A Shy Albatross gliding over the surface of the ocean in the pelagic zone
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A Shy Albatross in flight over the ocean in the Pelagic region off of Kiama

I was well on track to achieve my primary goal of 400 species after the first two months, with 122 species already seen. My secondary goal was also on track with 7 new species already in the bag. Unfortunately, the next four months have not been as fruitful and, at the end June, I had only managed to add another 47 species to the main list and just one species to my life list. I was getting very worried. I needed a good July count, and was hoping that a boat trip out to the Pelagic region was going to get some, much needed, momentum happening.

July through to September is a great time to see some pelagic bird species, such as Albatross, Petrels and Skuas. I contacted SOSSA (Southern Oceans Seabird Study Association) to try and get a place on one of their boats. These run on the last Saturday of most months and go about 25 km off the coast of Kiama and Wollongong. This trip would be a double whammy as I had not added any seabirds to my list for the year, and had also only seen a handful of these in my life. Anything would surely add to both of my goal lists.

One problem was that SOSSA did not have any room on their July or August boats, and I had to go on the standby list. They did have one spot left on the September boat, so I grabbed that spot and hoped for someone to drop out of the earlier ones. June and July were very busy months for me with work and I really had very limited time to get out and about with my cameras and binoculars. At one stage I worked 26 days straight and, by the middle of July, I was completely worn out. I could not justify spending much time out birding, as I had not spent very much time with my family, so alot of this was in order. Not surprisingly, there were no species added to either of my lists during this time.

On Thursday the 22nd July, I received an email from SOSSA, saying that a spot had become available on one of the their boats for that Saturday. I grabbed it! At this point the reality kicked in that I would be heading 25 km out to sea, and I can’t swim more than 25 metres!! On the Friday I went to BCF and bought a new set of compact binoculars and an inflatable life vest. All Set for my first Pelagic trip!

The Pelagic Trip

The weather on the Saturday was okay. A bit cold, overcast and light winds for the morning tending to moderate in the afternoon. A good swell of 1 to 2 metres was forecast, so the afternoon was set to get somewhat unpleasant. Not knowing what to expect, I decided to leave my new lens and good camera at home and took the older stuff. If anything was going to get salty and wet it was not going to be the good gear. This was to be the biggest mistake I made, as the 400mm lens would have nailed some great shots; although there was one passenger whose camera did get a bit of a soaking.

As we chugged out of Kiama Harbour, I was full of high expectation and controlled excitement. I figured most other people on the boat were feeling the same way, so I did not feel like the new kid on the block, even though, technically, I was. Fifteen minutes into the trip I saw a Fairy Prion, a new bird for the year and a new one for my life list. This could be a great day. As we made it out to the shipping lanes, there were a few fishing trawlers operating and, following them, were hundreds of seabirds. Our boat turned off its engines and one of the crew started throwing some fish scraps over the side. Within moments we had around 50 or 60 birds in the water around the boat,. There were around 15 species of seabirds in this group, most of which I had never seen before, and all at close quarters.

By the time the boat started to motor back to the harbour I had added 12 new species to my 2015 list, but, of these, 11 were new species for my life list (bring on September!). I have now inched my 2015 list up to 181, which is still a long way short of where I would like to be, but my life list goal of 50 new species got a much needed boost, and now stands at 19.

July’s New Hatchlings for my (Little) Big Year List:

Wandering Albatross (New)
Black-browed Albatross
Shy Albatross (New)
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross (New)
Antipodean Albatross (New)
Buller’s Albatross (New)
Northern Giant-Petrel (New)
Antarctic Prion (New)
Slender-billed Prion (New)
Fairy Prion (New)
Providence (Solander’s) Petrel (New)
Brown Skua (New)

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