Mallacoota Pelagic 14 May 2019

Mallacoota Pelagic 14 May 2019

Trip Report: Mallacoota Pelagic 14 May 2019

An exploratory first trip out to the shelf on a small Mallacoota-based charter boat. [Some extra information included here for any birders planning to organise a similar trip themselves, which I recommend]. 

Observers: Rohan Clarke, Roger Smith, Janine Duffy (organiser/report writer).

Boat: Gabo Island Escapes 28 foot boat with twin 225 hp outboard motors and small cabin. Boat licensed for 7+2, skipper happy to take 6 passengers on a trip like this. Skipper: Kevin Lott; Deckhand: also a Kevin. Outfit were very professional and safe, and are fully licensed for trips to the shelf. Phone: 0437221694

Cost: $770 total for charter. Berley included. May vary in high season or with higher numbers – I didn’t ask.

Weather: Clear, bright and sunny. Primary swell from south west to 2m. Wind from west at around 10 knots (at Gabo). Skipper was unconcerned and confident in these conditions, and boat could handle worse.

yellow-nosed albatross mallacoota pelagic
A Yellow-nosed Albatross

Activity: Departed Bastion Point boat ramp at 07.30. Headed southeast at a good speed. First stop at 09.15 at depth 207m. Moved on southeast after 45 minutes. Stopped again at 10.35 at 518m depth. Stayed about an hour, drifted to 570m depth. Started return journey at +/-11.30, headed for Tullaberga Island. Circumnavigated Tullaberga from 13.10-13.15, then headed back, arriving Bastion Point at 13.30.

Route: Southeast from Mallacoota to first stop: 37°44’51.3″S 150°05’39.4″E, second stop: 37°49’16.1″S 150°06’31.1″E
Returned via Tullaberga Island (did not land).

mallacoota pelagic birds 14 may 2019

[note: location of Merimbula – Mallacoota Pelagic March 2018 shown – that trip had slightly higher bird diversity, a great albatross, one more storm-petrel, a pterodroma and a procellaria petrel.  See eBird checklist:]

Birds: 21 species, thanks mostly to Rohan. Many were distant and quick.

Arctic Jaeger: 1 flew past at distance.

Sooty Oystercatcher: 2 on Tullaberga Island

Silver Gull: 8 at sea, another 7 Tullaberga Island

Crested Tern: 10, seen throughout.

Little Penguin: 5,  close to shore.

Yellow-nosed Albatross: 16, first few albatross we saw closest to shore.

Shy Albatross: 60, seen throughout trip.

Black-browed Albatross: 2, on way back in.

Bullers Albatross: 2, quick flybys

Wilson’s Storm-petrel: 12, several stayed near boat for extended periods.

Fairy Prion: 90

Antarctic Prion: 1

Sooty Shearwater: 1 on way back in

Short-tailed Shearwater: 1 on way back in.

Fluttering Shearwater: 1 pelagic at 2nd stop

Australian Gannet: 65 at sea, another 6 near Tullaberga Island. Several juveniles.

Black-faced Cormorant: 2 at sea, another 130 off Tullaberga Island

Great Cormorant: 1 at sea, another 8 Tullaberga Island

Little Pied Cormorant: 3 at Tullaberga Island

White-bellied Sea-Eagle: 1 immature at Tullaberga Island

white-bellied sea eagle
Immature White-bellied Sea-eagle on the rocks at Tullaberga Island


Australian Fur-seals: 2, cavorted in berley slick for a bit.

Comfort: trip was very comfortable on way out, but quite rough and wet on way back in. If full (6+2) the cabin would have been cramped and some passengers might have got quite wet. Bring wet weather gear.

Berley: supplied by boat operator and distributed by deckhand. They had a range of frozen fish and tuna oil. Rohan gave them a few tips for future: small pieces, less often. Chicken skin may be good to include.

Conclusion: It was a quiet day for birding but species richness was not bad. Trip is worth repeating a few times in different seasons to see if birding improves. Considering that the location was just 5-15km south of location reached on March 2018 Merimbula-Mallacoota Pelagic, and at similar depth, and bird diversity on that trip was a bit higher, this trip may reflect a slow time of year.

Rohan recommended we try again, and December-January may be a good time.


Please feel welcome to contact me if you need more information:

black-faced  great cormorants Tullaberga near Mallacoota Pelagic
Black-faced and Great Cormorants on Tullaberga Island

What’s In The Bush – Part 2: Birds

Downunder is on top, for birds anyway!

This world map is upside down, because this really is the right way up when it comes to birdlife.

This infographic shows the distribution of the large birds of the world (not including the geese & swans, which are worldwide).  As you can see, large birds have a predominantly southern distribution.

Predominantly southern distribution of large birds of the world
Where the big birds are

The world’s biggest birds – Ostriches – can only be seen in Africa.  Their similarly enormous relatives, Emus & Cassowaries, can only be seen in Australia/New Guinea.  In fact, all of the ratites (those mentioned, plus kiwis, rheas & tinamous) are only found in the Gondwana continents – Australia, New Zealand, South America & Africa.


The next largest in weight, the penguins, are only found in southern waters except for one – the Galapagos Penguin.  The huge ones – the Emperor & King Penguins – only live around Antarctica.  Smaller members of the family live as far north as southern Australia, South Africa and up the west coast of South America.

The heaviest flying birds, the bustards, have two representatives in Europe, and three in central Asia, but by far the largest diversity of the family is in Africa – Africa has 19 species of bustard. India has another three, South-east Asia and Australia both have one species each.

Pelicans are very large birds that range widely.  Seven of the eight species live in the Gondwana continents.  Two of those range into Europe (Great White, Dalmatian), and another one ranges into North America (Brown).  The only one that doesn’t live in the south – the American White Pelican – lives in North America and winters in Mexico.

Australian Pelican – restricted to the Australasian region

For an excellent table of the world’s heaviest birds see this link:

In terms of wing span, the largest birds are the albatrosses.  The great albatrosses, the Wandering and Royal Albatrosses, can have wingspans up to 3.7 metres.  Albatrosses have a primarily southern distribution.  Of 22 species*, 18 are restricted to the southern oceans.

Shy (White-browed) Albatrosses in New Zealand

Vultures, both Old World and New World (which are not closely related to each other) have very large wingspans to 3metres.  North America has three species, and Europe has four, but Africa has ten species, India and South America have six species each.  Again, the great diversity of these two families is in the Gondwana continents.

one of the most colourful Australian parrots – the Rainbow Lorikeet

In addition, the ‘charismatic’, well-known bird families of the world also live mostly in the southern continents.  Birds of Paradise, Bowerbirds, Lyrebirds live only in Australia/New Guinea/South-east Asia; Toucans & Quetzals live only in South & Central America.  Parrots are at their greatest diversity in Australia, and almost all the species worldwide live in the southern continents.  Cockatoos only live in the Australia/New Guinea/SE Asia region.

Even some of the best known of European birds – pigeons, herons, storks & cranes – actually have many more species in the south than in the north.

Superb Lyrebird – only in Australia

But why?

Because Gondwana – and Australia in particular – is where most of them began!  In his amazing book “Where Song Began” Tim Low outlines what ornithologists have known for years: the southern continents have stocked the world with birds.

Even the songbirds – the canaries, finches, sparrows, larks, warblers, mockingbirds, thrushes, blackbirds, robins, shrikes, orioles, cardinals, flycatchers, kinglets, wrens and chickadees – have all come from Aussie ancestors.

So next time you hear a wonderful dawn chorus, say thanks to our little continent at the bottom of the world (or the top, depending on how you look at it!!)

*debate continues on the number of species of albatrosses – some say as few as 13 exist, others believe 24.  This number based on IUCN and BirdLife International.

A great day on Halicat Sydney Pelagic

The oceans of the world are vast, mostly dark and unknown, especially to land-lubbers like me.  I know they are full of life, but I know that in the same way I know the earth spins – it’s a cerebral thing, not something I can feel, touch and sense.  Well, if you’re like me, you should try this.

Halicat picks you up early on a beautiful Sydney morning. For the first half hour you enjoy the sights of Sydney Harbour – truly one of the most beautiful city views in the world.  Then a Little Penguin pops up, bobbing on the surface. They are so cute on the water!  The boat stops, and one of the great highlights of this trip happens – there is a rush of photographers, nature lovers and birdwatchers to the back of the boat to ooh and aah at the penguins.  The enthusiasm is exhilarating!

Passing through the heads and into the Pacific Ocean you watch as Sydney falls away behind you.


Seabirds start to follow the boat at this point.  At first, Silver Gulls and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. Then more shearwaters – Flesh-footed and a few Short-tailed – and some Great-winged Petrels.  The shearwaters are true creatures of the ocean – long-winged, buoyant – they float on the air so easily that at times they outrun the boat and have to double back.  More and more join us until there are hundreds flying with us.  Where do they come from? How do they know?


A scan of the horizon with binoculars shows many more seabirds, singly and in small groups, out there in every direction.  Suddenly, the enormity of this ocean fills your senses.  We are a tiny speck of a boat in this vastness, and already we have attracted hundreds of creatures – at any point on this ocean the same would happen.  There must be millions of seabirds on the Pacific at any one time, but all out of view of our land eyes.

Image < Flesh-footed Shearwater. Pic by Hal Epstein, Halicat

Dolphins join us for a while, then leave.  An Albatross comes by.  The size and power of this creature has to be seen to be believed.  I have watched documentaries about albatrosses, and seen a few off in the distance, but to witness this enormous bird flying over the boat left me speechless.

Image <Shy Albatross. Pic by Hal Epstein, Halicat

We saw many more creatures this day, and shared a warm camaraderie with the many nature lovers on board.  But something about the trip changed me forever.  You know that feeling when something dramatic happens in your life, and from that time onwards you remember things as happening before or after that event.  There was life before Halicat, and now there’s a new and better life after Halicat.

Try it.  The oceans of the world need us to love them.

Tips: Halicat runs on the second Saturday of each month. It is weather dependent, but runs most of the scheduled dates.  Take a seasickness medication like Kwells if you get seasick, or if you’re unsure – being sick would ruin your day, and the Pacific is a powerful ocean.  My partner almost didn’t go because he was worried about seasickness, but with meds he was talked into it, and now he is so pleased he did.  Take lunch and some nut/granola bars with you.  The boat provides morning tea, but that disappears quickly.

The trip costs $120AUD per person.

Friday Five: great outdoor things to do in Vic 24 August 2012

1. St Kilda Penguins and Rakali.  Inner suburban St Kilda has a wonderful population of wildife!  The breakwater near St Kilda pier is home to a colony of Little Penguins, which can be seen from public viewing areas after dark most nights.  I believe the first chick of the season has already been sighted.  For more go to:  As a real bonus, while you’re there you might see the Rakali – a sort-of Aussie otter. These gorgeous water mammals live in a few places around the city but are rarely seen because they mostly come out after dark. I’ve seen one in East Gippsland during the day once, and it was so exciting!  Don’t let the old name “Water Rat” fool you – they are nothing like a rat really, they are big, glossy and very exciting to watch.  I believe that the study group welcomes volunteers to come out and help survey them.  This would be a great school holiday project for older kids.  Go to:

2. Tower Hill, one of my favourite places.  Tower Hill is an example of how people can recreate a beautiful natural landscape.  A marvellous painter, Eugene von Guerard, did a painting of Tower Hill in the 1850’s before it was cleared for farming.  His work was so detailed that it was used in the 1960’s to revegetate the park.  You wouldn’t believe it now.  Forest full of koalas and birds now grows where there were bald hills only 50 years ago.  See: for details.  Make sure you pop in to Worn Gundidj Natural History Centre – they have lots of information and beautiful local artworks to see and buy. I particularly love their local textile range.  The designs are magnificent, and not found anywhere else.

overlooking Tower Hill with the coast in the background

3. Echidna Walkabout’s Great Ocean Road 3 day tour.  At this time of year you can see the coastline as it really is: wild, free and untamed.  It’s easy to imagine ships wrecking on the reefs and rocks 200 years ago.  Wildlife loves it at this time of year.  Stand at the Twelve Apostles on dusk and look out for Little Penguins coming ashore way down on the beach below.  We’ve even seen wild Brolga once on a trip at this time of year.

4. Deen Maar Indigenous Protected Area and Eumeralla Backpackers.  I visited this wonderful place last year for the first time and can’t wait to get back.  There is so much wildlife on this, the first of Victoria’s Indigenous Protected Areas, that it confirms my belief that Australia’s indigenous people are still the best land managers in Australia.  Congratulations go to the Gunditjmara People who are managing the site.  The best way to explore this area is to stay at Eumeralla Backpackers, and arrange a visit from there.  The managers there are lovely, and really helpful.

5. Possums!  Most of Melbourne’s city parks have a population of Common Brushtail Possums.  They come out at night, or just on dusk, and scamper around the grass like little wallabies.  They are adorable, and I think, a must-see for any visitor to Melbourne.  What’s great too, is that seeing them is free!  All you need to do is walk down to the closest park to your hotel and walk around a bit.  If it’s really dark it would help to take a torch/flashlight.  Don’t touch them – they are wild animals with sharp teeth and might accidentally bite you.  Council asks that you don’t feed them, and there’s no need to – they will bounce around you quite happily if you stay still.  Interestingly, though they are called Common Brushtails they are no longer very common in natural bushland.  You are much more likely to see them here than most natural areas.