The Big Blue Paddock MkIII or 300 up!

After spending the previous weekend on a family social event, we were keen to head out on another pelagic from Port MacDonnell. The previous trip  (See previous blog post) was an absolute cracker, and in the wash up it was determined we had seen Northern Royal Albatross after an inspection of photographs taken at the time. So we headed down the south-east on a revised total of 297

We thought we'd bird through the Bangham/Geegeela area on the way down, as there are still a number of species that we could have potentially seen in that area. Despite driving the boundary tracks of both Conservation Parks we failed to come across any of those species at all so we continued on to Port MacDonnell to meet the other participants

Down at the wharf again on the Sunday in time for a 7:00am departure The boat rounded the breakwater and headed south in to a 1.5m swell out of the south-west with a slight 5-10 knot South easterly breeze causing a cross chop, so a bit bumpy. It was at this point I discovered my camera was dead! Absolute disaster. It's one of the fun elements of a boat trip to take loads of pictures and I was going to be denied the opportunity. This time we were going to have to rely on Sue for all the blog pics.

Rounding the breakwater the excitement was palpable

Less than 1 or 2km's offshore I noticed a small Sterna type tern tracking on a parallel course just behind us. Calling for the skipper to slow down so it could catch up several people got some shots of it. Initially I called it as an Arctic Tern as the cap was quite dark and it appeared to have a dark trailing edge to the primaries but the rest of the details on the bird were difficult to pick up as conditions were dull and overcast. It was only after some pics were posted online the following morning that interstate birders noticed the distinctive markings of a juvenile Antarctic Tern on our bird. These details were only brought to light with the magic of photoshop and were impossible to see in the field. This constitutes the first pelagic record in South Australia of this bird and only the third ever record in the State

3rd South Australian record of Antarctic Tern and very unexpected

Heading out through inshore waters towards the shelf we started picking up a few birds here and there with Fairy Prions being notable along with a lone Yellow-nosed Albatross, the only one of the trip. Reaching the berley point there were a few light showers scudding around making conditions a little damp on the back of the boat but they passed quickly. Again it wasn't long before the birds started to appear on the slick with Campbells Albatrosses rapidly outnumbering Black-browed Albatrosses and a swag of Great-winged Petrels. Soon Wandering Albatrosses started to appear with both nominate and New Zealand type birds present, jostling for positions at the back of the boat. A lone Sooty Albatross came in from downwind and while coming close it seemed to ignore us and continue on its way. A Soft-plumaged Petrel came whizzing past, making several loops over the berley slick to the delight of the paparazzi on board. Amongst the building numbers of Wilsons Storm-petrels I noticed a flash of white on a bird in close that turned out to be our first Grey-backed Storm-petrel of the year, nice!

One of lots of Fairy Prions working the slick

Very photogenic Soft-plumaged Petrel that made several passes of the boat

The sheer size of a Wandering Albatross needs to be seen to be believed

The only Grey-backed Storm-Petrel of the day

By now we were seeing a few "Whalebirds" amongst the Fairy Prions working the slick and an analysis of photos while on board enabled us to determine we were seeing both Antarctic and Slender-billed Prions. Unfortunately for me because I wasn't taking pictures, I couldn't be 100% confident I was seeing the same birds, so the Slender-billed will have to wait for another trip! At this point the sky cleared a bit and the sun shone through giving photographers an opportunity to take some creative pictures when this full rainbow appeared behind the boat

No gold at the end of this rainbow but certainly cool birds

I picked up another all dark Albatross tracking in from downwind and as this one came closer I could see the paleness and greyish tone to the overall body color and I was sure it was a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. A careful look at the key identifying marks and a consensus was reached by those on board. Indeed it was, albeit an unusually marked immature bird and a lifer for both Sue and I and many others on board. It was fair to say everyone on the boat were pretty stoked with getting that but no more than me as it was a great bird for number 300 for the Big Year.

Our first Light-mantled Sooty Albatross

Light-mantled Sooty Albatross completely oblivious to the clicking cameras

After enjoying the birds for a few hours it was eventually time to head back to Port. Just as we began to cruise back I noticed another Sterna type Tern crossing paths with the boat. I managed to get a good look at this one in good light and the full black cap, strong black trailing edge to the primaries and small "spikey" beak all pointed to adult Arctic Tern. Unfortunately most people had started reviewing their pictures for the day and no one got a photograph of this bird.

Motoring back to shore. Time for some "chimping"

Another great day on the boat despite not having a camera, hopefully I'll have that sorted in time for the next one. A hot cup of coffee and a debrief back on shore before the long drive home. So we finished with 4 year ticks each and a lifer giving me 301. Can't wait for the next one now.

A mid week trip for work to Mildura had me driving through the Riverland for the first time this year. Nearing the turn off for Banrock Station a single Pied Butcherbird was seen perched up in a tree giving me another year tick for number 302. 

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