With the COVID-19 ‘Delta-Strain’ creating havoc in NSW and Victoria, Mike Eaton and I (…as Queenslanders from a current ‘Low-Risk’ area) quickly responded to Rohan Clarke’s request to fill vacant spots on the upcoming double-header pelagic from Eaglehawk Neck on the east coast of Tasmania.
In his Facebook post Rohan had virtually guaranteed rarities as he was unable to attend, but I had also seen another post with the previous weeks trips total, suggesting at least 3 ‘new-species’ for me (…and ‘countless’ for Michael)
On arrival we completed the necessary COVID entry-administration, picked up a hire-car and headed straight for the Hotel Lufra, close to the Eaglehawk Neck boat-ramp, the heavy-rain was constant until after-dark.
At the boat-ramp at 06.45am we met up with the other 6 participants including old friends Els Wakefield and Peter Vaughan, and trip-leader Karen Dick. The temperature was single-digits but fortunately we had arrived prepared (…almost!)
Sadly (….or not depending on your preference) the winds appeared to be fairly light, and it wasn’t until we passed the Hippolyte Rock that we started to see some ‘pelagic-species’, we saw plenty of Common Diving Petrels (…apparently more so than on most recent-trips) The ‘action’ seemed to pick up closer to the shelf and soon we were surrounded by albatross of several-species, mostly Shy (Thalassarche cauta) but with with Northern and Southern Royal (Diomedea sanfordi and epomophora) and Black-browed and Indian Yellow-nosed (Thalassarche melanophris and chlororhynchos)
Almost as large as a small albatross we were also joined by two Giant-Petrels, Northern and Southern (Macronectes halli and giganteus) the latter have become very infrequent in this area.
On the shelf the skipper John, cut-off the engines and we began ‘chumming’ or ‘burleying’ (…attracting birds to the area by baiting with fish and meat scraps)
Most of the birds were albatross but there were a quite a few ‘Pterodromas’ such as Great-winged (Pterodroma macroptera), Grey-faced (Pterodroma gouldi) and Providence Petrel (Pterodroma solandri), which can look very similar to the ‘untrained-eye’ (Please let me know if you think I’ve mis-labelled any.)
Sunday’s trip brought slightly more people but even colder weather and seemingly similar but fewer birds, though we had a few Cape Petrels (Daption capense), Sooty Shearwaters (Ardenna grisea) and Buller’s Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri). Although the biggest shock came when I went below to get my lunch and I suddenly heard the loud cry “Grey Petrel”……………yes my only chance of a ‘lifer’ hurtled-past without even looking-back (….All I saw was it’s rear-end disappearing towards New Zealand)
On the same weekend in 2019 I attended the same pelagic ‘double-header’ and I’m sure exactly the same birds were in attendance, many albatross but very few that were on my ‘wish-list’. However most of the guests onboard were new to pelagic-birding and saw many new seabirds.
On our return to the boat-ramp we were surprised to see a number of Beautiful Firetail (Stagonopleura bella) near our parked-car, and returned on Monday morning to get some pics. We also took a drive around Pirates Rd in search of Brush Bronzewing (Phaps elegans) to no avail, although we did get some stunning Eastern Spinebills (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris) in the top car-park. At Peter Murrell Conservation Park south of Hobart Mike showed me a site for Striated Fieldwren (Calamanthus fuliginosus) a species that I hadn’t realised was resident in Tasmania. In the afternoon we searched for Strong-billed Honeyeater (Melithreptus validirostris) along Van Morey Drive near Snug, but despite good views were unable to photograph them well. We returned to the same general area on a very windy morning and found 4 Dusky Robin (Melanodryas vittata), and a bit further up the road Mike found a white-phase Grey Goshawk (Accipiter novaehollandiae), shortly after this we met a researcher David Young who is doing a PhD on the species (see his Facebook Group page here)
Many thanks to Karen, Els, Peter, and Ramit Singal, Ben Viola plus all the other participants in making this a very enjoyable ‘long-weekend’. Looking forward to returning soon…..