Sunday, September 8, 2013

SOSSA pelagics off Wollongong

Travelling half the world to get to Australia, but for the best birding you need to get on the Sandra K and get as far away as possible. Albatrosses don't like the smell of land.
The pelagics are organised by SOSSA, which is a non-profit organisation studying and protecting the biodiversity in the Southern Ocean. I joined both 24 and 25 August, and biodiversity was impressive!

The trip on the 24th was rough as there where stormy conditions the previous night, the 25th was calm and warm. Less birds were on show on the 25th but once the banana-problem had been identified and dealt with things turned very positive in the end (yes I brought bananas, and yes that is asking for misfortune on a pelagic:-)
Below some impressions of this ultimate pelagic and if you have the chance, go there, become a member and join the trip. And don't use the discount-ticket you will get from the tourist information service!

Shy and Black-browed Albatross joined as soon as we left the harbour.
Common Diving-Petrel, brief views on both days (2 on 24th and 3 on 25th).
adult Black-browed Albatross, together with Shy the most numerous species with 10s seen on both days.
adult Black-browed Albatross.

adult Campbell Albatross, very similar to Black-browed but close enough to identify on iris-colour.
The same Campbell Albatross, only seen on 24th, and only this bird.
not so Shy Albatross.
adult Shy Albatross.
immature Shy Albatross, the plain grey head indicates this is a White-capped / steadi.
Detailed picture of probably the same White-capped (Shy) Albatross. Several birds of this (sub-)species were seen on both days.
adult Buller's Albatross, the only one but what a beauty! (seen on 24th).
Buller's Albatross.
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, the smallest Albatross but still a wingspan of 2 meters!
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, several were seen on both days.
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross.
adult Black-browed Albatross.
immature Black-browed Albatross.
immature Shy Albatross.
adult Shy Albatross.
adult Campbell Albatross.
And yes we did see several of the big ones! With their wingspan of up to 3.5 meters the Wandering-type Albatrosses are the biggest birds in the world. Like the "Shy-complex" taxonomy of the wandering-group is developing, and identification is best done in-hand. Both Antipodean and Gibson's were caught and banded but with the flight pictures I am not sure which is which:-)

Northern Royal Albatross (note white tail, dark upperwings and massive bill), this bird was seen briefly on both days.
Antipodean and Gibson's "Wandering" Albatross.
Immature Black-browed and Gibson's Albatross (same bird as above right, in-hand, measurements excluded "Snowy").
Antipodean Albatross
But there was more! Prions, Shearwaters, (Giant) Petrels, White-fronted Tern, Brown Skua, breaching Whales and Dolphins;
Fluttering & Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Fairy Prion and the bird in front right looks like an unintentionally photographed Petrel.

Fairy Prion, difficult to photograph as they are really fast and erratic flyers. Large flocks on 25th.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater, many birds on both days.

Another Wedge-tailed Shearwater.
Short-tailed Shearwater, only 1 bird seen (on 24th).
Solander's Petrel, several sightings on the 24th.
Grey-faced (Great-winged) Petrel, one bird on 24th.
Southern Giant Petrel, 2 different birds on 24th.
Northern Giant Petrel, note the reddish tip of the bill. The only one, on the 25th.
The same Northern Giant Petrel.
White-faced Petrel at last! Feeding in the slick on 24th.
Brown Skua playing hide-and-seek with Silver Gulls on 25th. The shape is remarkable different from Great Skua, it's small head and bill make it look like a pigeon. No offence intended!
The same Brown Skua. Is it!?
White-fronted Tern, several on both days.
And at last, the Red-billed Black Petrel, rarely seen on land:-)