12 November 2016 Report

OVERVIEW

After a year of several pelagic trip cancellations due to high winds and rough seas, this trip once again looked to be in jeopardy from the weather based on the forecast that we had a few days before. Fortunately however, the forecast improved somewhat just prior to the trip and we made the decision to go ahead. The conditions on the day were more or less as forecast with fresh north westerly winds producing a choppy sea and quite uncomfortable conditions - however, we expected these conditions to produce plenty of birds. In the event, all the birds that we encountered on the day appeared to be very well fed and none showed any great interest in our berley offerings. It was interesting that the Port Stephens pelagic the next day encountered exactly the same conditions with not even Silver Gulls coming to their berley leading us to believe that there was a very abundant food source available to the birds off NSW. Many of the various shearwater species that we found in rafts resting on the water were so heavy with food that they had difficulty flying! There were no major highlights for the day but we had a reasonable mix of bird species and some interesting sightings of Humpback Whales, a very 'friendly' Mako Shark and a Southern Ocean Sunfish.

The weather started off very dull with steady rain for the first couple of hours, and the 20 knot north easterly meant that we tracked out to the shelf on a far more northerly path than usual to avoid heading into a beam sea - even then it was quite uncomfortable with plenty of spray. The rain stopped and the day became quite bright and sunny but the wind did not moderate all day and we encountered 2 - 3 metre seas throughout the trip which caused a few cases of sea sickness unfortunately. We went out through the Heads at 7.35am and, since we could not motor quickly in the conditions, reached the continental shelf break at about 11.10am. We did one long drift at the shelf until 12.30pm as conditions were not conducive to moving around the area, and then had a fairly comfortable ride back to shore (with the following wind), arriving at Rose Bay at 3.15pm. Sea water temperature was around 20.0degC which is about the norm for this time of the year.

TRIP SUMMARY

We set off from Rose Bay at 7.20am in very dismal and wet conditions but quite expectant in terms of getting good birds on such a windy day but were surprised when we were unable to attract a following of Silver Gulls to our berley trail as we were leaving the harbour. Even more surprising was that the usual large numbers of inshore Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and albatross failed to make an appearance and, in the first hour or so, we had seen only two birds, both Wedge-tailed Shearwaters! In fact at 8.10am, we encountered a group of four Humpback Whales (one of them breaching nicely for us) and the comment was made that we had seen more whales than birds at that stage. We began to see a few more Wedge-taileds with the odd Short-tailed, Fluttering and Hutton's Shearwaters, a very nice pale morph Pomarine Skua and the first of several Australasian Gannets. About halfway to the shelf, some 12 NM off the Heads, we suddenly found out where all the shearwaters had got to as we came across an enormous raft of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters estimated at around 2000 individuals resting on the water. We attempted to attract them to our berley but it was very obvious that they were not hungry and had no interest in our offerings, so we continued on our way.

As we approached the shelf break, the first Shy Albatross of the day made an appearance - it was a juvenile T.c. steadi or NZ White-capped Albatross and we saw several more juvenile and adult birds of this sub species while drifting at the shelf break. We started the drift with not many birds around but the smell of the berley and the oily slick soon attracted the attention of a number of birds but very few actually fed on the berley. A Grey-faced Petrel passed close to the boat and a little later a couple of Providence Petrels were well seen. Wilson's Storm Petrels were frequent visitors, a couple of Black-browed Albatross added to the mix as did two more Pomarine Skuas. The best bird of the day was a briefly appearing Long-tailed Jaeger which was well seen by all. A 'small' Mako Shark appeared on our berley slick and stayed around the back of the boat for several minutes feeding on the fish scraps to everyone's great interest and a Southern Ocean Sunfish came drifting by close to the boat also providing good views to all. Steve spotted a small cookilaria petrel at some distance and it continued on its way without an identification being possible - very frustrating!

On the way back to Sydney, we again encountered the huge numbers of shearwaters at the 12 mile mark and, this time, we were able to locate a single Flesh-footed Shearwater amongst the hordes of Wedge-taileds, our final new species for the day. More Humpbacks were seen about ten miles offshore but they were not very cooperative. It was not one of our better days in terms of rarities and species diversity but it was, as always, great to be out on the ocean!

BIRD LIST

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

Wilson's Storm Petrel10(3)
Shy Albatross10(5)
Black-browed Albatross2(2)
Grey-faced Petrel3(1)
Providence Petrel2(1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater2000+(2000)
Short-tailed Shearwater4(1)
Flesh-footed Shearwater1(1)
Fluttering Shearwaters25(6)
Hutton's Shearwater 11(5)
Fluttering-type shearwaters30
Australasian Gannet22(8)
Pomarine Skua5(2)
Long-tailed Jaeger1(1)
Silver Gull50(30)

OTHER

Humpback Whale7
Southern Ocean Sunfish1
Mako Shark1

The next Sydney pelagic trip is scheduled for Saturday 10th December 2016 departing from Mosman at 6.45am and Rose Bay at 7.00am. You can also find us on Facebook and post photos at https://www.facebook.com/sydneypelagics


All photographs taken by Jodi Osgood.