This is our 52nd Bird Photography Challenge, a regular post we try to run every fortnight. Two years is a milestone and we are marking the occasion by doing a post on a very special oceanic bird: the Shy Albatross, a native to Australia but one that has been declared vulnerable. The Shy Albatross is dear to our heart and while we were sailing around Bass Strait we were lucky enough to photograph many. So in honor of this special time and this special ocean wanderer, we share with you more detailed information than usual and images which we hope will leave you in awe.
What does it look like?
With a body length of just under a meter, and a wingspan varying from 2.20 to 2.56 meters, the Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta cauta) is one of the largest of the small albatrosses. Its mantle, tail and upper wing are grey black. The underwing is white, lined with black, with a characteristic black thumb mark at the base of the leading edge. Its forehead and crown are white, and the face is pale grey with a dark eyebrow. The bill is grey-yellow, with a prominent dorsal ridge on the upper mandible and a yellow tip.
Did you know?
Albatrosses fly great distances. With their huge wingspan, they glide effortlessly over the ocean, covering hundreds of kilometres a day, in search of food. With an ability to lock their wings in fully extended position, very little energy is expanded while soaring. They really do not like to flap. Instead they soar dynamically, extracting energy from the waves from an area of 10 to 20 meters above the surface of the ocean where the wind speed changes dramatically.
When you look at the flight path of an albatross, it goes through four phases: a windward climb, a curve from wind to leeward at the highest point, a leeward descent, and a reverse turn close to the surface. This is an endlessly repeated succession of S’s.
How does it behave?
The Shy Albatross feeds by a combination of surface seizing and some pursuit diving for fish, squid, and crustaceans. It breeds in only three colonies on the rocky islands of Albatross, Pedra Branca and Mewstone, off the coast of Tasmania, and builds mounted nests of soil, grass and roots. It lays one egg only in September. Both parents share incubating duties. One bird will sit on the nest for days on end, without moving from the nest or eating, while the partner forages at sea for up to ten days, in search of fish, squid and cuttlefish. Reunited at the nest, the pair attends to mutual preening and nest maintenance, before swapping roles. This is repeated for about 10 weeks until the chick hatches in December.The chick continues to be nurtured by the parents who spend a lot of their time at sea searching for food, till their chick is big enough to fend for itself. By April the chicks have grown to their adult weight of five or six kilos, they are fully feathered and are ready to fledge. The young birds have to learn both to fly and find their own food. This is a critical time in their life and many do not survive. For the parents, raising a chick is a tough job. Once their chick has fledged, they spend the next few months foraging to regain body condition.
During the first few years of its life the Shy albatross remains almost exclusively at sea, only returning to its original colony when it is 3 or 4 years of age. It must find a mate with which to form a long lasting bond. Courtship rituals involve dancing, display, vocalisation and preening, which help strengthen the bond, but most birds do not reach sexual maturity until they are seven years of age.
Where is it found?
During the breeding season the Shy Albatross is mainly found in Southern Australian and Tasmanian waters. Outside the breeding season, juvenile birds and non-breeding birds can be found throughout the Southern Ocean.
All images in the gallery were taken in Bass Strait with a Canon 7dII camera and either a Canon 100-400mm zoom or a Tamron 18-270mm zoom. Click on the first image to display the gallery in full screen slide show.