Thursday, October 10, 2013

Portland Pelagic Weekend

Big Years are a good way to add some spice to birding, especially casual ones where your only target is your own total from a previous year. Back in 2010 I saw 304 species in Victoria which is not a high total considering that the state list, without vagrants, is somewhere near 450. The trip to Portland for a pelagic was a perfect opportunity to add four more. On Friday night before I left for Portland my 2013 Victorian list was on 318 and I had “possible” list of 4 more land birds I could find on the weekend.

Three Gull-billed Terns had been seen at Werribee WTP, and I only needed one. I drove in, sat by the road where the last report came from and waited. It seemed really strange being at WTP and not actually going into the plant but I watched waders, gulls, raptors etc flying over until a lone tern flew toward me, over the car, and off into the plant. It had taken only 20 minutes to see the Gull-billed Tern and I was on my way again. One down, three to go.

Next stop was the Great Otway National Park which is south-west of Geelong and on the way to Portland, if you take the long way via The Great Ocean Road. It is a good place for Forest Ravens and I ticked them of on the road into Triplet Falls (two down two to go). I had never been to Triplet Falls but I had been told it was a good place for Olive Whistlers, bird three on the list. I parked the car in front of the sign with an arrow that said “Triplet Falls 2 hours return” and reasoned that I did not need to go to the falls, just far enough to find the whistler. 

I soon found that the path went down steeply and “down steeply”, to me, always translated as “back up even more steeply”. As children raced passed me going both up and down I listened for the whistler without hearing more than a few scrubwrens, thornbills and childish yells and screams. I gave up and struggled back to the car and sagged onto the drivers seat with a sigh. I must get more real leg exercise. I drank half a bottle of water and finished the vanilla slice from lunch and felt better. Olive Whistler, dip; but I had another location for later in the weekend.
The Portland Pelagic boat, with the awnings wound up it was OK - no,  just joking. But it seems sad to see a boat left to go like that. Ah well, at least the Black-faced Cormorants were enjoying it.

Pulling into Portland I was half way through my drive and had not seen a Grey Goshawk, an uncommon raptor in Victoria but sometimes seen during a drive to Portland, but I had time. I had some daylight left so I decided to try a really long shot, Cape Gannet at Point Danger, but read my last blog for the full story of this bird.
iPod photo of the real Portland pelagic boat, the Southern Pride taken at 0700 as we were boarding.

Sunday’s pelagic promised some new birds for the year but a pelagic trip is always a dice game and anything is possible. I ended up with three new birds for the year being Flesh-footed Shearwater, White-chinned Petrel and Arctic Jaeger. It was, as usual, a really good trip. The Southern Pride is perfect for birding because she is broad and stable with lots of room to stand around. They also put on magic food for the birders, not just for the birds. Coffee and tea comes as you want/need it, large plates of biscuits come out for morning tea and huge plates of salad and sandwiches come out for lunch. Bottled water and cans of soda are stored in an esky full of ice. Bliss; birds, food and friends – what could be better?
The remains of lunch after the hungry passengers had been at it.

Monday morning was time to look for, and dip on, the Cape Gannet that had been seen on Saturday evening but not to worry, 64 km away in Nelson was another recommended place for Olive Whistler. An added difficulty had arisen though, after my “mountaineering” at Triplet Falls and standing all day on rolling boat deck, as I got out of bed I nearly fell over because my calf muscles were so stiff and sore. A hot shower helped but walking was a nightmare and I was surprised that no one offered me a walking frame as I toddled down the main street of Portland to get food.
The Point Danger gannet colony from the sea. Fences to stop dogs and foxes can be seen on top and bottom of  the cape.

I got to Nelson, got out of the car and limped 100 metres down the Livingston’s Island Nature Trail and had Olive Whistlers “dancing all over my toes”. Thank heavens. Three down and one to go, well two actually because I had added the Cape Gannet to the “possible” list. So, three down, two to go. The walk hadn’t helped my calf muscles either and my left leg screamed abuse at me every time I put the clutch in to change gears.
Part of the gannet colony on Lawrence Rocks.

The Cape Gannet performed perfectly, at last. Isn’t it amazing how birds so often seem to hide and make you work to see them. They drop out of sight as you come up, then eventually wink at each other and say something akin to “OK, this is her third visit, she’s worked hard enough, lets come out and show our selves now”. Sigh, thank you Mr Cape Gannet.
Southern Pride at sea off Portland

Only one bird now, the Grey Goshawk, and all I could do was look and hope as I drove back to Melbourne. I must have been looking too hard because I suddenly saw a sign saying “Mount Gambier 405 km”! Mt Gambier is 180ยบ the wrong way if you want to get to Melbourne from Portland. I stopped at an intersection and consulted the map. Hmmm, not too bad, this little side road I had stopped at would take me about 3 km and drop me on the correct road. I threw the map book in the back and as I did I heard corellas yelling and screaming above me. I looked up and the screams were because – they were being chased by a Grey Goshawk! Lost? Lost? Pshaw! Who was lost? I just needed to be at that particular corner at that particular instant so I could tick off my last needed bird for the weekend. My legs stopped hurting, the road straightened out, the car purred and all was well with the world. I was floating. Four out of four wanted birds PLUS a MEGA. The Cape Gannet was a new bird for my Australia list and totally unexpected.

I finished the weekend with 8 new birds for my year list and a huge smile. Birding is such fun, and the SMILE comes back every time I think of the birds I saw, and how and when I saw them. 

Young Yellow-nosed Albatross

A pair of Shy Albatross canoodling.

The Short-tailed Shearwater were very keen on the berley we were  feeding out ...

... the bird at top has just surfaced from chasing berley as it sank and the other bird is just diving ....

... and they are very good at swimming under water going maybe 500mm deep for the sinking berley.

Wilson's Storm-petrel

Flesh-footed Shearwater

Fairy Prion

PS: The current Victorian Big Year record is 389. It was set in 2010 by Paul Dodd and Ruth Woodrow, and I have no intension of trying to break it (smile).

All images & text © Jenny Spry

No comments:

Post a Comment