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Nov 11: Chicken skin and sea fowl
 

Today was the penultimate Sunshine Coast pelagic of the year, and we were to try out a new berley mix with chicken skin and extra added fish oil. The purpose of the chicken skin is to get the berley to float, keeping the sight and smell of the potential food as noticeable as possible to any passing sea fowl.

Leaving the house at 0420, I collected Louis Backstrom and Andy Jensen en route, and eventually arrived in Mooloolaba at 0615 or so. We joined the huddled crowd of birders on the jetty, rejoicing in the south-easterly wind ruffling our hair. There had been a southerly blow a couple of days ago, then the wind turned easterly for a day, and now was in the south-east quarter, great conditions for a pelagic. A few showers were scudding through, which made us all very optimistic.

We set sail bang on time, but it rapidly became clear that there were relatively few birds about as we steamed at full speed east towards the Brisbane border and the continental shelf. After what seemed like an age, and about 3km before we reached the Brisbane border, a fine squadron of four Pomarine Jaegers put on a show to the south of the boat, including landing on the water at close range allowing us some great looks. After admiring them for a while, we steamed for the border, and after another 20 minutes or so the skipper finally cut the engine. We were above 600 metres of water, right on the steeply dropping off continental shelf.

Commencing with the berley, we could tell it was going to work a treat. Our slick spread out, and the chicken skins soaked with fish oil and rotten fish bits floated nicely on the surface. A few Providence Petrels and shearwaters (both Wedge-tailed and Short-tailed) came for a look, although nothing seemed super hungry. Presently a cracking Sooty Tern darted by, and with its smart looks and purposeful flight, arrived onto my year list in style. A petrel appeared distantly, and it remained close enough for long enough for me to see it had a white belly and dark head – a Tahiti Petrel – year tick number two!! A few Wilson’s Storm-petrels appeared, and whilst birds were in view most of the time during the drift, no additional species were going to show up for the next couple of hours.

Around 12.30 we decided to call a halt to the drift, and moved back towards land looking for a trawler that was on the radar. We crossed back into Sunshine Coast waters before reaching the trawler, although it did have a Brown Booby on it, which was nice. We drifted for 30 minutes near the trawler, and just as we were about to leave had a cracking Flesh-footed Shearwater – a bittersweet moment since it would have been a Brisbane year tick yet we weren’t in Brisbane waters.

As we started steaming for port, I was feeling sleepy and eventually slumber took over. I woke up with a start back at the seaway!  We arrived back on land a little disappointed with the trip, although I’d had a clear technical success, with two year ticks.

With the two year ticks today (Tahiti Petrel and Sooty Tern), my year list surged to 303 species. I spent 3 hours 58 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 232.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

Sooty Tern in the Coral Sea off Cape Moreton

Tahiti Petrel, a speciality of the western Pacific, and a summer visitor to Brisbane waters.