Sunday, June 30, 2013

From up high at Woolamai - Albatross!

No quality photos here but I am posting anyway because seeing albatross gives me a bit of a buzz!

At its highest point the Cape Woolamai headland is about .... well I'd guess 112 metres above sea level.

There is the opportunity when walking the circuit trail to get distant views of gliding seabirds and soaring raptors. When identifying birds at this distance the tendency is to rely on the "jizz" of the appearance and the behaviour as well as local knowledge of what is generally seen. Initially they all look like a hazy white speck.

On my walk last weekend (22nd June 2013) the first hazy white speck became Australasian gannet.

I got a little excited when following this next hazy white speck ....

... because when it turned and looked like this I knew we were talking albatross:

A small fishing boat gives some idea of the distances involved, firstly seen out at sea through the iphone.

Now through the camera's long lens ...

... and a heavily cropped view of the bird waiting for scraps shows that classic albatross profile.

I believe that the albatross are Shy albatross (Thallasarche cauta), one of the mollymawks. Knowing very little about pelagic birding I am quite out of my depth here. I can see that there are some taxonomy issues with Thallasarche cauta with some giving it the official common name of White-capped albatross. Other reading indicates that White-capped albatross is best reserved for the New Zealand based Thallasarche steadi. Suffice to say that there have been recent taxonomical changes and that the birds look very similar. It is all quite bewildering!

When later reviewing the day's photos I spent several minutes looking for what this "lifer" must be. I didn't remember noticing anything unusual through the view finder but became convinced that this good-sized black-headed gull-like seabird was something new!

When sanity prevailed I realised that it was the shadow cast by this Pacific gull's wing which created the striking sooty head!

Pair of Sooty oystercatcher
Pacific gulls at home on the hostile coastline

It helps to have calm and bright conditions. The image below shows some walkers enjoying the view looking west along the southern coast of Phillip Island. For those interested in motor sports (any takers?) the Phillip Island Race track can be seen on the cliffs opposite - current home to the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phillip Island is one of those places where achieving balance between development and conservation is a constant struggle.

Bird on!


  1. Hi Pete I enjoyed reading your post and I can emphathise with you as you tried your level best to get the shots of the Albatross. Very difficult. I have been on a pelagic trip and someday, I will show the photos in blogger. If you ever have the opportunity to go on one, grab it, it is awesome. Margaret

  2. Well spotted Pete, looks like you had some pretty good conditions