You are here

Birding in Poole Harbour and Beyond

Subscribe to Birding in Poole Harbour and Beyond feed
Studland Birdernoreply@blogger.comBlogger406125
Updated: 49 min 13 sec ago

1 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Four: At Sea From Ushuaia To South Georgia - A Promise Of An Early Morning Shag

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 18:00
Having spoken to one of my mates who was on the Odyssey two years ago, it sounds like there were many more serious Birders on our trip. I booked the trip through Wildwings who this year provided an excellent & proactive leader, Phil Hansbro, for the 24 Birders & 4 other punters who had booked through Wildwings. The Wildwings party was close to 30% of the passengers. There were several smaller groups of Dutch Birders with their own leaders & Phil also seemed to be talking to these guys. One of the proactive things Phil was doing was having regular discussions with the Expedition Leader, Seba, about how to maximise the Birding potential of the Odyssey. This was helped by the Expedition team also having a stronger wildlife background this year (compared to two years ago) & also wanting to see as much as possible on what sounds like will be the last Odyssey.
Phil Hansbro: A great leader who spent time checking everybody in the Wildwings party was happy, lobbied for improvements to the trip where realistic, fed back results & explanations to us where necessary, helped organised the trips ashore, ran a good log in the evening, knew his Birds, was on deck a lot helping everybody get onto the Birds & happy to enjoy a social time in the evening after all other tasks had been taken care off. One of the many characters on the Odyssey who helped to make it such a good trip. Thanks mate (St Helena on 18 Apr 18)One of the first successes Phil & the Expedition team had was getting a route & speed change agreed with the ship's skipper so that we would be at the Shag Rocks at dawn. These are a group of isolated rocks which are 150 miles West of South Georgia. Normally, the Odyssey tends to miss the Shag Rocks as the ship passes them in the dark or significant fog on this stretch of the route causes visibility problems which hasn't warranted the diversion.
Shag Rocks: First light over the Shag RocksShag Rocks: What I had initially taken to be a lighthouse (at a distance) was a rock stack
As the name suggests, the Shag Rocks are a breeding ground for the endemic South Georgia Shag which is restricted to South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands & South Orkney Islands. We saw South Georgia Shags daily around South Georgia so other Odyssey trips have not missed out on seeing them by sailing past the Shag Rocks. However, the chance to visit this large breeding colony was eagerly anticipated, even if it meant a pre-dawn alarm call. We knew we would only get an hour or so around the rocks before we had to continue towards South Georgia, so worth getting up early.
Shag Rocks Shag RocksShag RocksSouth Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands are one of the 14 British Overseas Territories. The South Orkney islands have been claimed by both the UK (in 1908) & Argentina (1925), but as the islands lie only 375 miles off the Antarctic coastline, they are covered by the Antarctic Treaty which puts all territorial claims on hold.
Shag Rocks: The rocks were covered by breeding South Georgia Shags. It doesn't look like there is much free spacesAs it started to get light, the first South Georgia Shags starting flying off the rocks to get a close look at the Plancius.South Georgia Shag: One of the first curious visitors to the PlanciusSouth Georgia Shag: There were often several flying around the ship to check us outSouth Georgia Shag: Another close passSouth Georgia Shag: Some authorities have lumped South Georgia Shag in with Imperial Shag of the South American mainlandSouth Georgia Shag: All the Shags I photographed are immatures. Adults should have blue eyes & a yellow wattle just above the bill
South Georgia ShagSouth Georgia ShagSouth Georgia Shag: Some just wouldn't keep their distanceSouth Georgia Shag: Most of the close individuals were over our heads, so good to see this one over the water
South Georgia Shag: Finally, one on the water as we were leavingThe Seabird activity continued as we sailed away, until we got lured into breakfast. This morning's visit had been an excellent bonus for us.
Shag Rocks: Unfortunately, the Shag Rocks are disappearing into the distance as the light improves
Categories: Blogs, Timeline, Twitter

31 Mar 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Three: At Sea From Ushuaia To South Georgia

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 18:00
I was out on deck earlier this morning as I had seen the ship's doc & switched to a seasickness patch. This had the advantage of providing a steady dose of the anti-seasickness drug lasting three days, rather than having to take a tablet when I woke up & then doze for some time to allow the tablet to kick in. The only downsides were ensuring I didn't lose the patch in the shower & I no longer had an excuse for a lie-in. The rear of the fourth deck 4 was busy with Seabirds as usual, but several Skuas had come & gone, including a South Polar Skua: the only Skua I still needed.
Brown Skua: This Brown Skua wasn't as substitute for a South Polar Skua. Brown Skuas are heavier & more uniform in colouration compared to Chilean Skuas, which are a bit lighter built (whilst still a large Skua) & have a capped appearance which contrasts with a rusty face, breast & underparts (see the Chilean Skua photo from the Beagle Channel)Brown Skua: Brown Skua taxonomy is another tricky area with 3 subspecies recognised by Clements: Falklands (antarticus) which occurs in Patagonia, Falklands & South Georgia, Subantarctic (lonbergi) which is predominately around the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands & Tristan (hamiltoni) which occurs in the Tristan Da Cunha and Gough Islands. The subspecies are not easy to separate, but on range this would be expected to be a Falklands Brown SkuaApart from the Skuas, the day was largely a set of similar species to those seen on the previous day. However, the Storm-petrels had changed with the first Wilson's and Black-bellied Storm-petrels putting in an appearance, along with Little Shearwaters & my first Atlantic Petrels.
Wandering Albatross: Subadult Snowy. Adults have more white in the inner wing & the black is restricted to the central tail feathers
Wandering Albatross: Subadult Snowy. The underwing of the same near individual
Wandering Albatross: Subadult Snowy. The brown in the cap & the reduced extend of white in the wing suggests this is a younger individual than the last individual
Wandering Albatross: Subadult Snowy. Another photo of the last individual
Soft-plumaged Petrel
Soft-plumaged Petrel: I like this atmospheric photo
Antarctic Prion
Antarctic Prion: The same individual Grey Petrel: An overexposed photo of a Grey Petrel. I was finding it hard to get the exposure correct for the pale Prions & Petrels. Eventually, I was advised to change the camera to spot metering on the subject, rather than the whole image & this helped. One of the advantages of the Odyssey was being able to talk to a number of different photographers & pick up improvements to my camera settings
White-chinned Petrel Little Shearwater: The Southern Ocean Little Shearwater is now split from Boyd's Little Shearwater & Baroli's Little Shearwaters of the North AtlanticLittle Shearwater: They have blue-greyish upperparts compared to the black upperparts of the North Atlantic speciesLittle Shearwater: This is presumed to be the widespread elegans subspecies, which breeds on Tristan Da Cunha & Gough Island, as well as, the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands. The other subspecies breed in islands off parts of New Zealand's North Island (haurakiensis), the Kermadec Islands (kermadecensis), Norfolk & Lord Howe Islands (assimilis) & off South West Australia (tunneyi)
Black-bellied Storm-petrel: This is the nominate tropica subspecies which breeds on Subantarctic islands throughout the colder Southern Oceans
Black-bellied Storm-petrel: One of the great things about the Odyssey was having Bob Flood on board who is one of the leading Seabird experts. Bob gave a superb talk on the Odyssey on separating Black-bellied Storm-petrels from White-bellied Storm-petrels. This is far from straight-forward as some Black-bellied populations can have white-bellies (there is more to come on this subject as we get into the Tropics)
Black-bellied Storm-petrel: All the six individuals photographed today were all straight-forward to identify as they had clearly visible black-bellies. This wasn't the case as we headed into the Tropics
Black-bellied Storm-petrel
Black-bellied Storm-petrel
Categories: Blogs, Timeline, Twitter

30 Mar 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Two At Sea From Ushuaia To South Georgia

Thu, 05/24/2018 - 17:31
One of the things about the Plancius is her normal speed is around 11 - 12 knots when sea conditions allow. Therefore, we would travel around 275 nautical miles in a 24 hr period. South Georgia is around 1100 nautical miles from Ushuaia, so we were expecting to be at sea for four days. Anybody taking a trip on ships like the Plancius has to be happy to spend a fair bit of time looking at sea. Travelling at 12 nautical miles an hour doesn't sound a lot, it is only about 14 miles an hour. But travelling that steadily means Seabirds can often keep up with that speed & thus spend longer in the wake or speed up and cross the bows. A faster cruise ship would not have that advantage. When we got to the calmer Tropics we were often able to pick up Cetaceans at over a nautical mile ahead of us, with large Whale blows at greater distances. But that was only about 5 minutes sailing away. If they were only surfacing occasionally, we could quickly lose them as we sometimes misjudged where they would re-reappear relative to our position. Even when we were watching Cetaceans on the surface, then we passed them all too quickly, unless a decision was made that we would stop the ship & slowly approach them.
The Southern Ocean seas: The weather had deteriorated overnight, but it wasn't too bad in the morning.
By lunchtime, the Plancius had started rolling more significantly & all the decks, apart from the bridge wings were closed. This wasn't great as the more hardy Birders were all trying to pack into a small area, not helped by the limited handholds when the rolling got worse. Having footwear with a good grip was essential for the next two weeks while we were at sea. It wasn't feasible to try using the camera at this point, given the number of Birders & the sea state. In the end, I carried on birding from the comfort & warmth of a chair by the window in the observation lounge: which was surprisingly OK.
Grey-headed Albatross: Adult. My favourite AlbatrossGrey-headed Albatross: Grey-headed Albatrosses are circumpolar & occur North as far as about 35 South, although we only saw them on the crossing from Ushuaia to South GeorgiaKerguelen Petrel: My first Kerguelen Petrel. I saw a few most days we were at sea in the Southern Oceans with the last seen as we approached Gough IslandAntarctic Prion: I saw them daily on the crossing from Ushuaia to South Georgia. These are presumably the South Georgian banksi subspecies (although to be certain you need to see one with a spray can in the foot)
Antarctic Prion: The same individual. The darker grey chest patch, the heavier bill & a stronger M on the upperparts help to separate this species from the Slender-billed Prion (see the Post for Day One at Sea from Ushuaia to South Georgia)White-chinned Petrel: This was a fairly common Petrel seen in the colder Southern Oceans with the last ones that I saw being as we approached Gough Island
White-chinned Petrel: Not as sharp as I would like, but very atmospheric
South American Sealion: I was surprised to see this individual so far out to sea which I think is a South American Sealion rather than one of the Fur Seals
Categories: Blogs, Timeline, Twitter

28 Mar 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Daily Life At Sea

Wed, 05/23/2018 - 18:00
The first thing was to figure out on the Plancius was the best place to stand. One of the good things about the Plancius was the number of decks with good viewing positions which generally provided sufficient room for people to spread out depending on their wildlife priorities. With about 60 or so Birders on the Odyssey, I thought it would be cramped on deck: but that only became a real problem on a couple of occasions when all decks were closed except for the bridge wings, due to the extent the ship was rolling. In the early days when we were at sea in the cold Southern Oceans, I generally ended up on the very back of the fourth deck watching the wake. There was a good selection of Albatrosses, Shearwaters, Petrels & the occasional Storm-petrel following in the wake. It was generally out of the wind & fairly sheltered. The only problem was it was popular with other Birders & so finding a good position wasn't always easy. In the colder Southern Oceans, I was keen to stick with other Birders as I didn't want to miss any of the goodies & it was useful being able to swap notes on id of the trickier species, albeit the most tricky Prions & diving-petrels were often worked out from photos in the evenings.
The back of the fourth deck: It could get a lot busier than this (30 Mar 18)The back of the third deck was also popular especially with the big lens boys: Chris Mills (left) & Phil Hansbro (red jacket) (8 Apr 18)A bad time on the back of the fourth deck, but I'm off for a coffee break: Most people were good at not standing in front of others, but there were a few persistently selfish individuals who only cared about themselves. At the end of the day, we have all paid a lot to join the Plancius, however, I tried to move into good viewing places without blocking people who were already there (30 Mar 18)Virtually all of the Dutch Birders were good & pleasant characters: But this guy, known only as "Little John" was a persistent offender for selfishly pushing in front of people at every opportunity if given half the chance. This was a habit that finally stopped at the start of the West African Pelagic when a fantastic wave wrote off his camera (I am now considering if there is a Birding God). Once his behaviour was recognised, then we were generally successful in ensuring he didn't push in front of us. Unfortunately, the wave didn't ruin the camera of his equally selfish wife who continued to do her bit to try pushing in, but was equally stopped (24 Apr 18)Another good place was standing at the bows on calmer days. There was a bit of shelter from the wind here & it was good for close views of Shearwaters & Petrels trying to cross the bows & also for picking up Storm-petrels & Diving-petrels. There were also a number of forward looking decks which had the advance they were quickly accessible from the observation lounge, if there was a shout during a drinks break or lecture.
The front bows could be a popular position on calm days: I spent a fair bit of time here in the early & calmer parts of the trip until I discovered the bridge wings (31 Mar 18)The front decks: The lowest deck is the fourth deck & the fifth deck is accessible from the observation lounge. The sixth deck is accessible from the fifth deck: this was always a good deck to head to in the event of a shout whilst I was in the observation lounge as I could quickly leave most of the non Birders behind & get a good viewing position (1 Apr 18)  Another good place was the top deck. This was weather dependent & became particularly popular as we entered tropical & sunnier waters. However, it tended to roll most in the Southern Oceans. An empty looking top deck in the Southern Oceans: It often had good numbers of people in the Tropical seas (30 Mar 18)Chris Mills (from Norfolk) & Yorkshire Geoff: They have found a position out of wind on the top deck (30 Mar 18)The side of the sixth deck (from the top deck): This was a good position to get out of the wind, but I wasn't particularly impressed as you lost views forward & aft & communication to other decks was limited (30 Mar 18)
The side of the sixth deck was better on the really hot days for keeping out of the sun: (27 Apr 18)By the time we reached the Tropics, I discovered that the bridge wings worked best for me. By this point, there were a limited number of potential Seabird Ticks left for me. More significantly, there was a good selection of Cetaceans that were possible for us to see & I was very keen to focus on looking for the Cetaceans, whilst keeping an eye out for any Bird Ticks & other interesting Birds. Generally, the weather became more reasonable once we left the Southern Oceans, with lighter winds, albeit generally only on one side of the ship on windier days. The bridge wings were a good vantage point for looking forward & sideways, especially if right in the outer corner of the bridge wing. Due to the good views, it was a good overall position for Birds, as once we entered warmer waters there were generally few Seabirds trailing the ship.The bridge wings were probably the best place on the ship for viewing Cetaceans. With the advantage of radios to the front deck, there was also a reasonable chance of seeing Turtles as the dived, although the front deck was ultimately the best place for Turtles. It was also a good place for photographing Flying Fish, albeit again the front deck was ultimately the best location for photographing them.
A panoramic view from the starboard bridge wing: This shows the amount of sea visible from the corner of the bridge wing if it wasn't too cold or windy (although the ship obviously isn't U shaped as the panorama photo) (27 Apr 18)Looking forward from the bridge wing: (27 Apr 18)
The Oceanwide Flag: This was an important flag to keep an eye on. It provided the best quick indication of wind direction & speed which quickly determined which side of the ship I would be spending my next few hours onInitially, I was generally on the bridge wings from after breakfast to close to dusk, but I realised there were a number of good Cetacean sightings, pre-breakfast & during lunch. As a result, I switched to generally being on the bridge wings from soon around 06:30 to about 30 minutes before the end of the day (when the light was generally starting to go anyway). I generally spent around 11 hours on deck, excluding the brief drink breaks, with biscuits & sandwiches (made at breakfast) to keep me going. One of the problems was leaving the bridge wings, was some of the other birders might end up grabbing the best spots. That was fine if people at the front looked, but there were a ground of persistent offenders on the Odyssey who were keen to grab the best spot (when vacated), but rarely looked as they were too busy chatting. They expected the people behind them with poorer views to find them the Birds & Cetaceans (& didn't seem to have spotted the obvious flaw in their logic). At least when I was in one of the best viewing positions, I rarely stopped scanning & did pick up more than my fair share of Birds & Cetaceans. After A few days at the front of the bridge wing, then some people did appreciate what I was picking up & were good at reserving my place during quick loo/drink breaks.
One of the most essential pieces of Birding kit for long sessions on the bridge wings: CoffeeThe other big advantage of the bridge wings was this was where the expedition staff were most likely to look from. There were two excellent Cetacean specialists in the Odyssey expedition: Marijke de Boer & Hans Verdaat. Marijke probably had the stronger knowledge of other sealife and was pretty good on Seabirds, whereas, Hans was the stronger Birder. Both were very good at sharing their Cetacean knowledge & I learnt a lot about Cetaceans from both of them. Glenn Overington also had a strong Cetacean knowledge from many years of leading Orca tours in Biscay & he was another great source of knowledge. Both Marijke & Hans worked as a team to recording all significant sightings with lat/long coordinates, so they could be submitted once they had wifi connectivity. We wouldn't have recorded the stunning total of 30 species of Cetaceans seen on the voyage without Marijke & Hans being on the expedition staff: this is approximately one third of the total number of Cetaceans. I left the Plancius with a much stronger desire to see more Cetaceans over the next few years. This could be an expensive addiction.
Marijke de Boer: Marijke was also carrying out quality testing on the cake that appeared at 16:00 daily. It was great that Marijke was able to stay on the Plancius all the way to Holland. She was the only member of the expedition crew with a good & relevant wildlife knowledge who could be on deck for large parts of the day during that leg of the voyage (21 Apr 18)Hans Verdaat: All the expedition staff had to have good zodiac driving skills, as well as, their wildlife skills & being to present lectures. It was a real loss of Cetacean & Bird knowledge when Hans left at Cape Verde as the West African Pelagic failed to bring on any Dutch speaking expedition staff who were Birders, although there were a couple of non staff Birders (who also seemed to be paying punters) (Ascension Island 23 Apr 18)
Categories: Blogs, Timeline, Twitter

29 Mar 18 - Day One At Sea From Ushuaia to South Georgia

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 17:17
I hadn't had a lot of sleep in the three nights I was in Ushuaia & coupled with the effects of the seasickness tablets (which makes me sleepy) & a rocky first night, I ended up skipping breakfast & having a long lie in. It was good to catch up on the lost sleep. More importantly I had survived the first night without feeling seasick & this was to be my first long boat trip without any problems with seasickness. Once I got on deck I found I had missed a few Seabirds, but no Ticks: & all species I saw later that afternoon. A number of the other Wildwings Birders had been checking out the back of the fourth deck & so I spent the next few hours there. We had a fairly strong swell and it was one of the more stable locations. Later in the afternoon, the swell moderated & we spent more time at the bows. There was a good selection of Southern Ocean Seabirds on the first afternoon which included the following species:-
Black-browed Albatross: Subadult. A familiar face from the Beagle Channel. The bill looks like an adult bill, but the lack of a strong black eyebrow suggests it is still a subadult. Anybody who wants to look at aging properly can have a more detailed read of the excellent North Atlantic Seabirds: Albatrosses & Fulmarine Petrels by Bob Flood & Ashley FisherRoyal Albatross: Adult. Albatross taxonomy is not agreed by all authorities & currently Clements lumps the two Royal Albatrosses: this is the Southern Royal Albatross
Royal Albatross: Adult. Another Southern Royal individual
Royal Albatross: This is the head of the second individual. Both subspecies of Royal Albatrosses have a dark line in the pink bill, which Wandering Albatrosses do not show
Wandering Albatross: Again Wandering Albatross taxonomy is not agreed & Clements treats the distinct populations as subspecies. This is an Adult Snowy Albatross
Wandering Albatross: A close up of the head of this individual shows the all pink bill. Seem to remember somebody on the Odyssey saying that Wandering Albatrosses have a different head & neck shape & the yellow-brown colouration on the sides of the neck is a salt staining (which Royal Albatrosses do not show)
Wandering Albatross: I'm constantly amazed at how much information you can get from photos that is not possible to see in the field: this individual is ringed
Wandering Albatross: Subadult. The aging of Wandering Albatrosses is hard & further complicated by the various subspecies. I will stick to Subadult. The feet extend more prominently in flight compared to Royal Albatrosses
Wandering Albatross: The underwing of the same individual
Diving-petrel sp: I'm posting these photos for comment. The photos were taken in early afternoon on the first day after leaving Ushuaia. We were probably about 100 nautical miles off the East coast of Argentina
Diving-petrel sp: The apparent white collar suggests this might be a Megallanic Diving-petrel
Diving-petrel sp: All photos are of the same individualDiving-petrel sp Cape Petrel: One of the most instantly recognisable Petrels of the Southern OceanCape PetrelCape Petrel: This and the previous two photos are a different individual to the final photoCape Petrel: This individual looks like the nominate subspecies. The australe subspecies breeds on the New Zealand Subantarctic islands & is darker than this individual on the wings & has heavier spots on the rump. However, Bob Flood & Ashley Fisher in the North Atlantic Seabirds: Albatrosses & Fulmarine Petrels book state that there is considerable variation within the populations & so many should be considered as intermediateSoft-plumaged Petrel: One of my favourite Petrels from the Southern OceanSoft-plumaged Petrel: Fortunately, we regularly saw Soft-plumaged Petrels in the South Atlantic & this really helped me get my eye in for when we entered Pterodroma waters during the West African PelagicSoft-plumaged PetrelSoft-plumaged PetrelSoft-plumaged PetrelSoft-plumaged Petrel: They are really good at getting into these unusual posturesSoft-plumaged Petrel
Slender-billed Prion: The Slender-billed Prion photos are all from the same individual
Slender-billed Prion: I think Prions are one of the most difficult Seabird groups around to identify. Superficially, they all fairly similar & lighting can change their overall colouration as you follow an individual flying around the ship
Slender-billed Prion
Slender-billed Prion
Great Shearwater: The first of many we were to see in the Southern OceanGrey-backed Storm-petrel: I saw at least 15 of these distinctive Storm-petrels. We quickly got good to scanning the small patches of floating weed, as the Grey-backed Storm-petrels were sometimes sitting on this weed. A pity the photos aren't betterGrey-backed Storm-petrel: This is a circumpolar species which occurs as far North as 35 South (i.e. roughly as far North as Buenos Aires)It was a good start to the trip with good light for photography. However, I now have over 20,000 photos from the Odyssey to sort through so it's going to be some time before I get to the 7,000 or so from the West African Pelagic.
Categories: Blogs, Timeline, Twitter

28 Mar 18 - The Atlantic Odyssey

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 17:55
For the next six & a half weeks, the MV Plancius will be my home for the Atlantic Odyssey to the Cape Verde Islands, followed by the West African Pelagic charter back to Holland. The Plancius is an ex Dutch Navy oceanographic research vessel which was build in 1976. During her time in the Dutch Navy she was named Hr. Ms. Tydeman. She was bought by Oceanwide Expeditions & converted into a cruise ship in 2009 capable of carrying 116 passengers in 53 cabins.
Hr. Ms. Tydeman: Photo taken during her former life. This was one of a number of photos in the ship of the Plancius, polar explorers or wildlifeWe joined the ship in the late afternoon in Ushuaia & found she was tied up next to her sister ship, MV Ortelius which, like the Plancius, had just returned from the Antarctic.
Placius & Ortelius tied up together in Ushuaia: Their next meeting was as we tied up in Vlissingen
Having discussed the merits of the two ships with some of the expedition staff, I was really glad to be travelling on the Plancius (instead of the Ortelius) for the trip back to Holland. One of the special features of the Plancius is the engines are mounted on rubber blocks & she has a special turbine which is especially quiet compared to similar ships. As a result, she is very quiet at sea. Thus, with the patience & expertise of the skipper & his officers, they are able to slowly maneuver the Plancius close to Cetaceans without causing them distress. I do not believe we would have had the same fantastic experiences with Cetaceans on the way back to Europe on the Ortelius.
Stella Australis: This nightmare (for me) was tied up on the other side of the quay. Note, the focus on posh cabins & the lack of zodiacs. But good these ships exist to keep their type of punters (largely) off ships like the Plancius, Hope I never end up on something like thisIn recent years the trip had been under-subscribed & people had reported only two sharing a four berth cabin. I took the chance of booking a four berth cabin in the hope of a half empty cabin. However, this sounds like it will be the last time the ship runs this route & therefore, there had been a lot more people booking onto the ship (which was virtually full for both voyages). It may also be the last West African Pelagic: I hadn't been able to book a four berth for this, so upgraded to a three berth. In the end, I was able to keep my cabin which turned into a three berth. Despite the cabin being full/nearly full, we had little problems with sharing or contention for the bathroom. Quite an achievement, given the number of complaints I heard from other (usually two berth) cabins. But we were generally up early & on deck most of the day & only using the cabin for sleeping (including the occasional essential afternoon kip).I was down in steerage class for the trip: In the top right bunk of this four berth cabin. I managed to keep the cabin, but switched to the bottom right bunk for the follow on West African PelagicBy chance, Geoff 'Yorkshire' Dodds was sharing my cabin: Geoff confirming we had a chair & desk, as well as, a toilet & shower behind the doorAfter quickly deciding on bunks, it was back on deck to continue meeting people & watch as we left Ushuaia. There were so many good things that made the voyage a superb trip, but one was the number of interesting people on the ship.
Don Barr looking for Short-finned Pilot Whale: A Canadian traveller & non Birder who stayed on in our cabin from the previous Antarctica cruise (At sea between Ascension & Cape Verde on 24 Apr 18)Koen den Dekker: A Dutch Birder who quickly moved into our cabin when our fourth Belgium cabin mate asked to switch to the cabin opposite to move in with the three Belgium Birders (who found the White-bellied Seedsnipe) (At sea between Tristan Da Cunha & St Helena on 15 Apr 18)Some of the expedition staff & ground crew waiting for the final stragglers before we could departLooking NE over UshuaiaGood weather to be departing: Although we would see little of the Beagle Channel as mandatory introductions & safety briefings took up the last couple of hours of lightWe are finally offThis was the start of a superb six and a half week trip which was to be my longest time at sea. After a few days, we reached South Georgia (where we spent three days), then a day at Gough Island, three days around the Tristan Da Cunha islands, three days at St Helena, a day & a half at Ascension Island, before finally arriving at Praia the capital off the Cape Verde Islands. This was to be the end of the Atlantic Odyssey for most & the Birders went on to have a day (or more in some cases) around Praia & Santiago Island. As the Plancius was departing that afternoon, those of us who were staying on had a whirlwind trip around part of Santiago Island for the endemics. This was then the start of the West African Pelagic which visited the seas around Razo Island, the Canaries, the Desertas & Madeira, before continuing onto the Plancius' home port of Vlissingen, Holland.
The route started in Ushuaia (Argentina), before visiting South Georgia, Gough Island, Tristan Da Cunha, St Helena, Ascension Island, the Cape Verde Islands & finally Vlissingen (Holland)
The Plancius had a number of interesting historical photos.Moonlight in Antarctic - 3 June 1898: The Belgica taken by American polar explorer Frederick Cook using a 90 minute exposure in -30 Centigrade during the Belgium Antarctic expedition led by Adrien de Gerlache de Gomery (1897 - 1899)Adrien de Gerleche & Roald Amundsen who also participated in the Belgium Antarctic expedition: This photo was taken before the ship departed as not all were part of the expedition. From left to right they are Adrian de Gerleche, Fridtjof Nansen (who had explored Greenland in 1882), Henri Somers (head mechanic), Emile Danco (doctor), Roald Amundsen (second lieutenant), Johan Bryde (co-financer), Max Van Rysselberghe (second mechanic) & Rolf Andvord (Belgium consol)
Categories: Blogs, Timeline, Twitter

27 Mar 18 - The Estancia Harberton Cetacean Museum

Sun, 05/20/2018 - 18:00
I visited Estancia Harberton in my first trip to Argentina in 1998. At the time the museum wasn't open to visitors. However, it has since opened its doors to the public. Glenn had been saying one of his friends had visited the museum & had been impressed, so we decided to give it a go after the Beagle Channel cruise. It would have been a lot quicker had we been able to get off the boat for an hour on the cruise to look around the Estancia, but that wasn't possible. So having got back to Ushuaia, then I was happy to return by car for the late afternoon for a quick visit.
The original Estancia phone The museum is dedicated to the study of stranded Cetaceans, other marine Mammals & Birds from the Argentinian Tierra Del Fuego area. It was set up by the late Natalie Goodall, who was the wife of the Estancia manager. It contains the skeletons of 2700 Cetaceans & marine Mammals, as well as, 2300 Birds. There is a small team of staff who work on preparing future skeletons (from stranded corpses by slowly & naturally cleaning up the skeletons) and showing visitors around the museum. Apparently, the museum gets a number of scientific visitors who which to spend more time studying the skeletons as it is such an extensive collection. I thought it was well worth a visit. Before entering the museum, we had to visit the main building to buy an entrance ticket & check out the chocolate cake (good choice).
An old storage bottle from C&E Morton, London Sperm Whale head: One of the exhibits that is too large to house in the current museum space
Sperm Whale head
Sperm Whale lower jawSperm Whale teethBaleen Whales: Can't remember which ones they areCuvier's Beaked Whale: One of the most widespread of the Beaked Whales & species I'm still to seeCuvier's Beaked Whale teethFalse Killer Whale: With an Orca for comparison
Spectacled PorpoisesBurmeister's PorpoiseSouthern Right Whale Dolphin: with a Bottlenose Dolphin head
Commerson's DolphinPeale's DolphinSouthern SealionMagellanic PenguinKing Penguin: with photo-bombing CrabAll too soon it was time to pick up Geoff & Josh on the approach road & head back to Ushuaia. I had to return the car before the airport closed. A small lake on the approach road held a few Ducks.Crested DuckBahama PintailHaving been unable to get into La Campana National Park in Chile at night, I still needed Rufous-legged Owl & there was an Owl trip planned for that evening. While we did see Rufous-legged Owl, I cannot recommend anybody else to go with local guide Marcelo, who is the worse person I've even been owling with. I've spend a lot of time looking for Owls in the tropics & have a pretty good success rate of seeing them well if they respond to tapes. If Owls have come in close, then it is often possible to find their silhouette before turning on the torch. Failing that then it is often possible to work out where they are calling from before turning on a torch. Marcelo approach involved putting his torch on far too quick & then wave it around randomly as soon as he heard a close calling Owl. This was not helped by not listening to directions from people who were telling him where it was sitting. All this random torch waving resulted in the inevitable result of the Rufous-legged Owl rapidly disappearing. We did get a few brief additional views as a result of the same random torch waving technique, as surprisingly it carried on calling. All in all, it was very amateur-ish in my opinion given he is suppose to be the top Ushuaia guide & the price per person was over-inflated. There was another trip into the National Park the following day, which I didn't go on given my lack of good impressions of the Owl trip.
Categories: Blogs, Timeline, Twitter

27 Mar 18 - The Penguin Parade

Sat, 05/19/2018 - 14:56
After two or three hours cruising down the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia we finally reached Estancia Harberton. For those with more time, it is possible to stay at the Estancia which would be an interesting option, however, we didn't have the time to get off the boat this time with the Atlantic Odyssey starting the following day.
Estancia Harberton: The Estancia is another few minutes in the boat beyond these sandier cliffsArriving at Estancia Harberton: The Estancia is the oldest farm in the Argentinian part of Tierra Del Fuego having been build in 1886. It was declared an Argentinian National Historical monument in 1999Estancia Harberton: Most of the buildings are old wooden original buildings with a lot of character. The Estancia is a mixture of a farm & tourist resort. There is also an interesting museum within a few minutes walk of the quay
Whale bone entrance gate: While this appears to be harping back to an earlier decade when whaling was regular, these may be from a stranded whale corpse (as the museum is dedicated to studying Cetacean & Seal strandings in the Argentinian part of Tierra Del Fuego)Ringed Kingfisher: This is the stellata subspecies which occurs in Southern Chile & Argentina as far North as NE Argentina. It is replaced by the nominate subspecies in the rest of South & Central America which just sneeks over the border into Texas (but don't tell Trump that)
Having dropped a few people off at the Estancia who were staying there, we headed onto one of the other attractions on the Estancia, the Penguin parade. There is a colony of Magellanic Penguins with a smaller number of breeding Gentoo Penguins in it. The boat slowed approached the beach before just pushing the bows up onto the beach. Again something the Penguins are well used to & they seemed at easy. Gentoo Penguins & Magellanic Penguins on the beachGentoo Penguin: The Gentoo Penguins were hanging around in one large party on the beach (with some Magellanic Penguins burrows behind)
Gentoo Penguin: This is the nominate subspecies which occurs outside of the Antarctic Peninsula & South Sandwich Islands
Gentoo Penguin: Nearly finished moultingGentoo PenguinGentoo Penguin: This one still has some way to go
Magellanic Penguin burrows: Magellanic Penguins prefer to nest in burrows. Gentoo Penguins nest on the surface: they occur further south where presumably it would be much harder to dig burrowsMagellanic Penguin: The welcome committee weren't ready for out arrivalMagellanic Penguin: At least this one was readyMagellanic Penguin: Penguin couch potatoMagellanic PenguinMagellanic Penguin
Magellanic Penguin: This juvenile was one of the more advanced individuals on the beach.Presumably Magellanic Penguins breed later than the Gentoo Penguins as there weren't many youngsters on the beach
Magellanic Penguin: Most of the juveniles seen were still losing their downy fluff
Magellanic Penguin: Penguin homage to one of the sketches in Life of Brian
Magellanic Penguin: My approach to getting in the sea
Magellanic Penguin: A bit more adventurous than meMagellanic Penguin: This one is also cautiousMagellanic Penguin
Categories: Blogs, Timeline, Twitter

27 Mar 18 - Cruising In The Beagle Channel

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 20:22
In the last Post I covered the highlight of the Beagle Channel boat trip to Estancia Harberton which was seeing Blackish Cinclodes. However, the rest of the trip down to Estancia Harberton is really good. Soon after leaving Ushuaia the boat stopped just off the first of several small rocky islands. We stopped at several islands for a few minutes & each island had a good selection of Seabirds & Southern Sealions on them. It looks like most islands get at least one visit during the tourist season & the Birds didn't seem stressed by our close approach.
One of the small rocky islands One of the small rocky islands: Space was at a premium
We weren't the only boat that morning There was a good selection of Seabirds and other wildlife on the rocky islands.
Black-browed AlbatrossBlack-browed AlbatrossBlack-browed AlbatrossBlack-browed Albatross: I saw over a hundred Alberts with several large groups sitting on the waterSouthern Giant Petrel: The pale greenish tip is hardly visible on this individual, but it would be a pastel-red colour in Northern Giant Petrel
Antarctic FulmarAntarctic FulmarAntarctic Fulmar: Not a hard species to pick out in the Southern Oceans for European BirdersAntarctic Fulmar  Rock Shag: Adult. A deceptive photo as it doesn't show their white bellyRock Shag: Immature. Rock Shags are also called Magellanic ShagsImperial Shags were the commonest of the Shags on the rocks
Imperial Shag Imperial Shag: This is the nominate atriceps subspecies which is found in Argentina & Chile. The other subspecies occurs on the Falklands
Imperial Shag: Showing the extent of the white on the upperwingImperial Shag
Flightless Steamerduck: The grey body feathers, thicker bills and obviously short wings confirms these are Flightless Steamerducks. This photo can be compared to the Flying Steamerduck photo in the On The Waterfront Post
Snowy Sheathbill: This species occurs from Southern Chile & Argentina, the Falklands & South Georgia & down to the pack ice Rufous-chested Dotterel: Some of the 25+ roosting individuals on one of the islands
Chilean Skua
South American Tern: The common Sterna Tern in Tierra Del Fuego
Southern Sealion: There was a significant number of Sourhern Sealions on one part of the islandSouthern Sealion: I like the postures of the left hand two individualsSouthern Sealion
Southern Sealion: Not quite sure why all the odd head positions, but guessing it is to expose different parts of the head to the sunSouthern Sealion: One of the local bullsSouthern Sealion: Trying to look like a Porpoise
Southern Sealion: But it gives itself away in the next second
Argentinian mountain: I would how many pairs of White-bellied Seedsnipe there are in this photo
Argentinian mountains: The guide on the boat was saying the glaciers in the last ice age were about a km deep, resulting in the mountain tops being exposed. This explained the jagged, weathered mountain tops compared to the smoother lower tops
A Chilean Skua flies over the lower, rounded Argentinian mountain tops
Argentinian mountainBeagle Channel with Chile in the background
Patrol Boat OPV-83 Marinero Fuentealba patrolling the Chilean side of the border: some bow-waving Dolphins would have been good
Categories: Blogs, Timeline, Twitter

27 Mar 18 - A Cheeky Drink & Bath

Wed, 05/16/2018 - 18:00
When I was preparing for the forthcoming Atlantic Odyssey trip, I checked a number of previous trip reports. Most of the previous trip reports were poorly written & didn't provide a good indication of how good the boat trip would be. But I wasn't surprised given that none of the Birders I knew who had been on those trips had been impressed by the trip leader & report author. Then in 2017, there was a privately written report by Bill Simpson who had produced a superb personal trip report for that sailing. The contrast of the reports was considerable & it was ironic that the trip leader wasn't selling the trip, he was supposed to be leading. The good news from my point, is we would have a different trip leader for our trip.
Looking across to Chile which is the Southern side of the Beagle ChannelAs a preparation for our departure on the following day, I decided to follow Bill's advice & take a boat trip to Estancia Harberton with Glenn, Geoff Dobbs & Josh Beck: which Geoff had been sorting out. Estancia Harberton is about 40 miles down the Beagle Channel.The boat provides lots of photographic opportunities which we wouldn't get in the first couple of hours of the Atlantic Odyssey, due to a late afternoon departure, safety briefings, not being able to get as close to the small islands etc. It also gives a good chance of seeing Blackish Cinclodes. This is a range restricted species which specialises in living on the smallest barred islands in Tierra Del Fuego: presumably it can't complete with the other Cinclodes species in more general coastal habitats. Having spent several days in Tierra Del Fuego during a previous trip to Argentina in 1998, there weren't a lot of potential Ticks for me in the Ushuaia area & the easiest Tick left was Blackish Cinclodes. Another view of the Chile mountains from the Hotel TolkeyenThere was a small party of Upland Geese feeding on some grass next to one of the town's roads as I drove from the Hotel Tolkeyen to the port. Ushuaia is quiet enough that there wasn't a problem pulling over for a few photos of these delightful Geese.
Upland Goose: MaleUpland Goose: Female
The boat stops at number of islands in the Beagle Channel (which I'll cover in the next Post).Leaving Ushuaia

Glenn Overington: This was the first time Glenn was seeing South Atlantic Seabirds, but he had a good idea of North Atlantic Seabirds & I learnt a lot from his Cetaceans knowledge. A great travelling companion for the next monthGlenn (chimping on the left), Geoff Dobbs & Josh Beck (right): Geoff is the editor of the Yorkshire Bird Report despite currently living in the Gambia & Josh is about 4 years into a South American Birding trip (including trips a few Old World countries) Me: It was cold on deck in the wind, but I was toastie in my new Rohan jacket  Finally we arrived at the barest island and one which didn't appear to have any breeding Seabirds or Seals on it, but did have the lighthouse. Josh who speaks good spanish had already asked the skipper to turn on the windscreen wipers of the boat when we got to this island. The skipper, appreciated we were Birders & wanted to see the special black bird.
The island with the lighthouse: This is the Blackish Cinclodes island
As soon as we approached the island, I started looking for the Blackish Cinclodes. I failed to see it until I picked it up in my peripheral vision as one flew onto boat & landed next to the wiper jets. It then had a drink, before having a cheeky bath.
Blackish Cinclodes: If only all scarce Birds performed as well as thisAfter a couple of minutes, it flew as I was heading up to the top deck. I couldn't relocate it one the island. However, after a few minutes, it or another Blackish Cinclodes reappeared for another few minutes for a drink. Fortunately, I was still on the side of the top deck.
Blackish Cinclodes: There is another subspecies of Blackish Cinclodes on the Falklands (which I'm yet to visit), but there have been suggestions that the Tierra Del Fuego subspecies might be a future split from the nominate Falklands subspecies
Categories: Blogs, Timeline, Twitter

26 Mar 18 - On The Waterfront

Mon, 05/14/2018 - 18:00
After spending most of the day at the Garibaldi Pass looking for White-bellied Seedsnipe, Tony, Glenn & I decided to head back to the car & try & find some food given it was mid afternoon. By the time we had found a café & had some food, the rain had settled in. The best option at this point, was to head back to Ushuaia & look for some of the coastal species. No chance of any new Ticks for me, but neither Tony nor Glenn had been to Ushuaia before, so there were plenty of potential Ticks for them. Plus a waterfront with views where you can scan from a car is always a good option in the rain, in my opinion.Dolphin Gull: Adult. Looks good for a SeagullDolphin Gull: Teenager At another stop we found these two sleeping Ducks: unfortunately in a position where it was not easy to properly judge the relative wing length. However, looking at the photos then I think they are Flying Steamerducks as the wing appears to be relatively long, the bill is not particularly thick and the body feathers have reddish-brown edges to them (instead of greyish edges).Flying Steamerduck: Well actually "Sleeping Steamerducks" with a Dolphin Gull trying to photobomb the pictureFlying Steamerduck: Showing the relatively thin bill & reddish-brown edged feathersDark-bellied CinclodesDark-bellied CinclodesDark-bellied CinclodesThe afternoon finished off with a party of 60+ Southern Giant Petrels all hanging around and trying to dominate each other around a water outflow pipe near the port at last light.
Southern Giant Petrel: No problem seeing why these are one of the Tubenose Seabirds. This odd posture seems to be an attempt to dominate the other individuals
Southern Giant Petrel: Another view of the dominating postureSouthern Giant Petrel: The pale green bill with no reddish tip rules out Northern Giant PetrelSouthern Giant Petrel: The darker the head patterns the younger they areSouthern Giant Petrel: Another one coming in to land
Categories: Blogs, Timeline, Twitter

26 Mar 18 - Garibaldi Biscuits

Sun, 05/13/2018 - 19:53
I spend 25 March with a long day of travelling with a breakfast flight from Santiago to Buenos Aires. This was followed by a six hour wait for the connecting flight down to which didn’t arrive in Ushuaia till 19:00. While waiting for the Ushuaia flight, I spotted another Birder, Glenn Overington, with a Wildwings label on his hand luggage. Glenn quickly confirmed he was also on the Atlantic Odyssey trip from Ushuaia back to Cape Verde which was my reason to be heading to Ushuaia, albeit I was continuing on the ship all the way back to Holland.

After collecting the car from Avis, it was a maze of small roads until Glenn & I finally found the Hotel Tolkeyen which was to be our base for the next three nights. Having forgotten to grab a google map of Ushuaia didn't help. Arriving at the Hotel Tolkeyen, we were greeted by a number of other Birders who were also staying at the same hotel, including Tony Pollard prior to joining the Atlantic Odyssey.
Tony & I had already been in touch by email in the UK with a plan to team up & share my hired car. We also persuaded Glenn to join us for the following day. My Plan A option was to see if the Garibaldi Pass looked feasible to get onto the rocky top to look for White-bellied Seedsnipe and Yellow-bridled Finch. The Plan B option was to continue onto Rio Grande (about a 3 hour drive) to look for Austral Canastero & Ruddy-headed Goose. We arrived at the Garibaldi Pass to find relatively good conditions with no snow or rain & high cloud. Therefore, it seemed worthwhile to try to get up to the high tops. There were three Belgium Birders (Olivier, Philip & Koen) who were just leaving their car & who got onto the trail before us.
The trail to the top of the Garibaldi Pass went through this beautiful forestIt was a slow journey up the hillside through the trees for us, as Tony was struggling with the path & Glenn & I were keen we all kept together.Austral Thrush: This was one of the few species seen in the forestThorn-tailed Rayadito: This cracking species is another of the commoner forest species. It  seems to think it is both a Tit & a Nuthatch, as well as, being a FurnariidOnce I reached the top of the rocky top, I saw brief views of a party of Yellow-bridled Finches. I quickly tried to relocate them, but they were clearly mobile. Rather than trying to chase the Yellow-bridled Finches, I decided I needed to focus on finding a White-bellied Seedsnipe.
The Garibaldi Pass: Proof that Tony made it above the treelineThis looks to be a difficult task given the amount of suitable habitat & how cryptic White-bellied Seedsnipe are. However, on one of the initial scans, I spotted one of the Belgium Birders appearing on a ridge about ¾ mile away, followed quickly by his mates with a lot of pointing, before the cameras were raised. They then started to slowly stalk the Bird there were looking at.
Glenn & Tony deciding whether to continue I quickly walked back to where Glenn & Tony were standing close to the treeline to say I think the Belgium lads had found the White-bellied Seedsnipe. Glenn & Tony weren’t keen to come up, but Glenn told me to keep going.
The White-bellied Seedsnipe were on one of the distant hillsides in the middle of the photoAfter a 15 minute walk across the screen slopes, I reached the Belgium lads who confirmed they had found five White-bellied Seedsnipe. I was then invited to find them myself with calls of colder, warmer, nearer, before I picked them up about 25 metres in front of us: Belgium humour I guess. They had had their fill & left me to slowly crawl closer. Most Birders visiting Ushuaia don’t try for White-bellied Seedsnipe & those that do, rarely seem to see them, so I appreciated how lucky I was to see one of the toughest of Ushuaia’s near endemics.White-bellied Seedsnipe: With a bit of habitat to show how difficult they can be to locateWhite-bellied SeedsnipeWhite-bellied SeedsnipeWhite-bellied SeedsnipeWhite-bellied Seedsnipe: The photo of the trip for me, but keep following the blog as there are plenty more cracking photos to come as this was only day one of a brilliant seven weeks trip
Categories: Blogs, Timeline, Twitter