11 February 2017 Report

OVERVIEW

Our first Sydney pelagic trip for 2017 took place in abnormally hot weather conditions (up to 46degC in some parts of western Sydney) and with very warm sea water temperatures of around 25degC. However, some good shore-based sightings of tropical seabird species recently along the NSW coast gave rise to a reasonable level of optimism that something good might turn up. In any case, it was very pleasant to be out in the cool(ish) sea breezes offshore rather than stuck in the heat of the city. There had been some light to moderate winds over the past few days and so the sea was not flat but had a small chop on top of a 1.5 to 2 metre swell which made the ride quite comfortable – conditions remained much the same all day.

TRIP SUMMARY

We departed from Rose Bay at 7.15am with a full complement of 23 passengers made up of a good number of locals and regulars as well as some international visitors from The Netherlands, South Africa, USA and Scotland. A couple of Greater Crested Terns were seen in the harbour and, as we went out through the Heads, there were just a few Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Silver Gulls, none of which showed any interest in the fish scraps that we tossed over the stern. It quickly became apparent that this was going to be a very quiet day for birds and that we would have to rely on the occasional good sighting in amongst significant periods of inactivity. A distant Caspian Tern seen flying along the shoreline of South Head was an unusual sighting for Sydney’s coastal waters and a couple of Pomarine Skuas put in an early appearance. Occasional Fluttering and Hutton’s Shearwaters came past, some of them at some distance which had to be classified as ‘Fluttering types’. As we progressed towards the continental shelf, a couple of Flesh-footed Shearwaters were picked out amongst the Wedge-taileds.

The first real excitement of the day came about 18NM ESE of Sydney Heads when a group of three Sooty Terns flew past the boat heading north giving everyone excellent views. When we arrived at the underwater sea-mount known as Brown’s Mountain (normally the location that we stop, drift and berley), there was not a single bird in view and so we continued to motor slowly eastward into deeper water in an attempt to find some bird activity. After a short while, we came across our best seabird of the day in the form of a very obliging Brown Noddy (aka Common Noddy under some taxonomies) which was flying close to the water about 30 metres from the boat. We stopped at this location and set up a strong berley trail of tuna oil and fish scraps which attracted a couple of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters for a brief period and then again we were left with an empty ocean. We decided to continue to motor in a loop to the north east and then swing round back towards Sydney. After an hour or so we spotted a pod of about 30 Risso’s Dolphins and moved a little closer to get a look at these boat-averse cetaceans – in this case they did not seem bothered by our presence and everyone was treated to excellent views. As we came in towards the edge of the shelf break, a very distant ‘cookilaria’ petrel was sighted and, even at long range, it was clearly a Gould’s Petrel but, unfortunately, only a few people were able to get on to it.

The drive back to the Heads was almost lacking in birds until we got inshore where there were numbers of shearwaters including a couple of Short-tailed Shearwaters. The most bizarre sighting of the day occurred about 13NM off the Heads when a Pacific Swift circled the stern of the boat for about 30 seconds before continuing on its way. It was in heavy tail moult and had a very white throat (rather than the smudgy white that Pacific Swift normally shows) which led to a discussion about the possibility of a House Swift. However the photographs clearly showed that it was indeed a Pacific Swift with the pale scaling on the underparts clearly visible. It was not a classic Sydney pelagic trip but, as usual, there were some interesting sightings and everyone enjoyed the day on the water.

BIRD LIST

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

Gould's Petrel1(1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater120(40)
Short-tailed Shearwater2(1)
Flesh-footed Shearwater8(2)
Fluttering Shearwater6(1)
Hutton's Shearwater 5(1)
Fluttering-type shearwaters10
Brown Noddy1(1)
Pomarine Skua3(1)
Silver Gull60(15)
Greater Crested Tern2(1)
Sooty Tern3(3)
Pacific Swift1(1)

OTHER

Risso's Dolphin30
Mako Shark1
Flying fish sp.1

The next Sydney pelagic trip is scheduled for Saturday 11 March, 2017 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.