11 October 2014 Report
The weather off Sydney had been very good for the past several days and this trip was conducted in picture perfect spring conditions with clear skies, warm temperatures, light winds and fairly benign sea states. As is often the case when we go out in such beautiful weather, the numbers and variety of birds seen were down on what might have been hoped for in what is often a very productive month for rarities. However, a count of 17 bird species is probably about the average for Sydney trips and we had a whole range of 'sea monsters' to supplement the birds, so there was plenty to make it an absorbing day for all on board. By far the greatest highlight of the trip was not a bird but a very obliging DWARF MINKE WHALE which circled our boat for at least 20 minutes giving close views and great photo opportunities. A shot taken by Steve Hey is attached to this report.
We left the heads in good sea conditions of less than one metre sea on a one metre swell and with light north easterly breezes in the morning, and conditions remained very similar for the entire trip despite the forecast of strengthening winds after lunch time. The journey out to the shelf was under clear skies with warm temperatures and it remained this way for the whole day. We left the heads at about 7.25am and arrived at Brown's Mountain on the shelf break at just after 10.00am. With no birds showing at Brown's, we did not stop but continued for about 5NM eastwards into deeper water where we then stopped and carried out a berley drift after seeing a few birds in the area. At 11.30am, we departed the berley location and motored for about 5 or 6 NM north eastwards from where we turned for home and arrived back at Rose Bay at around 3.20pm. Sea water temperatures were about the norm for this time of the year running from 19.5 deg C to just over 20.0 deg C.
We departed from Rose Bay in the Zane Grey with 20 passengers, mostly locals but with visitors from the UK and Canada. We set up a trail of fish offal behind the boat before leaving the harbour and soon had large numbers of Silver Gulls and several Great Cormorants following the boat. As we passed through the heads, those on the upper deck had distant views of the resident pod of Inshore Bottlenose Dolphins and we soon had good numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters joining the gulls behind the boat. A single Hutton's Shearwater was well seen behind the boat and several more were seen close in to the heads. Small numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters showed well and we soon had our first views of a distant group of Humpback Whales - although we saw up to 10 Humpbacks on the way out, none were close enough for us to observe at closer quarters unfortunately. The small group of Great Cormorants continued to stay with the boat until about 4NM off the heads which is most unusual behaviour. As we travelled through the first half of the 22NM journey to Brown's Mountain, we added good numbers of Fluttering Shearwaters to the tally along with a few Australasian Gannets, Greater Crested Terns and our first albatrosses of the day, young Shy Albatross (ssp steadi or 'White-capped' Albatross) and a single immature Black-browed Albatross, and a few Flesh-footed Shearwaters were spotted amongst the Wedge-taileds behind the boat. A distant jaeger was seen harassing the Silver Gulls behind the boat and although it was almost certainly an Arctic Jaeger, it was too far away to be certain. As we headed into deeper water, the number of birds following the boat began to drop off but we had a number of sea creatures to maintain our attention as we came across a breaching marlin, two Southern Ocean Sunfish (one of which was well seen close to the boat), a couple of fur seals and a shark near a ball of bait fish which may have been a Tiger Shark.
As we approached Brown's Mountain, a giant petrel was seen behind the boat and made a couple of reasonably close passes showing the pale green bill tip which confirmed that it was a Southern Giant Petrel. Although there were a few Providence Petrels around the shelf break, we decided to keep motoring into deeper water to try and find greater concentrations of birds. This was not particularly successful but we eventual stopped about 5NM east of Brown's Mountain and set up a berley slick to see what would come in. A few Providence Petrels, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and the odd Great-winged Petrel came by and then several Wilson's Storm Petrels came to the slick and provided good, close views. The first Wandering-type Albatross of the day approached the boat and settled on the slick, revealing itself to be an Antipodean Albatross ssp gibsoni. With no new species coming in to the berley trail, we motored back up the slick to give close views of this bird before taking off on a course to the north east. We continued to see a few birds but no new species - the highlight of this period was a passing look at a very young Wandering-type Albatross (probably another gibsoni) resplendent in its chocolate brown plumage and white face.
On the journey back to Sydney, no new bird species were seen and it was generally a very quiet trip back to the heads. Another fur seal was well seen and showed itself to be an Australian Fur Seal. By far the highlight of the day occurred about 10NM off the heads when a glimpse of a medium size whale was seen near the boat. We immediately stopped and cut the engines and the whale surfaced again nearby showing itself to be a DWARF MINKE, a species that we rarely see off Sydney possibly because off the difficulty in locating them rather than because of their extreme rarity. As we drifted quietly, the Dwarf Minke continued to swim around the boat, obviously curious, and it surfaced several times in close proximity. It was still with us more than 20 minutes later when we decided to resume our homeward trip. As we approached Sydney Heads, a couple of us on the upper deck found a Sooty Shearwater amongst the many Wedge-tailed Shearwaters but it had quickly gone from view before others could be alerted.
Although there were not huge numbers of birds evident on the day, there was plenty to keep the attention and everyone on board enjoyed a typical Sydney pelagic experience on a beautiful spring day.
(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 3 (1) all immature with one looking much like a Campbell Albatross
Shy Albatross 7 (2) all steadi
Southern Giant Petrel 1 (1)
Great-winged Petrel 3 (1)
Providence Petrel 10 (2)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 120 (60)
Short-tailed Shearwater 150 (40)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 3 (1)
Sooty Shearwater 1 (1)
Fluttering Shearwater 30 (5)
Hutton's Shearwater 8 (3)
Wilson's Storm Petrel 9 (5)
Australasian Gannet 8 (3)
Greater Crested Tern 4 (2)
Jaeger sp 1 (1) probably an Arctic Jaeger
Silver Gull 200 (120)
Humpback Whale 10
DWARF MINKE WHALE 1
Inshore Bottlenose Dolphin 3
Fur Seal (sp) 5 one confirmed Australian Fur Seal
Southern Ocean Sunfish 2
Marlin (sp) 1
Shark (sp) 1 probably a Tiger Shark