14 Sep 2013 Report
After a mixed bag of weather over the past few days, sea conditions were quite stirred up for our monthly trip and were not helped by wind conditions that started as a light to moderate northeaster and which became a strong southwester by lunchtime. However, we decided to head out despite the uncomfortable conditions and were rewarded by some magnificent spectacles of large flocks of shearwaters and albatross along with humpback whales, common and bottlenose dolphin and even a fur seal. The only rarity of the day was a SALVIN'S ALBATROSS which was spotted by David James as we laboured out to the shelf and which then disappeared for a while. It was seen again just before we left the shelf for home and showed to be a young bird, possibly second cycle, with a very dark bill and quite smudgy leading edges to the underwings. David is collecting photographs from participants for the preparation of a submission to NSW ORAC.
We left the heads in quite lumpy conditions with a 1 metre sea on a 1-2 metre swell and a moderate north east breeze of 10 knots or so. The conditions remained much the same until we finally reached the shelf break where we stopped short of Brown's Mountain to berley. Not long after arriving at the shelf, the wind direction backed to the west and then south west increasing in strength and causing the sea conditions deteriorate and we decided to call an early end to the day and head back to Sydney. Surface sea water temperatures were in the range of 20.2 deg C inshore up to 20.8 deg C at the shelf break. We departed from Rose Bay at 7.15am and returned at 1.15pm
We departed through the heads with 16 passengers on board, mostly locals but with a couple of overseas visitors. David started the berleying before we left the harbour and we immediately had throngs of Silver Gulls and a few Greater Crested Terns following the boat. As soon as we reached open water, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters joined the fray and, within 30 minutes or so, we had an immense following of perhaps 1000 hungry wedgies behind the boat. A few Australasian Gannets began to appear along with flocks of small shearwaters passing by, mostly Fluttering but with a few Hutton's here and there. Numbers of albatross following the boat slowly increased, mostly Black-browed and some Shy (predominately juvenile White-capped form) and one or two Campbell Albatross. Only a few miles from the heads, we encountered our first two Humpback Whales of the day and, although the sea conditions were not conducive to whale watching, most people on board had very good views of them. A Southern Giant Petrel appeared and stayed with boat for almost the entire journey out and back again. A group of three Brown Skuas joined the mass of birds following the Halicat and the first of several Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross made an appearance. A small pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins rode on our bow for a while giving some good photo opportunities and then David picked out a SALVIN'S ALBATROSS among the large numbers of birds following the boat. It seemed to disappear shortly after but was relocated just before we headed back to port.
As we approached the shelf break, the first of several Antipodean Albatross was picked up by Steve's sharp eyes - all of these wandering-type albatross were of the sub-species gibsoni. Pterodromas started to show in small numbers, initially only Providence Petrels and then a few Great-winged Petrels of the New Zealand race gouldi. The first of two Buller's Albatross arrived and was a life bird for several on board. Just before our early departure from the shelf after the first berley drift, the only Fairy Prion of the day was seen - fortunately it approached quite closely giving everyone a good look at its ID features.
The journey back to Sydney did not bring any more new bird species for the day, but we saw more Humpback Whales and Short-beaked Common Dolphins along with an Australian Fur Seal which was pretending to be a dolphin by swimming with the boat for several minutes. A massive flock of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters was seen some distance to the north as we approached the heads and a brief view of a 'sea monster' which promptly disappeared was thought to be an Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin. Although the day was curtailed and several people experienced an uncomfortable journey, it was a day memorable for the constant throngs of birds around the boat for the entire trip.
(Note that the numbers in parentheses represent the approximate maximum number of that species in view at one time)
Antipodean Albatross 7 (3) all gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross 80 (55)
Campbell Albatross 4 (2)
Shy Albatross 20 (7) mostly juvenile White-capped
SALVIN'S ALBATROSS 1 (1) immature, maybe second cycle
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 9 (3)
Buller's Albatross 2 (1)
Southern Giant Petrel 1 (1)
Fairy Prion 1 (1)
Great-winged Petrel 5 (2) all gouldi
Providence Petrel 12 (3)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 1500 (1000)
Fluttering Shearwater 200 (40)
Hutton's Shearwater 12 (2)
Australasian Gannet 55 (25)
Silver Gull 400 (300)
Greater Crested Tern 28 (10)
Brown Skua 6 (3)
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin 1
Short-beaked Common Dolphin 25
Humpback Whale 6
Australian Fur Seal 1