Champions of the Flyway!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sydney Pelagic, Australia - 13th Aug 2011

A lot of birding on the trip so far has been done from the hip, and no doubt plenty more will be over the coming months; there have been exceptions, however, and while looking into the opportunities for our week in Sydney, a must-do appeared on the radar.

Day-long, entirely bird-focused pelagic trips out of Rose Bay, Sydney, are scheduled (weather permitting) once a month, on the second Saturday of each; by a stroke of luck, the very Saturday in August we'd be there. Recommendations from far and wide only hastened my booking us both on the boat for a (possibly) once-in-a-lifetime experience I'd been increasingly excited about as the day approached.

Fast forward to the morning in question, and we walked the short distance to catch our bus - still in the dark, and with King's Cross clubs and nightlife still very much in full swing - which delivered us to the quayside in plenty of time for the seven a.m pick-up.

A total of around 25 birders plus crew were on board, many of whom were seasoned non-debutantes and experienced NSW seawatchers, several of whom were sharper still (including the informal staff) - good news for a usually-terrestrial English birder with about as much experience of the complexities of Albatross ID as David Cameron has of the concepts of social equality.

Conditions were initially bright, sunny and mild, becoming generally cloudy with light rain and bright spells during the latter part, with southerly winds. As soon as we cleared the harbour, we were into birds; a good sign, especially as the birds in question were Black-browed Albatrosses, normally not evident until further out into the ocean.

To cut a long story short, from there on, there followed nine hours of unique, unforgettable, regularly shock-and-awe birding a long, long way from dry land, and with more highlights than a Canon and a keyboard could justifiably represent.

Over the course of the day, we were often surrounded by multitudes of Albatrosses, with Fairy Prions, Cape Petrels, Australasian Gannets, Providence Petrels, Australian Pelicans, Fluttering Shearwaters, Crested Terns and Brown Skuas also around us; a single Wedge-tailed Shearwater was eclipsed by a close-up and accommodating Gray-backed Storm-petrel, a rarity and only the third for New South Wales.

Not forgetting both Australian and New Zealand Fur Seals, pods of Oceanic Bottle-nosed Dolphins swimming with the boat (within touching distance, much to the bewitchment of Amity), and two Humpback Whales; but in truth, it was the albatrosses which took the breath away the deepest and most often - all seven species of them....

Nine hours, many nautical miles and a lot of flash-card memory later and we were back on dry land*; an extraordinary and unforgettable day with the masters of the oceans.

Separate pecies posts from the pelagic to follow over the coming days.

Thanks to all on board - especially the crew, Nikolas, Jason and Laurie - all friendly, helpful and invaluable for calling less obvious ID's, much appreciated.

*It should be mentioned, from first-hand experience, that while the trip is enthusiastically recommended, if you've a problem with seasickness, you may want to reconsider and maybe go shopping in Sydney instead. We suffered lengthily for our sins - which I'd do again tomorrow at the drop of a hat, such were the rewards - but unless the birds involved illuminate your existence greatly, the pay-off may not be justified.....