Sunday, 29 May 2016


My sister-in-law, Susie, had never seen an albatross.  I decided that this situation must be rectified, and booked us both onto Neil Macumber's May 2016 Port Fairy pelagic.  The trip planned for 8 May was cancelled due to bad weather, and re-scheduled for 29 May.  On Saturday, 28 May, Susie and I set off together like excited schoolgirls wagging school.

I'd selected the May trip in the hope that Susie might see a great albatross.

I explained to Susie that she must take Travacalm, that the seas would be rough, it would be freezing cold, and we would get wet:  if it did not rain, we could expect to be engulfed in seaspray.  Everything I said was wrong.  The seas were calm; the temperature was mild; the weather was fine; we came home quite dry.  We did not need Travacalm.

The boat left port right on time at 7 a.m.  It was still dark.  Nothing much happened for a while, but I thought it didn't matter.  Susie would certainly see some sort of albatross during the day, so she'd come away happy.  Sure enough, not all that far out of port, a Shy Albatross flew past the boat, giving us all good views.  Susie cheered.  I relaxed.  Mission accomplished.

Then a Northern Giant-Petrel flew past, very close, letting us all admire it without using our binoculars.  Susie made all the appropriate noises.

By the time we got to the shelf at 10.30, my bird list was not long (Fairy Prion, Crested Tern, Wilson's Storm-Petrel, Australasian Gannet, Yellow-nosed Albatross, Little Penguin, Great-winged Petrel) but I was happy.  Susie had now seen two species of albatross, and it didn't matter if nothing else appeared.  Susie, who is an artist, was admiring the cloud formations as much as the birds.

Slowly, things started to happen.  There was a Black-browed Albatross, then a Campbell's.  I was delighted when a Wandering Albatross appeared.  It flew around slowly, allowing Susie to drink it in.  It was the first of six wanderers we saw during the day, including one young clown.  Not only had Susie now seen five species of albatross, she'd seen a great one.  What's more, it was a pleasant, calm, mild day.  We were blessed.

Suddenly, a Grey-headed Albatross appeared!  I could not believe my eyes.  It had a very dark head, looking more black than grey.  Then a Sooty Albatross flew overhead!  And very soon after that a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross put in an appearance!  These were birds I'd never dared to hope for.  The albatross were making a special effort for Susie.
Grey-headed Albatross, photo by James Mustafa
Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, photo by James Mustafa

The whole boat was in celebratory mood.  Everyone was happy.  We saw a Grey-backed Storm-Petrel and a Cape Petrel.  We'd seen quite a few Fairy Prions throughout the day, and suddenly a Blue Petrel appeared!  On the way back home, there were large flocks of Fluttering Shearwaters, and suddenly, a tern caused great excitement.  General consensus was that it was an Arctic Tern.
Blue Petrel, photo by James Mustafa

What a day!  Several people on board considered it the best pelagic they'd ever been on.  Susie has gone home with quite the wrong idea about pelagic birding.  I should take her again just to show her what it's usually like.  

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