We've just returned from a week-long South Pacific cruise aboard P&O's Pacific Dawn. Gusty northerlies in Brisbane delayed departure from the Hamilton cruise terminal by 7 hours which meant missing our first port of call, Noumea in New Caledonia - no great loss as we've been there before. Our two other landings – the New Caledonian island of Lifou and Port Vila, Vanuatu – are the subject of a separate post.
Typically for tropical sea cruises, it was not unusual for several hours to pass without a single seabird showing. Easily the commonest bird at sea was Wedge-tailed Shearwater, which was nonetheless scarce for much of the time in the Coral Sea, but abundant in waters around New Caledonia and Vanuatu.
Another problem was that our approaches to land were at night, so while at sea we were generally in very deep water.
|Red-footed Booby - intermediate phase (L) light phase (R)|
The second commonest bird was Red-footed Booby, which first showed in Australian territorial waters on the first day and was a regular presence around the ship. As many as 20 boobies would be wheeling around the vessel, trying to catch flying fish which skimmed across the water as they were disturbed by the boat. About two-thirds of the boobies were dark phase and a third pale phase, with many showing characteristics of both phases.
|Red-footed Booby - juvenile|
I also saw just one Masked Booby, about 20nm north of New Caledonia.
Two Brown Boobies rounded out the booby haul.
Sooty Terns were common throughout. I saw 3 White-tailed Tropicbirds and 2 Red-tailed Tropicbirds scattered across the voyage but all were distant and these lousy images were all that I managed. A big disadvantage of cruise ship seabirding is the generally considerable distance between the observer and birds, but birds were not the primary reason for this trip.
I saw just 4 Pterodroma petrels: 2 Gould's Petrels and 2 that were too far to be identified, with none offering a picture opportunity. Apart from the spectacular antics of the Red-footed Boobies, the highlight of the trip was a White Tern in the Coral Sea on the last day in Australian territorial waters – 24.6797S; 155.5082E – 115nm east of Fraser Island. Unfortunately, as the image shows, the bird was typically distant. I've tried without success to enter this sighting on ebird; for some reason it will not accept any starting time.