Ballarat group spots albatrosses offshore

CAPTURED: A shy albatross (left) and a black-browed albatross were recently spotted off Port Fairy by Ballarat photographer Ed Dunens.
CAPTURED: A shy albatross (left) and a black-browed albatross were recently spotted off Port Fairy by Ballarat photographer Ed Dunens.

Albatrosses and other seabirds were highlights of last month’s outing of Birdlife Ballarat.

Travelling to Point Addis on a day of strong south-westerly winds, members were treated to views of seabirds that do not generally appear close to shore. Strong winds and stormy weather normally bring seabirds closer in, enabling viewing by shore-bound observers.

Today’s photo shows a shy albatross on the left and a black-browed albatross on the right. The wingspan of each of these birds is more than two metres.

There are slight differences in the underwing pattern and the head and bill markings of these two species. Both were seen on last month’s Point Addis outing by Ballarat bird observers.

Also seen were giant petrel, fluttering shearwater, kelp gull, gannet, crested tern and Pacific gull – a good total of seabirds for the day.

The fluttering shearwater is different from the common Bass Strait “muttonbird” or short-tailed shearwater, being slightly smaller, and white underneath, in contrast to the uniform dark sooty-grey of the short-tailed shearwater.

Short-tailed shearwaters will soon be arriving back at their coastal nesting places after their long trans-equatorial migratory flight. The fluttering shearwater is a fairly common offshore visitor in winter. It nests in New Zealand.

Albatrosses are relatively uncommon close to the shore. Special bird-watching trips are made each year off Port Fairy, where boats take observers far out to sea where more of these pelagic birds occur. Today’s photo was taken on a seabird trip off Port Fairy.

Current bird books show a confusing variety of albatrosses – there are immature and adult plumages and slightly different plumages of the same species from different places. Each has its own special wing, head or beak marks.

HONEY POTS

Honey pots is the name of a common and widespread plant that is often overlooked. It occurs in almost every patch of local forest, but it is not tall, nor does it have bright flowers. It is a clumping, spreading plant about 15-20 cm high, and about 60-80cm wide. Its leaves are numerous, fine and pointed.

When flowering – as it is now – it has small hidden clusters of green, bulbous tubular flowers with five spreading petals. These flowers are the “honey pots”.

Like several members of the heath family – to which it belongs – its flowers contain nectar, so each small tubular flower is a tiny “honey pot”. The name was coined many years ago by someone with good observational skills.