SATURDAY DECEMBER 10, 2011 REPORT

OVERVIEW

After all the excitement with Fin Whale and Sei Whales on the two previous trips, this last Sydney pelagic of the year was a far quieter affair although not without its moments. A very weird looking pterodroma which came in close to the boat out at the shelf caused great excitement initially as it appeared to have a dark head and a pale chest but Nikolas immediately called it correctly as an aberrant Providence Petrel and Raja’s photographs confirmed the identification. (See Raja’s website at http://www.adarman.com/Pelagics ). The only other incident that got the heartbeat elevated was when one of our most experienced observers called a distant Streaked Shearwater, a bird we haven't seen from the Halicat in a number of years. However, as the bird approached the boat, it mysteriously morphed into a young Wandering (Gibson?s) Albatross thereby generating a fair amount of friendly banter for the rest of the trip

Surface water temperatures were a bit warmer than last month, ranging from 17.8 deg C at Sydney Heads to a maximum of 19.4degC at the Continental Shelf break. We departed from Rose Bay ferry wharf at 7.10am and returned at 3.45pm, the early return reflecting the lack of avian and cetacean activity on the way back. Sea conditions were benign throughout with a gentle one metre swell and no sea at all on top of that. There was only one very mild case of sea sickness during the trip. The wind was light all day coming from the south in the morning at 5-10 knots and backing to the east at 10-12 knots in the afternoon. The weather was quite cloudy in the morning which gave a poor quality light and then sun appeared around lunchtime to produce a fine afternoon

TRIP SUMMARY

We headed out of the harbour with a complement of about 20 on board, comprising overseas visitors from Canada, Spain and Italy plus a good number of local and interstate birders. Although David started berleying before leaving the harbour, the birds showed little interest in our offerings and we were unable to get a critical mass of shearwaters following the boat out to the continental shelf. The benign conditions have been ideal for the birds to find food and they are consequently less interested in our berley. As we followed the coast north towards Long Reef, there were plenty of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters in evidence, smaller numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters still on their migration south and the first of good numbers Pomarine Jaegers that were seen throughout the trip. A Sooty Shearwater put in a brief appearance, a couple of Hutton's Shearwaters were well seen and then we discovered our first albatrosses of the day, two juvenile Black-browed sitting on the water near a fishing boat. As we motored through the Abysmal Plain, everything became very quiet (as is usually the case) but an Arctic Jaeger and a Wilson's Storm-Petrel were added to the tally before we reached the shelf break

As we approached the shelf break to the north of Brown?s Mountain, we encountered our first cetaceans of the day, a pod of about 12 Risso's Dolphins, which were more obliging than usual in allowing us to approach for reasonably close views. We made our first berley stop some three miles north of Brown's mountain as there seemed to be good numbers of birds around. We immediately had excellent numbers of Great-winged Petrels around the boat, all gouldii in heavy moult, along with more Pomarine Jaegers, several Long-tailed Jaegers and the odd Flesh-footed Shearwater. The young Wandering Albatross and the aberrant Providence Petrel (referred to above) kept things interesting, but our only other new bird in quite a while was an unusually late Shy Albatross and we then motored to Brown's Mountain for another berley session. En route, we encountered a pod of at least 50 Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphins some of which rode on our bow for a while

We berleyed at Brown's without adding any new species to the day's list although a second Shy Albatross was a surprise for December, and we then decided to motor back to Sydney encountering along the way two of the smallest Southern Ocean Sunfish that we have ever seen. Another berley stop a couple of miles from the heads failed to elicit any interest from the various shearwater species that were in the vicinity and we eventually headed back to port after an absorbing day on the water which produced sixteen bird species including three jaeger species and three albatross species

BIRD LIST

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

Great-winged Petrel 65 (30)
Providence Petrel 1 (1)
Sooty Shearwater 3 (1)
Short-tailed Shearwater 400 (40)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 250 (30)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 5 (1)
Hutton's Shearwater 4 (2)
Wandering Albatross 1 (1) gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross 4 (2) all nominate race juveniles
Shy Albatross 2 (1)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 2 (1)
Arctic Jaeger 3 (1)
Pomarine Jaeger 14 (3)
Long-tailed Jaeger 6 (2)
Silver Gull 20 (5)
Crested Tern 4 (2)

OTHER

Risso's Dolphin 12
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin 50
Southern Ocean Sunfish 2 Mola ramsayi