Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Shyish Albatross

On Sunday's Port Fairy pelagic trip I also photographed this bird that looks different from the nominate race of the Shy Albatross (or species depending on which side of the discussion re race or separate species you subscribe to). It's obviously an immature bird but the grey hood suggests to me Salvin's Albatross Thalassarche (cauta) salvini but I am not familiar enough with this race or with variations in immature Shy Albatross Thalassarche (cauta) cauta.

any ideas welcome...
(click on an image for larger view)

UPDATE (31 Oct 2012):
The general consensus of opinion (thank-you to all those who emailed me) seems to be that this is either a Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta) or  White-capped Albatross (Thalassarche steadi) with most suggesting that it is difficult to distinguish between them, particularly in immature birds, but there's a leaning towards T. steadi so I'm labelling this post that way for the moment. I am happy to take further suggestions/advice and will update this post accordingly if I get further evidence/argument to change this position.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Port Fairy Pelagic

One of my long-standing birding ambitions has been to go on a pelagic trip so when one was being organised by the Melbourne Photography Group of BirdLife Australia through Birdswing Birding & Wildlife Tours, I jumped at the chance and was not disappointed.

15 hardy souls assembled with cameras, binoculars and warm and weather proof clothing at Port Fairy wharf at 7:15 for a 7:30 boarding of the Perceive.

Perceive docked at Port Fairy wharf
(at the end of the trip - I was too busy chatting to get the early morning photograph)
Once all were aboard we headed down the Moyne River into Port Fairy Bay, rounded Griffith Island and headed SW into the rolling swell of the Southern Ocean. The sky was heavily overcast but there was almost no wind which made for fairly pleasant travel albeit with lots of up and down (I have never suffered from sea-sickness but took the precautionary pharmaceutical prophylactic before hand just in case...thankfully, I have still never suffered from sea-sickness).

We cruised for 2-3 hours out past the continental shelf, stopping when there were birds to be seen, burleying to attract the birds in closer to the boat. For some reason, few were keen to "land" on the water (an interesting, oxymoronic expression) for a feed but many were happy to fly around the boat.

First to fly by were several Shy Albatross (at one stage we counted at least 10)

Shy Albatross, Southern Ocean

including this immature bird

Shy Albatross (immature), Southern Ocean

and one alighted close enough for some good close-ups

Shy Albatross, Southern Ocean

Among the Shy Albatross, there were also several White-chinned Petrels (my first lifetime tick for the day)

White-chinned Petrel, Southern Ocean

We were also lucky enough to see a lone Campbell Albatross. I believe that the discussion about the taxonomic status of this bird continues re whether it is elevated to its own species or remains a race of the Black-browed Albatross. Regardless, it was a pleasure to see it and clearly identify it by its "honey-coloured eye" (the poetic description courtesy of Pizzey & Knight).

Campbell Albatross, Southern Ocean

Next stop there were more Shy Albatross and White-chinned Petrels but the highlight was this Wandering Albatross that cruised gracefully around the boat

Wandering Albatross, Southern Ocean

before alighting (more like a crash landing - it's amazing how graceful these birds are in flight and how clumsy they are landing and taking off) 

Wandering Albatross, Southern Ocean

settling for several minutes within a few metres of the boat

Wandering Albatross, Southern Ocean

closely followed by several Great-winged Petrels (far more graceful - taking off like ballet dancers).

Great-winged Petrel, Southern Ocean

This immature Black-browed Albatross spent a long time circling and following the boat.

Black-browed Albatross (immature), Southern Ocean

We also spotted several smaller seabirds including Fairy Prion and Wilson's Storm-Petrel but they remained too far away for good photographs. However, this Grey-backed Storm-Petrel (another life-time tick for me) came close enough for a few ID shots.

Grey-backed Storm-Petrel, Southern Ocean

All too quickly, time caught up with us and we headed back into Port Fairy - 3 hours cruising but much easier surfing the swell than climbing into it on the way out.

One last gem awaited us right at the entrance to the Bay - difficult to shoot backlit by the (now) bright afternoon sun but worth including as another lifetime tick for me making three for the day.

Northern Giant-Petrel, Port Fairy

Thanks to Neil of Birdswing Birding & Wildlife Tours for his guiding, Russell and Paul for their skipper and mate duties on board the Perceive and John for organising our participation.

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