The Big Blue Paddock MkIV.....a whale of a time...... and a Sunday catch up

Apologies for the late appearance of this post. Time gets away from us as we continue our quest to get out and see birds and still fit in all the other things we have to do like work and domestic chores. As a consequence you'll get a two for one deal this week!

The Big Blue Paddock MkIV.......... a whale of a time
It was with some relief when we got confirmation the pelagic trip scheduled for the 2nd of July was actually going ahead. We'd missed out on two previous trips that had been postponed and eventually cancelled and hadn't been out on a boat since Mothers Day back in May. With loads of seabirds still to see we were super keen to head back down to Port MacDonnell. With a three day weekend as well, we hoped to have another go for Powerful Owls and Pied Currawongs that we still needed.

In the days leading up to the weekend we heard of a Southern Right Whale that had died and washed up on the shore not far from Port MacDonnell. Colin Rogers had been texting me about the Giant-Petrels he had seen just offshore and thought we might want to check it out. A scent trail heading out to sea could attract any of the scavenger type seabirds that might be around in winter and we thought it would be worth keeping an eye on while down there. We headed off on Saturday morning and drove straight through to Port MacDonnell and on to Finger Point where the whale was........ and the throngs of people and fishermen standing around the carcass. No Giant Petrels here!! A few Gannets offshore and some bolder Kelp Gulls were the only birds showing any sign of putting up with the crowds.

Rotting whales smell rather fruity!!

Sunday morning and we were off on the boat heading out in to a "washing machine" sea albeit under bright conditions. The swell was forecast to be up a bit, but more concerning was the wind out of the north north-west that was around 15-20kts and forecast to strengthen throughout the day. So a bit bumpy going out.

Heading out to the shelf. Anticipation was high

A bit of activity inshore on the way out, especially over the "bank" where we ran in to a load of Prions and a few Albatross. Photos taken later picking up an Antarctic Prion amongst them. We carried on out to our regular stopping point off the shelf after motoring for an hour and a quarter. Almost immediately after pulling up we were buzzed by a single Cape Petrel that made several passes, then strangely disappeared after we started berleying. A nice bird to get for the Big Year and a lifer for Sue.

One of only two Cape Petrels for the day that graced us with its presence

The slick from the berley was starting to do its work and a throng of seabirds started to appear at the back of the boat. Bumpy conditions though made photography tough and the birds were tending to whizz past at a rate of knots or those sitting on the water were blown down the slick pretty quickly. We were visited by six species of Albatross including a very out of season Bullers and only two Wandering types. A couple of Giant-Petrels that proved to be Northerns, Great-winged and a few Grey-faced Petrels, a lone Sooty Shearweater a few Wilsons and Grey-backed Storm-Petrels.

Great-winged Petrel

Great-winged Petrel

Bullers Albatross

Northern Giant-Petrel

Wandering Albatross

Gibsoni type Wandering Albatross

I never get tired of all the seabirds we see on these pelagic trips but a Big Year requires the constant need for ticks and this trip was no different. Having seen Cape Petrel already our biggest chance of ticks were in the flocks of Prions careening around the boat. Photographing the birds and scrutinising the pictures was going to give us our best chance of identifying anything unusual within the swirling mass.......easier said than done on a pitching deck. Having said that we did manage to get a few reasonable shots and low and behold realised we had seen several Slender-billed Prions as well as quite a few Antarctic Prions amongst the more numerous Fairies. Very difficult to pick with the naked eye seeing as how fast they were flying around but it was another lifer for Sue.

Just an idea of how many Prions there were

One of several Slender-billed Prions throughout the day
We had quite a few Antarctics also among the throng of Prions out at the shelf and on the way back in near "the bank"

Antarctic Prion on the way back in

Apart from those birds that were year ticks there wasn't a great deal further to hold our interest, so with strengthening head winds we decided to make the slow wet trip back to port. A quick coffee and debrief at Periwinkles cafe and then off to meet Bob Green standing guard over the whale carcass.

A few people still hanging around the whale meant birds were still not coming in, although Bob had photographed two Giant-Petrels passing reasonably close offshore before we arrived. We stayed until late in the afternoon and then armed with some site gen from Bobs friend Wayne we headed off deep into the forests on the border of Victoria in search of Powerful Owl that had been seen the night before by Wayne. Unfortunately a string of problems marred our efforts. Firstly while approaching the Princess Margaret Caves turn off in the gathering dark, a large Eastern Grey Kangaroo came bounding out of the tall grass in front of us and with no where to go we collided with a jolt and smashing of glass!! Didn't need those spotlights anyway..............oh wait yes we did :(  Still no major damage done to the vehicle or either of us and the Roo vanished as well......hope he made it through without being too badly hurt. Arriving at our designated spot and within a minute of switching off the engine we were greeted with a strident voice in the dark!........."Oi we're stuck....can you help pull us out" Seemed some young lads hacking around in the forest had come to grief in the soft sand of the road edge. With all the racket they were making we gave up any notion of hearing or seeing the Owl so we relented and towed the lads out. They were grateful enough to offer me some money for our troubles but I'd rather have seen the Owl. "No problem"  I said "keep the money and just pay it forward" We decided dinner was more pressing after that so we retreated back to Port MacDonnell for a meal and nice bottle of red. The female Owl is probably incubating eggs right now so we may leave it a while until they have chicks before having another go.

Monday morning saw us back at the whale carcass and being a working day we had it all to ourselves. The Kelp Gulls weren't shy getting stuck in but there were still no Giant-Petrels of any description to be seen despite waiting for over an hour. Unfortunately at this point the weather started to close in as well and the expected front and the rain it would bring had arrived. So we decided to give Pied Currawongs another go near the border before the long trek home. This time we heard one almost straight away near Dry Creek but got poor views and there were no birds near Pernambol where the one bird had lead us on a merry dance last time we were down this way. On approaching Honeysuckle we heard a couple of birds giving there distinctive call and eventually got good enough views of one to tick it. Finally we had Pied Currawong in the bag. So not a bad weekend with another three year ticks taking my total to 313 and Sue to 304.

A Sunday catch up.
After recovering from the boat trip and going back to work for a week we needed to work out what we could do for the following weekend to try for more birds. Firstly we realised we really could use a day to catch up with domestic chores again, so following our daughters birthday shenanigans on the Friday night we decided to take the Saturday off. Number one job on the agenda was to replace the spotlights that the kangaroo had smashed down the south east on the boat trip weekend. We are going to need those as the year progresses and we bought some suitable LED "boil the billy at a hundred yards" spotlights and I spent the rest of the day installing them.

With jobs out of the way and a bit of Saturday night socialising thrown in (I think our non birdy friends forget what we look like) we decided Sunday would be a good day to get Sue some catch up birds. Another look in near Belair to see if the Rose Robin had turned up yet (it hadn't) and then on to the South Coast. 

Not a Rose Robin!!

We carried on and parked up at Parsons Head to do a bit of seawatching in the vain hope a Brown Skua might do a fly past. Unfortunately conditions had calmed down a fair bit since the Saturday when there was some wind around and conditions were too calm. From there we drove through to The Bluff at Victor Harbour to have another scan out to sea but apart from a lot of Gannets way out there was nothing of interest for us to see. Next on the agenda was to drive over to Tolderol Game Reserve. A couple of weeks back Sue had gone there while I was on call for work to look for a reported Marsh Sandpiper, a bird I had seen only once at Buckland Park when we got Little Curlew but she had missed due to a lack of gumboots. The bird did not make an appearance that day so we thought we'd try again just in case they prove to be scarce later in the year when they return on migration. Parking up to have lunch near pond 10 where the bird had been seen previously it was obvious to Sue who had been here recently that the water levels had risen a bit and shorebirds were few and far between. Despite that I saw the Marshy fly in near some Stilts. Getting Sue on to it she not only saw the bird but decided just one wasn't enough so she promptly found another!!! So there were two birds kicking about down there.

An overwintering first Summer Marsh Sandpiper, somewhat scarce this year so far

When one is never enough!

Sue enjoying her year tick

Some other nice birds were around too and we go nice views of at least two hundred Curlew Sandpipers and another 50 Red-necked Stints not to mention a Lewins Rail that strolled across the track in front of us. 

First summer Curlew Sandpiper

Time to leave with only an hour or two of daylight left so we thought perhaps driving back home via Strathalbyn might be useful or Sue. A pair of Little Eagles had been well photographed and reported from near there although I had no idea where exactly but thought it was worth a go. I had already seen one on a work trip near Swan Reach earlier in the year but didn't have any pics. I knew of a likely spot and cruised along the track adjacent to a fenceline, but it wasn't until we turned around and headed back down the track that I spotted a bird high up near the canopy of a large Red gum. A lovely Little Eagle. A quick pic later and the bird took off and did a loop before landing back near its starting position. Backlit against an overcast sky I decided to change my camera settings and was only half way through when the darker male bird came winging in and they began to copulate. I snapped off a couple of badly adjusted shots of them in the act that turned out not too bad if just a little overblown on the highlights.

Little Eagles caught in the act

So not a bad result for Sue catching up on a couple of birds I already had, putting her on 306 and only seven birds behind me now. None of those are difficult at all especially later in the year so she'll have no problem equalling the score. Just a couple of weekends to fill in before the end of the month when we head off to the far west of the State and hopefully get a bit of a run of new birds. But my personal record is likely to fall before then so I'll need to work out what those birds will likely be as there are a few different things we could do. Till then see you next time

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