Epic Sunday Pelagic Mega

Before this last Sunday’s trip, I had done five pelagics in Australia. One was out of Wollongong, NSW, one out Eagle-hawk Neck, Tassie, and three out of Port Fairy, the most recent being this past March. I had certainly gotten some good birds, but in general, most of my pelagic trips were fairly ordinary (Long-tailed Jaeger and Little Shearwater not withstanding).

For me, something important was missing. Ever since I became a birder I have been fascinated with albatrosses. In the Patrick O’Brian books, Dr. Stephen Maturin speaks of them many times in glowing terms. And of course, I longed to behold the true king of the Albatrosses, the Wandering. They have a wingspan of over 10 feet. They are truly the most magnificent of all pelagic birds. I had not yet seen one.
Look at those wings!

Since it is less than three hours from Lara, I decided to do another pelagic out of Port Fairy. I managed to get a space on the 23 April trip, but I was just getting over a bad cold and decided that I should not go. Those who went had a great trip with both types of Wandering Albatrosses and other awesome birds. I contacted Neil, who schedules the trips, and asked for a space on the next one. I was able to get a spot for Sunday 14 May. Yay!

I arrived in Port Fairy late Saturday arvo and checked into The Stump pub/motel. It is very basic, but I had stayed there on the previous trips (better the devil you know) and it is only 5 minutes from the boat. I ate a sandwich in my room and then wandered over to the pub to see who was around. I immediately bumped into Kevin Bartram, Scott Baker, and then Simon Starr- all good friends through Facebook and brilliant birders. I got a text from my dear friend, Bill Twiss, saying that he was also going as well. Bill has had several very good sea birding trips, so he is a bit of a “pelagic whisperer.” It was shaping up to be a good group out there. I retired to my room, applied my behind-the-ear seasickness patch and went to bed.

After a fitful night’s sleep (not unusual for me), I got out of bed about 4:30 and began to administer caffeine to the best of my abilities. After getting down a couple of mugs, I headed over to the boat. It was just past 7am when we chugged out to sea. It was a little bumpy out there, but the patches were doing their job. I did not feel well, but I had no trace of seasickness. Such are the patches for me.

We were still within sight of land when I missed what would have been my first lifer of the day. A Diving Petrel appeared, dove and then disappeared. But shortly after that, a tern was spotted that was tentatively identified as a White-fronted, and then as a Common, and then an Arctic. Photos taken by Scott Baker later confirmed it as an Arctic and thus it was my first Lifer of the day! Although, I would not know this for sure until the next day.
On the way with Kevin Bartram, grey beards...
We continued out over 50 kilometers to the spot where we would stop and begin to berley (chum). Almost immediately I heard the word that I had listened for on all the past pelagic trips, “Wandering!” And a young Wandering Albatross came gliding by the boat and into my heart. I was about to post this blog entry, when I realized that I needed to write more about this moment. To behold this graceful, winged behemoth is one of the highlights of my life. I have seen many magnificent birds, but none have filled me with more awe and appreciation. I was thrilled to my core and I am grateful! But it got even better.

Soon the boat was surrounded by Albatrosses and other sea birds. We had Shy, Black-browed, Campbell, Northern Royal, Wandering and NZ Wandering (Gibson’s). We had Northern Giant Petrel, Fairy and Antarctic Prions, and Wilson’s, White-faced and Grey-backed Storm-Petrels among others. It was wondrous! But after a while, our birds began to leave us and we spotted a trawler several kilometers further out. It was swarming with birds. We headed over to look.

In amongst the hundreds of birds in the air and on the water behind the trawler, Kevin Bartram, and or Scott Baker, noticed a dark Petrel. It flew up and by our boat. The word, “Westland” began to be shouted. It stayed with us, landing on the water and flying around the boat. It was indeed a Westland Petrel, the first record of a living bird in Victoria. Even the hardcore pelagic birders were getting a tick. We had us a MEGA! There was much joy. I am so grateful to experience this beautiful rarity!

It was a day of seven Lifers for me. They were… Arctic Tern, both Wanderings, a Northern Royal, a beautiful Cape Petrel, Antarctic Prion and Westland Petrel. Yes, Westland was the Mega, but the Wandering Albatrosses really stole my heart (Cape Petrel is pretty damn special too). My Aussie life list is now 684. I am only 16 away from that magic number, but they are only numbers. It is the birds and the experiences that matter.  Here are more photos beginning with the stunning Cape Petrel.


The long trip back to terra firma seemed shorter than usual. Once back in Port Fairy many of us had a quick cuppa and a nibble at the coffee house. Then I accepted Bill Twiss’ kind invitation to stay the night at his and Debbie’s house in Warnambool. I was quite tired and still “woggy” from wearing the patch, but I slept well and contentedly (unusual for me). I am so very grateful.
Lifer Selfie with my dear friend, Bill Twiss

Peace. Love. Birds. Gratitude.