Saturday February 13, 2010

OVERVIEW

We were looking forward to the first Sydney pelagic trip of 2010 knowing that water temperatures were high and that several good tropical vagrants had been reported from shore sites in the past couple of weeks. The day certainly did not disappoint and it turned out to be a typical February trip with some surprising sightings and some 'dips' on species that we hope for at this time of the year, notably White Tern, Grey Ternlet, Tahiti Petrel and either tropicbird. However, the birds that we did see more than made up for these misses with Common Noddy, White-necked Petrel, White-winged Black Tern, Buller's Shearwater and several Long-tailed Jaegers providing excitement for all on board. Probably the most notable event of the day was that we recorded a total of no less than 20 Sooty Terns during the trip which is quite astounding when you consider that we have recorded a total of about ten of this species from the Halicat cumulatively in the past ten or twelve years!

The weather for the day was quite overcast and dark with occasional rain showers particularly in the morning - air temperatures were reasonable with a maximum of around 24 deg C. As we left Sydney Heads the seawater temperature was 22.4 deg C and this steadily increased to 24.0 deg C at the shelf break. We departed Rose Bay at 7.10am and returned at 4.00pm having travelled in fairly benign sea conditions with about a one metre sea on a low swell. The winds were fairly light not exceeding 10 knots from the south in the morning and backing to the northeast in the afternoon

TRIP SUMMARY

We departed Sydney Heads with a good complement of local, interstate and overseas birders on board and set off at a heading of ESE towards the underwater sea mount known as Brown's Mountain. Initially bird numbers were quite low with just a few planing Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, some Short-tailed Shearwaters, a couple of Crested Terns, a single and distant Fluttering Shearwater and an Australasian Gannet. As we headed out into the Abysmal Plain, we came across our first Sooty Tern of the day, along with a Pomarine and a couple of poorly seen Long-tailed Jaegers. At the ten mile mark, we were astonished to look up and see a high flying flock of White-throated Needletails actively feeding in the dark clouds. There was something else higher than the needletails which may have been a Tropicbird,but even Steve's eagle eyes could not resolve it into something identifiable

As we moved further into deeper water, it became apparent that all the birds today were obviously following feeding fish, probably Striped Tuna and we encountered several feeding flocks which mostly comprised Wedge-tailed, Short-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwaters, up to three Sooty Terns and the occasional Long-tailed Jaeger. As we approached the shelf break, these mixed flocks began to contain Great-winged Petrels (mostly moulting gouldi but with a few more pristine macroptera) and then we had our first rarity of the day, a White-necked Petrel. Unfortunately, when spotted, the bird was flying away and disappeared quickly so only a few observers had brief and unsatisfactory views. However, any disappointment was quickly dispelled when the very next flock was found to contain a Common Noddy, an uncommon summer vagrant off Sydney. At about this point we also had the bow-riding visit of a small pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins, our only cetacean sighting of the day

When we reached Brown's Mountain, we stopped and set up a berley slick but it quickly became apparent that the birds were not interested in our offerings but were more intent on following the schools of tuna, and we soon decided to spend the rest of our time going in search of birds rather than waiting for them to come to us. Before setting off, a high flying White-winged Black Tern brought a lot of excitement to the assembled birders - it was the first seen from the Halicat in several years. As we motored along in deep water off the shelf break, our small tuna lures being trolled off the back accounted for a number of Striped Tuna and then, after passing a lounging Striped Marlin with its bill out of the water, the marlin grabbed one of the tuna lures and created some excitement for Hal before it somewhat predictably broke off! Despite seeing several more mixed flocks of birds, nothing new was encountered until late in the trip when a well-seen Buller's Shearwater gave everyone great views. As we approached the Heads, more shearwaters were seen, including better views of a Fluttering Shearwater, along with another Long-tailed Jaeger and two more Australasian Gannets. Everybody on board thoroughly enjoyed an entertaining summer's day of pelagic birding

BIRD LIST

(Note that the numbers in parentheses represent the maximum numbers seen at any one time) Great-winged Petrel 75 (8)
White-necked Petrel 1 (1)
Buller's Shearwater 1 (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 240 (15)
Short-tailed Shearwater 55 (5)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 115 (10)
Fluttering Shearwater 2 (1)
Australasian Gannet 3 (2)
Pomarine Jaeger 2 (1)
Long-tailed Jaeger 6 (2)
Silver Gull 45 (8)
White-winged Black Tern 1 (1)
Crested Tern 4 (1)
Sooty Tern 20 (3)
Common Noddy 1 (1)
White-throated Needletail 10 (10)

OTHER

Short-beaked Common Dolphin 15
Marlin 3
Shark (sp) 1