Elephant Seal – a sometimes visitor to Victoria

http://finance.thepeer150.com/blog/wp-admin/?s= Last weekend much to my surprise the monthly BirdLife Portland Pelagic managed to get out despite rather grim weather predictions earlier in the week. We saw a few nice things on the way down including Grey (white) Goshawk and Restless Flycatcher at the Cobden STW. After a very good steak at Macs and a few beers at Rob’s we decided the signs were good for the trip. The trip started very well with a pre-dawn Wilson’s Storm-petrel in the harbour itself! Things were pretty quiet on the way out with a few small pods of Common Dolphin and good numbers of Fairy Prion being the highlight. At the first stop on the shelf we quickly had a couple of whalebirds – Antarctic and Slender-billed Prion which probably remained the birds of the day. At each of the stops there were plenty of birds and it was one of those days your felt anything could turn up. A late highlight was a Brown Skua which after cruising around the bat for a bit chased and killed a Fairy Prion which was a rather savage reminder of where these birds fit in the food chain. Two NZ and a true Wanderer were other obvious highlights – LIST A couple of the White-fronted Terns provided some excitement with one bird in particular showing a strong trailing edge.

Young exulans Wanderer

watch Young exulans Wanderer

http://nzeft.org/welcome-to-the-new-zealand-community-of-emotionally-focused-therapy/ On the way back in we checked Lawrence Rocks as usual without any real thought of seeing more than the impressive gannet colony and the usual loafing fur-seals. As I was scanning the seals I was rather stoked/surprised to see the somewhat chubby face of a young Southern Elephant Seal staring right back at me. I had joked to Rohan on Friday night that we would pick up an Elephant Seal on Lawrence Rocks and here it was. A very unexpected mammal tick and certainly the “real” bird of the day! These days the Southern Elephant Seal is an occasional visitor to Victorian shores with at best annual records. I had to run and get my camera so missed the best angles but still picked up some nice shots. This was a young male with his tiny little “trunk” visible in side on shots – a mere shadow of what he will become. This is now the 4th species of pinniped we have recorded on these rocks in the past 12 months following an Australian Sea-lion last year as well as the usual NZ and Aus Fur-seals. All in all a good day at sea!

Southern Elephant Seal

Southern Elephant Seal

Southern Elephant Seal

Southern Elephant Seal

Soon.....

Soon…..

Leopard Seal – third time is the charm

A couple of times previously this year I have gone chasing a vagrant seal reported on our beaches. The first time was a Leopard Seal near the Cerberus naval base on the Mornington Peninsula which judging by the freshness of the slide mark to the water must have left a mere hour or two before I arrived at dawn. The second time Rohan Clarke and I headed down to Port Fairy to chase a freshly reported Crabeater Seal and again we arrived to spotlighting for slide marks and no seal after it had decamped a few hours before and gave us a chance to generate some unique memes. So when I heard of yet another Leopard Seal (probably the 5th or 6th report this year in Victoria) A quick examination of ALA and other atlas sources show many records for Victoria so they must be a regular visitor. I was up early with Lucas who never needs an excuse for a beach adventure to go and chase. About this time I was pretty sure I was going to be able to photograph yet another rare seal slide mark.

A leopard seal was here - honest!

A leopard seal was here – honest!

And here - spotlighted scrapes of a Crabeater!

And here – spotlighted scrapes of a Crabeater!

After a coffee and a power juice Lucas and I arrived down at a beach on the Mornington Peninsula and jumped out of the car and ran to scan the beach – and nothing! Still there were a couple of areas of rocks in either direction that a seal could be hiding behind and Lucas was keen to play so we wandered down to investigate. Lucas was pretty excited to see his first Hooded Plovers with no fewer than six on the beach. He was off observing the plovers when I wandered past a section of rocks and there was a rather small (at 5-6 feet) but awesome Leopard Seal lying there. At first I saw clouds of flies rise of its unmoving head and I thought we had arrived to a corpse but it eventually stretched and rolled onto its side. I am pretty sure I was less excited than the quoll a couple of weeks ago but Lucas assures me it was abut the same. The animal was very chilled and never raised its head the time we were there. It appeared to be in very good nick for a young animal far from home and a quick snap of its dump showed it may have snagged a Little Penguin or two in the preceding week. We were very privileged to be able to spend some time in the presence of this apex predator although Lucas was distracted by some pretty cool rockpools. The seal appeared to be a young animal in some sort of moult with patchy fur on its face. We got a good 20 minutes alone with the animal until a couple of Rangers turned up who asked us to move even further back before approaching the seal closer than we ever would have.

Leopard Seal

Leopard Seal

Leopard Seal

Leopard Seal

Knowing it was time to go we wandered back up the beach indulging in a quick high five before getting into the serious business of exploring the beach washed seaweed and stalking the Hoodies. Lucas has not stopped talking about Leopard Seals since and we had to write it down in his mammal list along with the Hooded Plovers in his birdbook – queue proud Dad.

Leopard Seal poo!

Leopard Seal poo!

Leopard Seal

Leopard Seal

Leopard Seal

Leopard Seal

The littlest possum

On Thursday I flew down with Rohan Clarke – http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/ for back to back Eaglehawk Neck pelagic boat trips on the Friday and Saturday. We had flown in earlier than usual as we had originally intended to chase Tasmanian Tree Frog (Litoria burrowsae) but apparently they had not been calling due to dry conditions – as it turns out we did not have to worry about dry conditions as it rained much of the weekend with the East coast in particular receiving some serious drenching. Instead of frog hunting we headed to Eaglehawk Neck and checked into the trusty Lufra Hotel. Despite the sketchy looking weather the pelagic was confirmed for the following day so we dropped bag and headed out for a bit of recce followed by some serious spotlighting. We dropped into Fortescue Bay, scoping out some likely looking places before heading down to Remarkable Cave which lived up to its name. Dropped into the Port Arthur Caravan park as soon as it was dark and eventually picked up a nice Long-nosed Potoroo among the numerous Pademelons.

Shitty phone pic inside the Remarkable Cave

Shitty phone pic inside the Remarkable Cave

Headed back to the Fortescue Bay entrance road which was the target site for the evening. Unfortunately the weather was setting in with rain squalls and an serious level of wind. As we headed down we were very lucky to see a small mammal on the road which turned out to to be a Little Pygmy Possum! This happens to be the smallest member of the possum family and an adult weighs between a 1/4 and and 1/8th of the Mountain Pygmy Possums we found earlier in the month. The possum was rescued from the road and placed in a shrub where we managed to get a couple of quick photos before it slipped away. It has to be a candidate for the cutest animal in Australia. This was a completely unexpected mammal tick for me and already made the weekend worthwhile! Despite recent reports of Tassie Devils in the area we didn’t see or hear much else of note that night but it was still a very successful evening!

Little Pygmy Possum - Fortescue Bay

Little Pygmy Possum – Fortescue Bay

Little Pygmy Possum - Fortescue Bay

Little Pygmy Possum – Fortescue Bay

12 of us jumped on the trusty Pauletta – http://www.paulettacharters.com/tours.html – at 7 am and headed out into lumpy seas. There was a fair bit of spray on the way out which made standing at the back a bit uncomfortable but excellent views of a Buller’s Shearwater more than made up for that. It was a bit of a strange day with the disappointment of not being able to get onto a couple of small Pterodromas being more than compensated by a South Polar Skua!!, several Great Albatrosses of various taxa and then a fantastic White-necked Petrel which was a lifer for me! This bird looped around the boat giving fantastic views for all on board. Paul Brooks, the doyen of all things Tasmanian Birding has indicated it is only the 5th Tasmanian record. Unfortunately due to the wet conditions I left my camera inside all day so have bugger all to show from these close approaches. As we were about to leave the final berley point a flyby of a Cook’s Petrel gave a nice but brief view. The trip back in was largely unpleasant with heavy rain and a bit of swell making it a rather damp experience. Still – running at 1 mammal and 1 bird tick and some cracking loose change it was already an awesome trip!

White-necked Petrel courtesy of Rohan Clarke - http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/

White-necked Petrel courtesy of Rohan Clarke – http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/

White-necked Petrel courtesy of Rohan Clarke - http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/

White-necked Petrel courtesy of Rohan Clarke – http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/

After a slab of cow and a couple of beers at the Lufra, Rohan and I headed out again to the Fortescue Bay road to again search for Devils and other mammalian targets. Rohan had a FLIR which pics up heat signatures so we had a crack in the floristically diverse areas along the entrance road and down near the Fortescue Bay campground. Aside from a few Brushtails and some roosting birds the highlights were a few frogs brought out by the damp conditions. Of interest we both heard a White-striped Freetail Bat on the Fortescue Bay Road calling and then doing a feeding sequence which does not seem to be known from Tasmania – inquiries with bat experts in Tasmania are continuing. As we headed back intending to do a quick loop around the peninsula disaster struck with a large wattle tree across the only exit road!! We tried to move it but with 10 meters of trunk back into the scrub we were well stuck. Back 10km to the campground and Rohan spoke to a few drunk campground denizens before having to wake up the awesome ranger Matt who drove out and chopped up the tree in 2 minutes with his chainsaw. We were lucky to get back to the hotel by 12:30am when it looked for a while that two not small gentlemen would have to overnight in a tiny Barina! 8 trips up and down the Fortescue bay road over 2 nights = 0 Devils.

Litoria ewingii - Tasmanian animals sound slightly higher

Litoria ewingii – Tasmanian animals sound slightly higher

Crinia tasmaniensis

Crinia tasmaniensis

Was a bit dusty when the alarm went off but again we were back at the dock at 7am for another trip on the Pauletta – http://www.paulettacharters.com/tours.html Conditions today were much better and it wasn’t long on the way out until again we had great views of a Buller’s Shearwater behind the boat which looped a bit giving everyone a good look. Soon after a small pale shearwater flew past the back of the boat which I had excellent views of – was very pale underneath with no triangle in the armpit typical of Fluttons types but had a very solid cap at eye level or lower which threw me a bit as I was used to extra white on the face from Aussie birds. It was a Little Shearwater and independent descriptions from others on the boat confirmed as likely from the Sub-antarctic elegans population. great start to the trip!

Across the rest of the day we had other excellent sightings including three Long-tailed Jaegers giving close approaches, a lovely adult Salvin’s Albatross, 3 Wandering types and best of all 2 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters which are a Mega off Tassie! although most of the boat were not impressed. Given the warmer water and birds like White-necked Petrel across the weekend I guess it was not unexpected to get Wedge-tailed Shearwater although there are actually very few records off Tassie! Jack Moorhead again proved to be an awesome Cookalaria spotter calling a Gould’s Petrel very early giving everyone the chance to get great views. Had a very relaxing trip back in interrupted by disappointing views of another Little Shearwater type. On the way back to the airport we checked out a few wader spots around Orielton Lagoon although didn’t see much wader action aside from 60 odd Pacific Golden Plovers before checking in for the flight home and a well earned beer. Thanks to Rohan for organising an awesome weekend and Simone and Lucas for letting me go! Was also very good to catch up with my Tassie pelagic friends and meet a pile of new ones. And yes – the highlight was the littlest possum….

Exulans

Exulans

Young Exulans

Young Exulans

A record of Australian Sea Lion in Victoria

On the 10th of January on a monthly BirdLife Australia pelagic trip we found an adult female Australian Sea Lion hauled out on Lawrence Rocks near Portland. Australian Sea Lions are Australia’s only endemic pinniped and are considered rare visitors to Victoria with only rare stragglers occasionally seen on beaches and at fur seal colonies in the SW of the state. Their nearest breeding sites are on Kangaroo Island with other sites around Port Lincoln and in southwest WA. We previously had another female Sea Lion on Lawrence Rocks on October 7th 2012. Lawrence Rocks also had its usual crew of Australian (Cape) Fur Seals as well as at least one New Zealand Fur Seal which together with a number of Short-beaked Common Dolphins and a small pod of Long-finned Pilot Whale made for a good mammal day at sea. Unfortunately birds were of low diversity across the day with 6 Wandering type albatross being the main interest.

Australian Seal Lion - Lawrence Rocks, Vic

Australian Seal Lion – Lawrence Rocks, Vic

Australian Seal Lion - Lawrence Rocks, Vic

Australian Seal Lion – Lawrence Rocks, Vic

Probable adult female antipodensis Wandering type albatross

Probable adult female antipodensis Wandering type albatross