Pelagic birding

Why would you do that to yourself?

This is the reaction that a lot of birders have to pelagic trips. One of birding's more extreme activities, a pelagic trip involves taking a boat out to the "open ocean".

Precisely what this means is a little unclear, but you're a long way from the shore armed with nothing but a camera and a boat that's way smaller than humans should be remotely associated with. The boat pitches and rolls hugely and unexpectedly, and keeping your feet - and your breakfast - is a challenge.

Adding binoculars and a long lens makes it all but impossible.

The benefits, though, are astounding.

A while ago, I was invited by Paul, a very old friend of mine, to come on a trip out of Portland. We ended up taking an open boat out beyond the continental shelf. My GPS told me that we reached 50km SW of Portland. This is not part of the relative safety and calm of Bass Strait, but more like the wilds of the Southern Ocean.

But there are such birds here.

To cut a long story short, we recorded 20 species on the trip, but because I'm a land-lubber, 11 of them were birds I'd never seen before.

Other birders will correct me if I've misidentified these birds, but my photos include: Fairy Prion; Southern and Northern giant-petrels; and Campbell Albatross. I've only been able to add four photos here, but there are more if you're interested.

However, the bird that stole my heart was the tiny Wilson's Storm-petrel, who danced on the surface of the water, paddling with its weak legs to attract prey. It was magical.

Photographers will notice that in some of my cropping I've got the bird leaving the frame - I mean this to capture the fleeting nature of these encounters. I hope I've conveyed that.

As to binoculars, waterproof is a must. Low power, too: none of these 12 times units. Even ten is a challenge. My camera spent most of its time hiding, coaxed out only by these wonderful birds.