SEAWATCH AT CAPE NATURALIST, SW WA
On Wednesday I set out with John Graff and Nigel Jackett on a seawatch centered
around Cape Naturaliste, SW WA. The trip was timed to coincide with the
aftermath of a second very strong front that has resulted in powerful westerly
winds and wild weather in the south-west over several days. Conditions were
ripe; seawatches in the Perth region by John and others in the preceding days
had been quite productive, so we had high hopes for the trip.
We left early to get to Bunker Bay by first light and it was immediately
apparent that this wasn't going to be the dream trip we'd imagined. There was
very little activity apart from common species such as Australasian Gannet and
the odd Crested Tern. John was surprised to see it so quiet in what were
otherwise good conditions (winds were SW at 25-35 knots). A bit of fish oil
dolloped into the surf may have helped to bring in the only tubenoses we saw at
Bunker Bay: good views of Northern and Southern Giant-Petrels - but it could
also have been pure coincidence!
After an hour we decided to move to a vantage point on Cape Naturaliste with
good elevation, the light perfectly behind us, but, unlike Bunker Bay, very
little shelter from the sleet. Never mind, because there were albatrosses.
A regular pulse of albatrosses was making its way nearshore from the south and
disappearing into the open waters of the bay around the headland. Meanwhile,
Great-winged Petrels, Black-browed and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses and both
giant-petrels were appearing from the north-east around the headland and
winding their way upwind in the opposite direction. It was a great result
already, but within minutes things started to get even more interesting.
Watching for the next albatross in the pulse, I picked up a pale petrel coming
fast towards us along the coast, inshore in the wave-breaking zone. Through
the scope it sheared back and forth giving excellent views of both wing
surfaces in direct sunlight. It was unmistakeable. Southern Fulmar was the cry
and John and Nigel both got on to it quickly and revelled in the bird. Hearts
pumping, we watched it cruise past and disappear into the bay to the north-east
over the next minute or so.
The next big bird of the trip came after a couple of bouts of sleet had seen us
oscillate between the shelter of some low heath and our scopes. I got on to a
large petrel from the other side of the cape showing all-white. It languished
for a while downwind of the point, flapping more frequently between glides than
the giant-petrels had done until then. While I dithered with the ID, hoping
for a closer look as it rounded the cape and sailed past us as most birds had
done, Nigel and John were bang on: it was a pale-morph Southern Giant-Petrel.
Our final seawatching location was from the whale watching platform on the edge
of the sheltered northern cliffs of the cape. Because the sea below was
sheltered, this was less busy than our previous location but there were some
numbers of Great-winged Petrels and giant-petrels, and John spied the third
excellent bird of the trip, a juvenile Wandering Albatross majestically working
its way upwind and around the cape.
Thanks to John & Nigel for an exceptional seawatch!
Date: Wednesday 13 June, 2012
Participants: John Graff, Nigel Jackett, Stewart Ford
Bunker Bay: 7:30-8:25
Eastern Reef-Egret: 1
Eastern Osprey: 1
Crested Tern: 10
Southern Giant-Petrel: 1
Northern Giant-Petrel: 2
Australasian Gannet: 30
Little Pied Cormorant: 1
Pied Cormorant: 1
Silver Gull: 8
Cape Naturaliste: 9:00-12:30
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross: 10+
Black-browed Albatross: 4
*Wandering Albatross: 1
Shy Albatross: 1
**Southern Giant-Petrel: 2
Northern Giant-Petrel: 2
Giant-Petrel sp.: 4
Southern Fulmar: 1
Great-winged Petrel: 18+
Australasian Gannet: 50
Silver Gull: 6
Pacific Gull: 2
Crested Tern: 11
Wedge-tailed Eagle: 2
Nankeen Kestrel: 1
*Wandering-type Albatross corresponding with Gibson's plumage index 1 or
Plumage A of Onley & Scofield (2007).
** One pale morph.
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