Thursday, 26 February 2015

Port Stephens Pelagic

Birders are weird people, bird photographers slightly weirder and those who not only go on but enjoy pelagic boat trips are simply perverse! Paying for the privilege of spending eight hours on a small, cramped, uncomfortable boat - pitching, rolling and rocking on choppy seas - with one or more people getting seasick, all while trying to frame and focus on birds flying past or sitting on the surrounding water would be torture to most sensible people. To others it is paradise!

14 such sturdy characters boarded the good ship Argonaut at Nelson Bay just after sunrise and headed out to sea on this misty Thursday morning.

Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 400, f/5.6 1/2000

As we left Port Stephens, we spied a fishing boat engulfed in a cloud of seabirds. The skipper assured us that our experience would soon be the same.

Fishing boat, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/3.5 1/3200

First to arrive was a Wedge-tailed Shearwater - my first confirmed lifer for the day (while this bird is common on the central eastern coast of Australia, I'd never managed to confirm an ID of sightings in the past, having only ever seen 'shearwaters' from shore; I am pretty sure I saw many of these at Stockton Breakwater yesterday but could not confirm the ID)

Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/4.5 1/6400

shortly followed by a Pomerine Jaeger - lifer number two!

Pomarine Jaeger, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4 1/5000

Mick, our tour leader, started 'berleying' to attract the birds with immediate effect - Wedge-tailed Shearwaters soon appeared from all directions

Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/5 1/2000
Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 92.5mm, ISO 400, f/4.5 1/1250
Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/4.5 1/2000
Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 140mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/2500

some staying still long enough among the chaos to allow close-up portraits

Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/4.5 1/1250

before taking off.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/4.5 1/1600

Whilst all this was going on, two more rarities were spotted, making Buller's Shearwater and Black Petrel lifers three and four for the day.

Buller's Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4 1/3200
Black Petrel, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 400, f/3.5 1/2000

There must have been something wrong with this bird's right eye as it was an opaque blue colour in every shot I took so it's not an artefact of the reflection off the ocean.

We were underway again, being followed by a team of shearwaters. 

Shearwaters, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 107.5mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/3200

The rolling swell and inconsistent chop on the surface made for some 'interesting' photography with many shots turning out like this

Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 150mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/3200

but occasionally scoring a good fly-by shot.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 107.5mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/3200

Several Pomerine Jaegers were following the boat, circling around us providing great views of their highly variable neck, breast and belly plumage.

Pomarine Jaeger, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4 1/4000
Pomarine Jaeger, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/3.5 1/6400

Pomerine Jaeger, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 115mm, ISO 400, f/3.5 1/4000

One 'landed' and squabbled among the shearwaters for a feed.

Pomarine Jaeger and Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4 1/1600

When we reached the continental shelf, we stopped the boat and drifted for a couple of hours and waited for more birds... 

A Shy-type Albatross flew by for a look. This is the best of the photographs I have and it looks more like a White-capped Albatross (Thallasarche steadi) than the Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta) typical of the Southern Ocean. I find it really difficult to tell the difference as there seems to be a fair bit of variation in the bill and facial colouration of both but I'm going with White-capped Albatross until convinced otherwise...

White-capped Albatross, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4 1/14000

Lifer five for the day was this Flesh-footed Shearwater (again, I am sure we had seen these earlier but had not managed an ID-worth photograph until now)...

Flesh-footed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 130mm, ISO 400, f/6.3 1/1600
Flesh-footed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/4.5 1/1250
Flesh-footed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4 1/2500

...soon followed by number six. The Grey-faced race of the Great-winged Petrel has recently been split off as a separate species by Birdlife Australia. While I have seen and photographed Great-winged Petrels before, I've never seen or photographed the Grey-faced Petrel so will take it as a new species pending the split being confirmed.

Grey-faced Petrel, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4 1/1250
Grey-faced Petrel, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/4000

As we were admiring this new find, a Wandering Albatross flew in

Wandering Albatross, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4 1/6400
Wandering Albatross, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 170mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/8000

and took a few practice runs to clear the runway for landing (large albatross, like the Wandering and Royal Albatross, will often make repeated test landing and take-offs before settling on open water because they are unable to take off from water if there is insufficient wind)

Wandering Albatross and Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/8000
Wandering Albatross, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/6400
Wandering Albatross and Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 122.5mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/6400

before settling among the shearwaters.

Wandering Albatross and Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 87.5mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/5000

Wandering Albatross and Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 180mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/8000
Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/1600

As we headed back to port, we were followed by hundreds of shearwaters

Shearwaters, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 87.5mm, ISO 400, f/6.3 1/1250
Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 130mm, ISO 400, f/6.3 1/800
and at least three jaegers that put on some aerial acrobatics trying to catch berley in the air

Pomarine Jaeger, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/6.3 1/1250
Pomarine Jaeger, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 92.5mm, ISO 400, f/6.3 1/2500
Pomarine Jaeger, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 140mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/8000

1 comment:

  1. Some stunning shots there Ian, a great trip out.

    ReplyDelete

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