
|Wilson’s Storm Petrel||40||(30)|
|GREY TERNLET (aka Grey Noddy)||1||(1)|
|Greater Crested Tern||20||(7)|
|Arctic (Parasitic) Jaeger||1||(1)|
|Pantropical Spotted Dolphin||30|
|Southern Eagle Ray|
|Southern Ocean Sunfish|
|White-faced Heron||about 6NM off the heads flying south|
The next Sydney pelagic trip is scheduled for Saturday 9 May, 2015 departing from Mosman at 6.45am and from Rose Bay at 7.00am. Please book early to assist our planning and to avoid missing a spot. All details of our trips and contact details are in the website at http://www.sydneypelagics.info and you can also find us on Facebook as well as post photos: https://www.facebook.com/sydneypelagics