Thursday, December 16, 2010

Nelson Bay Pelagic

It was a beautiful day. The lightest of breezes, warm sunshine, a swell of less than half a metre – perfect for most boat-based activities. Sunscreen liberally applied, camera set on my ‘birding’ setting and slung over a shoulder for quick access, we headed out for the continental shelf.

A Fairy Penguin bobbed on the water just as we left the harbour and the familiar pelicans, swallows and white-faced heron. A group of young Australian Gannet tok off from the water as we passed. Then a couple of Arctic and Pomarine Jaegers flew in close to investigate, promising a good birding day. But that was it. The long, slow trip out to deep water was uninterrupted by further photo opportunities. Binoculars revealed two Wandering Albatross sitting on the water, and the occasional Shearwater flew past at a distance that prevented identification beyond Wedge-tailed or Short-tailed.

We crossed a strongly flowing current where several White-faced Storm-petrels were feeding, which lifted our spirits in anticipation of increasing numbers of birds as we got further out. A fast travelling Sooty Shearwater heightened anticipation.

However setting up the cod liver oil slick and a berley trail brought not a single bird to the boat. We did see a large pod of Risso’s Dolphins which cruised along side the boat in photographing distance, and a shark came inquisitively close. Then a huge group of Spotted Dolphins filed past filling the ocean to the east of the boat. A  Dolphinfish crossed in front of the boat. But no birds.

Several of my fellow expeditioners had dozed off in the warm sun, so I settled myself into a corner and dozed for twenty minutes. Stlll no birds. So we headed back to the current where we had earlier seen the Storm-Petrels, and found two Wilson’s Storm-petrel and a Flesh-footed Shearwater which continued feeding, uninterested in the boat. A Great-winged Petrel flew past at a distance, taunting the photographers.

As it was getting late we headed back to port. At around four in the afternoon, just a couple of miles outside the heads a Nor-easter sprang up. Suddenly there were two hundred Wedge-tailed Shearwaters behind the boat scrabbling for the chicken mince. Ten or twelve Fleshy-foot Shearwaters, and half a dozen Pomarine Jaegers joined them.  A young Black-browed Albatross briefly took a turn at the berley bar with a Hutton’s Shearwater, some Sooty Shearwaters and a group of Crested Terns.

Shutters clicked furiously trying to capture individual birds amongst the frenzy. The sun disappeared behind a cloud, and the wind developed an edge – it was time to head home.

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