Do you have a Nemesis Bird?

What is a nemesis bird? For birders it can be defined as “a bird that has eluded a birder despite many attempts to see it”. The precise definitions people use vary, but the gist is the same. For a bird photographer, I would define it as “a bird that you haven’t managed to get a decent photo of, despite many attempts”. Not everyone has one, but for those that do it can provide a focus for searching and planning. Many of my photographer friends have their own personal nemesis birds, and apparently it’s common amongst birders.

For me, my nemesis bird since 2010 (and until December 2016) was the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross (Pheobetria palpebrata). This bird (sometimes just called the “Light-mantled Albatross” is classified as Near Threatened, and only breeds on some subantarctic islands. On my 2009 trip to Antarctica although apparently some were near the ship at times, I missed seeing them. In November 2010 I was leading a photography tour to South Georgia (on our way to Antarctica) and I did see some along the South Georgia coast. They’re beautiful birds!


But on that trip I didn’t manage to get any decent photos! Either I only noticed the birds at the last second before they flew past, the birds were too distant, or a number of other problems. But I had seen enough to know that I wanted to make photos of it. On subsequent trips to Antarctica and also a 2015 voyage to New Zealand islands where they breed, each time I missed them! I did get a few photos, but with barely enough details to be worthwhile.

On December 2016’s Subantarctic LuminOdyssey photo workshop (which I was co-leading with my friend and colleague Michael Snedic) we travelled from New Zealand down to the Auckland Islands, to Macquarie Island, and to Campbell Island. These Australian and New Zealand subantarctic islands are wildlife hotspots, and this includes the Light-mantled Albatross. This was not my first visit to the locations so I had the bird in my mental sights going into the trip, and was excited at the possibilities. In the end we were successful, from on land, in Zodiacs, and on the ship at sea. We got many fine photos. We even found one on a nest with a pretty floral arrangement on its doorstep!

I got my photos of the bird (many more than shown here) and so did most of the participants in my workshop!

What now?

Hopefully I’ll still get more opportunities to photograph this beautiful bird on our 2017 Falklands/South Georgia/Antarctic photo workshop, as well as on our next visit to the New Zealand subantarctic islands. But I feel I’ve at least finally been able to do it justice.

When asked by a friend what was going to be my new nemesis bird, I had to respond that I didn’t know. But I’m sure it will make itself apparent (or rather manage to elude me) over time!
I can tell you that my desktop computer is named after the Lammergeier and although I haven’t even seen one, they do live in the Himalayas where I’m about to visit.

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