Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Epic Sunday Pelagic Mega

Before this last Sunday’s trip, I had done five pelagics in Australia. One was out of Wollongong, NSW, one out Eagle-hawk Neck, Tassie, and three out of Port Fairy, the most recent being this past March. I had certainly gotten some good birds, but in general, most of my pelagic trips were fairly ordinary (Long-tailed Jaeger and Little Shearwater not withstanding).

For me, something important was missing. Ever since I became a birder I have been fascinated with albatrosses. In the Patrick O’Brian books, Dr. Stephen Maturin speaks of them many times in glowing terms. And of course, I longed to behold the true king of the Albatrosses, the Wandering. They have a wingspan of over 10 feet. They are truly the most magnificent of all pelagic birds. I had not yet seen one.
Look at those wings!

Since it is less than three hours from Lara, I decided to do another pelagic out of Port Fairy. I managed to get a space on the 23 April trip, but I was just getting over a bad cold and decided that I should not go. Those who went had a great trip with both types of Wandering Albatrosses and other awesome birds. I contacted Neil, who schedules the trips, and asked for a space on the next one. I was able to get a spot for Sunday 14 May. Yay!

I arrived in Port Fairy late Saturday arvo and checked into The Stump pub/motel. It is very basic, but I had stayed there on the previous trips (better the devil you know) and it is only 5 minutes from the boat. I ate a sandwich in my room and then wandered over to the pub to see who was around. I immediately bumped into Kevin Bartram, Scott Baker, and then Simon Starr- all good friends through Facebook and brilliant birders. I got a text from my dear friend, Bill Twiss, saying that he was also going as well. Bill has had several very good sea birding trips, so he is a bit of a “pelagic whisperer.” It was shaping up to be a good group out there. I retired to my room, applied my behind-the-ear seasickness patch and went to bed.

After a fitful night’s sleep (not unusual for me), I got out of bed about 4:30 and began to administer caffeine to the best of my abilities. After getting down a couple of mugs, I headed over to the boat. It was just past 7am when we chugged out to sea. It was a little bumpy out there, but the patches were doing their job. I did not feel well, but I had no trace of seasickness. Such are the patches for me.

We were still within sight of land when I missed what would have been my first lifer of the day. A Diving Petrel appeared, dove and then disappeared. But shortly after that, a tern was spotted that was tentatively identified as a White-fronted, and then as a Common, and then an Arctic. Photos taken by Scott Baker later confirmed it as an Arctic and thus it was my first Lifer of the day! Although, I would not know this for sure until the next day.
On the way with Kevin Bartram, grey beards...
We continued out over 50 kilometers to the spot where we would stop and begin to berley (chum). Almost immediately I heard the word that I had listened for on all the past pelagic trips, “Wandering!” And a young Wandering Albatross came gliding by the boat and into my heart. I was about to post this blog entry, when I realized that I needed to write more about this moment. To behold this graceful, winged behemoth is one of the highlights of my life. I have seen many magnificent birds, but none have filled me with more awe and appreciation. I was thrilled to my core and I am grateful! But it got even better.

Soon the boat was surrounded by Albatrosses and other sea birds. We had Shy, Black-browed, Campbell, Northern Royal, Wandering and NZ Wandering (Gibson’s). We had Northern Giant Petrel, Fairy and Antarctic Prions, and Wilson’s, White-faced and Grey-backed Storm-Petrels among others. It was wondrous! But after a while, our birds began to leave us and we spotted a trawler several kilometers further out. It was swarming with birds. We headed over to look.

In amongst the hundreds of birds in the air and on the water behind the trawler, Kevin Bartram, and or Scott Baker, noticed a dark Petrel. It flew up and by our boat. The word, “Westland” began to be shouted. It stayed with us, landing on the water and flying around the boat. It was indeed a Westland Petrel, the first record of a living bird in Victoria. Even the hardcore pelagic birders were getting a tick. We had us a MEGA! There was much joy. I am so grateful to experience this beautiful rarity!

It was a day of seven Lifers for me. They were… Arctic Tern, both Wanderings, a Northern Royal, a beautiful Cape Petrel, Antarctic Prion and Westland Petrel. Yes, Westland was the Mega, but the Wandering Albatrosses really stole my heart (Cape Petrel is pretty damn special too). My Aussie life list is now 684. I am only 16 away from that magic number, but they are only numbers. It is the birds and the experiences that matter.  Here are more photos beginning with the stunning Cape Petrel.


The long trip back to terra firma seemed shorter than usual. Once back in Port Fairy many of us had a quick cuppa and a nibble at the coffee house. Then I accepted Bill Twiss’ kind invitation to stay the night at his and Debbie’s house in Warnambool. I was quite tired and still “woggy” from wearing the patch, but I slept well and contentedly (unusual for me). I am so very grateful.
Lifer Selfie with my dear friend, Bill Twiss

Peace. Love. Birds. Gratitude.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

WTP Gratitude

The world famous Western Treatment Plant is where I first truly identified as a birder. It is now minutes from my doorstep. It is hard to fully realize, but I do know that I am grateful.

My friend, James Cornelious, and I did a bit of birding around the WTP Friday afternoon. Then on Sunday, James, Oakley Germech and I birded there with Karen Weil for her birthday! Lynn was still a bit under the weather and did not join us. However, we all went back to the tiny house for a lovely visit at the end of the day. And it was a wonderful day indeed. I am grateful for my friends!

We had a lot of good birds on both days. We had White-bellied Sea-eagles, Musk, Blue-billed and Freckled Ducks. There was a flock of gorgeous White-winged Black Terns (that defy my photography abilities). We also saw many of the usual suspects as well as the resident rarity, Terek Sandpiper.
White-bellied Sea-eagle with the You Yangs in the background.
We also had two beautiful Orange-bellied Parrots fly over us just as we were beginning to leave the Borrow Pit. I stopped at the edge of the carpark and Oakley said, “Let’s have one last look.” And just as he began that look, two OBPs came flying toward, and then over both vehicles. Oakley shouted something. Although his exact words were lost in the excitement, they included, “Oh My God!” and possibly the phrase, “There they are!” Regardless, he alerted us all and we all saw them. I have no idea whether they were released birds (more likely) or birds that had arrived from Tassie (present in the area). It did not matter to me. I just loved seeing these small, critically endangered gems of the parrot world again. And what a fitting Birthday present for Karen! I am grateful.

And we also had two magnificent Brolgas fly over us on Sunday. These massive cranes are one of my (admittedly many) favourite birds. I saw my lifer Brolgas at the WTP on 2 January 2011, a date that added 17 birds to my early Australian Life List. I do remember that day, Ruff and Terek Sandpiper were among the new birds for me. It would be 6 years before I saw another Ruff in Oz.

Here are some photos from Friday and Sunday at the little piece of heaven we sometimes affectionately refer to as the Poo Farm. I am grateful for the Western Treatment Plant.

White-winged Black Terns, beautiful, but not as impressive when I photograph them.

Musk Ducks are very cool
Pair of White-bellied Sea-eagles in Lake Borrie
Terek Sandpiper... such a cool bill

Black-faced Cormorant at the "cormorant jetty"

Peace. Love. Birds. Gratitude.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Gratitude and the You Yangs

Gratitude, blogs and Facebook communication… I cannot overstate how important the birding community continues to be in my life. These souls that I have met and bonded with through the pursuit of this noble passion are some of the most wonderful, sincere and genuine beings I could want along on this journey through the cosmos. I need, and count on, y’all. A couple of years ago my dear friend, Ash, “challenged” me to write three things a day for which I was grateful and post it on Facebook for ten days.

I found that this was a positive thing for me and I continued to write them after the time was over. Those posts turned into the blog, “Living Gratitude.” Which in turn became “Living and Birding Gratitude” where I blogged about the year of birding and travel around the entire continent of Australia. It is from these that the "book" about that year is being written. I have gained so much from writing these blog entries. It is amazing and humbling when I find that they have touched or connected with others. I am very grateful and moved when that happens. I will continue to write and I will continue to work on my own gratitude.

I seek my truth and write in as genuine a way as I can within certain limitations. Of course there are details that do not need to be, or cannot be included here. I also hope that what I post can sometimes be entertaining and enjoyable as well. For myself, sharing in general is an integral part of life, just as is travel and getting out amongst it. Without these I am not alive.

This past Tuesday and Wednesday I popped by for short visits to the You Yangs Regional Park, or the Youies as they are sometimes called. These are the small mountains, made up of granite ridges, that rise about 320 meters above the plains between Geelong and Melbourne. They are less than 10 minutes from my door. I love them.

I saw a few cool birds there including a Speckled Warbler and a gorgeous male Red-capped Robin. That robin has special birding significance for me. It is the bird Sean Dooley is holding on the cover of his book "The Big Twitch." That book was one of the reasons I got into birding. The RC Robin is also on the cover of the new and wonderful, "The Australian Bird Guide." I can see both books from where I am sitting and I am grateful for them.

The little dam on Big Rock Road... absolute heaven. I would rather be birding in Australia
than anywhere else in the world. 

Beautiful little female Scarlet Robin 

Speckled Warbler 

A particularly gorgeous Spotted Pardalote that insisted on having its picture taken. 
And often Eastern Yellow Robins will insist that you make their photos as well.

Peace. Love. Birds. Gratitude.