“A good, ordinary Portland pelagic” – fateful words and one that all too often describes a pelagic over the Summer months out of Portland in SW Victoria – a pelagic with good numbers of ordinary birds but lacking that special one. After a week of favourable looking forecasts the trip was confirmed on the Friday night and I headed down with Scott Baker who gripped me continually with tales of his recent 6 week birding exploits in India. We had a bit of time before dinner so had a walk around Point Danger looking for vagrant penguins and had a quick glance at the Cape Gannet whose chick was coming along quite nicely. Was actually quite birdy with Blue-winged Parrots being chased by a nice Collared Sparrowhawk while Rufous Bristlebirds called in the background. On the way out a hunting White Goshawk was a nice bonus. The usual half a cow for dinner was not washed down with the usual beers as I am trying to do Febfast – something felt wrong and after casting the bones and examining the auguries it was clear that the signs for tomorrow were not good.
At 7am we jumped aboard the Timaru of South West Charters and headed out to the shelf. As we past Lawrence Rocks we had a brief fly by of a jaeger but it was too far to get a positive ID. There were small numbers of common shearwaters offshore but almost no albatross were encountered until we hit the shelf. A small pod of Offshore Bottle-nosed Dolphins just before the shelf provided some interest and was a new one for my mammal year list. Conditions were very benign and remained so for the whole day – I wore shorts and had no regrets. As we hit the shelf we encountered a good sized pod of pilot whales for the third month running with some impressive bulls passing very close to the boat! Of course my camera was still in its bag inside the cabin…. after getting some cracking views of the whales I raced in and got the camera out only for the pod to be disappearing into the distance…. what could have been!
We started berleying and soon gathered good numbers of birds behind the boat. A highlight was watching the Short-tailed Shearwaters diving deep chasing fish and liver scraps – sometimes remaining under the water for near a minute. There were good numbers of Great-winged Petrels with gouldii outnumbering macroptera about 10 to 1. We had a good amount of shark liver and the shark off-cuts were particularly fought over by albatross and petrel alike. Considering the summery conditions it was surprising that we only had a couple of White-chinned Petrels and Flesh-footed Shearwaters across the day.
We are getting Nick from SW Charters quite well trained in the art of berleying now and he was keeping large numbers of birds interested. It was the sort of day where something rare could just fly through but if it did we missed it. Still there continued to be very good numbers of Great-winged petrel behind the boat at all times as well as shearwaters and Shy and Yellow-nosed Albatross. A late Buller’s Albatross was probably the bird of the day. There was some excitement when a large whale spouted beside the boat but it sunk beneath the water without showing any features and could not be relocated. The time of year would make a Blue Whale most likely but the spout didn’t seem right – sighting of the day gone begging!
I spent the whole way back in looking and hoping for a Blue Whale as they had been regularly seen over the proceeding few weeks but with no luck. A stop at Lawrence Rocks produced the usual fur-seals as well as views of the impressive gannet colony. Gannets now cover every possible nesting spot including some in some very precarious positions. I think there was an air of some slight disappointment as we docked – but still it was “a good ordinary Portland Pelagic” with birds many birders around the world would love to see.
Ebird Species list – http://ebird.org/ebird/australia/view/checklist?subID=S27365843