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6 July 18 - Grassholm Gannets

Thu, 07/19/2018 - 18:00
The main Bird interest on the Cetacean pelagic from St David's Head was the time spent at Grassholm Island. Grassholm is one of the RSPB's oldest nature reserves & lies about eight miles off St David's Head. After about 45 minutes of a fairly fast, bouncy ride after leaving the Short-beaked Common Dolphins off Ramsey Island, we got close to Grassholm.
Grassholm: Just a small part of the Gannet colony
Gannets: The airspace above the colony was packed with Gannets
Gannet: The Gannets were densely packed
Gannet: There were a few juveniles visible within the colony
Gannet: Adults & juvenile showing the weedy nest they build. Unfortunately, I can also see orange fishing line has been used in a nest in another photo
Gannet: They are really cute close up The rib's crew said that Grassholm used to be home for large numbers of Puffins many years ago, but loss of the soil on the island, caused the Puffins to desert Grassholm. However, the population of Gannets benefitted from this soil loss. This makes Grassholm the third most important Gannet breeding Island in the UK: Bass Rock has 75,000 pairs, St Kilda has 60,000 pairs and Grassholm has 39,000 pairs. Bonaventure Island, off the Quebec coast is another major colony with 60,000 pairs.
Gannet: We had hundreds of Gannets overhead & had been advised to put our hats on to avoid any crapping GannetsGannetGannetGannetGannetThere were a few other Seabirds around Grassholm, although it was nearly a pure Gannet colony.
Guillemots: There were a few Guillemots among the Gannets & more on breeding ledges Kittiwake: There were a few pairs breeding on the rocky cliffsHerring Gull: Adult
Grey Seal: There were a few inquisitive Grey Seals in the seas around GrasholmGreat Seal: Showing the long 'Roman nose' profileA great day out at Grassholm, although we could have done with longer there.
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17 Jul 18 - A Studland Patch First

Wed, 07/18/2018 - 13:00
On 16 Jul 18 I decided to pop down to Littlesea on my Studland patch for the first Little Egret roost count of the Autumn. Part of the hope was that I would also find a Great White Egret as there has been one, & occasionally two, Great White Egrets regularly around the Studland patch in the Autumn & Winter since one appeared in Sep 2014. It was a fairly quiet night with 42 Little Egrets in the roost & most were in before I arrived. At 21:30, I decided it didn't look likely that a Great White Egret would appear & so I packed up to leave. As I was walking off, I spotted another Heron coming into the roost. I stopped to check it, although I knew it would be a Grey Heron, but it looked like a Purple Heron. I only had a short view in the failing light, but enough to be happy with the identification, but not to be able to write a description on that view. It landed in the trees, but out of sight. I quickly walked back up the hill to my viewing point & fortunately, it was still there, but not close. The tripod was unpacked & bingo, it was a Purple Heron. At this point, it flew & I lost it, due as it flew behind a tree I was standing next too. I quickly returned to the high hide as that had a much clearer viewing position. I carried on scanning whilst phoning local Poole Harbour Birders. Realistically, only one had much of a chance to get there before dark from his home, but it was academic as he didn't answer his phone. Still the news was out locally so people had the chance of a pre-work visit the following morning. While I was on the phone to Paul Morton, from the Birds of Poole Harbour team, it flew back towards the roost. I cut the call to get more views as it circled the roost a few times before disappearing into the Southern most bay in Littlesea. I stayed till last light, but I had no more sightings. This was a third record for the Poole Harbour area & a Studland first.
Black-tailed Skimmer: FemaleThe following morning I spent a couple of hours looking around the Studland area checking South Haven, Littlesea & Brands Bay, but I drew a blank. I didn't check all the possible places as I skipped the Eastern Lake. Too close to the nudists beach to want to carry bins & a decent camera at this time of year. Annoying, as this is the most likely place it would be feeding in, if it was still around. Paul has already had the same result at Littlesea earlier in the morning. I assumed it had probably moved through. But to be sure I decided to pop down to check the roost for a second night. I arrived earlier & there were only a few Little Egrets in the roost. Checking them, one was tucked well in & only showing small parts of its bill at any time. A pale-yellow bill & looked far too thick-based to be a Little Egret. But it really was a struggle to see it clearly. At this point, Graham Armstrong arrived & I tried getting Graham onto it. Before he saw it, it had flown deeper into the trees & was only showing parts of its back. Fortunately, it flew again & sat in the open. Clearly, a juvenile Cattle Egret. This is only the fifth Studland record. I was happy as this was the second good Heron on the patch in 24 hours. The obvious question is, where is this Cattle Egret feeding during the day?
Cattle Egret (with a Little Egret to its right): Only the fifth Studland patch recordWe were just admiring the Cattle Egret through our scopes, when the Purple Heron flew in. It circled briefly before landing in the treetops. Frustratingly, I hadn't set the camera up that evening & so all the flight photos were blurred as the camera was still set up from the morning.
Purple Heron: Juvenile. Surprisingly, this photo wasn't too bad given the poor camera settings I bumped the ISO setting up (probably too high), but at least I would get something it the Purple Heron flew around again.
Purple Heron: Juvenile. It sat in the tree tops for around ten minutes while I was ringing locals as there was enough light to allow people to belt down if they wantedPurple Heron: Juvenile. After ten minutes it flew again & dropped out of sight into the marsh in LittleseaPurple Heron: JuvenilePurple Heron: Juvenile. It stayed hidden out of view in the marsh, until it finally flew into the roost at 21:32 (the same time as the previous evening)If anybody is looking for it this evening, please only view from the high hide. This can be reached by parking on the road at the entrance to Greenlands Farm. Cross the road & walk East up the obvious path up the small hillside. Follow this through a gully to the hide. It's best to stand in front of the hide, rather than look from this old hide. Please do not try getting closer to the Little Egrets as you are likely to disturb the roost & due to trees, you are unlikely to get a decent view anyway. Also keep off the heaths as there there are nearby Nightjar territories. Any time after 20:00 would be worth a look. But we still don't know where it is spending its time during the day, so there is a chance of seeing it during the day.
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6 July 18 - Welsh Cetaceans

Tue, 07/17/2018 - 18:00
After seeing the Pied Crow at St David's Head, I quickly sorted out a place on a rib out to Grassholm & the Smalls Lighthouse looking for Cetaceans, Grey Seals & Seabirds with Voyages of Discovery. It wasn't cheap at £60 for 2.5 hours, but it was a good trip. Another 30 minutes would have made it a bit less rushed. I parked the car in a car park in St David's & caught the minibus down to the lifeboat station. There is a small car park at the lifeboat station, but it had been full when I had a wider look for the Pied Crow on the headland & it was still full when the minibus dropped me off. Therefore, taking the minibus from St David's was the right decision.
Ramsey Island: Ramsey Island was the site of the UK's first Indigo Bunting. After the Wells individual was rejected as an escape, I didn't get too excited about the Ramsey Indigo Bunting in 1996. I should have shown a bit more interest
Ruined chapel: In the grounds of a private house by the lifeboat stations
The old lifeboat station
The new lifeboat stationThe old lifeboat stationThe new lifeboat station which houses the new Tamar class, Norah Wortley lifeboatThe Norah Wortley LifeboatThe Voyages of Discovery ribs are study vesselsAnother photo of the rib before we got to board itIt was a hot, sunny day & I was about the best prepared of the ten or so of us on the boat as I had my windproof Rohan jacket. Several of the others were surprised when we were given heavy jackets to wear & were told we had put them on once on the boat. They clearly didn't appreciate it would be cold at sea. Good to see we were also issued with life jackets. After the safety briefings, we set off. We had been told that if we saw any Cetaceans to raise a hand whilst pointing them out with the other hand. It took me about ten minutes before I picked up the first pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins which were closer inshore than they were normally seen. All my time Cetacean watching on the Plancius had clearly paid off.
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: The initial views with the mainland in the backgroundShort-beaked Common Dolphin: They briefly came close, but were feeding & as they didn't seem to want to play, we left soon afterwardsShort-beaked Common Dolphin: Another close passShort-beaked Common Dolphin: Individual Dolphins can be told by markings & nicks in their dorsal fin, so this nick in the rear of the dorsal fin will probably make this individual easy to identifyShort-beaked Common Dolphin: a different individualShort-beaked Common Dolphin: The black V is diagnostic of Short-beaked Common Dolphin (apart from Long-beaked Common Dolphins which do not occur anywhere close to UK waters)
Puffin: I saw quite good numbers on the crossing, but the rib was too bouncy to stand a chance of any photos. This photo was snatched when we stopped to look for the Short-beaked Common Dolphins. There were few Puffins around Grassholm as the island is bare & there is no suitable breeding habitat for them to burrow into. They do breed on Ramsey Island
Moon Jellyfish: It is easy to see how marine animals mistake plastic bags & balloons for JellyfishThousand Islands Rib: There was also a rib from Thousand Islands which only seemed to be on an inshore route as we didn't see them out by Grassholm. I'm glad I didn't go out with them given the subtle coloured jackets & apparent lack of life jackets
Due to the time spent with the Short-beaked Common Dolphins & at Grassholm, we never made it as far as the Smalls Lighthouse. The Smalls Lighthouse is infamous in lighthouse history. In 1801, a two man crew, Thomas Howell & Thomas Griffith, were sent out to man the original lighthouse. Neither man got on with the other. When Griffith died in a freak accident, Howell placed the body in a makeshift wooden coffin & attached it to the outside of the lighthouse to ensure that he was not charged with murder when he was finally relieved. The bad weather partially broke the coffin & resulted in the dead man's arm waving around & banging against the window for weeks. When Howell was finally relieved, although he had kept the light running, his friends found he had gone mad. After that date Trinity House changed their rules & only sent teams of three to man the lighthouses.The Smalls Lighthouse: The lighthouse is approximately 20 miles offshore & eight miles West of Grassholm. It was erected in 1861 to replace the original wooden lighthouse build in 1776The South Bishop Lighthouse: This is one of the lighthouses that mark out Ramsey Island & the St David's Head coastline
As we got close to Ramsey Island, the boatman slowed the rib & pointed out a couple of Harbour Porpoise feeding in a patch of choppy water between Ramsey Island & the mainland. I had a few nice, close views, but failed to get any photos. We didn't linger too long as we were running a little bit late & the boatman said the Harbour Porpoises don't appreciate the close approach of the ribs.
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6 July 18 - Pied Crow: An Unlikely Vagrant?

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 18:00
When odd rarities turn up in the UK where there is a chance they may get added onto the British Bird List, I think I am generally good at being able to predict which will be accepted. However, after the Chinese Pond Heron in Kent which I saw on its last day, a level of doubt has crept into the back of my mind on the odd occasion. I wasn't sure if this would be accepted, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt. But I combined it with a trip to my old stamping grounds at Dungeness with mate Marcus Lawson, so it would be a good trip even if rejected. But generally, I get my calls right. However, the appearance of a Pied Crow has left me with a bit more doubt than normal. It first turned up at Spurn where it was seen flying South on 13 June 18. Two days later it reappeared in Winterton, Norfolk & moved around the Great Yarmouth area before heading up towards Cromer for a few days, until it was last seen on 23 June 18. Fast forward three days & it reappeared in Clevedon, near Bristol where it hung around until 1 July 18. Two days later it appeared again in a coastal static caravan site on the coastline of South Wales near St David's (where it stayed till 8 July 18). It hasn't been relocated since.
Pied Crow: The initial views when it dropped inPied CrowPied Crows are a sub Saharan species occurring widely across the whole continent South of the Sahara, as well as, Madagascar & the Comoros Islands. So on paper not a likely addition to the British List. However, there have been a number of well documented records of them following the coast North into Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco & Egypt with other records in the Canaries, Spain, Portugal & Italy. Although I don't think all the European records have been accepted. I believe their method of travel has included hitching lifts on boats so similar to the way that Indian House Crows have colonised new countries by arriving into ports. The downside is that they are also kept in captivity in the UK & have escaped in the past. However, any individuals if held properly in captivity should be colour ringed. One that has been publicised as escaping in 2017 had a clearly obvious dark blue ring. But the photos show that this widely travelled individual wasn't colour ringed. On balance I think this probably won't get accepted, however, following the Chinese Pond Heron, there was a small doubt at the back of my mind. I was also swayed a bit by this individual's movements as generally I've not been aware of too many escape Birds in the past that have travelled around as much as this Pied Crow has done.
Pied Crow: It reappeared within a few minutesCould I convince myself to travel to South Wales to see it on the small chance it would get accepted. The answer was no, unless I could find a better reason to go in that direction. There were no Butterflies or Dragonflies that I could tied into the trip. However, it was on the headland by St David's and daily boat trips run form this headland out to Grassholm Island, the third largest Gannet colony in the UK, as well as, Cetacean trips. That sounded a good reason to head off to South Wales, given the continual good weather. A quick check of the internet confirmed that boat trips were going several times a day to Grassholm which looked for Cetaceans. I still hadn't decided to go. However, I woke up well before dawn the following morning & decided that a trip to South Wales might be more fun than waiting for dawn, so I could walk along the South Haven patch trying adding Little Ringed Plover to my South Haven patch list. LRPs are just about annual in late June/July, but they disappear when the first dog walkers flush them from the beach. After a quick breakfast, I grabbed the cameras and optics & headed off for St David's.
Pied Crow
Pied Crow: It came into food, but so will Carrion Crows & Jackdaws if people throw food to them It had been present for several days in the overflow camping field in the caravan park, so when I arrived at Pencarnan caravan park, I drove through the site & carried onto the overflow camping field. There were a few tents & towing caravans set up, but plenty of empty field. The field provided a great view over the incredibly beautiful coastline & across to Ramsey Island which lies about a half mile offshore. There was a steady movement of Rooks & Jackdaws between various farmland fields on either side of the camping field, but no sign of the Pied Crow. After an hour, I decided to have a drive around on the headland to see if I could find it in other fields, as it had been mobile on occasions. Another hour passed and no sign, so it was back to the caravan park. This time I stopped at their reception & shop to ask if they had seen it. The answer was yes, it had spent most of the morning on the open grass fairly close to the reception, but it wasn't around at the moment. I bought some snacks for lunch & made a coffee & set back to wait. About ten minutes later it flew in & landed 50 metres away. I took some photos & moved a few metres to my left to get a better background on the Pied Crow, but it was spooked & disappeared again. Ten more minutes later & a bit of bread thrown down & it was back again. This time it was around on & off for about 30 minutes before it disappeared. At this point, I decided to ring one of the boat operators to check about trips that afternoon. I was quickly booked on a Cetacean trip going out to Grassholm, which lies about 18 miles offshore & then onto the Smalls Lighthouse, before returning. I had to pop back into St David's to pay for my boat & bus tickets, as there is very limited parking where the boats leave from. This left enough time for a proper lunch before getting the bus. The trip isn't cheap at £60 for 2.5 hours in a fast rib, but the boat handlers were good. We quickly stopped for every party of Dolphins & Porpoises seen, as well as, having the time to really enjoy Grassholm. I was also impressed when they pulled over to retrieve a floating balloon from the sea: a nasty problem which has a good track record of killing sealife which mistake them for food. Overall a great trip which I will cover in the next Blog Post. I couldn't justify going to Clevedon to see the Pied Crow while it was there. Hanging around in front of a cafe waiting for it to appear, then heading home would have been a waste of a day. However, the boat trip was so good it made it a great day out.
Pied Crow
Pied Crow: There are clearly no rings on its legsFinally, will the Pied Crow get added to the British List. Personally, I don't think it has a high chance. However, while it was happy to come in if there was available food, it was nervous & easily spooked. It was never as tame or approachable as my local Jackdaws and it isn't ringed. Given the previous Western Palearctic & European records they clearly wander outside of their main range & with their presumed ability to use ships or fly, I wouldn't be surprised if the Southern European records are largely valid records. As for this record, then I guess we will have to see what the BOU think.
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17 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Nineteen: At Sea From Tristan Da Cunha To St Helena

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 18:00
Today was the final day at sea before we arrived at St Helena. There was more expectation from the passengers that we would see more Seabirds & more people on deck looking.Los Bandidos (John & Jemi Holmes): John has been publishing a number of Blog Posts of the Odyssey which can be found here. It is well worth a look as John is a great photographerHadie (left) & Roy confirming that the benches on the top deck behind the bridge were still popular
Yorkshire Geoff Dodds: My cabin mate had finally left editing the Yorkshire Bird Report & appeared in the sun
An early morning small party of Dolphins looked promising as they were heading straight for the Plancius. We were all hoping for some bow waving, but clearly, they had other ideas as this was the best photo I obtained & we lost them soon after picking them up.Dolphin sp: You can't win them allAs we were approximately 250 nautical miles from the St Helena at dawn, we were still out in the deep oceans & would remain so for the rest of the day. Consequently, it was still a fairly quiet day at sea for Seabirds. I saw more individuals than than on the last two days put together, but that wasn't hard given I had only seen nine Seabirds over those two days. The commonest species were Arctic Terns which were moving North, but all remained distant. There were also a few Red-billed Tropicbirds seen during the day, including one which came overhead to check out the Plancius.
Red-billed Tropicbird: The could be briefly very inquisitive of the PlanciusRed-billed Tropicbird: This is the nominate aethereus which occurs on the offshore Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha, as well as, St Helena & Ascension Island
The Seabird highlight occurred late morning as we picked up a party of six Storm-petrels resting on the sea a few hundred metres in front of the Plancius.Mixed party of Storm-petrels resting on the sea
Mixed Storm-petrel party taking off: They didn't have a choice as they were right in the path of the Plancius
Band-rumped Storm-petrel: Band-rumped Storm-petrels have until recent years been considered to be a single subspecies. However, given two species have now been split so far, then it is worth seeing them at as many breeding islands as possible. Given we are within a day of St Helena, then it is a reasonable assumption this is one of the St Helena population. However, it is safer to see them at one of the St Helena colonies to be certain, in case St Helena Storm-petrel is split in the future. Identification of these Band-rumped Storm-petrel & related species at sea, well away from breeding grounds is in its infancy
Band-rumped Storm-petrel: Another view of the same individual
Band-rumped Storm-petrel taxonomy is complex. A few years ago, Band-rumped Storm-petrels were understood to breed on islands in the Tropical Atlantic & Pacific Oceans including the Portuguese Berlengas Islands, Madeira, Canaries, Azores, Cape Verde, Ascension Island, St Helena, as well as, the Galapagos, Hawaii & islands belonging to Japan. In the last decade, studies into the breeding times of year, DNA, vocalisation & morphology have identified that there are probably three additional species which breed on the Tropical North Atlantic islands. Further studies are now underway to extend these studies into some of the other Atlantic populations of Band-rumped Storm-petrel & it is likely that this will reveal additional species when these studies have been completed. The current understanding of the former Band-rumped Storm-petrel species is:-
  • Cape Verde Storm-petrel (Oceanodroma jabejabe) breeds in Cape Verde from Oct to June
  • Monteiro's Storm-petrel (Oceanodroma monteiroi) breeds in the Azores in Mar to Oct
  • Band-rumped Storm-petrels (also known as Madeiran Storm-petrel) (Oceanodroma castro) breeds around Madeira including the Desertas Islands, the Salvagens Islands & the Canaries in Mar to Oct
  • Grant's Storm-petrel (Oceanodroma granti) breeds in the Berlengas Islands, Madeira & the Canaries & associated islands & Azores in Aug to Mar. This has been proposed as a future split (but is yet to be described)
  • Studies of the Band-rumped Storm-petrels which breed on Ascension Island & St Helena are only just starting.
A single Leach's Storm-petrel (top left) was tucked into the group of five Band-rumped Storm-petrels
Leach's Storm-petrel: Close up from the last photo. Note, the strong pale wing panel, deeply forked tail & dark central rump band
Leach's Storm-petrel (top left) and Band-rumped Storm-petrels: The Band-rumped Storm-petrels have square-ended tails & white rumps & also show a noticeable pale wing panel. They seem to have shorter wings than the Leach's Storm-petrel
Leach's Storm-petrel (top left) and Band-rumped Storm-petrels: Note, how the pale wing panelLeach's Storm-petrel (top left) and Band-rumped Storm-petrels: The stripe in the rump of the Leach's Storm-petrel is clearly obviousAdditionally, I saw a good number of Flying Fish seen with the same four species that we had seen on the previous day. I also saw a Smurf which is believed to be an immature Flying Fish. They are only a few inches long, have small forewings & are only capable of flying a few metres before they drop back into the sea. Given the short distance of the flight, I never managed to get any photos of the Smurfs.
Bandwing Flying FishBandwing Flying Fish: Another individual which dropped back into the sea (a few frames after this photo)Bandwing Flying Fish: A third well-marked individual showing they can control the flight by closing the rear wingsBandwing Flying Fish: The third individual opened its rear wings (a few frames after the previous photo)Bandwing Flying Fish: A fourth individual. They have a very distinctive broad white eyering which can only be seen when they change direction so they are not flying directly away from the Plancius
Atlantic Flying Fish
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14 July 18 - A Local Hairstreak

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 18:00
For the last few years I've planned to look for a local speciality: White-letter Hairstreak. Numbers of this easily overlooked Butterfly crashed in the 1970s & early 1980s when Dutch Elm disease swept through the UK & wiped out most of the UK's Elm trees within a decade. I've been aware of a local site for a few years, but I have never managed to find a combination of suitable weather & my availability at weekends within the flying period. My friend who discovered this site has generally only seen them flying high around the Elms & has only seen one low down nectaring, so this has been another factor in the priority to have a look. Having been unable to get out for the last few days to the site, this morning was another hot, still day & so I suggested to mate, Peter Moore that we gave it a look. Peter picked me up late morning & a few minutes later we were leaving the parked car. There was a bit of a hike along footpaths before getting to the actual site. Once there we spread out to check a large patch of Thistles where they had been seen before. No joy in the patch of Thistles I started checking, but a whistle from Peter suggested a more positive outcome where he was. I swiftly walked over, but I didn't really need to hurry as it was still nectaring when we left about an hour later. Given there are well known sites in Dorset, this site will remain as a vague Swanage site, although Peter & I will forward details of the sighting to the county recorder. Having had problems with collectors at Map Butterflies site, then I won't be broadcasting specific, but not well known, sites of other locally rare Butterflies.
White-letter Hairstreak: Initial viewsWhite-letter Hairstreak: Good mystery photoWhite-letter HairstreakWhite-letter Hairstreak: It spent a fair bit of time upside down to frustrate the photographers. It worked as I went looking for another, but failed to find one
White-letter HairstreakWhite-letter HairstreakWhite-letter Hairstreak: I'm assuming with this body shape that this is a femaleThere was a good selection of other Butterflies present. In total I saw thirteen species there. A Holly Blue in my garden was a fourteenth species for the day.
Small CopperBrown ArgusPeacockPainted Lady: It was good to see such a pristine individual
Silver-washed FritillaryOne of the problems I though of as I was walking to the site was how to identify an Elm tree. Given their relatively scarcity then it was a tree I wasn't familiar with. Fortunately, Peter knew. He said they had a distinctive asynchronous leaf shape.
The distinctive asynchronous Elm Leaf shapeNot bad for an hour of looking for local Butterflies.
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16 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Eighteen: At Sea From Tristan Da Cunha To St Helena - Mantas & More Flying Fish

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 18:00
The third full day at sea been Tristan da Cunha and St Helena had been an excellent day for Cetaceans with a pod of Strap-toothed Beaked Whales, a close old male Blainville's Beaked Whale (which I saw, but failed to get any photos of) & a lone Dwarf Pygmy Whale. However, in between it was another good day for Flying Fish, albeit I didn't see as many Small Clearwings as seen on the previous day. But I did managed to photograph three new species of Flying Fish.
Geoff has gone full blown Bush Tucker Man today to keep the sun off while chasing Flying Fish: He has the strong Ozzie accent to go with the look
On the previous day I had seen a couple of Four-winged Flying Fish, but I failed to get a photo of these common & large Flying Fish. The Small Clearwings were around 6 inches long & only had two wings. The Four-winged Flying Fish were about a foot long, had two long forewings & two smaller rear wings. Four-winged Flying Fish were distinctive as they had sooty grey forewings with an off white trailing edge to the forewings. They look similar to the Necromancer that Steve Howell covers in the identification pdf guide to Flying Fish. However, it seems that Howell's Necromancers are probably a related species, rather than the Four-winged Flying Fish (Hirundichthys affinis).Four-winged Flying Fish (Hirundichthys affinis): They were about a foot long, with sooty grey wings & an obvious off white trailing edge to the forewings. The small hindwings are clear & the lower tail is black
I saw Four-winged Flying Fish on most days from today until the final day at sea before Cape Verde. On some days I saw several hundred Four-winged Flying Fish. The IUCN Red List describes them as occurring from the Gulf of Mexico & Eastern Caribbean to the Gulf Stream & off the African coast from Mauritania to Angola.
Four-winged Flying Fish (Hirundichthys affinis): Generally, they appeared on their own, although it wasn't unusual for a few others to be seen soon after
Four-winged Flying Fish (Hirundichthys affinis): They tended to make several glides, with the tail re-entering the water to get another kick for the next glide. They often changed directions between glides. The overall glide could last over 30 seconds & the distance travelled could be up to about 60 - 80 metres
Four-winged Flying Fish (Hirundichthys affinis): They are quite good at being able to change direction by how they angled their forewings & tail
I also saw a couple of other less common species of Flying Fish including this superb Bandwing Flying Fish which was another foot long, four-winged Flying Fish.Bandwing Flying Fish (Cheilopogon exsiliens): I only saw a few of these good looking Flying Fish which showed a pale wing band. I have been able to get an identification thanks to the internet. They range from about 25 degrees South to Cape Verde in the Atlantic & therefore aren't covered by Howell's identification PDF. This species was also photographed by Graham Ekins on the Plancius in 2012 between Tristan da Cunha & St Helena
Bandwing Flying Fish (Cheilopogon exsiliens): A more distant view of the same individual. They are about a foot long & look superficially similar to the Four-winged Flying Fish, but have this noticeable pale wing bar
Bandwing Flying Fish (Cheilopogon exsiliens): A pity this wasn't sharp, but it does show how they can flick their tail to gain lift to keep gliding
Bandwing Flying Fish (Cheilopogon exsiliens): This was another individual which showed an extreme pale wing bar
The other new species was Atlantic Flying Fish. This was another foot long, four-winged Flying Fish. It looks to similar to Bar-tailed Clearwing covered in Howell's identification PDF, but Atlantic Flying Fish is restricted to the Atlantic & so Bar-tailed Clearwing must be another related species.Atlantic Flying Fish (Cheilopogon melanurus): This seemed a scarce species along our route. I only saw them on three days on both sides of St HelenaAtlantic Flying Fish (Cheilopogon melanurus): This is a large four-winged Flying Fish with clear wings with obvious veins & a dark tail. According to the IUCN Red List they are a common species occurring in the Gulf Stream in the Western Atlantic, as well as off Brazil & from Senegal to AngolaAtlantic Flying Fish (Cheilopogon melanurus): A series of tail flicks to get some fresh momentumAtlantic Flying Fish (Cheilopogon melanurus): Just getting clear of the waterAtlantic Flying Fish (Cheilopogon melanurus): Take off for another glideWe also saw quite a few Small Clearwings which the other common species of Flying Fish that I saw most days until the last full day at sea before the Cape Verde islands.Small Clearwing (Exocoetus volitans): They curve the forewings on take offSmall Clearwing (Exocoetus volitans): Once in glide, the forewings are flattenedSmall Clearwing (Exocoetus volitans): Another taking off
Some of the Birders & Bird photographers on the Plancius might have been unimpressed with these Flying Fish as they were only Fish. I certainly didn't share that view. We got told as we got closer to St Helena that Flying Fish were one of the favourite foods of Red-footed Boobies & sometimes Red-footed Boobies would try to keep up with the Plancius, as the Plancius ended up flushing Flying Fish. I later saw this on a couple of occasions & this was something that made even the most focused Bird photographer appreciate the Flying Fish a little bit. Small Clearwing (Exocoetus volitans): This individual shows the pink central stripe that Steve Howell mentioned as a feature of Small Clearwings. It wasn't particularly clear on the individuals photographed on the previous dayFinally, it's time for a larger species of Fish. In the late afternoon we saw a set of confusing fins on the surface & there were still there when they passed the Plancius about 30 metres off the starboard side. I was struggling to get my head around what they were, but there was a shout (probably from Marijke or Hans) that there were a mating pair of Manta Rays. This initially left me just as confused as I've been lucky to scuba dive in Micronesia & see several Manta Rays passing over head. They were much bigger than the individuals were were watching on the Plancius. However, as there is more than one species of Manta Rays and perhaps this was one of the smaller species.
Manta Ray sp.: This was the first conofusing view of a single pale tipped fin
Manta Ray sp.: It suddenly became very confusing as 3 fins appeared
Manta Ray sp.: Back to two finsManta Ray sp.: An obvious fin & a less obvious one
Manta Ray sp.: They were now a lot closer & while I was struggling to figure out what I was seeing at the time, looking at the photos now it was fairly obvious they were some sort of Manta Ray or something similar. But it is easier to figure this out without having an image on the camera constantly flashing Manta Ray sp.: Note, the orange underwing in the previous photo is purely a paler grey underwing which was catching the strong orange glow from the setting sun (this photo was taken less than a second after the previous photo)
Manta Ray sp. Manta Ray sp.: The underwing colours look a bit more realistic in this photo
It was a perfect evening to hang around on deck for the sunset & the mythical green flash. This time I thought I would also try capturing the green flash with the camera. Well both I & the camera failed to see a green flash. However, it was a great sunset.
Sunset: Supposedly, you aren't meant to look at the sun until the very last moment
Sunset: Well maybe I'll need to look on another night for the green flash. Although most days only had light cloud it was rare that there was no cloud on the horizon at sunset
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16 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Eighteen: At Sea From Tristan Da Cunha To St Helena - Surfboard

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 18:00
About 45 minutes before the excellent Strap-toothed Beaked Whale sighting in the afternoon, we saw another Cetacean. This was another learning experience for me. It was on its own & quietly logging (i.e. hanging around still) at the surface. All the Cetaceans we had run into so far on the Odyssey had been actively swimming, diving & resurfacing or were even more active Dolphins. It was likely to be a Tick for me as this wasn't a behaviour I was familiar with. It was a small Dolphin sized Cetacean.
Surfboard: All I saw initially was a fin
Surfboard: This was followed by a view of most of the body in front of the fin. The wet tail is reflecting a lot of sunlight
Surfboard: Another view showing the pale spots were changing between photos confirming this was down to reflected light
Surfboard: Note the bulging head, flat appearance & the dorsal fin isn't reflecting much light now
Surfboard: A closer view of the head
Surfboard: A closer crop of the last photo confirming there is a large notch in the dorsal fin
This was quickly called as a Surfboard by Marijke & Hans. Marijke said that Dwarf Sperm Whales & the closely related Pygmy Sperm Whales are often nicknamed as Surfboards due to their appearance as upturned surfboards. The two species look & act very similar. Both are prone to logging on the surface & quietly sinking when they are ready to hunt again or are disturbed. Due to their inactivity on the surface, a day with really calm seas is needed to stand much chance of seeing them. Dwarf Sperm Whales are up to 2.7 metres and Pygmy Sperm Whales tend to be a bit larger at 2.7 - 3.8 metres. Therefore, they are approximately the size of a Bottle-nosed Dolphin, but they are much harder to see due to the inactive behaviour. Dwarf Sperm Whales have a fairly large flat head & a flat back with a fairly prominent dorsal fin. The rear body tapers rapidly & is strongly angled downwards. It is hard to see the rear body & tail as they tend to sink, rather than fluke like the vastly bigger Sperm Whale. Dwarf Sperm Whales have a larger, more erect & pointed dorsal fin whereas, Pygmy Sperm Whales have a lower & more rounded fin. Based on the dorsal fin shape this was my first Dwarf Sperm Whale. It was good to speak to Glenn Overington about this Cetacean sighting as Glenn found the first UK record of Dwarf Sperm Whale in Mounts Bay in Autumn 2011.Dwarf Sperm Whale: After spending sometime stationary on the surface, it quietly sunk below the water line
Dwarf Sperm Whale: Nearly goneMarijke said there was a suspicion about them among some Cetacean watchers & we should refer to them as Surfboards, rather than calling them by their proper names: suggesting we would be pushing our luck in finding others if we used their proper names too soon. Despite having a rationale scientific background, I don't believe in commenting on the lack of punctures I've had on a foreign trip for the same reason. We still blame Birding mate, Keith Turner, for his rash comments on the final day about how lucky we had been with only 1 puncture in the month in Kenya in 1987: the next puncture was within the hour, with a final one about two hours later. I was happy to stick with Surfboards when discussing what we would like to see on future calm days or calling a potential future candidate.
Dwarf Sperm Whale: That's just about it. I had seen in previous Odyssey reports there were a number of good Cetaceans we could potentially bump into on the trip, but while I was clearly keen to see as many Cetaceans as possible, I wasn't as optimistic I would see them. So I was really pleased to have seen my first Dwarf Sperm Whale. Whereas, I was fairly confident we would connect with just about all the potential new SeabirdsDwarf Sperm Whales have a potentially large range and occur in all the Tropical oceans as far South as South African & Australia and as far North as Spain & Japan and tend to occur offshore. Pygmy Sperm Whales have a similar range, but they seem to prefer temperate seas so they have occurred a bit further North as far as Scotland. They occur both around the continental shelf, as well as, in deep waters. Not a lot is known about their feeding habits & diet, but both appear to have similar diets of Cephalopods i.e. Squid, Octopus, as well as, other seafood like fish etc.
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16 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Eighteen: At Sea From Tristan Da Cunha To St Helena - Some More Strap-toothed Beaked Whales

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 17:23
I thought the previous day had been very quiet when I only saw five Seabirds. Today my personal total was only four Seabirds: with singles of Bulwer's Petrel, a Storm-petrel sp., Red-billed Tropicbird & a Tern sp. However, it was an excellent day overall for Cetaceans & other sealife.
Red-billed Tropicbird: This was distant & looking into the harsh light of the setting sunOn a couple of times during the Odyssey cruise, the Plancius had stopped for a few minutes to release a monitoring buoy & today we stopped to release another buoy. There are a number of nations that have released these monitoring buoys in recent years across all the oceans as part of scientific studies into the oceans and the motion of the oceans. There are over 3000 monitoring buoys currently in operation. They are planned to be released at exact pre-defined positions. Once released they submerge to preset depths, record a number of important properties of the ocean at the selected depth, before returning to the surface to broadcast the gathered information. This pattern is repeated as they drift with the ocean currents and thus provide important real time monitoring across all the oceans.
Monitoring buoyThere were some impressive clouds todayAfter a couple of days of not seeing any Cetaceans, they were back today. One of the highlights was a small pod of six Strap-toothed Beaked Whales. Unlike the Strap-toothed Beaked Whales seen on 8 Apr, these were better performers for the cameras, although I only managed to photograph four of the individuals.
Strap-toothed Beaked Whale: The initial view of the first individual
Strap-toothed Beaked Whale: A close up of the fin from the last photo showing it is pale coloured (in line with the fin of one of the Strap-toothed Beaked Whale from the 8 Apr)Strap-toothed Beaked Whale: This second individual has a more strongly marked finStrap-toothed Beaked Whale: A closer crop from the last photo shows it has a more obviously marked pale fin again suggesting it is a Strap-toothed Beaked Whale
Strap-toothed Beaked Whale: More of the back & dorsal fin showing a couple of dark diatoms near the waterline
Strap-toothed Beaked Whale: A final shot of this second individual
I seem to remember looking at the above photos with the camera already zoomed into the central image. As I scrolled between my photos, the camera remained zoomed in. Just afterwards Hans showed me one of his photos with the Sharp-toothed Beaked Whale head on view. I was really impressed as it is often so difficult to photograph the beaks of Beaked Whales. What I was not expecting when I checked the photos on my laptop that evening was to see the full frame image from the previous two photos. A good reason never to delete photos when they are on the back of the camera & zoomed in.
Strap-toothed Beaked Whale: Wow. One of my more surprising photos from the Odyssey. There were three individuals in the last photo, not one. I will focus on each individual in turn
Focusing first on the left hand individual, which I think is a female as I cannot see a white tusk sticking up from the base of the beak.
Strap-toothed Beaked Whale: Close crop of the left hand third individual. The distinctive black face & white beak is diagnostic for Strap-toothed Beaked Whales. Typically, the lower face would be a paler grey, but none of my photos show that area. I can't see a white tusk sticking up from the beak so I think this individual must be a female
Strap-toothed Beaked Whale: Another shot of the left hand third individual showing the start of the grey back behind the bulky black melon
Strap-toothed Beaked Whale: Another shot of the left hand third individual showing its pale grey back contrasting with the black face & melon. There is a dark diatom on the side close to the waterline & a distinctive vertical black line behind the melon
Strap-toothed Beaked Whale: A final photo of the left hand third individual (a minute later) as it passes the tip of the fin of another individualNow focusing on the right hand of the three individuals, which I think is also a female as I cannot see a white tusk.
Strap-toothed Beaked Whale: Close crop of the right hand fourth individual. Again, there is no sign of a white tusk on this individual so again I think it must be a femaleStrap-toothed Beaked Whale: Another shot of the right hand fourth individual which also shows the start of a grey back, but a less obvious melonStrap-toothed Beaked Whale: A shot of the right hand fourth individual showing the variation in the grey of its back & the black melon, which doesn't look as bulky as on the left hand individual
Strap-toothed Beaked Whale: A fifth individual which has a smaller white beak & a less extensive black melon. Presumably this is an immature individual
Strap-toothed Beaked Whale: Fifth individual. A bit more of the beak & melon
Strap-toothed Beaked Whale: More of the fifth individual. Unfortunately, I don't have an image of its dorsal finIt was really exciting to be able to get such great photographs of this distinctive species. Especially as the Strap-toothed Beaked Whales on 8 Apr had not preformed that well for us.
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15 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Seventeen: At Sea From Tristan Da Cunha To St Helena - Flying Squid

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 18:00
Throughout the day, I had been able to take photographs of some of the 500 plus Small Clearwing Flying Fish that I had seen. However, at one point, a group of what I assumed to be Flying Fish took off & glided away from the starboard side. I didn't try to look at them with the binoculars, but just lifted the camera to get some photos (there was never time to do both). I am really glad I did as they were actually Flying Squid. When they took off I could see with my naked eyes a long pale streamer that appeared to be several times their length. This had confused me as the other Flying Fish hadn't shown this streamer. I was even more confused when I saw the photos, as there was no pale streamer. But at least it was clear in my shots that I had photographed some Flying Squid. This was quickly explained by Marijke as Flying Squid propel themselves out of the water using a jet of water & the pale streamer that I had seen was the water jet. By the time, I had got the camera onto them, they had already run out of water. This did prove to be the best way to identify Flying Squid when I saw another party a couple of days later. There were a few other sightings on the Odyssey, but only a handful.
Flying Squid: They looked to be a bit over a foot long. They propel themselves with a jet water and fly tail first out of the sea. They went 15 - 20 metres before re-entering the water. They couldn't do multiple glides as the larger Flying Fish could, as they had already run out of water in the first glideFlying Squid: There is more than one species of Flying Squid so it is probably not possible to identify them to a species. However, they was another example of the fascinating & photogenic sealife we saw
Flying Squid: Four of the 25 individuals in this party
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15 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Seventeen: At Sea From Tristan Da Cunha To St Helena - Not everything That Flies At Sea Is A Bird

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 18:00
While the Seabirds were certainly quiet today as we were roughly half way between Tristan da Cunha & St Helena, it was still a memorable day. Already I had seen my first Atlantic White Marlin. On the first full day at sea after leaving Tristan da Cunha, I had seen a few Flying Fish. However, we encountered a lot more today & there were plenty of opportunities to try to capture a few photos. We seemed to see two main species of Flying Fish. The larger ones were roughly a foot long & were feeding individually or in small groups. The smaller ones were roughly half that size & we could disturb them in groups of 20 - 50 individuals at a time. When disturbed, they would leap out of the water & extend their flippers & glide as far as they could. The small ones generally went no more than 20 - 30 metres, before diving back into the water. The larger ones were more interesting. Their initial glide was often not much further, but at the end of their glide, they would dip their tails into the water, flick the tail side to side & this was enough to propel them for a further glide. Often they would go for three to five glides, having changed direction a bit after each occasion the tail touched the water, before finally re-entering the sea.
Geoff Jones: Geoff has taken many stunning photos of Flying Fish on previous trips & spent hours at a time at the bows looking for them just before they took off to get even more quality photos. Geoff's photos will eventually be added to his impressive website. For anybody with an interest in Seabirds or Flying Fish it is well worth spending some time enjoying the photos. I've not seen any websites with as many high quality images as Geoff has amassed over the years Glenn Overington & Mike Deverell failing to distract Geoff from looking for the next group of Flying FishThe best place to try to get the best photos of Flying Fish was the bows. The sea was generally fairly calm, with little chance of a rogue wave soaking you & more importantly the camera in salt water. Additionally, there was the best chance of seeing the Flying Fish just as they were starting to leap out of the water & you were generally closer to them. However, the bows were too low to generally spot Cetaceans & coupled with the likelihood you would be focusing on the first 20 metres, then it was a poor spot for Cetaceans. I decided to stick with watching from one of the bridge wings, choosing the side with the better light & trying to get out of the wind. It was not always possible to achieve both for a morning & afternoon, but generally I stuck to my preferred side till lunchtime & potentially swapped sides over lunch. This was a good compromise for both Cetaceans, as well as, Flying Fish. Even if you didn't have much interest in the Flying Fish themselves, they certainly helped to sharpen people's photographic skills, as you had only a few seconds to grab some photos before they were either too far away or had submerged. I wasn't happy about my camera settings as many of the photos were out of focus (as they had been for the Petrels & Shearwaters earlier in the Odyssey). It was about this time Marijke suggested changing one of the camera settings to refocus for each photo. Up to that point, the focus wasn't being recalculated as long as I kept the finger on the button. This was fine for static subjects, but little use for Seabirds or Flying Fish in motion. This certainly helped to improve the hit rate of in focus photos. Another setting I didn't have correct was getting the exposure correct for just the central of the photo. This also helped to improved the quality of my photos. This was yet another example of learning on the Odyssey. There were so many knowledgable people on board who had a lot of experience of identification, Seabirds, Cetaceans, other sealife, photography etc that it was a good place to learn. Perhaps some of the others on the Odyssey will learn the importance of packing an insulated coffee mug for the next trip.
My first Flying Fish: I've never been much of an artist. From a ferry between Ambon & Seram, Indonesia (21 Nov 1991)I can remember seeing my first Flying Fish. It was Nov 1991 & I was on a round the world trip with Birding mate, Keith Turner. We were in Indonesia as part of a 3 month trip to the country in the second half of 1991 (spread over 3 different entries to get around the 2 month visa rule). We succeeded in visiting most of the islands that the Bird Tour companies now visit over several tours. Generally we flew between islands, but had to take an inter island ferry to get from Ambon to Seram. On this inter island ferry, we saw a number of Flying Fish. My notes say they went around 20 metres, before dipping their tails into the water, flicked the tail & then starting another glide. The total distance was sometimes as far as 80 metres in flight. I didn't note their size, but I seem to remember it was around a foot: so they were one of larger, multi-gliding species. However, we never had much time to get onto them, before we lost them. Little did I know then that I would be able to get relatively high qualify photographs that would allow me to enjoy & identify the Flying Fish I was seeing 27 years on. Due to weight of field guides for the trip, I had decided to only take my small point & press camera for that leg of the trip. Not that my main camera, a primitive Olympus OM1 film camera with a 500mm Tamron lens, manual focus & only being able to take only one photo at a time would have stood a chance at getting any photos. Modern cameras have revolutionised photography & identification.
Small Clearwing: They were typically around 6 inches long, dark bluish upper body with pale undersides & clear wings with obvious veinsSmall Clearwing: Typically, they only glided once up to 20 -30 metres before submerging againSmall Clearwing: This one had just taken off & it is possible to see where its tail had been flicking the water to gain liftSmall Clearwing: Another just taking off. Typically as many as 20 - 50 Small Clearwings could be disturbed at the same time. Therefore, they must feed in reasonable size shoalsSmall Clearwing: The Flying Fish were popular with some of the Birders on the Plancius & seemed to be Geoff main focus for the rest of the trip while we were at sea. But there Philistines on the Plancius that ignored them as they are not on the IOC World Bird Checklist
The next problem was identifying them. I didn't get to many of the daily lectures on the Plancius as I generally wanted to be on deck. However, Marijke did give a talk on Flying Fish on the following day & I decided that was one talk that I really needed to attend. The good thing was Marijke & Hans were sharing duties on deck & Hans was ready to interrupt the talk if there was a good Cetacean sighting. So I was safe in the knowledge that we would hear about anything really good seen during the talk & with careful seating I could be quick out of the door & onto the deck. The Flying Fish talk wasn't interrupted, but when Hans interrupted one of Marijke's subsequent talks on Turtle Id with an Orca sighting, I was second on deck. The Flying Fish talk was based upon an identification pdf guide that Steve Howell & colleagues had written on Flying Fish identification based upon a Western Pacific Odyssey trip in Apr - May 2008. This was a trip from New Zealand up to Japan: so similar to our Odyssey except for the ocean involved. They had photographed as many species as possible on that trip & then tried to give them names. Clearly the naming process had taken place late at night & involved a fair bit of alcohol. However, this identification guide is a good starting point. While it was based upon the Tropical Pacific, most of the Flying Fish species we saw seemed to be in it. However, it is still a subject that is probably in its infancy & even the quality of the cameras has improved significantly in the last decade. As more photos emerge then it would be good to think that this will help to extend the knowledge of Flying Fish identification. The Flying Fish pdf can be downloaded by searching in Google for "A working guide to flyingfish of the Western Pacific Odyssey". Clearly, there is an assumption that similar looking species in the Atlantic will be the same species as found in similar latitudes in the Pacific. What is missing in this pdf are any scientific names, so it has not been possible to date to map these photos back to known specimens. This is probably not surprising given the difficulty of trying to preserve Fish and keep their actual colourations. It would be great if this could be a goal for a future identification guide, as well as, extending the knowledge of Flying Fish from other oceans. Steve Howell has also written a general introduction to flying fish in his book "The Amazing World of Flyingfish". This is an inexpensive & pleasant read, but again is not an identification guide.Small Clearwing: Starting to take off
Small Clearwing: Coping with a wave
Small Clearwing: Finally airborne
Small Clearwing: They clearly have a lot of control by moving their pectoral fins & extending the dorsal fin
In the Flying Fish identification pdf Steve Howell describes Small Clearwing as small, two-winged with broad clear, triangular forewings and a pink body stripe. It occurs between 10 and 18 degrees South. At 08:00 we were 29 degrees 23 minutes South (24 hours later we were at 24 degrees 50 minutes South), so clearly we were seeing this species further South than Howell et al found in the Pacific. It is an assumption that this species also occurs in the Atlantic. But without scientific names in the identification pdf, it is not easy to look into this further. However, Small Clearwing seems to be the only fit for these small two-winged Flying Fish. Subsequent searches on line suggest the scientific name might be Exocoetus volitans.
Small Clearwing: Another individual in flight
Small Clearwing: Fins up & stalling
Small Clearwing: Re-entry
Small Clearwing: Party of six
Small Clearwing: The white spots are water on the back reflecting the light
Small Clearwing: Another two reflecting the light
Small Clearwing: I saw at least 500 Small Clearwings during the day. However, this was probably a large undercount of the totals present
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15 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Seventeen: At Sea From Tristan Da Cunha To St Helena

Sun, 07/08/2018 - 18:00
One day further North & the sea temperature at first light had risen by 3 degrees to 25 degrees. The air temperature was only just lower. However, there was still a 20 knot NW wind to keep the temperature on deck a bit more bearable, providing you could keep out of the full force of the wind. It was not a day when I was going to get too excited by the Seabirds as I only saw five in the whole day: two Spectacled Petrels & singles of Great-winged Petrel, Sooty Shearwater & the first Red-billed Tropicbird of the trip. I managed to go through the whole day not taking any Seabird photographs as the Red-billed Tropicbird was not close to the Plancius.
The Plancius's Flag: It only needs to last for another couple of weeksThis was going to be a typical day in the middle of the deep Tropical oceans. The Birders & photographers on the ship could now be separated into different categories: those who had wider wildlife interests were still just as active on deck. Many hung around on the top deck reading books, dozing & chatting, but being present should any of us active watchers find them something to walk over to the railings to look at. However, the purely hardcore Birders rarely ventured on deck for more than a few minutes & seem to find other things to do e.g. the two county recorders on the ship disappeared to write sections of their respective Bird Reports. Personally, I think the pure Birders were missing out on the bigger wildlife experience. But at least it meant the decks weren't clogged up with them moaning about the lack of Birds: but it didn't stop that happening when I went into the observation lounge (for a caffeine refill). I had switched into Cetacean & Flying Fish watching as we were starting to get into the Flying Fish zone. This kept me looking hard which would eventually pay off with bonus Birds & Cetaceans. However, this was the second day in a row when I had spent the majority of the day on deck, but I hadn't seen any Cetaceans. Around this time in the trip, I generally didn't appear on deck for long before the 08:00 breakfast call. After a few days I realised this was a mistake as often there was an early morning Cetacean sighting or two before breakfast. Today, it was a group of distant Humpback Whales that I had missed by having a lazy start. Within a few days, I had learnt my lesson & was getting out for an extra hour & a half before the breakfast call.
Rainbow: The affects of passing through a few light showers during the dayHowever, once on deck I was spending most of the rest of the daylight hours looking & had also started skipping lunch as that seemed to be a statistically higher time for Cetacean sightings. Missing lunch helped to keep the calorie intake more under control, apart from the number of biscuits eating in lieu of lunch. By keeping looking for Cetaceans & Flying Fish, I was well placed on the starboard bridge wing to pick up an Atlantic White Marlin that came down the starboard side about 20 metres off the side of the ship. It seemed to be around 5 - 6 foot long. Looking at the photos later I could see the elongated bill which I hadn't noticed when I was watching & photographing it. So perhaps it was another foot or more longer. The camera is remarkably good to allow me to look through it & watch my subject. With the internal magnification of the Canon 7D body, it is about 13x magnification. While it is a higher magnification that the 10x binoculars, it is obviously not as good an image. However, once I start taking pictures using the motor-wind, while the image is good enough to follow the subject, it is not possible to see any detail as the image is constantly flashing. So it is not surprising I didn't see the bill when I was watching it through the camera.
Atlantic White Marlin: When I found it I thought it was a Blue Shark given the extent of the turquoise blue colouration from the front fins
Atlantic White Marlin: When the tail fin dropped below the surface it became an eerie turquoise blue shape in the water
Atlantic White Marlin: As the waves moved above its body, it was sometimes possible to see more of the body
Atlantic White Marlin: This photo shows it clearly had a long thin bill. This long bill confirms it is one of the Billfish (i.e. Atlantic Sailfish, Atlantic White Marlin or Atlantic Blue Marlin), rather than a Blue Shark which had a typical broad Shark's head. It also shows the length of the front pectoral fin. The lack of obvious vertical pale stripes on the body makes this an Atlantic White Marlin. It was too large to be the similar looking Roundscale Spearfish, but that occurs around the Canaries & Madeira Islands, the Iberian Peninsula and the Mediterranean & we were far too far South for that species. Illustrations usually show the dorsal fin of the Billfish which runs along most of the body as up, however, I gather they often swim with the dorsal fin downAtlantic White Marlin: This was my first & the best views of Atlantic White Marlin. I saw them on a couple of other occasions off Ascension Island & at sea off Portugal on the follow on West African Pelagic
Only a handful of us got onto this Atlantic White Marlin & it was easily the best views of this species seen on the Odyssey or subsequent West African Pelagic. Another exciting part of the overall wildlife experience that was keeping me going on these quieter days at sea.Fishing buoy
It was depressing that we were over 600 nautical miles from the nearest land on Tristan da Cunha & St Helena and yet we saw a number of items of marine rubbish in the sea.Remains of a fishing net: This might provide some shade & cover for small fish & potentially somewhere for sealife to lay eggs on. However, it might also ensnare a Turtle. Marijke told us to check & photograph larger floating objects as she had seen a number of Turtles feeding around them
Floating crate
Red-billed Tropicbottle: Photos of Red-billed Tropicbird to come soon
The sky became quite atmospheric during the late afternoonDespite the threat, there wasn't a lot of rain There clearly wasn't any chance of seeing the green flash this evening
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14 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Sixteen: At Sea From Tristan Da Cunha To St Helena

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 17:14
Today was the first of four full days at sea between Tristan da Cunha & St Helena. It was an ominous start to the day looking at the weather. Fortunately, the weather picked up during the day.
Early morning view from the PlanciusWe were now at the start of the warmer tropical waters. At dawn, the sea temperature was 22 degrees which compared with 20 degrees at Tristan da Cunha, 16 degrees at Gough Island, 12 degrees for the two days before Gough Island and a mere 3 degrees around South Georgia & for the first two days after leaving South Georgia. The warmer waters & being back in deep ocean meant we were destined to see low numbers of Seabirds during the day. My personal counts were a single Yellow-nosed Albatross, 2 Sooty Albatrosses, 8+ Great-winged Petrels, 15+ Soft-plumaged Petrels, 15+ Spectacled Petrels & a lone Storm-petrel sp. It was the last day I was to see most of these species with only a couple of Great-winged Petrels & Spectacled Petrels lasting for a final day.
Soft-plumaged Petrel: The last day I was to see any of these great Pterodromas Spectacled Petrel: I only saw two more on the following dayAs well as the last of the cold Southern ocean Seabirds, we saw the first Cory's Shearwater cross the bows in the late afternoon. It was the only one we saw until we left St Helena & started heading for Ascension Island, so was well away from the main Cory's Shearwater waters.
Cory's Sheawater: The extend of black in the wing tip makes this a Cory's Shearwater. There is a lot less white in the outer primaries of Scopoli's Shearwaters. I will come back to the separation of these two subspecies later in one of the future Odyssey PostsAlthough we didn't see any Cetaceans during the day, we did manage to see a Blue Shark, as well as, another Shark sp.
Blue Shark: It was probably only 20 metres off the side of the Plancius
Blue Shark: I saw a few Sharks during the trip, but few could be identified. Generally, all I saw was a dorsal or tail fin breaking the surface & on several occasions these were also at some distance in front of the Plancius & they had disappeared underwater before we got closer. However, we did manage to identify some of the Sharks seen & I'll come back to them in a later Post
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19 Jun 18 - Deja Vu (Almost)

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 18:00
I was sorting out some photos for another Odyssey Blog Post, when I noticed that the Elegant Tern has reappeared in the Sandwich Tern & Mediterranean Gull colony at Pagham Harbour according to the Rare Bird Alert team. Having seen the Elegant Tern there last year when it was finally pinned down to the Pagham colony I wasn't desperately keen to dash back there again, especially as it was the start of the afternoon commute period. A couple of hours later, I checked the RBA website & found that the identification had been updated a few minutes before. It was now considered to be the American Royal Tern that had been moving around between the Channel Islands & Northern France since Feb 17. It was now 18:40 & should be a two hour journey to Pagham. Grabbing the camera & optics, I headed straight out of the door, as I made a few quick calls to locals who might head off straight away for it. Fortunately, the traffic was light as there was some footie on the TV & I pulled into the car park at Church Norton just after 20:30. The car park was packed, but somebody was about to go & I managed to slot into that space. Five minutes later I arrived at the beach & spotted Edge & some of my old Southampton Birding mates. A look through one of their telescopes quickly got me onto where it was walking around in the colony. It's a bit far to the colony for decent photos, but the light was good & it was on view: so I wasn't going to complain. I grabbed a few photos over the next thirty minutes before the light started to fade. I couldn't leave as Peter Moore was still en route & I had said I would stay to ensure he could get to see it. Finally, Peter arrived & the pressure for him was off. He wasn't in when I rang him, so I couldn't have picked him up en route. But I was planning to stay over if I hadn't seen it, so sharing a lift on this occasion wouldn't have worked anyway.
Part of the Pagham Harbour Tern colony: The Royal Tern was just to the right of the bungalow with the white end
Royal Tern: Close crop of the last photoI had seen the Royal Tern in Ireland in 2016. However, this was a British & English Tick so was worth making the effort. Secondly, this individual has been identified as the American subspecies, whereas the Irish Royal Tern had been identified as the African subspecies (both identified based on DNA samples). There have been suggestions in recent years that the two subspecies could be split at some point in the future. It wouldn't make any difference to my British List, however, there is a potential Tick in those circumstances to my British & Irish List.
Royal Tern: Another harsh crop. However, I'm just grateful I was able to see it that evening as it was too far for many Birders to get there after the news brokeThe following morning the Royal Tern disappeared out to sea just after 04:35 & was never seen again. I wasn't too worried at this point as I had seen it, but I did feel sorry for those Birders who hadn't made it by dawn. Generally, I like to wait on news, but rare Terns are the exception that make me want to be there pre-dawn (if I can't see them the evening before), as they have a habit of disappearing out of Tern colonies very early.
Royal Tern: About half an hour after I arrived, the light started to goI had a pleasant day sorting more Odyssey photos, until 20:15 that evening, when I checked the RBA website & found the Royal Tern had been seen again at Lodmoor, before flying out to sea. Here we go again. I skipped the camera as the light would have been poor & again raced out of the door, whilst ringing locals. Another footie match & quiet roads & I arrived around 20:45. There was a group of about 15-20 locals on the beach scanning the bay & chatting, but it was negative news. Well it was only going to be an hour or so until it got dark, so I decided to wait it out. Around 21:30 a few people started departing, but I was going to stay to close to last light, before moving for a final check of the Lodmoor Tern islands. At 21:35, Marcus Lawson rang to say he had just found it sitting on a buoy out in Portland Harbour & visible from the Billy Winters cafe at Ferrybridge. I shouted the update to the other Birders & ran to the car. Ten minutes later, I was pulling into the Billy Winters car park & was first to Marcus's telescope which was trained on the buoy. I became the first Birder to have seen it on consecutive nights in different English counties. I think Julian Thomas was the only only person to get the double when he arrived after 22:00. Again, it disappeared first thing in the morning & only one or two people managed to see it. As I write this Post at the start of July, it hasn't been refound in the country. But there must be a reasonable chance it will pop up in another Tern colony somewhere on the South coast in the next few weeks.
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30 Jun 18 - Island Butterflies

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 18:00
The previous Post covered the trip to the Isle of Wight for Southern Emerald Damselflies. This Post covers some of the Butterflies seen at Bouldnor Forest. With the Southern Emerald Damselflies being the main target, I only spent a few minutes photographing the Butterflies. However, it is clearly a reasonable site for Butterflies & would be clearly worth exploring if time permitted. I saw several Marbled Whites, White Admirals, Silver-washed Fritillaries & a Purple Hairstreak without making any effort to search for Butterflies.
White Admiral: There were several along the entrance trackPurple Hairstreak: It was feeding on salts in the mud. I've seen Butterflies doing this on muddy edged puddles on many occasions in the Tropics, but I've not seen them do it very often in the UK. One of the Silver-washed Fritillaries was also doing the same, but it wouldn't pose for a photograph. It was also nice to see a Purple Hairstreak on the ground rather in the treetops
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30 Jun 18 - An Island Dragon

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 16:35
I'm sure there are plenty of early maps with Dragons on remote islands & the plan for the weekend to go Dragon hunting on an island. The sun was shining & it was baking hot. I left early to ensure I didn't get held up with traffic & arrived just after 9:15 for the 10:00 pelagic. I was due to meet mate Gav MacLean just before the start of the pelagic, but I had a last minute text that South West trains had chosen not to do joined up thinking & hold his Brockenhurst connection for a minute to allow him to join me. Better to leave 30 passengers on the platform than wait a minute for them. After handing over a small fortune I was off Dragon hunting on my own. But first there was a pelagic.
The start of the Hampshire pelagic goes past a Tern & Gull colony: Unfortunately, no golden-billed Royal Terns with them todayHurst Castle: Given it's Hampshire it is not up to the standard of Florida's Dry Tortugas for Birding. I'm surprised that the Brexit camp haven't started refortifying it again keep the Frenchies outThe Needles: The other Western gateway to the Solent
Fort Albert: Having been completed in 1856 to help protect the Solent from attack by Napoleon III, it was obsolete soon after. However, the military didn't finally leave until 1957. It has now been converted to private flatsThe pelagic was over after just 40 minutes as the ferry pulled into Yarmouth: One Gannet on the IoW side was the highlightYarmouth Castle cannonIt was a 2 mile walk to Bouldnor Forest, the Dragon site: Fortunately, I avoided the guarding Red SquirrelsAfter about 45 minutes, I arrived at a clearing in Bouldnor Forest & started looking for the Dragonfly pools. There were a number of medium to large interesting looking pools surrounded by knee high vegetation. I spent an hour looking around them. However, they were far too open to be the pools I was interested in. My target for the day was the recently arrived Southern Emerald Damselfly. They were first found in Norfolk in 2002 & have been recorded at a few sites on the East coast of East Anglia & Kent. I was discussing with my mate Edge about looking for them this year in Kent & Edge said they had recently been discovered at a site on the Western end of the Isle of Wight. He was planning to go over with Gav this summer. Unfortunately, Edge wasn't available this particular weekend. Gav was still up for going & with two of us heading over, our chances of seeing them would be increased by having more eyes looking. Pity South West Trains had other ideas. We didn't have a lot to go on other than local Dragonfly photographer Peter Hunt's excellent Blog This is a great blog with lots of good photos of the Island's Dragonflies & other wildlife. The blog showed photos of the two heavily overgrown breeding pools that Peter had seen the Southern Emerald Damselflies around. It was Peter's photographs of the Southern Emerald Damselflies that allowed a sharp-eyed Dragonfly records officer at the British Dragonfly Society to identify them as a new species for the Isle of Wight in 2017. Subsequent checks through Peter's photographs confirmed that they had been present since 2015. Unlike the Kent & Norfolk populations of Southern Emerald Damseflies which are best looked for during the school holidays, the IoW ones are on the wing in June. So it was getting towards the end of their season, especially given how hot & dry the last few weeks have been.
Emperor Dragonfly: Female egg laying Broad-bodied Chaser: Male
Emerald Damselfly: Teneral. I saw about a dozen Emerald Damselflies
Water Strider: This is the largest UK Pond Skater & favours still water
Water Strider: Their large size & the presence of two upturned spurs at the end of the abdomen makes this easier to identify than most of the other Pond Skaters. Only the left hand spur is visible in this photo Interesting as the pools were with many Dragonflies, I knew I still had to keep looking to find the right pools.
The smaller of the two pools: Virtually dried up so I assume that Southern Emerald Damselflies are able to lay eggs which can survive for a number of months without waterFinally, I stumbled on the smaller of the two pools, just as Gav was arriving after catching the ferry an hour after my ferry. Gav headed off to check the other pools. I carried on looking & soon after found the other pool with somebody else there. Not surprisingly it was Peter Hunt who had arrived between Gav & myself, but he had gone straight to the breeding pools. I called Gav over as Peter had seen one individual, but when we looked it had moved on.
The larger of the two pools: Even more dried up. I guess being able to survive until the next rains fill the pools up helps to cut down the competition for food & being eaten by other Dragonfly larvaSouthern Emerald Damselfly: My initial view
Southern Emerald Damselfly: Getting better. The two-tone pterostigma are one of the features for Southern Emerald Damselflies Southern Emerald Damselfly: The wings are typically held at 45 degrees to the body. Note, the reddish colouration in the wings is purely the way the light is catching the wingsSouthern Emerald Damselfly: Close up showing the pale sides to the thorax & the pale patch at the back of the head which are also important featuresSouthern Emerald Damselfly: Close up of the two-tone pterostigma (Emerald Damselflies have uniform dark pterostigma)Southern Emerald Damselfly: The second individualSouthern Emerald Damselfly: Close up of the head & thoraxSouthern Emerald Damselfly: The second individualSouthern Emerald Damselfly: All Dragonflies & Damselflies are amazing close up. You wouldn't want to meet them if you were a small InsectSouthern Emerald Damselfly: At last a better photoSouthern Emerald Damselfly: Close up of the head & shoulders markingsSouthern Emerald Damselfly: Close up of the two-tone pterostigmaIt had been a good day trip seeing my last regularly breeding English Dragonfly. I have just got to see Dainty Damselfly if they get pinned down again, all the the Scottish Dragonflies & a few more vagrants.
Southern Hawker: Male perched up along the track back to the road
I had expected the pelagic back was going to be pretty quiet, so the lure of a coffee & cake got the better of me after several hours in the strong sun. However, as the final photo showed it threw up a surprise find.
I didn't expect to see a Jackass type Penguin as we left Yarmouth
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24 June 18 - One That Got Away

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 20:22
I had a mid morning call from Paul Morton from the Birds of Poole Harbour team. He had just seen an email from a member of the public. A distant summer plumage Plover, but which he though looked like an American Golden Plover. The initial photo taken by Debbie Derrick has been published on the BoPH June 18 Sightings page. It had been seen on 4 occasions between 18 & 22 Jun. Looking at the photo, it certainly looked a reasonable identification, albeit it was distant. I was about to leave when Paul rang back. He had forwarded the photo to Killian Mullarney & had a thumbs up to the identification.

It had been photographed on the outer side of Redhorn Quay, which is the point that separates Brands Bay from what most locals regard as the outer Brands Bay (but pedantically is Plateau Bay). I arrived about ten minutes later & headed straight for Redhorn Quay, while local Poole Birder, Shaun Robson headed to Jerry's Point. Jerry's Point is closer to the ferry & gives views over the outer part of the Studland peninsula. We both had excellent views of people, uncontrolled dogs & people who are into the latest craze of standing on boards & paddling around on them close to the shoreline. But sadly no sign of the American Golden Plover. We both planned to meet up in the Brands Bay hide. This gives better views of Brands Bay, but I had already had a fairly reasonable view of Brands Bay so I was fairly confident it wouldn't be on view from there: I was correct. On the way to the hide, I ran into my mate Peter Moore who having arrived & already heard the negative news was getting distracted with the Silver-studded Blues. It seemed the best option in the circumstances.
Silver-studded Blue: They seemed to be having a good year locally with the current heatwaveA had another look at Brands Bay in the early evening as it should have quietened down & there was footie to keep most of Joe Public indoors. Unfortunately, still no joy. Then it was onto the Middlebere hide in the hope it might have relocated to Middlebere on the rising tide. Again no luck, but there was a reasonable selection of Waders to keep me occupied & a 1st Summer Spoonbill.
Spoonbill: 1st Summer. This was presumably the individual that had been moving around Poole Harbour in recent days. It disappeared to roost soon after I arrived. Middlebere is a popular Spoonbills pre-roost site, but they don't roost thereAfter grabbing a few photos of the Spoonbill, I carried on scanning the exposed mud in the hope that the American Golden Plover would arrive. As a result, I never saw the Spoonbill depart. Subsequently, this would have been interesting to have seen it go to see the extent of the black in the wing tips. At the time, I aged this Spoonbill as a first summer on the basis of the bill colour, lack of plumes & white breast. As I'm writing this Post I thought I would have a quick check on ageing of first summer Spoonbills & found an article on Surfbirds by Alexander Hellquist. This shows that ageing isn't as straight-forward as I though & second summer individuals Spoonbill should also be considered. First summer individuals sometimes show a white tuft instead of a full plumes, but often won't show a crest, do not show the adult's yellow breast band, have an extensive yellow tipped bill with a grey base, grey legs, a (brownish) red iris (far too far away to determine iris colour) & have extensive black in the wing tips (not seen in flight). In comparison, second summer individuals generally show a short white plume, will not show the adult's yellow breast band, have more yellow in the bill tip than adults, have darker grey legs than a first summer (but no others for comparison), have an intensive red eye & little in the way of black in the wing tips. There appears to be a bit of fleshy pink colouration in the base of the bill (which juvenile individuals show) & coupled with the lack of a crest (although that isn't diagnostic), then I guess this is still a first summer individual. But I would welcome any comments. Spoonbill: 1st SummerSpoonbill: 1st Summer. A closer crop. Does the pinkish edges to the bill & the lack of any crest make it more likely to be a first summerSpoonbill: 1st SummerSpoonbill: 1st Summer. A closer crop. The bill tip looks fleshy, but there is generally a warm evening light at Middlebere at this time of the yearThere was no sign of the American Golden Plover, but I was pleased to see a flyover Great White Egret which was in heavy wing moult on the innermost primaries. We weren't aware there had been a Great White Egret in Poole Harbour since early Spring, so had it just arrived or been overlooked. I saw it again in flight on the following evening. I've now given up on the search for the American Golden Plover & as the tides aren't great for middlebere at the moment, I've not been down to see if I can get more views of the Great White Egret. Only four years ago, we had the first properly twitchable Great White Egret in Poole Harbour. After four years of overwintering involving up to three individuals then we are now fairly balse about local Great White Egrets: how times change.
Sika Deer: Seen enjoying the evening sun on the following evening's visit to Middlebere (25 Jun 18)
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27 Jun 18 - An Old Friend?

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 17:43
Early evening I had a call from local Birder, Peter Williams. I don't get many calls from Peter, but generally when I do get a call it will be due to something good. So my mind was already whirling around to try & figure out what it might be in late June, with Rose-coloured Starling being the most likely candidate. Peter beat my candidate: a Hooded Crow that was sitting in his garden in Worth Matravers. He was pleased as it was a Garden Tick & he is now only a handful of species left to reach 150 species seen from the garden, with well over 100 species actually in the garden. But his house in Worth Matravers has great views down Winspit valley, which many Birders will remember as the site of the first twitchable mainland Red-flanked Bluetail. I asked if he would mind if I popped up & he said that would be fine. I stopped long enough to grab the camera & bins on the way out of the door. A few minutes later I arrived at Peter's & he opened the door saying it was still there.
Hooded Crow: It looked clean from the frontThe Hooded Crow was happily sitting in his pine tree & was visible from Peter & Yvonne's patio. Most of my photos have been taken through the patio glass. When Peter first found it, it was feeding on his lawn.
Hooded Crow: After a while it turned around confirming the upperparts also looked good for a Hooded Crow
Hooded Crow: I'm not aware of any previous records for Winspit or St AldhelmsFinally, it turned around & dropped onto the lawn to feed for few minutes. Fortunately, the patio door was open & I could carefully pop my head & camera out of the door.
Hooded Crow: A great looking individualAfter five minutes on the lawn, it returned to the Pine tree again. Unfortunately, soon after it was spotted by the local Carrion Crow which arrived & chased it off towards the East of the village. The Hooded Crow seemed slightly smaller & less bulky in flight than the Carrion Crow, but I only had a brief comparison in flight. The Carrion Crow didn't take long to return, so perhaps the Hooded Crow didn't go too far to get outside of the Carrion Crow's territory. I had a quick look in the fields immediately to the East of the village, but I couldn't see it. However, I didn't have time for a more extensive search. The big question was this the Hooded Crow that I found back on 27 Aug 17 at Ballard Down on my Studland patch. It remained around Ballard Down up until early Jan 18, but there have been no further sightings to my knowledge. So is it the same individual that had wandered about five miles further West? The Studland individual was only the fifth record for Poole Harbour & the first since 1991, so they are clearly rare in the local area. But I guess we will never know for sure.
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13 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Sixteen: Blue Whale

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 12:00
It had been a mixed day so far. First there was the disappointment with not being able to get a landing or even a zodiac cruise around Nightingale Island & Inaccessible Island: the two offshore islands of the Tristan da Cunha group. This was followed by some good Seabirds as we left Tristan da Cunha including the chance to get some photos of White-bellied Storm-petrels. Later that afternoon we had a magical, prolonged encounter with a pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins in excellent light. The afternoon quietened down & many people disappeared down to the observation lounge towards the late afternoon. I suspect there had been an announcement of a late afternoon happy hour drinks. There were only a few of us were left on the bridge wing, when 20 minutes before last reasonable light, Josh Beck picked up a close diving Whale. It appeared very soon after & this time, Hans who was one of the Expedition team got onto it & immediately identified it as an 95% Blue Whale. Again it dived before I got onto it. The pressure had now increased as seeing a Blue Whale was one of my top targets for the Odyssey. Hans dived into the bridge & asked for the Plancius to be stopped. Fortunately, it reappeared & this time I got onto it. It was close & very big. Hans had also seen it again & happy it was a Blue Whale, he put out an announcement on the Plancius's tannoy: which resulted on people pouring out onto all decks.
Blue Whale: A blurry photo after my initial view. They have a small dorsal fin, especially considering how big they are
Although it was one of my top targets for the Odyssey, I knew that the chances of seeing a Blue Whale were not very high. In the reports I had seen they had only been seen in three out of seven years. What I had forgotten was in two of those years they were seen around South Georgia & in the third it was somewhere on the journey from South Georgia to Tristan da Cunha. So we had already passed through the best waters. There had already been a brief sighting on the 7 April about halfway between South Georgia & Tristan da Cunha, but I hadn't see that. So we were really lucky to have encountered this individual. Especially as it was further North than on the previous successful Odyssey trips. It was later identified as an immature Blue Whale of the Antarctic population (B. musculus intermedia). It seemed quite curious about us & perhaps that's why it hung around the Plancius for the last fifteen minutes of light. It is a pity we hadn't seen it earlier in the afternoon when the light was better, but nobody was complaining.Blue Whale underwater: It's not easy to see on this photo, but there is a paler turquoise colour to the sea across the middle (horizontal) part of this photo: this is the Blue Whale. It was clearer to see in real life, than this photo suggests. This colouration allowed us to watch its movements underwater when it went into a shallow dive. I was confused as when the Blue Whale surfaced, it looked medium grey, but underwater it appeared to be this pale turquoise colour. I was later told that was down to us being able to see the real colour of the first few meters of sea, without any of the darkness of the deeper sea coming through & so we were actually seeing the sea above it, rather than the Blue WhaleThe next time it surfaced was very close to the Plancius. I quickly pulled the 100-400mm into so I would have more chance of fitting it into the picture. Looking at the photos as I write this Post, I was using an 135mm lens & the exposed parts of the Blue Whale didn't fit into the photo, even allowing for only about half of its body was on view above the water. That's the combination of the largest animal every known to science & how close it was.
Blue Whale: This photo shows the large head, the protective ridge either side of the blow hole & part of the long backBlue Whale: Starting a gentle blowBlue Whale: Clearly a gentle blow as a strong blow can form a column up to 12 metres highBlue Whale: This gentle blow quickly disperses. To me, this shows how difficult to try identifying Whales on their blow alone, as I don't this wouldn't have been possible to identify as a Blue Whale at a distance on this blowBlue Whale: The blow was quickly over
Blue Whale: As its head dipped below the surface, we were able to see more of the back. There were a lot of blotchy diatom markings on it caused by algae blooms on the skin (similar to the diatoms markings we saw on the Strap-toothed Beaked Whale). Blue Whales are the only large Whale that shows these diatoms
Blue Whale: The back is so long that we didn't see the dorsal fin before it dived
Blue Whale: A better view of the central back & the dorsal fin It surfaced on several more occasions, The light was poor & getting worse by the minute and consequently, the photos were not as good as earlier in the encounter. This Blue Whale certainly helped to make up for the disappointments with the lack of landings or zodiac cruises at Nightingale & Inaccessible Islands.
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