• lab18
    • Jer Big Red
Feb 3: Water coming from all directions

Up at an unnecessarily early 0500 not wanting to miss the ferry. Turned out to be a good move as I’d lost the car key. Eventually found the spare, which has been missing for weeks, so that was a win already. Once at the ferry launch at Pinkenba, I waited impatiently – I was excited as to what might lay ahead today. The trip is a logistical as well as an ornithological mission, although I’ve now worked out that providing the resort have an available 4WD rental it’s a really achievable day trip, leaving on the 7am ferry from Pinkenba, and returning on the c8pm ferry from Tangalooma, with the freedom to self-drive all day.

There were no interesting birds on the ferry trip until about half way across when I picked up an Arctic Jaeger north of the boat harassing a Crested Tern. Nice! Then in short order a shearwater appeared south of the boat, which proved to be a Wedge-tailed. Arriving at the resort there were lots of people milling about but I eventually found my way to the tour desk and did the paperwork for the car rental. The guy showed me round the car and in a few minutes I was off! He suggested driving up the west beach and across the top to the Cape – the tide was rising fast, and because of the way the tides work it’s about half an hour later on the west beach than the ocean beach. I duly followed this advice, year-ticking White-cheeked Honeyeater in some fine looking heathland along the way (note – look for ground parrot and southern emu wren here one day!!) but the tide was too high and lapping at the dunes around North Point campsite. Rats! It was now 10am (20 minutes after the ocean beach high tide) and I had two choices – I could park the car here and walk to the Cape – about 30 mins in the wind and rain. Or I could detour to the south via Blue Lake and drive north up the ocean beach to the Cape as soon as the tide was low enough. Perhaps I should have chosen to walk it, but I decided to drive around. Arriving at the ocean beach entrance by blue lagoon it was instantly clear I’d be in for a substantial wait. The 2.6m king tide was lapping right against the dunes, and although by now about an hour past high tide the strong onshore wind was going to make it slow to recede.

No point in driving any more, it was time to watch birds. I parked the car, climbed as high as I could onto the dunes and set up my scope for a seawatch, albeit 8km south of the Cape and likely some 2km further from the main passage of birds than the Cape would be. The first birds I got into were a couple of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters flying close in with a smaller Shearwater with a pale underside and smudgy underwings – a Hutton’s Shearwater!! This was a great start, and in short order a Pomarine Jaeger flew south close inshore, followed a while later by 3 Arctics for a nice comparison. The wind was gusting fairly strongly onshore and heavy showers were scudding through. Perfect weather for seawatching, but it was clear already that numbers were significantly down from Thursday when Colin Reid had a brilliant seawatch off Point Lookout (outside Brisbane LGA to the south, at the north end of North Stradbroke Island). Still, there was no question about it – my only sensible option was to seawatch for the entire day. There are a few other species I want to target on Moreton, such as Wandering Tattler and Sanderling, but I can come over in any weather for then. With strong onshore winds I resolved to spend every possible minute seawatching.

Eventually the other cars waiting for the tide to recede gave up and drove off. About 20 minutes after they left I thought I’d give the beach a try. There was just enough room to squeeze through, and because the tide was falling I didn’t need to worry about getting the vehicle inundated.

Arriving at the Cape, I rushed up the footpath and found a spot to seawatch where I could scan between the south east and north east. It was continuously windy with strong squally showers – water was coming from all directions, and it was surprisingly cold for a Brisbane summer’s day. Definitely reminded me of Pendeen on a fresh September day.

There was a steady stream of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters heading south, with smaller numbers of Short-tails among them. Both Pom and Arctic Jaegers passed in small numbers with Arctic outnumbering Pom. It was clear that numbers of birds were low, and wedgies were vastly outnumbering anything else. A couple of Hutton’s eventually passed flying south, and closer in a few Common Terns occasionally passed along with larger numbers of Crested Terns. The Cresteds tried their best to impersonate other species, and I got excited on more than one occasion only to realise it was only a Crested Tern. After a few hours, I suddenly saw an all dark Pterodroma flying north – a Grey-faced Petrel! This was a great bird and I was very happy to see it. It was almost time to leave now, and while I’d seen some nice seabirds I came away pleasantly satisfied rather than ecstatic. I later found out that Colin Reid had had Fairy Prion, Buller’s Shearwater and Kermadec Petrel off Point Lookout this morning! Either the Cape is poorer (possible), or I’m a lesser seawatcher than Colin (certain).

Arriving back at the car, it wouldn’t start. Flat battery. To their great credit, the resort instantly sent out a couple of chaps who came and changed the battery. I seawatched some more while I waited for them to arrive, but it was clear that passage was almost dead now – every shearwater was resolutely a Wedge-tailed. Visibility had improved greatly and I could see all the way to the horizon clearly for the first time today. I did have a Varied Triller on the way back to the car park – not an especially uncommon bird, but a year tick nevertheless.

I boarded the ferry with mixed feelings – it had been a solid trip with some good seabirds – the Grey-faced Petrel is the first eBird record for Brisbane-but I didn’t bag any mega seabirds. Yet in the context of a Brisbane year list, mega isn’t the be all and end all – just seeing any seabirds is an important part of building a decent list. Crucially, though, I had worked out a way of day-tripping Moreton that gives a decent amount of time for birding, providing the tides are favourable for beach driving. Next time there’s good seawatching weather I’ll be on it straight away.

With a whopping 10 year ticks today, my year list jumped to 222, I spent 7 hours 34 minutes birding, and drove 85 km.