It has been a long time since I have posted anything. Pretty fair to say I have struggled a bit – first with lockdowns and then a real post Covid funk that has made it somewhat difficult to get motivated. Couple that with a busy work and family life and maintaining a blog has probably fallen well down the priority list. But the time has come – I am back baby! I thought I would ease back in with some of the amazing birds (and blubber) I have seen on pelagics over the past year or so. Despite lockdowns I have managed to get out on a few and have been lucky enough to see some good things.
We will start back in May last year (2021) where in between lockdowns I was lucky to get down to Eaglehawk Neck for another double header pelagic weekend. We had a good crew together so after a bit of spotlighting and a couple of beers the night before we headed to sea with high expectations. Day one was a really good day at sea with plenty of Pterodromas – White-headed, Soft-plumaged and Providence. There was also a good array of great albatross with both Royals, Snowy and both NZ Wanderers seen which is always nice to pick through. Probably the highlight of the day was a lovely Westland Petrel seen well by all – a few years ago was considered a mega off Australia but does seem a regular off this port in May now.
We backed up again the next morning and the omens were good! Beasts had been consumed, beers swilled and a Masked Owl seen while spotlighting the night before. Today was to be very different to the day before and oh so much better, with a distinct cold water tone. Again plenty of great albatross and similar Pterodromas to the day before. Things changed quickly though with Grey Petrels, a couple of Sooty Albatross then a Light-mantled Albatross providing epic views for all on the boat. We were not done with the great birds either with Black-bellied Storm-petrel and more Westland Petrels providing excitement. One of those weekends where I had no new birds but was absolutely epic!
In June and December I was fortunate to get out on boats in East Gippsland to visit the Bass Canyon which is a bit of a new frontier for seabirding in the state. On the first trip we saw good numbers of Providence Petrel which had previously been basically unknown for Victoria. On the next trips we saw good numbers of Bullers Shearwater which again was previously considered very rare in the state. I think in the right time of year both will be shown to be regular in the Bass Canyon. While there were never the numbers of birds as an EHN or Portland pelagic there was still plenty of other variety and potential – things like Cook’s and White-headed Petrel and great albatross.
Rolling into the new year and February I was back down at Eaglehawk Neck for probably one of the greatest pelagic weekends of my life (and it will be hard to beat) On the Friday night we had a few beers and rolled out to find a couple of Pygmy-possums – all very respectable and I was quite fresh as we got on the boat the next morning. We had a really good day with plenty of great albatross and the usual suspects including a very high number of 35 Buller’s Shearwaters. But the highlight was surely the numbers of Pterodroma’s – 16 Mottled Petrel, 38 Cook’s Petrel and 57! Gould’s Petrel all heading North to South made for an excellent day.
Back on the boat on the Sunday we felt that all the proper rituals had been followed but we had no idea how well it was going to pay off. The conditions were extremely benign as we set out with little swell or wind and a fair bit of fog around. Inshore we had a large whale surface a couple of times beside the boat – good views and photos obtained which showed it to be a Sei Whale! A new mammal for me and many on the boat. Early on at the shelf we had a “young” brown Wandering type albatross come towards the boat and a few of us joked we should check if its an Amsterdam…. I took a few shots as it came in and checked the back of the camera…. it had a cutting edge! I quietly mentioned this but did not get as excited as I should have as quite honestly the brain was still trying to process. Eventually everyone got very excited as we realised we probably had an Amsterdam Albatross – a near mythical type of “Wandering” albatross that has perhaps 150 individuals left in the world and only breeds on Amsterdam Island in the southern Indian Ocean. It made a few more passes and many photos were taken. It is perhaps the 3rd or 4th Australian record and everyone was a bit shellshocked!
Things started to hot up after this with many petrels passing through with 27 Cook’s, 25 Gould’s and an extraordinary 121 Mottled Petrels seen for the day! There were again many other great albatross seen but despite scanning the Amsterdam never returned. Later in the day Isaac called out an interesting Storm-petrel which turned out to be a New Zealand Storm-petrel – another mega sighting of a species that was thought extinct until 2003. The bird gave several passes which allowed a few shots to confirm ID – perhaps the 4th or 5th Aussie record. As we cruised back into port in very benign conditions Mottled Petrels continued to stream past in great numbers. Just to round off one of the best pelagic days ever we had a distant South Polar Skua chasing terns as we passed the Hippolytes!
Into April I crossed the border into the strange land of South Australia for a pelagic out of Port Mac. It was good to catch up with Dave and Sue Harper and I really like the boat – a big couch, good viewing deck and a barbeque for lunch! What is there not to like? We had a really good pleasant day at sea with Humpbacks on the way out and many hungry birds feeding close to the boat. For me the highlight was four Northern Royal Albatross – a species I haven’t seen that often just over the border in Victoria. Looking forward to getting out again in the future – if they will have me!
Just a taster of what has been seen over the last year or so at sea. More trips coming up soon and I reckon I am in a good place to share. Thanks to Sim and Lucas for letting me get out there and people like Rohan and Dave for organising boats!