11 May 2013 Report

OVERVIEW

Sydney had been experiencing an extended spell of 'Indian Summer' with warm temperatures and light winds for the past couple of weeks. This factor combined with the awkward time of the year when the summer birds have departed but the warm water delays the arrival of winter species, meant that my expectations for this trip were fairly moderate. As it turned out, we had some excellent sightings and, had the birds been a bit more cooperative in approaching the boat, we would likely have had even more unusual records. Top bird of the day was undoubtedly a pale morph SOFT-PLUMAGED PETREL which, although seen at some distance, was clearly identifiable and, in fact, thereis a photograph good enough to hopefully get a submission through NSW ORAC. A very obliging Black-bellied Storm Petrel which gave great photographic opportunities was also outstanding but distant views of what may have been Cook's Petrel and Antarctic Prion were very frustrating. The other highlight of the trip was the largest number of Australasian Gannets ever seen from the Halicat with more than 500 birds seen during the course of the day with some spectacular fishing displays just outside of the heads. Weather conditions were somewhat mixed with good conditions on the way to the shelf suddenly overtaken by some rain storms and squalls just before reaching Brown's Mountain at around 10.00am. Winds were light at 5 to 8 knots from the south initially but veered to the north west at 15 - 20 knots creating a very uncomfortable short, steep chop of 1.5 to 2 metres. Sea water temperatures were 19.5 deg C inshore rising to 21.9 deg C approaching the shelf - quite warm for mid-May. A couple of cases of sea-sickness occurred as a result of the bumpy conditions but were not too serious. We departed from Rose Bay at 7.10am and returned at 3.05pm.

TRIP SUMMARY

We departed through the heads with a small contingent of 10.5 passengers (don't even ask...) mostly locals but with a couple of overseas visitors. I started the berleying as we left Rose Bay and we soon had a large following of Silver Gulls, Crested Terns and Australasian Gannets. Not long after leaving the heads behind, we were joined by Black-browed Albatross, Campbell Albatross, a few Short-tailed Shearwaters, a couple of Sooty Shearwaters, and Shy Albatross (both cauta and steadi). At about the 10 mile mark, our first of several Fairy Prions was seen, the first record for this winter. Another prion appeared some distance behind the boat which appeared to have the characteristics of an Antarctic Prion but it quickly disappeared and had to become a prion (sp). With the weather beginning to deteriorate, we decided to stop about 4NM short of Brown's Mountain since we were heading into a bone jarring heavy chop which was reducing our boat speed to about 3 knots. The berley trail brought in a couple of Wilson's Storm Petrels and then I saw way behind the boat, our first pterodroma of the day. As soon as I got my binoculars on to the bird, the combination of the all dark underwings, capped forehead, chestband and white underparts were immediately diagnostic of SOFT-PLUMAGED PETREL which was a lifer for most people on board. With one usefu lphotograph being taken, I think a submission to NSW ORAC will be worthwhile even though the bird was at long range. Not very long after this a storm-petrel came into view behind the boat which was obviously a fregetta and it then came in very close to confirm that it was a very smart looking Black-bellied Storm Petrel. A few fresh-plumaged Providence Petrels came by and then David James spotted a small, distant cookilaria petrel which, by the very pale underwing and small size, we thought was probably a Cook's Petrel. Alas, it kept on going and disappeared from view to become a cookilaria (sp) for the record. We then went on a slow cruise to the northwest and then east to avoid the worst of the squalls and, on our next drift, were delighted to have the visit of a huge mature Wandering Albatross (D.exulans) which created great excitement for all on board. A rather strange looking bird seen behind the boat caused some debate but later examination of a photograph showed it to be a Flesh-footed Shearwater seen in very poor light - and it was the only one of the day! With weather conditions not improving, we set off back to Sydney a little earlier than normal and the trip back was quiet for the most part. However, we added to the day's tally with a well seen Hutton's Shearwater, a couple of late Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, a Fluttering Shearwater and a heard-only Little Penguin. As we approached the heads, we found our first and only cetaceans of the day, a pod of about 20 Short-beaked Common Dolphins which rode our bow wave for a while. We then encountered a massive flock of feeding Australasian Gannets numbering at least 500 along with bait fish and tuna breaking the water everywhere - a spectacular way to finish the day. With 20 species and a couple of excellent rarities, it was a memorable May day on the water.

BIRD LIST

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

Little Penguin 1 (1) heard only
Providence Petrel 7 (2)
SOFT-PLUMAGED PETREL 1 (1)
Cookilaria sp 1 (1) probably Cook's Petrel
Fairy Prion 8 (1)
Prion sp 1 (1) probably Antarctic Prion
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 2 (1)
Sooty Shearwater 2 (1)
Short-tailed Shearwater 27 (6)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 1 (1)
Fluttering Shearwater 1 (1)
Hutton's Shearwater 1 (1)
Wandering Albatross 1 (1) exulans
Black-browed Albatross 14 (6)
Campbell Albatross 7 (3)
Ind. Yellow-nosed Albatross 8 (2)
Shy Albatross 7 (2) cauta and steadi
Wilson's Storm Petrel 4 (1)
Black-bellied Storm Petrel 1 (1)
Australasian Gannet 650 (500)
Silver Gull 300 (160)
Greater Crested Tern 18 (8)

OTHER

Short-beaked Common Dolphins 20