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May 27: All at sea
 

The day had finally arrived when I would finally get out on the deep blue sea off Brisbane. The skipper has decided the pelagic trip out of Mooloolaba would go ahead despite easterly winds and a 2m swell – good man! My body was against the whole idea – I get pretty seasick on pelagics when they are rough, and because of this, my diabetes control was going to be horribly problematic. I won’t bore you with the details – suffice to say my desire to year list overcame common sense (nothing new there).

I arrived at Louis Backstrom’s house 10 minutes late at 0450 and then we dashed over to Ged Tranter’s place, and piled into his car. As we disembarked at the marina in Mooloolaba, the excitement was palpable, with the easterly wind blowing in our hair. Greg Roberts took the roll call, and we climbed aboard. Greg has been a birding pioneer for much of his life, discovering a number of new populations of various species, putting the Sunshine Coast firmly on the birding map, and latterly organising a fine series of pelagic trips out of Mooloolaba. Organising pelagics is an enormous task, and I felt truly grateful to Greg as we left the marina and crossed the seaway amid rising seas. Once we got out into the ocean, the swell hit and I instantly knew this was going to be a rough one.

Still in Sunshine Coast waters, a cracking dark juvenile Brown Booby was one of the first birds to put in an appearance amidst a few Australasian Gannets. We steamed at fast pace toward the shelf, and the border of Brisbane waters (see this post for a discussion of all this). Just as we crossed the border, a Red-footed Booby showed distantly to the south, and a Providence Petrel was closer in – an absolutely brilliant start!

At 0939, we arrived near to the shelf, and the skipper cut the engine to idle so we could drift over the swell and put out some berley. An early appearance was made by a cracking Grey-faced Petrel, which did a single pass close to the boat and then disappeared. Another Providence Petrel was also around, but there wasn’t much happening so in the end Greg rightly decided to move on. A quick look at a fishing boat revealed an adult Brown Booby sitting preening on one of the outriggers, and it was a great relief to have this species out of the way for my Brisbane year list, after Steve Murray had found a couple in Moreton Bay last weekend and I was wondering how I was going to get that species back.

Arriving at the shelf, we commenced the main drift with the engine cut, and continuously delivered small amount of berley. After a while, several Providence Petrels showed up, and I enjoyed watching this beautiful Pterodroma. But the year-lister in me wanted more, despite now being somewhat seasick with the continual lurching of the boat. And more we got – eventually a single prion showed up, but it disappeared almost as quickly as it had arrived. Raja managed some shots and reckoned it was probably an Antarctic, but I didn’t get much on it. Not to worry – a while later three more prions showed up (perhaps including the first bird again) and did a series of very close passes behind the boat and in the slick – splendid Antarctic Prions! This lovely species is scarce this far north in Australian waters, and I was delighted to see it. Also new for the year list was a small number of Wilson’s Storm-petrels dancing along the slick. This was all great stuff, and perhaps not the mega trip I was hoping for, but a wonderful set of 5 year-tick seabirds and a really enjoyable session.

At 1322, we commenced the drive back to the marina, noting the adult Brown Booby again on the same fishing boat as seen previously, but nothing else of note on the way back. We arrived back at the marina at about 4pm, tired but happy. No mega species, and relatively small numbers of birds, but certainly not a bad trip. And what’s best is that there’s another trip next week!

With five year ticks today (Brown Booby, Red-footed Booby, Providence Petrel, Antarctic Prion, Wilson’s Storm-petrel), my year list surged to 276 species. I spent 7 hours 10 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove or boated 277.1 km. My chronological year list is here.

The beautiful Antarctic Prion – you just can’t go past it!

The black in the tail doesn’t reach the sides, ruling out Fairy Prion, and extends onto T4, ruling out Slender-billed. The well-defined ‘M’ mark over the wings also rules out Slender-billed, as does the relatively thick bill. Also this photo shows that the pale bill sides contrast strongly with the dark ridge, ruling out Salvin’s.

This photo shows the strong half collar, ruling out Fairy, the restricted black nearer the centre of the tail tip, and unbarred undertail. Note how dark the bill side looks compared to the previous pic, even though this is the same individual.