14 March 2015 Report

OVERVIEW

I would like to preface this report by saying a big ‘thank you’ to the Sydney area birders who supported this trip. Our five man Sydney Pelagic Co-op were once again stuck for a vessel for this March trip and we decided to take the risk and charter the Bass & Flinders MV Explorer even though the probability was that we would take a financial loss on the venture. However, the local birding community came through and supported the trip to the point where we had 42 passengers on board – surely a Sydney record for a pelagic trip. It means that we will have the cushion to use for another trip with the Explorer later in the year, perhaps in July, and keeps the pelagics viable for the rest of the year. We plan to use the MV Avalon for most of this year – it is a monohull game fishing boat with a capacity of only 23 passengers so if you are keen to go out in a particular month, please book early.

This pelagic trip was blessed from a weather standpoint – a rare event in my experience! We had very strong winds for the two preceding days and then 30 knot winds on the day after the pelagic – we would have had to cancel on any of those days. However, the day itself was a perfect late summer day with bright sunshine and very warm water temperatures again – conditions that would suggest the appearance of some tropical species, and so it turned out. Although we recorded 21 species on the day (which is very good), the birds were well fed and generally had no interest in the boat or the berley. This caused many of our sightings to be brief and distant and, with a large boat and the consequent time lapse in communication, this inevitably caused most people to miss one or two species that were recorded during the trip. The highlights of the day were a RED-TAILED TROPICBIRD, two WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRDS, a WHITE TERN and a Buller’s Albatross. The frustration of the day was a fregetta storm petrel which appeared very briefly and did not allow any ventral views. The appearance of very white underparts and lack of leg projection beyond the tail would strongly suggest White-bellied Storm Petrel (see Steve Hay’s photo attached) but, unless anyone comes up with better diagnostic photographs, it will have to remain a fregetta (sp).

We left the heads in the predicted sea condition of a 1.5m sea on a 1.0m swell which was reasonably comfortable in a large boat – however a small number of people suffered from mild sea sickness. The winds were from the south and south east for the whole day and both the wind and the sea state decreased throughout the day. We left the heads at around 7.35am and arrived at Brown’s Mountain at about 9.45am and, with nothing much happening there, we continued for about 6NM eastwards into deeper water at the beginning of the deep canyon area. We berleyed there for over an hour and then did a slow trip back up the long slick that had formed. We set off back to Sydney at 12.30pm and, after a look around Chowder Bay and Shark Island for the South Island Pied Oystercatcher, we arrived at Rose Bay Wharf at 3.30pm. The vessel did not have the means to measure the sea water temperature but the BoM seawater temperature charts indicated that the temperature would have been around 24.5degC.

TRIP SUMMARY

We departed from Rose Bay Wharf at 7.10pm with 42 passengers, mostly locals but with visitors from the UK, Canberra and Gloucester, and we spent the first 15 minutes circumnavigating Shark Island in an unsuccessful attempt to relocate the South Island Pied Oystercatcher that has been reported from here and Chowder Bay for the past couple of weeks. We left the heads at 7.35am and, contrary to our usual practice of berleying all the way to the shelf, we decided to head straight out to Brown’s Mountain and beyond to maximise our time in deep water. As we left the heads, some people spotted a Long-tailed Jaeger on the water (the only one of the day) and shortly afterwards, a Pomarine Skua made a pass of the boat. There were Wedge-tailed Shearwaters around but not in great numbers and a couple of Fluttering Shearwaters were well seen. Our only Australasian Gannets of the day were seen quite high and then our first albatross, a Buller’s Albatross was seen but again at some distance. A single Short-tailed Shearwater showed well near the boat and at about the 8 mile mark, we saw a small bird ahead of the boat which looked remarkably like a prion but it disappeared before it could be identified. The size and flight pattern , together with the time of year (they have a post breeding dispersal from their NZ breeding grounds from January through March) and water temperature, all suggested that Broad-billed Prion could be a good fit for the bird but we will never know! The first of several Shy Albatross was seen but again not approaching very close to the boat. Our first group of dolphins, about 25 Short-beaked Common Dolphins, came and checked us out and rode on the bow wave for a while. As we neared Brown’s Mountain, the first major excitement of the day occurred when a white bird was distantly seen and we set off to try and track it down. After looking at a fuzzy blown up shot of the bird on someone’s camera, I called it as a tropicbird. We initially lost the bird then re-found it a couple of minutes later and when we got closer, it turned out to be a White Tern which everyone saw very well. Somewhat puzzled, I had another look at the original photo and there were two white birds in the same frame! Fortunately one of the group of young birders on board had a better shot of the tropicbird which was identified as a Red-tailed Tropicbird but it was never seen at a range where it could have been identified with binoculars.

We continued on into deeper water and began to see Great-winged Petrels (race gouldi or ‘Grey-faced’ Petrels) and, as we started the berley trail, we added Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Flesh-footed Shearwater and a couple of Providence Petrels to the tally. A pod of about50 Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphins came and swam around the boat for a while much to everybody’s enjoyment. A sharp-eyed young birder picked out a very high tropicbird in the sky which a lot of people had trouble seeing with the naked eye – it turned out to be a White-tailed Tropicbird and was a lifer for many on board. Our only wandering-type albatross of the day, an Antipodean Albatross (ssp gibsoni) came by giving great views to all on board and a Mako shark came swimming through the berley trail close to the boat. Another group of dolphins, this time a pod of 20 Short-beaked Common Dolphins, came close to the boat to check us out. With time pushing on, we motored slowly back up the slick and encountered a fregetta storm petrel which frustratingly did not properly show a ventral view and which departed very quickly. The impression of very white underparts and the lack of leg projection beyond the tail strongly suggested that it was a White-bellied Storm Petrel but, unless any better photographs come to light, it will have to remain a fregetta species. The trip back to Sydney was largely uneventful but was highlighted by the sighting of three Black-browed Albatross, a species not previously recorded on the day. As we approached the heads, two Sooty Shearwaters were seen, bringing the day’s species count to 21 which is excellent for March. We detoured via chowder Head and Shark Island in another vain attempt to locate the SIPO and finally arrived at Rose Bay at 3.30pm.

All in all it was an excellent and absorbing day on the water with some outstanding birds – it just would have been good if we had had better views of some of them.

BIRD LIST

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

Antipodean Albatross1(1) ssp gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross3(1)
Shy Albatross5(1)
Buller’s Albatross1(1)
Great-winged Petrel15(3) all gouldi
Providence Petrel2(1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater40(8)
Sooty Shearwater2(2)
Short-tailed Shearwater1(1)
Flesh-footed Shearwater4(1)
Fluttering Shearwater4(1)
Wilson’s Storm Petrel8(3
(Fregetta species)1(1) probably White-bellied Storm Petrel
Red-tailed Tropicbird1(1)
White-tailed Tropicbird2(1)
Australasian Gannet2(2)
White Tern1(1)
Silver Gull90(60)
Greater Crested Tern3(1)
Pomarine Skua2(1)
Long-tailed Jaeger1(1)

OTHER

Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin50
Short-beaked Common Dolphin45
Mako shark1
Flying fish100+

The next Sydney pelagic trip is scheduled for Saturday 11 April, 2015 departing from Mosman at 6.45am and from Rose Bay at 7.00am. Please book early to assist our planning and to avoid missing a spot. All details of our trips and contact details are in the website at http://www.sydneypelagics.info and you can also find us on Facebook as well as post photos: https://www.facebook.com/sydneypelagics


(The photographs attached were taken by Steve Hey – White Tern and Fregetta species)

Steve Hey

Steve Hey