Southeastern Australia

Overview of pelagic birding in southeastern Australia

The many islands the dot the Bass Strait between Victoria and Tasmania, provide an important breeding area (some 25+ species) for seabirds as well as a migration corridor between Pacific and Indian oceans. For example, Short-tailed Shearwaters (often known as Tasmanian Muttonbirds) breed (Sept-Apr) in immense numbers on both sides of the straits.

Birders visiting New South Wales should note that at the moment, pelagics from Sydney are scheduled to depart on the 2nd Saturday of each month, Wollongong pelagics on the 4th Sunday of each month and Eden pelagics on the 3rd Sunday of each month. Updates and contact information can be found on Tony Palliser's Pelagic web site.

Helpful General Literature

Nigel Wheatley (1998) Where to watch birds in Australasia and Oceania. Princeton University Press.


Arguably, one of the best single spots for pelagic birding in the world is the continental shelf edge just off Wollongong, a fishing port located 80 km south of Sydney, Australia. The shelf break is only 30 nautical miles offshore and thus easily reachable in a day trip. An astounding 90+ species have been recorded here, corresponds to an amazing 1/3 of all the seabirds!!

There are monthly trips, organized by local seabird enthusiasts aboard the Sandra K. See Tony Palliser's web site for the schedule and contact details as well as a full listing of past glories. Local fishing boats may also be hired in the Belmore Basin section of Wollongong Harbor.

Henk de Groot (1997) Pelagic Seabirds off Wollongong, Australia. Dutch Birding 10(5): p238-241.

Brandis, C.C.P., Chafer, C. J. and Smith, L.E. (1992) Seabirds recored off Wollongong, New South Wales 1984-1990. Aust. Bird Watcher 14: 165-179.

The seabird mix varies significantly between the seasons. Albatrosses, giant petrels and prions are more common in the winter (roughly Apr-Sept), while shearwaters feature most prominently in the summer (roughly Oct-Mar).

Depending on season, the following are possible

Little Blue Penguin - inshore
Gibson's Albatross - winter
Northern Royal Albatross - winter (May-Nov)
Grey-headed Albatross - winter (May-Sept)
Shy Albatross
Black-browed Albatross - winter
Campbell Albatross - winter
Indian Yellow-Nosed Albatross - winter
Buller's Albatross - winter (May-Nov)
Light-mantled Sooty Albatross - migration (Sept-Oct)
Southern Giant Petrel
Northern Giant Petrel
Cape Petrel -both australe and capense
Providence Petrel
Great-winged Petrel
Kermadec Petrel
Kerguelen Petrel - summer (Jul-Nov)
Tahiti Petrel - summer (Nov-Mar)
Black-winged Petrel - summer (Oct-Apr)
White-necked Petrel - migration (Jan-Mar and Sept)
Mottled Petrel - migration (Oct)
Gould's Petrel - mainly summer (Jan-Apr)
Parkinson's Black Petrel -mainly summer
Soft-plumaged Petrel - (Aug-Oct)
Fairy Prion
Antarctic Prion
Salvin's Prion
Slender-billed Prion -
Streaked shearwater - summer (Nov-Mar)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater - summer
Buller's Shearwater - mainly summer (Sept-Mar)
Flesh-footed Shearwater - summer (Sept-Apr)
Sooty Shearwater
Short-tailed Shearwater - (Sept-Jun)
Hutton's Shearwater - all year
Fluttering Shearwater
Wilson's Storm-petrel - all year
White-faced Storm-petrel - all year
Black-bellied Storm-petrel - (Sept-Nov)
White-bellied Storm-petrel - (May-Sept)
Australasian Gannet - all year
Australian Pelican - all year
Great Cormorant
Little Pied Cormorant
Australian Pelican - all year
Brown Skua
Pomarine Jeager - summer (Sept-May)
Parasitic Jaeger - summer (Sept-May)
Long-tailed Jaeger - summer (Sept-Apr)
Silver Gull - all year
Kelp Gull - all year
White-fronted Tern Great Crested Tern - all year
Sooty Tern
Grey Ternlet
Sperm Whale
Humpback Whale
Strap-toothed Beaked Whale
Bottle-nosed Dolphin
Risso's Dolphin
Common Dolphin
Pygmy Killer Whale
Australian Fur Seal


[Note, this list is simply meant to indicate possibilities and does not imply acceptance by the relevant rare bird committees.]
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross
Sooty Albatross - (May)
Southern Fulmar - (July, Sept)
Juan Fernandez Petrel - (Aug)
Murphy's Petrel - (Oct)
Pink-footed Shearwater - (Mar)
Manx Shearwater - (Oct)
Audubon's Shearwater - (Mar, Aug-Oct) Little Shearwater - (May-Nov)
Grey-backed Storm-petrel - (Sept)
South Polar Skua - (Jun-Oct)
White Tern
Blue-grey Noddy - (Mar)


Excellent pelagic birding can be managed from Sydney itself. Regular trips aboard the catamaran The Halicat leave from the Rose Bay Public Ferry Wharf on New South Head Road (again see Tony Palliser's web site). The continental shelf is reached in as little as 1.5 hrs and species make up is similar to Wollongong to the south. Some impressive land-based sea watching has been reported from various headlands in and around Sydney. During strong southerly winds, Magic Point and Mistral Point, two headlands within 10 km of the city center, can be remarkably productive with a variety of albatrosses, petrels, prions, shearwaters, skuas/jaegers, terns and marine mammals.

Useful literature

Milledge, D.R. (1977) One year's observations of seabirds in continental shelf waters off Sydney, N.S.W. Corella 1: p1-12.

Other locations in Australia

Other excellent locations include Eden, New South Wales and Southport, Queensland the latter being recommended for Tahiti Petrel during the summer.

Full details of pelagics from ports near Perth, Western Australian can be found on Frank O'Connor's web site. Contact details for pelagics aboard the 'Seaworld Explorer' out of Southport can be found on the Gold Coast Pelagics web page, which includes a dramatic flight shot of a Tahiti Petrel.

I saw a most peculiar man, all giggling with glee.
Sniffing at a petrel as it swam upon the sea.
"I love the smell of petrel," is all the fellow said.
I wish that there were more like him; that darling petrel head.

Poem by Michael Leunig printed in the Sydney Morning Herald (27 Oct 19995) and posted to Birdchat by Trevor Quested.

Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved. Angus Wilson
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