13 Apr 2013 Report
Having had more than a week of settled warm weather and very light winds, my expectations for this pelagic trip were not high although it is always a pleasure to be out on the ocean in benign conditions. In terms of the bird species seen, it was a somewhat disappointing trip but, everyone on board felt that with two excellent cetacean species seen along with a fascinating micro-habitat of floating pumice containing all kinds of strange creatures, the old adage that you always see something new and interesting was certainly proven today.
Weather conditions were excellent with mostly clear skies and temperatures in the mid-20's. Water temperatures ranged from 23.2 deg C inshore up to 25.5 deg C beyond the shelf break. Winds were very light from the northeast for most of the day but picked up a little as we headed back to Sydney. We departed from Rose Bay at 7.10am and returned at 3.55pm.
We were greeted at Mosman Wharf by the three young lads bearing a platter holding a "bird-day cake" in the form of a New Zealand Storm Petrel for Max and Nathan who both had birthdays the next day. Unfortunately, it was the only NZ Stormy we were to see during the day but it was a great effort byJosh who apparently made the cake. We departed from Rose Bay Wharf with 16 passengers on board comprising mostly local birders and headed out to sea with David James on the berley table. There were very few birds in evidence for the first few miles with just Silver Gulls, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Australasian Gannets and the odd Crested Tern in evidence. A Black-browed Albatross put in an appearance and a single Long-tailed Jaeger flew across the wake at some great distance which was a source of frustration for those who needed this species for their Australian list. Flesh-footed Shearwaters began to appear in reasonable numbers, a single Short-tailed Shearwater put in a brief appearance, a Shy Albatross came past and then a Campbell Albatross joined us for an extended period. As we reached the shelf break, our first cetaceans of the day, a pod of around 100 Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphins came and rode on our bow for a while. We stopped at Brown's Mountain (where the bird-day cake was cut and served) and set up a slick but the only new birds which came by were a few Great-winged Petrels (all ssp gouldi) and some Providence Petrels looking almost silver on the upper wing in their sparkling fresh plumage. After an hour or so drifting with no new birds appearing, we set off eastwards on a run into deeper water. We hadn't progressed very far when we encountered a pod of small fast moving dolphins which were eventually identified as Long-snouted Spinner Dolphins, a tropical species which hadn't been seen from the Halicat in over 15 years. In following these dolphins, we actually back tracked to our original berley slick at Brown's where we discovered four Wilson's Storm Petrels. Setting off again in an easterly direction, we soon encountered another pod of small dolphins, this time around 40 Pantropical Spotted Dolphins - two excellent cetacean sightings within 20minutes of each other. Things became very quiet as we headed into deeper water and our only excitement for a while was a passing Antipodean Albatross of the race gibsoni. In previous reports, this bird would be recorded as a Wandering Albatross but, with BARC and NSW ORAC now using the IOC World BirdList version 3.3, albatross taxonomy is changed from the previous Christidis & Boles taxonomy. As we were slowly motoring along, we encountered an area of water covered in what looked at first to be yellow coloured algae and we stopped to investigate. It turned out to be a patch of small to medium sized pieces of pumice from some far away volcanic eruption and closer inspection revealed that it was a complete micro ecosystem with all kinds of organisms living in it and on it. Steve went off the side and collected some samples in small buckets and we were amazed to find many differently coloured spheroid pufferfish, goose barnacles, various tiny crabs, pelagic sea slugs and pelagic sea snails. It was truly a remarkable sight which left us wondering how this community stays together in 50 knot winds and 5 metre seas! With no new species and very few birds in evidence on the way back, we reflected on the fact that even though it had been a quiet trip, it had also been a very interesting one that we will remember for some time.
(Note that the numbers in parentheses represent the approximate maximum number of that species in view at one time)
Antipodean Albatross 1 (1) (gibsoni)
Black-browed Albatross 3 (1)
Campbell Albatross 1 (1)
Shy Albatross 2 (1)
Great-winged Petrel 7 (2) (gouldi)
Providence Petrel 11 (2)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 90 (30)
Short-tailed Shearwater 1 (1)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 60 (20)
Wilson's Storm Petrel 4 (3)
Australasian Gannet 13 (3)
Silver Gull 40 (20)
Greater Crested Tern 9 (3)
Long-tailed Jaeger 1 (1)
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin 100
Long-snouted Spinner Dolphin 25
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin 40
Flying fish 2