After a tickless weekend we were really looking forward to spending the last three day weekend we had for the year down the south-east one final time. We were due to go on our last pelagic trip of the year on the Sunday and with the Monday off we could afford to take our time coming home after the boat. Having spent the week away for work over on Eyre Peninsula our intention was to get away as early as possible after work on Friday so Sue had packed the car ready for a quick get away. Best laid plans of mice and men go asunder and nek minut I found myself back at work rescuing some stuck passengers from an elevator.......as you do. So as I didn't get back till late we opted to start early the next morning instead.
Heading down towards Port MacDonnell we popped in to Bangham CP and Geegeela CP on the way to try for White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes and Olive-backed Orioles, both of which had been reported from that general area recently. Try as we might we just have not connected with either of these species this year and today would be no different. Another look through Nangwarry Native Forest Reserve yielded no results either. A group of four Red-tailed Black Cockatoos was some compensation and we've been fortunate to see this rare sub-species several times this year.
|Two loved up Red-tailed Black Cockatoos sat nicely for photos|
We just had to admit we weren't going to pick up these birds any time soon this year so moved on down to Port MacDonnell to catch up with the other boat trip participants.
Up early the next day and down to the wharf in time to meet the skipper. I'd had a bad night and felt decidedly unwell after dinner in the pub the previous evening. Sue later told me she'd felt a bit off too. Most of the boat trip I was feeling quite uncomfortable and drifted in and out of bouts of nausea. Hope for a new bird or two managed to keep me going and there was certainly a lot of birds out there this trip once we got to the shelf break. The birds were quite voracious too having obviously not fed well for a day or two. We started getting both Grey-faced and Great-winged Petrels as well as White-chinned Petrels along with Flesh-footed Shearwaters, Short-tailed and Sooty Shearwaters. It was the day of the "brown birds" that's for sure. Albatross were reasonably well represented with lots of adult Shys and a few young Black-broweds and a single young Campbells picked out of the crowd.
|Adult Shy Albatross|
|Sub-adult Campbells Albatross with a pale honey coloured iris|
|The very similar Sub-adult Black-browed Albatross but with a dark iris|
With a good scrum of birds at the back of the boat it was only a matter of time before something more interesting turned up and it wasn't long before a shout went out for a Jaeger that was tracking directly in to the back of the boat. With high hopes for a Long-tailed this far offshore it was with some disappointment that it turned out to be another Parasitic.
|Quite heavily worn plumage but the central tail feathers|
clinches the ID on this bird as Parasitic Jaeger
Birds started to come and go before the first of four Wandering Albatross came winging in from way over the horizon. The first of these appeared to be an Antipodean Albatross of the gibsoni race with lots of white around the head.
|A probable female gibsoni Antipodean Albatross. One of four birds that visited the boat.|
One of these big birds, an obvious large exulans Wandering type was seen to have leg bands on, so an effort was made to photograph it as best we could to determine what the numbers were on the band with a view to ID'ing the individual bird. No doubt there is some depository of information on banding studies of Great Albatross somewhere but as of the time of writing we haven't managed to find out anything about this bird. Closer examination of the photos revealed a green leg band with the number 580 on it and a metal ring on the left leg with possibly 4009?
|We'd love to find out more about this individual Wandering Albatross "Green 580"|
As the day began to wear on we moved back up the slick a couple of times to see if anything was lurking back there we hadn't picked up yet. A flyby by a single Wilsons Storm-petrel was the only bird that put in an appearance. There were still loads of birds milling about and we still hoped to pick up something new. As the birds were flying about Colin Rogers pointed out some of the White-chinned Petrels were obviously carrying eggs and their lower bellies were quite distended in an "egg shape", something I'd never seen before. So it appears White-chinneds pass through South Australian waters on their way back to their breeding Islands prior to laying eggs. It was also noted an adult Northern Giant-petrel was also in the same breeding condition with an obvious egg bulge in its lower abdomen.
|An adult Northern Giant-petrel|
|The same bird on a fly past showing the distended abdomen containing this seasons egg|
As the early afternoon wore on it was becoming more evident that despite the continued activity and sheer numbers of birds around the boat that nothing new for us was going to make an appearance. There must have been a rich feeding zone off the coast given not only the amount of birds but also the continued presence of big pods of Common Dolphin offshore that at times showed some interest in the boat. Not only that there were Gannets and Crested Terns fishing way further offshore than they normally would.
|This pod of Common Dolphin must have contained nearly fifty individuals and came|
over to the boat to investigate all the activity.
Just when you think its all over and time to head back to shore a single great Albatross came winging in from over the horizon. It's initial appearance gave the impression of a Southern Royal which would have made it bird of the day but as it approached more closely before landing at the back of the boat it turned out to be a stunning adult male Gibsons Albatross. Still a really nice bird.
|A lovely male Antipodean Albatross of the gibsoni race|
|This guy was so friendly and curious we thought he was actually |
going to climb up on to the back of the boat
Soon enough it was time to head back to shore and sadly it was to be the only tickless pelagic trip of the year for us. We'd had high expectations of something new given the number of species out on the great blue paddock that we hadn't manage to connect with all year. The reality is our success this year has been down to the birds we did manage to see on the open ocean and we discovered a great love of pelagic trips this year as a consequence. Definitely something we aim to pursue in other parts of the country starting next year.
|Not feeling well after the night before. I didn't venture too far from the loo. |
Thanks for this pic Sue!!
After returning to shore and having a debrief in Periwinkles Cafe along with hot coffee we headed off to the reefs east of Port MacDonnell to see if we could connect with the Pectoral Sandpiper that had been reported a while back. Arriving at Danger Point, Colin and Stuart were already in attendance so we teamed up to see if we could find the Pec. The tide was neither in nor out and I dont think there was much tidal movement to speak of, so we opted to look down on the beach itself in front of the hide as the birds were loafing mostly out of sight behind the tidal wrack. Quite a lot of birds were in evidence as we walked around, more than we could have seen from the hide. It wasn't long before a suspicious looking Sandpiper came in to view and its obvious overall brown appearance gave its ID away as the Pec we were looking for. Colin and I picked it up about the same time. I got the scope on it and Sue finally nailed her nemesis bird for this year equalling my year list total at the same time. Much high fiveing ensued.........yay. We'd always intended to finish the Big Year the same way we started it and that's together, so I was very relieved Sue got this bird.
|Initially appearing more browner overall than a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper|
this bird is possibly a first year male Pectoral Sandpiper.
|The long yellowish base to the bill and dense wavy breast streaking sharply cut off |
from the lower breast and belly helps to ID this bird as a Pectoral Sandpiper
The bird was quite well camouflaged amongst the rotting seaweed and when it flew it was quite difficult to pick up. With not much else on offer we moved off to check out some of the other reefs on the way back to Port MacDonnell but didn't see anything else of much interest. We got back to the caravan park and shared a beer with Colin and Stuart in celebration of Sues year tick........at least it wouldn't be a tickless weekend after all. Later that night we all had dinner in Periwinkles Cafe and indulged in a few drinks in good company, swapping birding stories with a good bunch of people.
Monday morning came and we had to decide what to do. We still had an outside chance of Satin Flycatcher and White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike and maybe a wader or two if we were lucky so we devised a strategy to try one more time on the way home. Firstly we opted to go to Carpenters Rocks to the west of Port MacDonnell. This site played host to South Australias' first Semi-palmated Plover a few years back and was twitched by many birders including us, so there was definitely potential to find something. Arriving early morning the tide appeared to be out so we walked out on to the reef to see what we could find.
|Sue contemplating a walk on the reef at Carpenters Rocks|
Lots of birds loafing amongst the rocks and several Fairy Terns were winging overhead chasing each other rather noisily. Birds began to reveal themselves as we walked amongst the rocks including Pacific Golden Plovers, Turnstone and two lovely Grey-tailed Tattlers
|Mixed flock of Pacific Golden Plovers Turnstone Grey-tailed Tattlers and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers|
|This Grey-tailed Tattler allowed a closer approach than normal|
There were quite a lot of birds limping around carrying the burden of several leg flags. I understand the need for the scientific study of birds along the Asian flyway but I don't see why its necessary to place additional flags on recaptured birds. Time and time again I see birds that are obviously distressed and hampered in their movements by carrying multiple leg flags.
|This Red-necked Stint was picked out not by the flags it carried but by its limping gait|
With nothing to add to our year lists we decided to move off to some forested areas to try one last time for the Flycatcher and Cuckoo-shrike. Bob Green had suggested we visit Woolwash Native Forest Reserve as the Flycatcher had been recorded nesting there in seasons gone by and he'd also seen White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike nearby recently. Travelling around the tracks within the forest, try as we might we just didn't connect with either species or anything else that might have been new for us. Time was beginning to run out, as was the entire year!!! One last roll of the dice we drove up to Glen Roy CP on our way home, a place even I had seen the Cuckoo-shrike in years gone by and a place that probably receives more reports than any where else in the south-east.
|Glen Roy Conservation Park|
We trawled around the tracks in the park this way and that, clockwise then anti-clockwise but despite a heart racing moment when a Cuckoo-shrike gave bad views that turned out to be a Black-faced we came up empty. With heavy hearts we began the long trek back home in the knowledge we would have no further opportunities to connect with these species for the rest of the year. Christmas is looming and the time constraining social engagements that it entails. We're due to go on a houseboat holiday on the River Murray over New Years so our birding opportunities from here will be severely limited. I incredibly haven't had a year tick since the Salvins Albatross on the pelagic in mid November despite spending a fir bit of time in the field since then, so Sue getting the Pec came as some relief.
So is this how its going to end for us.........with a whimper instead of a bang? Well I'm not going down without a fight and I'm sure the Fat Lady hasn't sung just yet, tune in after Christmas for more!