8 June 2013 Report

OVERVIEW

If you had to write a script for a typical early winter day's birding off Sydney, then this day would have matched it very closely. The Humpback Whales were very prominent and easy to find on their northward migration and most of the winter birds had arrived with the exception of Cape Petrel and Brown Skua, perhaps because the water temperature was a couple of degrees higher than is usual for early June. Although there were always large numbers of birds attracted to the berley around the boat there was only one unusual sighting, that being an Antarctic Prion quite well seen and possibly a couple more which were too distant to make a positive identification. The large numbers of Black-browed Albatross and good numbers of Fairy Prion were also notable on the day. After a few days of reasonably calm weather, a southerly came up overnight on Friday and we were greeted by strong 20 knot winds and some seas up around 3 metres as we left the heads and this led to a very slow and quite uncomfortable ride out to Brown's Mountain. The day was initially overcast but we reached an area of clear sky out towards the shelf and the air temperature was about 19 deg C, although it felt cooler with the wind. Seawater temperature was 19.7 deg C at the heads, dropping to 18.4 deg C at Brown's Mountain which contrasts with the 17 deg C temperatures encountered on the June trip last year. On reaching the shelf, the wind began to ease and backed around towards the east, making the journey back to Sydney very comfortable. There were a couple of people who succumbed to sea sickness on the journey out but they appeared to improve once we reached the shelfbreak. We departed from Rose Bay at 7.10am and returned at 3.45pm.

TRIP SUMMARY

We departed through Sydney Heads with an almost full boat of 28 passengers, mostly birders but also some folk that wanted to see some migrating whales. The latter did not have to wait long when, shortly after leaving the heads, Steve picked up a group of migrating Humpbacks in the very choppy conditions. As we motored towards them, one animal breached clear of the water - a truly spectacular sight. Unfortunately that was the last of the pyrotechnics and, although we tracked the pod of four for some distance, we saw nothing more except dorsal fins and the occasional tail slap. We then set course for Brown's Mountain directly into a very sloppy and uncomfortable sea such that our headway was reduced to 6 or 7 knots. We were followed out by large numbers of Silver Gulls, the odd Crested Tern, a couple of Australasian Gannets and very good numbers of Black-browed Albatross - the only albatross species in evidence for much of the journey out. A Northern Giant Petrel joined us, the first of three for the day, a Hutton's Shearwater was well seen and then several Fluttering Shearwaters came by. Fairy Prions began to be seen regularly followed by the odd Short-tailed Shearwater, Shy Albatross and a Southern Giant Petrel. Those on the upper deck saw a good sized flying fish gliding for a great distance and then, as we were nearing Brown's Mountain, we encountered our first Yellow-nosed Albatross of the day. It was almost noon by the time we reached Brown's Mountain and we therefore had less time than usual to drift and berley. However, the birds continued to show in good numbers with several Campbell Albatross noted, small numbers of Providence Petrels, our first Antipodean Albatross came in followed over time by four more (all of them subspecies gibsoni) and Wilson's Strom-Petrels also arrived in small numbers. During all of this time, there were plenty of Fairy Prions around the boat when Steve alerted me to a prion that appeared larger and which had a more erratic flight style with twisting glides rather than the low, fixed wing flight of the Fairy Prions. Although it did not make a close approach, there was no doubt that its larger size,very conspicuous upper wing 'M', narrow terminal band on the tail, and somewhat bull-headed appearance confirmed this bird as an Antarctic Prion. Another bird was seen by David a few minutes later that may also have been this species but it stayed a long way away from the boat. We had a non-descript shearwater sitting in the berley slick for some time which was the subject of conjecture as to whether it was a Short-tailed or a Sooty but its long bill convinced me that it was Sooty even though the underwing pattern was not conclusive. Our journey back to Sydney with a following sea was very comfortable but we didn't add any new bird species to the list. However, we did meet a large pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins travelling on the surface very rapidly towards us from the east. Some of them joined us for a while, riding on the bow, but they soon left us and continued on their way. As we approached the heads, we stopped along with several other craft to observe two Humpback Whales travelling north but, once again, they were not in the mood to put on an aerial display. Shortly afterwards, Steve saw an Antarctic Minke Whale surface not far from the boat but, despite all our efforts, it could not be relocated. Entering the harbour we encountered some Little Penguins bringing our day to a satisfactory conclusion with a species count of 19.

BIRD LIST

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

Little Penguin 3 (2)
Antipodean Albatross 5 (3) all gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross 42 (30)
Campbell Albatross 4 (2)
Shy Albatross 11 (3)
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 9 (4)
Southern Giant Petrel 1 (1)
Northern Giant Petrel 3 (2)
Antarctic Prion 1 (1)
Fairy Prion 45 (5)
Providence Petrel 5 (2)
Sooty Shearwater 1 (1)
Short-tailed Shearwater 4 (1)
Fluttering Shearwater 25 (4)
Hutton's Shearwater 3 (2)
Wilson's Storm Petrel 5 (2)
Australasian Gannet 22 (5)
Silver Gull 250 (200)
Greater Crested Tern 14 (6)

OTHER

Short-beaked Common Dolphin 100
Humpback Whale 7
Antarctic Minke Whale 1
Flying fish 1