Monday, April 11, 2011

Portland Pelagic 03/04/2011

Was fortunate to get out for my second pelagic of the year last Sunday. The weather leading up to the day made it look a bit dicey but it ended up being quite a calm day in the scheme of things. Gave a lift down on the Saturday to a couple of Mark's stopping at the mouth of the Yambuk River which produced some nice birds as usual - one Sanderling, 20 + Double-banded Plovers, two Hooded Plovers and a few Kelp Gulls. Stayed at Mac's in Portland which is cheap but decent although the food was not up to its usual standard. Decided not to sample the nightlife of Portland instead watching the GC Suns get massacred in their first game.

Boat left at 7:00 am sharp which meant an extra hours sleep due to the start of daylight savings. The trip was led by Peter Lansley who together with Rob Farnes had over 200 pelagic's worth of experience between them which contrasted with 4 others on their first pelagic. We were on the Southern Pride which is a larger boat than that used in February and was much more comfortable although a lot slower. Leaving the harbour it was a bit lumpy but not too bad and remained similar for most of the day. First birds of interest were a few small groups of Little Penguins on the surface between the harbour and Lawrence Rocks with gannets becoming more common and the first Black-browed Albatross of the day. Just past the rocks was the first Wilson's Storm-petrel which was much closer in than would normally be expected and gave us hope that it was going to be a good day. There were a number of whales blowing in the distance and the tall, column like blows indicated that they were probably blue whales although we did not get good views like the February pelagic. Other whale blows throughout the day were different shapes and probably other species. A couple of distant Arctic Jeagers were seen chasing Crested Terns for a change.

Great Shearwater - Up to 6 around the boat at the second berley stop

We were settling down for the boring trip between inshore and the shelf when a large light coloured shearwater appeared of the back of the boat causing immediate excitement. Peter called "Great Shearwater!!" and there was a mad scramble for cameras although I did make sure I got all the diagnostic features first. We stopped the boat and berleyed but it had moved on. This was the first time I have been on a pelagic where there has been a new bird for everyone on the boat! We moved on towards the shelf passing good numbers of White-faced Storm-petrels which were the most common storm-petrel of the day.

At the shelf we stopped and started berleying with small numbers of the more common albatrosses quickly coming in. A Buller's albatross was a nice addition to the day list and are one of my favourite birds. The excitement levels again lifted with first one then up to 3 Great Shearwaters coming in to squabble off the back of the boat, indeed it would have been possible to get all three in one camera shot at times. At the shelf, Wilson's Storm-petrel was quite common with a few Grey-backed Storm-petrel floating around.

Gould's Petrel - one of two birds and my second tick
Great-winged Petrel's were not in particularly large numbers although they persisted throughout the time at the shelf. The majority were race macroptera with a few gouldi. A couple of juvenile Wandering Albatross gave us our 5th species (6th taxa) of the day, on the water these remind me of big clumsy geese but in flight they are something else!!

Smaller numbers of Great-winged Petrel's

As we moved to the second berley stop we had up to five Great Shearwaters following us which grew to six when we stopped and berleyed again. As I wandered back to get some food, the call came out "Gould's Petrel!!", I almost flew back but fortunately the bird stuck around and was eventually joined by a second. This was my second tick of the day and to be honest my favourite bird of the day!! The Great Shearwaters almost became a trash bird and would continually circle out, then fly back in causing momentary excitement when you see a large, pale bellied petrel coming in only to realise it is "just another Great Shearwater". As it turned out these were actually the most common pelagic shearwater of the day,even outnumbering the few Short-tailed Shearwaters which wandered by :-)
Five species of Albatross

Eventually we had to cruise back in where en-route we saw what was likely the 8th Great Shearwater of the day as well as many more White-faced Storm-petrels. The only new bird seen on the way back in was a very distant Brown Skua which was the first local for the year. Some Common Dolphins and a few more spouting whales which remained frustratingly distant.

Back in the harbour we were all pretty stoked from what was a great day out. The weather had been very kind and we had dodged all the threatening storms. The water had also been calm with no one sick. Have to really recommend the boat which was very stable, had a good crew and was catered like no other pelagic I have been on - plenty of food and drink!

The day was not done however... Rob had a Lewin's Rail stakeout at Fawthrop Lagoon right in town. 8 of us trooped down and sure enough out popped not only a lovely Lewin's Rail but also a Spotted Crake. What a great way to end the birding day before the long drive home....

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