After a solid dose of the wheeled obsession it was time to indulge in the feathered reptiles again. As far as my twitchpowers are concerned I’m particularly weak on the seabird front. And as with most things in life, the most honest remedy is practice. Simple enough, and I have a romantic fascination with the ocean. The only problem is I lack the intestinal plumbing to deal with it. Case in point; my most recent pelagic foray.
Rob encouraged me to do the March trip out of the Gong. At this time of year Albatross (my favs) would be scarce (being way south) but a few species of shearwater were going to dominate. A good thing as I particularly struggle with the mutton bird collective.
With a cold brewing, and after a restrained Friday night on the booze I was in the car at 5 and arrived in good time for the 7 am depart.
(With apologies to Colleridge;)
'The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.
Mostly true enough if one ignores the fact that no crowds were there to bid us farewell. Conditions were mild and the SandraK (looking progressively worse for wear) set course for the shelf, ploughing into what turned out to be a strong current. Despite the relative calm, and despite having eschewed breakfast (apart from those gingery pills), after about 2 hours conditions got the better of me. I succumbed to that very unpleasant ashen sensation of dry wretching over the side – I think I was the only one on the boat to do so. The rest of the motley crew (and birders are generally a motley lot) carried on munching down snacks and sandwiches, unperturbed. One of our number turned out to be Mr Weigel, an American herpetologist (he owns the reptile park near Gosford). John smashed the Australian year record in 2012 with 745! Incredibly, he is doing another big year in 2014, and already has 499 under the belt. To put this in context, my Australian life list is approx. 380 species.
At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name.
Almost spot on this time – apart from the lack of fog. A lone Black-Browed Albatross tagged the boat for most of the day, periodically scattering the shearwaters squabbling for the sprinklings of the chum continually turfed out the back.
'God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—
Why look'st thou so?'—With my cross-bow
I shot the ALBATROSS.
No truth whatsoever, although said albatross did grace pixels on my camera.
And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!
Fortunately, the albatross-derived breeze wasn’t blowing too hard. Weigel, who obviously has a stomach for this sort of stuff, was up for a bit of a chat to pass the time (I don’t think he added to his Big Year list on this trip, although my life list was expanded by 2!). On recounting a trip to Christmas Island – he looked at me and commented that I, in particular, would love it – given that the boat trip alone required 3 days in each direction.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
If only this were the case! My stomach would have been so grateful. Due to the prevailing current it took us over 5 hours just to get to the shelf, where we dawdled for an hour before motoring for home. Aside from ferrying those with binoculars and cameras, another aim for several on board was to catch and tag as many birds as possible. To this end they almost broke a record, tagging approx. 130 shearwaters (most of them the wedge-tailed variety).
Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.
That’s my stomach talking again. Had to work very hard not to lose it another half dozen times on the return trip. Very grateful to finally make it back to port, although it took quite a few hours for the stomach to settle. That might just be me Pelagic’d out for the year, although come September maybe the lure of Albatross might draw me back for another round.
...and Flesh-Footed Shearwater.
Great views of Pomarine Jaeger, with breeding tail plumes starting to appear. They are on their way back to Siberia to breed.
Storm brewing. We get back just as big drops arrive.
The scraggliest Kelp Gull i've ever seen, and this is before the storm hit.