Sydney Pelagic Trip Report – Saturday 11 March, 2017

With very strong southerly winds prevailing for the previous days before
this trip creating some huge seas off Sydney, I was quite concerned that
things would not settle down in time for us to get out to sea on Saturday.
In the event, the pelagic gods smiled on us ( I could say ‘for a change’
after our five cancelled trips last year!) and we were treated to a day of
mostly sunshine and light winds. There had been some good sightings from
shore recently (notably a Black-winged Petrel from Mistral Point) and there
was a degree of optimism that it would be a good day – certainly March has
been a productive month in recent years with tropicbirds being recorded on
all March trips since 2010. As it turned out, we saw no tropical species
perhaps because the water temperatures had cooled to 24.5degC after the
strong southerlies, but we did a have a major rarity in the form of a
WHITE-BELLIED STROM PETREL and two lesser rarities in the form of a
White-necked Petrel and a Gould’s Petrel. Although the strong winds had
largely dissipated, there were still large swells up to 3 or 4 metres and
these swells reduced noticeably during the course of the trip and only a
couple of people succumbed to mild sea sickness for a while.

After some delays getting into the public wharf at Rose Bay, we finally got
underway at 7.30am with a full complement of 23 passengers comprised almost
entirely of local birders, and we motored out through the Heads at 7.45am
with a throng of hungry Silver Gulls accompanying us. A couple of Great
Crested Terns came by as did some juvenile Australasian Gannets and, very
soon, we were joined by the first of many very hungry Wedge-tailed
Shearwaters which followed the boat all the way out beyond the continental
shelf break and back to the Heads in the afternoon! In the gloomy morning
overcast, a dark Arctic Jaeger was briefly seen flying away close to the
water but most people did not get on to it. We were then joined by our first
Pomarine Skua of the day and, in very short time, we had five ‘Pom’s’ around
the boat joining in the feeding frenzy. As we continued out towards the 8
mile mark, we started to see the odd Flesh-footed Shearwater amongst all the
Wedge-taileds and, every so often, a Fluttering or Hutton’s Shearwater would
pass by giving everyone the opportunity to hone their skills on
distinguishing the two species. A Short-tailed Shearwater passed by, one of
four seen during the course of the day and then, at some unseen signal, all
the Silver Gulls dropped off the boat and returned to shore and the Pomarine
Skuas all departed at the same time.

As we continued out towards the shelf, the pattern remained unchanged for a
while and then, a few miles short of Brown’s Mountain, a group of five Shy
Albatross joined the feeding shearwaters behind the boat and stayed with us
for a couple of hours or so. Just before reaching the shelf break, a shout
came from the front of the boat and a Gould’s Petrel appeared on the
starboard side at reasonably close range – it did not linger but everyone
got good views. As we started our berley drift at Brown’s Mountain, the
first of several Grey-faced Petrels put in an appearance and then, a few
minutes later, another shout from the front of the boat alerted us to
another pterodroma on the starboard side, this time an elegant White-necked
Petrel. March is probably the most likely month to see this species but they
have been scarce off Sydney in recent years and this was our first in about
four years. For me, one of the events of the day was the appearance of an
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross which, although a common species off Sydney,
has never before been recorded on a Sydney pelagic in March – it is usually
a later arrival in mid-April or so. We stopped our berley drift and decided
to head off slowly into deeper water to the east and this tactic was
rewarded by the brief appearance of a fregetta storm petrel which was only
briefly seen but which was, fortunately, photographed. Rob Hynson had
probably the best view of the bird and thought that it was a White-bellied
Storm Petrel and the back-of-camera shots in the bright sunshine were not
good enough to be certain that it wasn’t the more common Black-bellied Storm
Petrel. However, subsequent examination of the photographs that were
obtained by Jodi Osgood and Jon Spicer-Bell clearly showed the clear white
belly, high level demarcation between the dark lower neck and white breast,
and the lack of any toe projection beyond the tail all showing this bird to
be a White-bellied Storm Petrel. Rob Hynson will be coordinating a
submission to BARC for this species which is rarely seen in coastal mainland
Australia. Although we were accompanied by shearwaters and albatross all the
way back to Sydney, no new species were added to the trip list and it was
disappointing that, unusually, we saw no cetaceans of any sort on the trip.
However, with three good rarities, everyone agreed that it had been an
enjoyable and productive day on the water.

BIRD LIST

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

WHITE-BELLIED STORM PETREL 1 (1)

Shy Albatross 8
(5)

Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 1 (1)

Grey-faced Petrel 7
(2)

White-necked Petrel 1 (1)

Gould’s Petrel 1
(1)

Wedge-tailed Shearwater 160 (120)

Short-tailed Shearwater 4 (1)

Flesh-footed Shearwater 16 (8)

Fluttering Shearwater 8 (2)

Hutton’s Shearwater 5 (1)

Australasian Gannet 9 (3)

Silver Gull 70
(50)

Greater Crested Tern 5 (2)

Pomarine Skua 5
(5)

Arctic Jaeger 1
(1)

The next Sydney pelagic trip will be on Saturday 8 April, 2017 and all
details of our trips and contact details can be found on our website at
www.sydneypelagics.info and on Facebook at
www.facebook.com/sydneypelagics

Cheers

Roger McGovern



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