Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Epic Aussie Road Trip Part 4: Wollongong Pelagic

Well this is probably the most "after the fact" pelagic trip report of all time, so I'll make it relatively brief. After making our way out of Victoria, the Finnish boys and I essentially headed straight for Wollongong, New South Wales, where we were scheduled to be on a pelagic trip on December 15th. A pelagic is when crazy birders pay money to get chucked about ~30 nautical miles offshore in an effort to see ocean-going birds such as albatross. This would be my first Aussie pelagic so I was excited, despite the fact that December is known as one of the more boring months in terms of potential species, plus Jukka and I saw most of these things back in NZ in 2008. But who knows what prizes "Big Blue" had in store for us. That's why we do these things!
Jukka and I getting psyched alongside the famous Sandra K.
Once out on the open ocean, good numbers of WEDGE-TAILED SHEARWATERS appeared, and were soon joined by the (apprently) first major influx of FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATERS of the austral summer season. In this photo, the large birds in the background are immature BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS.

Photography on a rocking boat is tricky, but you'll never see these birds on land so Jukka's toughin it out starboardside.

This was Pertti's first-ever pelagic and he was lovin' it! There are always a few sorry victims to sea-sickness. Luckily we all managed to hold on to our... whatever we ate that morning... more tuna?
An added excitement of Wollongong pelagics is that they often try and catch a few birds to measure and band.  Wedge-tailed Shear is the main target but I think they also caught a GREAT-WINGED (GREY-FACED) PETREL. Awesome to see these birds in the hand!
Our major highlight of the first hour was this young YELLOW-NOSED ALBATROSS. Apparently a very rare bird in December for this neck of the Austral pelagic woods. Lifer for Jukka, and the closest view of one for me!
[Photo: Jukka Jantunen]
And here is my lifer--a NZ endemic that I missed in 2008. This is a BLACK PETREL (aka "Parkinson's Petrel). It's somewhat expected for this time of year but still a nice bird to get. I was not complaining.
[Photo: Jukka Jantunen]
Then came the bird of the day! Looks like the same bird as above right? Well note the more extensive black on the bill, the relatively beefier bill, and the worn plumage. These feature combine to suggest WESTLAND PETREL, the larger cousin of the Parkinson's... another NZ endemic, one Jukka and I saw thousands of in 2008...... BUT, it turns out this is only the 9th record EVER for Australia. It's all about context mate! Would have preferred something like a Tahiti or Gould's Petrel but heck--I'll take any tubenose any day!
[Photo: Jukka Jantunen]
Another shot of the Westland. Off the top of me head, I think these guys are supposed to be in Chile at the moment. They breed mostly in winter (once again--if I recall correctly)--all in a very small patch of coastal rainforest near Punakaiki on the west coast of the South Island (NZ).
[Photo: Jukka Jantunen]
So that was the trip! I was a little disappointed we didn't get any "big" albatross like Royal or Wandering, but  the birds mentioned above, along with Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters, a Wilson's Storm-Petrel, and several other regular odds and ends made for a great day out on the sea.

Up Next: New South Wales Part Uno!

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