Monday, 29 May 2017


I'd done ten pelagics out of Eaglehawk Neck before, but I'd never been out in May, and May is supposed to be the magic month for Southern Fulmar.  I steeled myself to be cold and wet.  I knew the sea would be rough, but I didn't mind, as long as I saw my fulmar.  The boat had been out the previous weekend, and all present had not only seen my wished for fulmar, but Westland Petrel as well.  Now that would be an added bonus.

I flew to Hobart on Friday 26 May and arrived, safe and well, no thanks to Qantas, who cancelled my flight and transferred me to Jetstar.  In Hobart, I was met at the airport by the wonderful Els Wakefield, who drove me down to the Lufra at Eaglehawk Neck.  It was dark and all sorts of wildlife with a suicidal bent hopped across the road in front of the car.  Quite accustomed to this zoological display, local drivers chose not to slow down.

On Saturday morning, we set off in the dark in good spirits.  There's always something special about leaving before sunrise.  It's as if, having made the effort, you deserve to see something good.  Kelp Gulls and Sooty Oystercatchers watched unimpressed as three big blokes helped me onto the Pauletta.   I like to think that I didn't make too much of an exhibition of myself.  It was cold and the sea was more choppy than I'd have preferred, but we were all energised with expectation.  There were twelve of us on board, plus the captain and crew.

Very soon the first Shy Albatross put in an appearance, followed closely by a Buller's, then a Northern Giant-Petrel.  The day was starting well.  And the birds kept coming.  There were lots of Fairy Prions and Cape Petrels, and just a couple of Common Diving-Petrels and Great-winged Petrels.  Whenever a tern flew into sight, all binoculars were concentrated on it, hoping for something unusual.  However, the only terns we saw all day were Greater Crested and White-fronted.
White-headed Petrel, photo by James Mustafa

We saw a couple of Slender-billed Prions, a few storm petrels (all Wilson's, apart from one Grey-backed) and several other albatross:  Campbell's, Black-browed, Yellow-nosed, and a magnificent Wanderer.  We saw a Brown Skua, one Australasian Gannet, a few Black-faced Cormorants and several petrels:  Grey-faced, White-chinned, Soft-plumaged, Providence, Grey and, for me the highlight, a White-headed.  These are truly beautiful birds.  The Grey Petrel was a hit with everyone, spending a fair amount of time around the boat and giving us all a chance to admire it properly.  It was a good list of petrels.  Shame there wasn't a Westland.
Grey Petrel, photo by James Mustafa

We had quite a good bird list for the day.  I recorded 31 species.  We saw just two shearwaters:  a Sooty and a Short-tailed, and they didn't put in an appearance until the afternoon.  I try to be philosophical.  But 'quite a good bird list' is not the same as seeing a lifer, whichever way you look at it.  I consoled myself that the fulmar had not been seen the previous Saturday.  It waited until Sunday to show itself.  Perhaps it's a Seventh Day Adventist and refuses to work on Saturdays.  I told myself, I had a good chance tomorrow.
Kelp Gulls watched disdainfully, photo by James Mustafa

We were up in the dark again on Sunday.  Some Little Penguins scuttled in front of the car on our way to the jetty.  Despite predictions, it wasn't as cold as yesterday.  We'd been told to expect much worse weather.  But it was not so.  The Kelp Gulls again watched disdainfully as big strong men were required to get me onto the Pauletta.  I sat in my accustomed spot and tried to be unobtrusive for the rest of the day.  Clouds decorated the mountain tops, looking very pretty.  There was a little rain, but it didn't last long.  The seas were much calmer than the day before.  And our bird list was not as good.  I recorded just  20 species.  We visited the Hippolytes (it had been too rough yesterday) and saw a sea-eagle perched on top.  The colours of the rock were spectacular:  oranges, browns and greens.  We had a good look at a Southern Royal Albatross, which was recorded on the official trip report for the day before, but as I had not identified it myself, it wasn't on my list.

Needless to say, my fulmar chose not to show itself.  I came home disappointed.  I've put my name down for next May.  Perhaps he'll show up then.

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