14 November 2015 Report
This was a very disappointing pelagic trip being the first one in several years that we had to abandon early due to deteriorating wind, wave and rain conditions. The weather pattern had changed overnight Friday (as had been forecast) with the northerlies of the past couple of days replaced after an overnight southerly change to produce a 15 - 20 knot south-easterly on Saturday. This change in wind direction produced a very sloppy and uncomfortable sea up to around two metres. We had no problem coping with these conditions although the journey to the shelf break was significantly slower than usual motoring at only 7 knots. However, at about 2NM short of Brown's Mountain, we found ourselves heading into a quite severe storm front with very black skies. Within five minutes or so, the sloppy 2 meter seas had been replaced by high steep-sided breaking waves up to about 5 metres in height and we immediately stopped our eastward progress to take stock. After a few minutes of berleying and setting out a slick, it became apparent that the conditions were highly marginal and unlikely to improve and, with heavy rain and very poor visibility as well, I took the reluctant step of conceding to the elements and asking the skipper to head back towards Sydney.
Needless to say, having not reached the shelf break and with the poor visibility and heavy seas, our species count was not large. However, there were a good number of overseas visitors and first-time pelagic trippers for whom the day was still considered a success with three albatross species and good numbers of birds following the boat all the way out from the heads.
We set off from Rose Bay at 7.30am with 23 passengers on the MV Avalon comprising quite a few overseas visitors from the UK, Canada, China and France, a keen first-timer from Tamworth for who this trip was a bit of a baptism of fire, and the usual contingent of local supporters. The weather was dark and threatening and conditions were not great for seeing birds or cetaceans. I started the berley trail going before leaving the heads but nothing approached the boat for a while which concerned me a little - only small groups of late-migrating Short-tailed Shearwaters were seen at first and they rarely come to the boat unless they are very hungry. When we were about a mile or so off the heads, the first couple of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters came into the berley trail and were joined immediately by our first Flesh-footed Shearwater of the day. A couple of Australasian Gannets passed by and the odd Fluttering Shearwater provided less than satisfactory views in the gloomy conditions. The number of birds in our berley trail steadily increased and the first of several Pomarine Skuas joined us and at least four individuals stayed with us all the way out - it was interesting to all on board to see these birds at very close range and to see the variations between very dark morph birds to quite a strikingly pale individual. Two immature Black-browed Albatrosses joined our trail and remained for the duration and a very obliging Hutton's Shearwater passed close to the boat. A little later, a Shy Albatross joined the throng of birds behind the boat and this was the only new species until we reached the eastern-most extent of our trip.
Having decided to stop short of Brown's Mountain due to the storm front, we carried out a short period of berleying producing a reasonable slick and were rewarded with the appearance of a wandering-type albatross (an Antipodean Albatross ssp gibsoni under the IOC taxonomy) and, just as we departed, a Wilson's Strom Petrel came to the slick close to the boat providing good views for all. The journey back to Sydney was uneventful in improving sea conditions and we arrived at Rose Bay at 1.45pm. It was a disappointing finish to our 2015 pelagic season but I think that everyone was happy that we made the correct decision to abandon the trip rather than take any unreasonable risks.
(Note that the numbers in parentheses represent the approximate maximum number of that species in view at one time)
|Wilson's Storm Petrel||1||(1)|
|Greater Crested Tern||9||(5)|
Thanks to Andy Woods for the two Pomarine Skua photographs and to Jodi Osgood for the Flesh-footed Shearwater, Shy Albatross and the gathering storm photographs.
If you are interested in pelagic trips, all details of dates and contact details for making bookings are in the Sydney Pelagics website at http://www.sydneypelagics.info and you can also find details on Facebook and post photos at https://www.facebook.com/sydneypelagics
Thank you to everyone for your support in 2015 and we look forward to catching up with all our old friends (and some new ones) in 2016.
(The photographs attached were taken by Andy Woods and Jodi Osgood)