Day 5: 19th November
Awoke early as the waves rolled the ship round and round, and headed up to the bridge with some lemon tea to begin ticking off species as we entered the Aus. EEZ. However as we crossed the line, I was standing over the side "painting the ocean" as Rob put it. However I felt better right afterwards and after a dry breakfast consisting of bread, continued a good day's birding. Compared the the previous day out of the Auckland Islands, the birding was poor, with very low numbers of species, however the same diversity allowed me to rack up a number of Australia ticks. Birds observed over these two days included Southern Royal, Grey-headed, Salvin's, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Mottled and White-headed Petrel, Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters, Antarctic Prions and both Grey-backed and Black-bellied Storm Petrels.
Antarctic Prion in the Southern Ocean
The conditions during the passage to Macca we were told was "average", however the direction of the swell caused an average roll of 20deg throughout the day, with a couple reaching more than 45 as the day progressed and the wind picked up. On one particularly memorable 42deg roll (I was watching the gauge), Xenia lost her footing and broke a rib or two, which was obviously not good, however luckily for her we saw no major pelagic rarities which would have been new for her Aus. list! As we approached Macquarie in the evening (still out birding at 10:00pm), the persistent efforts of Rob, Dani and myself were finally rewarded with 3 Blue Petrels showing well very close to the boat, associating with prions.
Day 6: 20th November
One does not simply recount their first day on Macquarie Island amongst the masses of curious penguins and seals - never have I had such an intimate encounter with animals which are so unafraid and inquisitive, and it will probably be a long time before (if ever) I experience something comparable to the next two days.
After picking up the rangers from the station (and identifying all the major resident breeding species from an excessive distance, including Antarctic Tern and differentiation of three penguin species, just in case we couldn't land the next day at the base), we motored south to Sandy Bay.
Dani and I hardly noticed the penguins as we left the zodiac and our eyes locked on the male elephant seal sleeping in front of us. We were bewildered at the true size of the beast! Elephant seal pups littered the beach, one of the main sounds of the day being their comical burps and farts (no kidding, evolution dished out some terrible digestive issues to this species - see video).
Slumbering Beachmaster - a well deserved rest after months of mating!
Elephant Seal Weaners are cute, even when moulting
(don't try to tell me he isn't adorable)
Burping Elephant Seal Weaner
This photo doesn't emphasise how big Elephant Seals are
"How Big is an Elephant Seal?"
"How Big is an Elephant Seal?"
I was just getting into the zone of penguin fanaticism when Dani came up and asked me if I'd seen the Chinstrap. I laughed him off as I had the other jibes at the Antarctic or Snow Petrels every time one of us took a bathroom break at sea. But lo and behold, what bird stood just up the beach but Australia's 3rd (if accepted) Chinstrap Penguin!!! It was quite feisty, and didn't get one well with the surrounding Royals if they got too close.
Chinstrap Penguin - I need to figure out how to rotate these on blogger later...
Although we looked consistently throughout the day, and one bird tried hard to trick us at the breeding colony up the hill, we could not pull out a repeat of last year's Macaroni Penguin.
Rob and I
(PS: Will add photos of myself with the birds when I get them off Dani in a few days)
Macquarie Island: With Kings and Royalty
Of course I also saw some Lesser Redpolls (identified from Mealy, which in theory could also occur). We also met the rabbit mop-up team and some of their dogs - still no rabbit sightings after two years, it's looking good!
This rabbit dog hasn't actually seen a rabbit on Macca
Content Elephant Seal Weaner
Slight male Elephant Seal tussle, but there's no
point getting into it when all the girls have gone!
Day 7: 21st November
Woke up a bit late and missed Southern Fulmar, which put myself and Rob in a foul mood. Conditions were a bit windy (and snowy) so we did not zodiac to the King Penguin colony at Lusitania Bay, however viewing the immense (50,000) colony from the ship breeding amongst the rusted penguin boilers was impressive enough! We motored up the coast back towards Buckles Bay and the research station, Rob and I skipping breakfast, hoping to repeat the earlier Fulmar.
Snow in Summer
We zodiaced ashore fulmarless, and our group's ranger guide David showed us around. Gentoo Penguins and their large chicks were abundant, as were the ever-present elephant seal weeners. As LMSAlbys wheeled in the sky, we were notified that the third zodiac from the ship had had SF fly past.
Gentoo Penguin greeting partner
Gentoo and chick
We returned to the ship in the hope the SF would return, and a quick stop off at the Rockhopper Penguin colony netted us our 5th penguin species for Macca (however bumpy and blurry our binocular views were from the zodiac). Luckily we finally spotted a SF just before lunch, so we were able to go down and eat in peace.
Bumpy Distant Southern Rockhopper Penguins
Make that 12 Blue Petrels.
13. 14. 17. 22. 27. 31. It is now
10:00 and we have estimated 50-70 (repeat counts likely of course).
Blue Petrel - one of the best seabirds
Sunset Stormie (Black-bellied)
Black-bellied Storm Petrel Jesusing
Almost an exact replica day of yesterday after leaving Macca, with almost exactly the same birds, but in much smaller numbers (despite our constant, tiring vigil!).