The Ultimate Pelagic! A visit to Albatross Heaven.

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: The Ultimate Pelagic! A visit to Albatross Heaven.
From: "Peter Marsh" <>
Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2008 21:29:16 +1000
Dear Birders,
A 3 day series of pelagic voyages from Southport in Tasmania to Pedra Blanca 
and the shelf edge beyond were undertaken on 28, 29 and 30 July by 12 intrepid 
birders. BA readers were advised of "The Ultimate Pelagic" on 29 Feb and the 
trip was filled within 24 hours.

The highlight was seeing all of the Australian  (non-vagrant) albatrosses apart 
from Yellow-nosed over the 3 days (using C&B nomenclature).  Sightings included
  1.. A number of Wanderers including some large very white birds and some 
smaller birds with various degrees of brown in the plumage.
  2.. Royal Albatross of both the Northern and Southern sub-species.
  3.. Black Browed Albatross including the sub-species melanophris and impavida.
  4.. Shy Albatross including sub-species cauta, steadi and salvini.
  5.. Buller's Albatross.
  6.. Grey-headed Albatross. At least 3 were seen on the 30th.
  7.. Sooty Albatross was seen by a few observers on the 28th south of Pedra 
  8.. Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. 1 seen close to the boat on the 29th and 
at least 3 seen more distantly on the 30th
Common Diving-petrel were seen in large numbers on each trip out to the shelf. 
Large numbers of Gannets were nesting on Pedra Blanca along with a colony of 
black-faced Cormorants and Shy Albatross. Northern and Southern Giant-petrel; 
Brown Skua: White-fronted Tern; Cape Petrel; Great-winged Petrel; White-headed 
Petrel; Sooty Shearwater and Fairy Prion were seen in small numbers. Somewhat 
surprisingly there were no Storm Petrels at all nor any of the other exotics so 
hoped for by the organiser!

The views obtained on the 28th of Pedra Blanca and the nearby sea stack 
Eddystone Rock were stunningly spectacular but otherwise the trip on the 28th 
was quite quiet except for the brief view enjoyed by a few of a Sooty 
Albatross. On this day we only just reached the initial stages of the shelf 
edge. On the 29th we followed a track to the east of Pedra Blanca heading for a 
series of canyons on the edge of the shelf. Burleying with shark liver and fish 
carcasses from an hour in from the beginning of the drop off from the shelf 
produced large numbers of albatross by the time we reached the shelf. Drifting 
in water about 500 m deep produced a very close fly by of the first 
Light-mantled Sooty Albatross to the delight of the participants and the relief 
of the organiser. On the 30th we left Southport just a bit after 6:00 am and 
repeated the track of the 29th but with enough time to get out to 1000 m depth. 
The first of the days Grey-headed Albatross passed by at about the 500 m depth 
point and a couple more were seen further out. More Light-mantled Sooties and 
Grey-headed Albies were seen in the area between the 500 and 1000 m contours.

The lesson learned from our experiences, and the anecdotal evidence from our 
skipper, Morrie Wolf, point to an expectation that to get interesting birds one 
needs to go beyond the shelf edge unless there is a significant fish feeding 
event occurring on the shelf that will strongly attract birds. The problem from 
Southport is the distance to the shelf edge which was around 4 to 5 hours in La 
Golondrina. The trip produced a group of seemingly very happy birders, for most 
of whom both the Light-mantled and the Grey-headed were new birds. The 
organiser was consoled by a Grey Petrel and a Sooty Albatross seen at point 
blank range on the St Helens pelagics well organised by Ian May the previous 

This could become a classic pelagic trip if a faster boat or a kick-off point 
close to the shelf edge could be found. A full report is being prepared by 
Simon Musto and BA readers will be advised when this is available on-line.

Many thanks to Dr Bill Wakefield for suggesting the trip and to the trusting 
souls who rallied to the call and made it financially possible.


Peter Marsh

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