Jeff Clarke Ecology

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In Pursuit of Prions part 2

In Pursuit of Prions (Part 2) Tasman Sea - Sydney to Hobart

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For this blog I have used images that missed the cull for my new talk on New Zealand but are still decent images.

As the MS Oosterdam headed out of Sydney into the late evening we cleared the Heads at Manley with just enough light left to see hordes of Short-tailed Shearwaters in the inshore waters. A stiffening breeze had the ship rocking in the night and we awoke to leaden skies a very lumpy Tasman Sea. The first task was to work out the best watchpoints on the ship. It was disappointing to find there was no access to the bow and this meant I was largely confined to the forward and and aft sections of the promenade deck and the howling wind on this particular day meant the suitable watch spots were even more limited. Well at least I didn't need to worry about the sun being a problem!

Once I'd got my perspectives sorted out I was soon racking up an impressive selection of seabirds most of which were entirely new to me. DSLR cameras come into their own in these circumstances as I was able to fire away at the fast moving specs on the dark ocean, then zoom in and check all the relevant features to come to a conclusive ID. By this method I was able to confirm Gould's Petrel, a rather rare species which breeds on Cabbage Tree Island off New South Wales. Soon I was enjoying my first Albatrosses of the trip. In this case the largest of the Mollymawks White-capped Albatross. This species is one of the 'splits' from the former Shy Albatross (2008) and separating the two races cauta and steadi is pretty much impossible at Sea.

Periodically we would steam through large rafts of Short-tailed Shearwaters, also known as Mutton-birds. At the same time we were rarely out of sight of a Grey Faced Petrel as they effortlessly glided past the ship. Most of them showing clear signs of moulting primary feathers.

It was noticeable how you would run into batches of birds. The White-capped Albatrosses had petered out but suddenly I was seeing Campbell Island Albatross. This is another species of albatross to be confirmed as a species in its own right after the recent split from the familiar Black-browed Albatross. Thankfully the adults, at least, are easier to differentiate at sea. Campbell Island Albatross has more extensive black on the underwing and possesses distinctly fearsome looking yellow irises. If Black-browed gives you a serious frown, Campbell Island Albatross appears to want to tear you limb from limb!

Salvin's and Gibson's Wandering Albatross also made it onto the list and at the other end of the scale the dainty White-faced Storm-Petrel appeared close to the ship playing hide and seek among the white-caps

Despite my best efforts, my cetacean sightings were limited to two unidentified dolphins leaping just once alongside the ship. A flying fish and a couple of unidentified sharks completed a stormy day on the Tasman Sea.

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