Thursday, October 10, 2013

A South African Interloper in Portland

Last Friday night I made the call and the word was that the Portland Pelagic was going ahead. Great news as it has been more miss than hit over the pas year or two. I arranged a lift down with Paul Dodd and Ruth Woodrow and met at their place around noon as we hoped to check the gannet colony before checking in. Zipped down the well worn path to Portland and headed straight to the gannet colony at Point Danger which is near the smelter. As far as I'm aware this is the only mainland colony in Australia and is overflow from the nearby large colony on Lawrence Rocks. Aside from seeing Australasian Gannets at close quarters, we were checking the colony for Cape Gannets, a vagrant from southern Africa which are reported occasionally in Australian colonies. Interestingly Australasian Gannets turn up in South African colonies too!

The last couple of hundred meters to the viewing platform has several water filled holes so is probably best attempted in a car with reasonable clearance, but it is an easy walk in. We were fortunate that on arrival the caretaker was there and he let us go in through the gate close to the colony - he could not really have stopped us... the lock had been stolen.... Was a great experience being so close to a gannet colony with many of them courting. I scanned the colony repeatedly looking for all black tails or long gular stripes with no joy and eventually wandered off chasing a nearby calling Bristlebird... only to go running back when Ruth found a gannet with a long gular stripe! The bird stubbornly preened away and would not show its neck but it had the courtesy to spread its tail showing all black feathers and its iris was much paler than the surrounding Australasian Gannets. It eventually raised its head and there was the beautiful long stripe extending well down the neck. TICK! Very exciting and a totally unexpected bonus! Thanks Ruth! :)

We spent about 20 minutes observing the bird with Paul and Ruth taking about 10 memory cards worth of photos. To say we were excited was an understatement - its been quite a few years since one had been publicly reported here although their presence has been suspected. Eventually the cold wind defeated us and we went back to Mac's for a celebratory beer or two and a steak.

It was the start of daylight saving so the 7am start on the boat was really 6 am and it sure felt like it after a night of waking up every 30 minutes to check if the phone had really rolled over to daylight savings. Conditions were very calm all day with just about 3m of swell so I was quite comfortable and mostly dry sitting on the back of the boat. Headed out past Lawrence Rocks where good numbers of recently returned short-tailed shearwaters provided something to look at. Knowing that its a long 3 hours out to the shelf in Portland I packed the headphones which was a really good idea so spent my time listening to Midnight Oil which seemed an appropriate soundtrack while watching shearwaters and Shy albatrosses glide above the waves.

All in all it was a good day at sea without anything particularly special - I am probably spoilt after my previous weekend off Tassie. Still there were nice birds with a number of Antipodean Albatrosses, both Giant-petrels, both races of both Cape and Great-winged Petrels and reasonable numbers of Flesh-footed Shearwaters amongst others. There were three berley stops and we added steadily to the list at each stop with flybys from White-fronted Terns and a couple of species of Storm-petrels. We had a large tub of shark liver which we would kill to have down on a Tassie pelagic where it is in very short supply.

Probably the most interesting bird of the day was a darkly hooded Shy type Albatross which flew in. The underwings were very clean which indicated it was Shy but there was some thought that it may have been a Salvin's due to the striking hood. Later examination of photos confirmed it was a Shy, likely of the NZ race steadi as they breed later and it is very unlikely a Tassie bird would still have such a strong hood.

 Eventually it was time to slip the headphones back in for the trip back - this time Something for Kate's "Feeding the birds and hoping for something in return" seemed appropriate. A couple of Arctic Jaegers chasing terns and a young Sea-eagle on Lawrence Rocks rounded out the list. Was a most enjoyable day at sea.

Eremaea list

1 comment:

  1. Great photos, Tim, especially the top one. It's even more impressive when viewed at screen size.