13 June 2015 Report
This trip had been booked out with a waiting list more than two weeks beforehand, so we were holding our breath for good conditions and some good birds on the day. After several days of very settled weather, the conditions were ideal on the water with slight seas, just enough wind to keep the birds flying and a light overcast for most of the day which made for ideal viewing conditions. The birds didn't disappoint either with six species of albatross, large numbers of Fairy Prions, close views of a Northern Giant Petrel and, the avian highlight of the day, several ANTARCTIC PRIONS which obligingly flew very close to the boat and even settled on the water. After seeing no cetaceans all day, we spotted a Humpback Whale on our return journey and, as we approached, it breached totally clear of the water very close to us - and that was probably the highlight of the day for many on board.
We departed Sydney Heads at 7.40am in a light overcast with seas of about 1.0m and very light southerly winds. We motored out to a location near Brown's Mountain some 22.5NM from the Heads, arriving there just before 10.00am, and then drifted with a berley trail for about an hour. We then motored back to the top of the drift and did another shorter drift before motoring north eastwards into deeper water. We departed the shelf area at about 1.00pm and arrived back at Rose Bay at 4.00pm after stops for birds and the Humpback Whale en route. Water temperatures were in the 18.0 to 18.5degC range and, with the benign sea conditions, there were no cases of sea sickness on board.
We departed from Rose Bay at about 7.20am and, with all the summer shearwaters long departed, we initially had a following only of Silver Gulls and the odd Australasian Gannet on our berley trail. However, it was not long before the first albatross arrived and, in a short space of time, we had recorded Black-browed, Campbell, Indian Yellow-nosed and Shy Albatross. We began to see a few Fairy Prions and then a Brown Skua started to follow the boat much to the displeasure of the Silver Gulls. A handsome Buller's Albatross brought our albatross tally to five species and we were joined by a juvenile Shy Albatross in pristine fresh plumage which we determined had to be the nominate race T. cauta cauta which depart their Tasmanian nesting grounds in March/April. The New Zealand breeding (White-capped) T. cauta steadi breed later and we do not see the juvenile birds off Sydney until about August/September. As we approached the shelf break, the number of Fairy Prions increased and we also started seeing a few Wilson's Storm Petrels. We started our berley drift near Brown's Mountain and soon began to see Providence Petrels and a few Great-winged Petrels. The latter species appeared to be all nominate macroptera with just a touch of paleness above the bill but we later saw one obvious gouldi (Grey-faced Petrel) which had the extensive pale face surrounding the bill base. Our attention was brought to a prion which looked a little larger than a Fairy Prion and which flew like a miniature pterodroma and, when it obligingly approached to within just a few metres of the boat, it could be clearly seen to be an ANTARCTIC PRION, a life bird for many on the boat as we have not seen this species off Sydney for perhaps three years. There were at least two individuals and there may have been as many as five or six as they continuously returned to within close proximity to the boat for at least an hour.
As we motored back up our slick, a distant giant petrel was seen on the water near a fishing boat - we motored over and, since the Northern Giant Petrel was busy devouring a large fish, it stayed on the water at close range offering great photo opportunities. We headed north eastwards into deeper water and were rewarded with a fly-by wandering-type albatross, an adult Antipodean Albatross ssp gibsoni which unfortunately did not investigate our boat but just kept going. Our only 'sea monster' so far on the trip, a Southern Ocean Sunfish, put in an appearance and, with no new bird species turning up and the wind getting up to 15knots from the south west, we set course back towards Sydney. Shortly afterwards, a few people on the boat had a very brief glimpse of what was thought to be a fregetta-type storm petrel, probably a White-bellied Strom Petrel but the sighting was too brief and no photographs were taken. (After reading of the New Zealand/New Caledonian type storm petrel seen off Port Stephens the next day, I am beginning to wonder what our 'fregetta type' bird may have been...). Although there were always birds around on the return trip, nothing new was seen but we did find a group of 24 Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross sitting together on the water which was an unusual sight. I knew that several of our passengers were very keen to see whales, so the skipper contacted the whale watching boats that were out for the afternoon to see if they had located any, to be told that there were none around. However, a few minutes later, we spotted a Humpback travelling north and blowing at intervals, and went over to get a closer look. As we approached, the whale breached partly from the water and not everyone saw it but, a few minutes later when we were closer, the whale breached again, this time completely clear of the water - a spectacular sight.
Our thanks to the crew of the Avalon (George and Shane) for their help and interest during the trip - it was a great winter Sydney pelagic trip enjoyed by all on board.
(Note that the numbers in parentheses represent the approximate maximum number of that species in view at one time)
|Antipodean Albatross (subspecies gibsoni)||1||(1)|
|Shy Albatross ( all believed to be ssp steadi or 'White-capped Albatross' except for a juvenile ssp cauta)||9||(3)|
|Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross||34||(24)|
|Northern Giant Petrel||1||(1)|
|Great-winged Petrel (one ssp gouldi and the others believed to be macroptera)||5||(1)|
|Wilson’s Storm Petrel||20||(5)|
|Greater Crested Tern||2||(1)|
The next Sydney pelagic trip is scheduled for Saturday 11 July, 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 – the MV Avalon carries a maximum number of 23 so places are a little limited. June July is cetacean time so our old friends the humpback’s migration will be in full swing . 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