Sydney Pelagic Trip Report – Saturday 11 February 2017


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.

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

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.

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

Gould’s Petrel   1
Wedge-tailed Shearwater           120            (40)
Short-tailed Shearwater           2                (1)
Flesh-footed Shearwater           8                (2)
Fluttering Shearwater             6                (1)
Hutton’s Shearwater               5                (1)
Fluttering-type Shearwater        10
Brown Noddy                       1                (1)
Silver Gull                       60              (15)
Caspian Tern                      1                (1)
Greater Crested Tern              2                (1)
Sooty Tern                        3                (3)
Pomarine Skua                     3                (1)

Risso’s Dolphin                   30
Mako Shark                        1
Pacific Swift                     1

The next Sydney pelagic trip will be on Saturday 11 March, 2017 and all
details of our trips and contact details can be found at  and you can also find us on Facebook at

Roger McGovern

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