13 February 2016


February can be a fluky month when we might see tropical vagrant birds and sea monsters off Sydney. A full complement of local and Chinese birders left Sydney Harbour just after 0730 on board the Avalon IV. Conditions were very pleasant with light to moderate north to north-easterly winds and sunny conditions. The day's highlights were multiple sightings of Gould's petrels and some exceptional dolphin behaviour.

The sea conditions were benign, with less than one metre of swell and small wind waves which for most of the day barely crested. Light northerly winds in the morning strengthened to maybe 15 knots from the north east close in shore after lunch. We arrived at Brown's Mountain before 1100, berleyed for 45 minutes, cruised a few miles to the north east and into deeper water and did the same, departing at 1245 and arriving in Rose Bay at 1630. Sea water temperatures were between 24 and 25 degrees.


As we left the harbour, some Silver Gulls and a few Wedge-tailed Shearwaters showed little interest in our trail of fish offal but three Pomarine Skuas had a bit of a look. There were very few birds of any description between the three mile mark and Brown's Mountain save for a couple of Fluttering Shearwaters and a few small groups of southbound Short-tailed Shearwaters.

At around the edge of the shelf break we crossed paths with a pod of a couple of dozen Risso's Dolphins. These guys don't much like boats and the views we had were typical, with the animals trying their best to avoid us. We had a reasonable look, especially of a few extensively scarred "warrior class" individuals. Two Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphins were keeping company and came to the boat briefly but ultimately preferred to be with the Risso's than us. A further pod of Risso's Dolphins was seen a few minutes later. They behaved in exactly the same manner as their slightly inshore cousins.

At Brown's Mountain there were two boats. These outnumbered the birds that could be seen by two. After much smelly fish and other tasty berley was expertly tossed into the sea, a few Wedgies and a number of Great-Winged Petrels graced us with their presence. The miracle of digital photography allowed us to confirm a distant sighting of a Gould's Petrel. A single Flesh-footed Shearwater came in close to boat allowing some on board to get a "new" bird.

At the second, deeper water, berley site there were quite a few more birds. Anyone that goes to sea off Sydney with even rude observational skill will tell you that the further from land the better it is for birds (I am almost certain Roger will edit this out). However the same mix of birds were evident. Significantly five more Gould's Petrels were seen, with two of them offering excellent and definitive views. This is surely a record for a Sydney pelagic?

About seven miles from the heads a large number of shearwaters could be seen to the south of us. We approached and soon noticed large numbers of Short-beaked Common Dolphins porpoising at speed towards us. Unlike Risso's, Commons rarely avoid boats and the sight of these guys travelling at 15 knots + in a tight formation gave the day its "David Attenborough" moment (thanks Nigel). These guys are commonly seen, but all agreed that this pod was something special as they leapt clear of the water, something in large seemingly synchronised groups. Quite a few Flesh-footed Shearwaters were in company with the Wedge-taileds.

The only other wildlife spotted were countless small flying fish, and briefly, a marlin.

Overall it was a fairly slow summer's day on the water interspersed with a few exciting and memorable moments.


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

Great-winged Petrel25(10)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater180(50)
Campbell Albatross30(10)
Short-tailed Shearwater30(12)
Flesh-footed Shearwater25(22)
Fluttering Shearwater2(1)
Silver Gull120(40)
Pomarine Skua4(3)


Risso's Dolphin 25
Oceanic Bottlenosed Dolphin2
Short-beaked Common Dolphin150-200
Flying fish>500

The next Sydney pelagic trip is scheduled for Saturday 12 March, 2016 departing from Mosman at 0645 and Rose Bay at 0700. Please book early so that we have a good idea of numbers by contacting Hal or me. 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