Heard Island (long)

To: <>
Subject: Heard Island (long)
From: "Crispin Marsh" <>
Date: Sat, 8 Dec 2012 21:02:18 +1100
Dear Birders,
Heritage Expeditions took their 50 passenger ship “Spirit of Enderby” to Heard 
Island , in the deep southern Indian Ocean, in November carrying a select group 
of keen birders. They were not disappointed!

The ship left Fremantle on November 8 and took a course slightly South of West 
to the vicinity of Amsterdam Island. On the way good sightings included a lone 
Atlantic Yellow Nosed Albatross and a small number of Barau’s Petrel, both well 
outside Australian waters. More common at this stage were Indian Yellow-nosed 
Albatross, Great-winged Petrel, White-headed Petrel, Soft-plumaged Petrel and 
White-chinned Petrel.

 We were not permitted by the French authorities to land on Amsterdam Island 
however the day of rough weather preceding our arrival justified our ‘seeking 
refuge’ in the lee of the island. While within Amsterdam waters at least one 
Amsterdam Albatross came close enough to the boat that its leg band number 
could be seen in photographs. Amsterdam albatross No. 347 turned out to be a 
female bird born on Amsterdam Island in 2002 and banded on 9 December 2002. She 
first returned to the island in 2007. She bred unsuccessfully in 2011 and has 
bred again in 2012. What a wonderful experience to have prolonged and close 
views of one of the world’s rarest albatross.

Turning South  towards Heard Island we passed West of St Paul Island however St 
Paul Prions, a sub-species of Salvin’s were photographed from the boat. 
Photographs that caused many on board to query current taxonomic thinking! As 
we proceeded South with a huge following sea Prions became plentiful, along 
with Wandering Albatross, Soft-plumaged Petrel, the ubiquitous White-chinned 
Petrel and Wilson’s Storm Petrel. As we passed Kerguelen away to the West, 
Kergulen Petrel became relatively common, soaring up high and dropping suddenly 
back to sea level.

Excitement rose as we crossed the Antarctic Convergence and entered into 
Australian waters between Heard and Kerguelen on 19 November 2012. That first 
day within Australian Waters yielded, among others,  Light-mantled Sooty 
Albatross, Wandering Albatross, Southern Royal Albatross, Black-browed 
Albatross, White-chinned Petrel, Blue Petrel, Antarctic Prion, Salvin’s Prion, 
Fulmar Prion, Kerguelen Petrel and Black-bellied Storm Petrel.  We arrived at 
Heard Island early on the morning of 20 November 2012 to be greeted by a 
howling gale from the South West. The ship was unable to anchor and spent the 
next 24 hours doing laps in the lee of Heard Island while the sleet flew past 
horizontally and visibility was a few hundred meters. There were hundreds of 
birds around the ship among which were South Georgian and Common Diving Petrel, 
Southern Fulmar, Cape Petrel, Heard Island Shag and Brown Skua. A very few 
lucky birders caught sight of a Snow Petrel as it flashed past the ship in the 

The following day, 21 November, saw the wind moderate sufficiently for us to go 
ashore in the afternoon. Walking around Atlas Cove and added Black-faced 
Sheathbill, Southern Rockhopper, Macaroni, Gentoo and King Penguin, and Kelp 
Gull to the trip list. Southern Giant Petrel were pulling a young Elephant Seal 
carcass apart while Prions and Cape Petrel fished on the surf break on the 
beach of Corinthian Bay. As the afternoon turned to evening the cloud cleared 
and the last of the wind dropped revealing the 10,000ft high glacier clad peak, 
Big Ben, the  highest mountain and only active volcano in Australia (remember 
that for your next trivia night!). What a glorious sight, the towering mountain 
painted pink and blue by the evening light, a soft plume issuing from an unseen 
vent in the volcano, the bay of Atlas Cove mirror smooth. Such a contrast with 
the howling gale and low cloud of the previous day.

The 22nd November dawned with strong winds and low cloud precluding another 
landing. The ship headed off to the Macdonald Isands 30 nautical miles or so to 
the North West. As we steamed there the predominant Prion species changed from 
Atlantic to Slender-billed raising the question of whether the latter species 
has begun breeding there. The Macdonald Islands have been the scene of 
extensive volcanic activity within the last 30 years. As the surrounding waters 
have not been charted since the latest eruptions the ship could not approach 
closer than 3 nm of the Islands. It was thus difficult to see any nesting 
activity however large numbers of what appeared to be Rockhopper Penguins were 
standing around on a spit extending from the main island.

Our last day around Heard was 23 November. We had as alternatives in the 
morning a couple of hours on the island, again in Atlas Cove, or a Zodiac trip 
around a bit of the foreshore. I chose the latter and we had wonderful views of 
all of the resident species including a number of nesting birds. Light-mantled 
Albatross were doing paired nuptial flights over our heads and Sheathbills 
scuttled around the penguin colonies. Then it was time to start the long, 
non-stop journey back to Albany. Within Australian waters Northern Royal 
Albatross was a surprise addition to the list.

The Aussie birders, at least, had hopes of something special within Australian 
waters off Western Australia but it was not to be. 1 December was a clear sunny 
day with very little wind and commensurately limited bird activity. A young 
Wanderer with mottled brown plumage got the heart racing at 5:30 am but we 
couldn’t conjure up the dark cutting line on the upper mandible to turn it into 
an Amsterdam Albi. It was downhill from there despite a 13 hour vigil by all 
interested parties.

In summary then a long but interesting and rewarding trip. We were very 
fortunate with the weather as the strong winds were largely from the stern or 
occurred while we were in the lee of Heard Island. We were extremely fortunate 
to get ashore and to see the mountain cloud free. Reports talk of research 
parties spending 7 months in Atlas Cove and seeing the sun briefly on a handful 
of occasions. For all the good sightings it was still a hell of a long way. 
Someone was heard to say “10,000 km is a long way to go for a Shag!” , which 
might be the most succinct summation of this trip.

Many thanks to the Aussie and Overseas birders, the staff, the crew and the 
non-birding passengers (yes, there were a number of them) whose company added 
to the pleasure of the trip.

good birding all

Peter Marsh


To unsubscribe from this mailing list,
send the message:
(in the body of the message, with no Subject line)
<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>
  • Heard Island (long), Crispin Marsh <=

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU