Friday, September 21, 2012

Eaglehawk Pelagidipphobia treatment

My bird of the trip, Grey Petrel. It differs from the images in the field guides because it appears to have a fully grey throat. As all my images show a dark throat it is not shading from the wing so I am guessing it is a juvenile bird, or the field guides I have are not quite accurate.


As many of you know, there is a condition that many birders suffer from called “Pelagidipphobia” (the fear of dipping on a mega rarity by missing a pelagic birding trip – called “dipidus” to those who suffer). The symptoms are completely insuperable, incurable even, and when the Siren call is heard, via phone or email, a sufferer of this cruel affliction can do naught but obey, for the consequences of disobedience are horrific. I once tied myself to my desk chair with strong ropes while the call came clearly from Port Fairy, not once but thrice. I sighed as my negative reply to the last call faded into the Friday-night sea, then heard the following Monday that an Atlantic Petrel had been seen on the trip – aaaargh! The thought still pains me.

So, when the same Siren called again a few weeks ago, from Eaglehawk this time, I knew better than to tie myself to a desk chair and resist so I slashed my bonds, threw huge handfuls of money at a passing Red-tailed Qantas-bird, and went in chase of good company and rarities. Sigh, the insouciant feelings that overcame me as I sat with friends, old and new, dipidus sufferers all, sipping alcoholic libations to Artemis the goddess of bird(ing), in the lounge of Eaglehawk’s 1930s art-deco Lufra Hotel, the warming fire crackling behind us, made the trip worth while, even before we boarded the good ship Pauletta next dawn to head out and hunt the mega-bird that I knew awaited. Sigh.

And the mega bird, for me anyway, turned up. On my trip to Macquarie Island last year I missed only one of the expected pelagic specialties; Grey Petrel. On Sunday morning, some 12 nautical miles off the Tasmanian south-east coast, out past the Hyppolyte Rock, a Grey Petrel was spotted by Scott (may Aretmis bless his binoculars) as it came in from astern, flew close down the port side, and disappeared. That analeptic sight was all that was needed, my dipidus subsided to no more than a memory, and the strength of that magic view was enough that I am, five days later, still in remission – of course a friend just told me that she is going on a Port Fairy pelagic in October ….

This is more or less our route from Eaglehawk, out to the edge of the shelf and back

Our starting point, Pirate's Bay anchorage at Eaglehawk

Hyppolyte Rock

Seals resting near one of the many water-worn caves

Hyppolyte Rock, looking from the shore and our boat, Pauletta
Sunday dawned overcast and there was enough wind to lift the birds off the water. The swells were large but the waves on top of them were small, just what is needed for a pleasant day at sea. We motored south-east toward Hyppolyte Rock and then east and out to the shelf. The birds were not in huge numbers but as we threw berley and drifted the mollymawks came in, lots of Shy, a Salvin’s, a Black-browed and a couple of Buller’s. As a southerly change was due we went south toward Tasman Island and Cape Pillar, and then came back up north closer to the shore.
Shy Albatross

Juvenile Black-browed Albatross

Buller's Albatross, foreground and Shy Albatroos behind

Shy Albatross showing the delicate colours around the gape

Adult Salvin's Albatross

Southern Royal Albatross

Buller's Albatross

Great-winged Petrel

Northern Giant Petrel with reddish bill tip

Northern Giant Petrel

Southern Giant Petrel with greenish bill tip, in fresh juvenile plumage

Common Diving-Petrel

Common Diving-Petrel showing its startling blue legs

Tasman Island with Cape Pillar to the right

Pacific Gulls on Hyppolyte Island

Juvenile Crested Tern

Fairy Prion

Cape Petrel with Maria Island and lenticular cloud in the background

Southern Royal Albatross with the coast of Tasman National Park behind
Lenticular cloud over Maria Island
I had booked accommodation for one night at Eaglehawk and one night at 7 Mile Beach, near Hobart airport because my research had said that both these places could be good for finding Masked Owl and Morepork. On Saturday night I found the Morepork on the road between Eaglehawk and the Pirate’s Bay boat ramp but no Masked. I also saw an Eastern Barred Bandicoot, my first ever, on the back road just north of the Lufra, which was really special because I had not seen one before. On Sunday night I tried around 7 Mile Beach and nearby Cremorne for the Masked Owl but again, no luck. Masked Owl is now my declared Boogy-bird!

My flight back to Melbourne was at 1630 on Monday so for old times sake, rather than bird watching, I drove to Triabunna, a place I had visited on holiday in the early 1970s. It has not changed much, still full of cray-fishing boats, and along the way I found a few nice birds, but everything was really shy. If I so much as slowed down the Forest Ravens took off and the Tasmanian Native Hens bolted. There was a misting rain and the temp was around 9ÂșC so this did not help either as the birds were not calling. I was amazed though at the carnage on the roads – I have never seen so many dead mammals, possums, wallabies, rabbits and small flat furry things killed on country roads. Rather sad really, but the ravens were all fat and smiling.
Silver Gull yawning at Triabunna

Tasmanian Native Hen trying to run away from me

Forest Ravens

Green Rosella

European Blackbird. Alongside Starlings these were the most common bird - they were everywhere

Northern Mallard. Tasmania is the only place in Australia where I have seen them almost pure to form

... and this guy that I found in a pine plantation is close to pure too - but definitely a  farm bird.

All images copyright to Jennifer Spry