Thursday, 17 July 2014


Last Saturday morning saw me sitting by the phone waiting for a call to tell me that the pelagic proposed to go out from Port Fairy on Sunday 13 July was really going to go.  Four times already this year I have booked to go on a pelagic but bad weather has stymied me.  I desperately wanted to go out in winter, as I need to see a Slender-billed Prion for my lifelist.  At last the call came.  The boat was going to go.  I was delighted.

The weather was cold and grey with intermittent rain as we drove from Melbourne to Port Fairy.  We made the obligatory stop at Point Addis to look for Rufous Bristlebirds, but had no luck.  One friendly Flame Robin entertained us as we ate lunch near Colac; otherwise it was an uneventful trip.

Sunday morning saw me at the wharf, eager to get going, happy to recognise a couple of my fellow passengers.  Perceive is one of my favourite pelagic boats.  At $180, it is more expensive than some, but it is also more comfortable.  And we are given a very welcome hot cuppa with some delightful home-made slice from Neil's partner, Alison.  Thank you, Alison!

We set off on time, around 7 a.m., a happy, expectant boatful of birders.  At around 9 a.m., we stopped.  Apparently the captain could tell something was wrong.  We were all blissfully ignorant.  Paul, the deckhand, climbed onto the roof and saw that the life raft had come loose.  For a dreadful moment I feared we were going to turn back to port.  But no, Paul managed to tie the thing down safely and we were off again.

There were not a lot of birds as we motored towards the shelf.  I sat next to a Dutchman who had just arrived in Australia on 1 July.  His Australian life total was 90, which I thought was pretty good in a strange country in winter by himself.  He was eager to see some albatrosses.  A White-fronted Tern flew past, giving us all good looks.  A tick for several passengers, including the Dutchman.

Every now and then, we were engulfed with cold water.  Paul threatened to lower the plastic blinds to keep us dry.  We preferred to risk a soaking and see the birds.

It turned out to be quite a good day for albatross, so my Dutchman was happy.  We had five species, mainly Shy, and also lots of Black-browed.  There were also just a couple of Yellow-nosed, Buller's and Campbell's.

Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross
Unfortunately we saw just two prions all day:  both Fairies.  So my wish was not fulfilled.  However, with so many albatrosses, it would be churlish to complain.  Most of the albatrosses accompanied us back to port.  There were up to thirty flying around the boat at any time.  Wonderful!

We saw little else.  There were several Fluttering Shearwaters and I think just one Hutton's.  There were a few giant-petrels (about three I think) but only one was identified as a Northern.  That was about it.  A great day for albatross, but sadly no great albatross.

Black-browed Albatross
We drove back to Melbourne on Monday.  The weather was again grey and unfriendly.  I dipped on Hooded Plovers at Killarney (although I know they were present at Port Fairy because the Dutchman had photographed them on Saturday).  I also dipped on Black-faced Cormorants, which usually greet me on the Moyne.  Had a trip total of 70 birds.

The next day we set off for Rutherglen, wanting to get in a quick trip before my next pelagic commitment at Swansea on 24 July.  The weather was still as you'd expect in mid-winter:  grey, wet and cold.  A pair of Scarlet Robins were very active at the Grasstree roadside stop.

Wednesday was foggy.  Vision was poor.  Nevertheless we saw shovellers at the ephemeral swamp near the Rutherglen tip.  I feared I wouldn't see much else and adjusted my expectations.  Rog drove me to Chiltern No 2 dam.  The gate was locked, but Rog parked and sat happily reading his newspaper.  I walked through wet grass to the birdhide.  It's one of those horrible noisy hides, with a door that bangs loudly and windows that cannot be opened without frightening metallic crashes.  I couldn't see much on the dam, although there were a couple of Great Crested Grebes in non-breeding plumage and one swan on a nest.  I did much better with bush birds.  Some sun managed to shine through and I saw a magnificent male Golden Whistler and an almost equally gorgeous female Crested Shriketit.  There were Crimson Rosellas, lots of choughs and one noisy Restless Flycatcher.

I managed to drag Rog away from his paper and he drove to No 1 dam, where a Black-tailed Native-hen hurried into the reeds.  There were also Red-browed Finches (sadly no Diamond Firetails here today) and ducks, grebes and plovers.

Next stop was Cyanide Dam at Honeyeater Picnic Area in the Chiltern/Mt Pilot National Park.  Here the most surprising sighting was a White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike.  He must have forgotten to migrate.  Every time I heard a Red Wattlebird, I had a good look, as a Regent Honeyeater had been reported to be consorting amongst them and imitating them.  Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters were as gorgeous as ever and there were lots of Fuscous Honeyeaters too.  One bird kept saying 'tickety-boo.'  I hadn't heard that call before.  It was one aberrant Fuscous.  The others were all making their usual rollicking call.  A Wedge-tailed Eagle soared overhead as I admired the Fuscous Honeyeaters.  I did manage White-naped and Black-chinned, but not much else.

We came home to Melbourne on Thursday, with a trip list of 63.  I was surprised that I had seen more birds in a three day trip to Port Fairy than a three day trip to Rutherglen (and Chiltern).  In summer I expect 80 birds a day around Rutherglen.

Now I am preparing to go to Swansea and hoping (again!) for my Slender-billed Prion.  Fingers crossed.

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