9 Jan 2018

Doing our homework

After a ten-week trip there is always a lot of material to post, but also a risk that this blog could be re-named “John’s What I did on my Trip Blog”.

So, some Hong Kong birds this time. We have tried to catch up with some of the rarities reported during our absence.

Fortunately, three of these have hung around long enough for us to find them…
Rook - Corvus frugilegus
The rainy weather today has not seemed to bother a Rook, first sighted in October 2017.  According to the “Avifauna of Hong Kong” (2001) old reports of Rook were disregarded due to the possibility of misidentifications. But it seems fairly certain that this IS a first-year Rook…

Rook - Corvus frugilegus
….the Records Committee will have to scratch their heads about the likelihood of this being a wild bird or not.

Next, some common farmland birds…..
Stejneger's Stonechat - Saxicola stejnegeri

Masked Laughingthrush - Garrulax perspicillatus

Japanese White-Eye - Zosterops japonicus

Then, HK’s third Black Redstart which has been in Long Valley (an area of vegetable fields) since last October. It has established a winter territory in one small area, and, armed with directions from David Diskin, we found this fairly quickly. 
Black Redstart - Phoenicurus ochrurus

Near Brides Pool, NE New Territories, a supporting cast of wintering flycatchers.

Verditer Flycatcher - Eumyias thalassina

Mugimaki Flycatcher - Ficedula mugimaki

Asian Brown Flycatcher - Muscicapa dauurica

The flycatchers were "supporting" a first for several years species Crested Kingfisher, reported along the banks of Plover Cove Reservoir, near Chung Mei. I'll never tire of birds like this.

Crested Kingfisher - Ceryle lugubris

 My "safety shot" at long range - it flew off before I could get closer and I couldn't re-find it !

Another blog concept:-  "Miles Away but charismatic, honestly"

8 Jan 2018

Seabirding in the Humboldt Current - Part 2

Galapagos Petrel - Pterodroma phaeopygia

Waved Albatrosses were an almost constant presence as we approached the Galapagos Island group on the last few days of the voyage.

Waved Albatross - Phoebastria irrorata

Waved Albatross - Phoebastria irrorata

They would fly up from the wake and land, expectantly, beside the boat.  If they thought Sauvage was a trawler, they would have been disappointed at the absence of fish.

Waved Albatross - Phoebastria irrorata

Waved Albatross - Phoebastria irrorata
Unlike most of the other birds, at least “filling the frame” with them wasn’t hard.

White-chinned Petrel and Black Petrels were also seen....

White-chinned Petrel - Procellaria aequinoctialis

Black Petrel - Procellaria parkinsoni

Black Petrel - Procellaria parkinsoni

Hornby’s Storm-Petrels lived up to their reputation as being very “pelagic” - always hunting far from land.

Hornby's (Ringed) Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma hornbyi 

Hornby's (Ringed) Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma hornbyi 

The numbers of Elliot’s SPs dropped as we headed away from the South American mainland, and the proportion of Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels increased in mid-passage, until they were the commonest Storm-Petrel in the wake.

Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma tethys

Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma tethys

In the right light conditions their rumps looked very bright indeed.

Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma tethys

Occasionally the Wedge-rumped party was interrupted by two other Storm-Petrel species, neither of which lingered for long.

Leach’s Storm-Petrel -  the “split” in the white rump being a good feature,  but any brown-rumped Leach’s would have been baffling.

Leach's Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma leucorhoa

Leach's Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma leucorhoa

A few Band-rumped (Madeiran) Storm-Petrels appeared.  If the Pacific forms of Oceanodroma castro get split then the Galapagos population may become known as “Darwin’s” SPs. 

(Centre) Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma castro

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma castro

Frigatebirds appeared, with the possibility of Magnificent or Great.

Great Frigatebird - Fregata minor

Magnificent Frigatebird and Nazca Booby

Magnificent Frigatebird and Nazca Booby

Magnificent Frigatebird - Fregata magnificens

I should mention that Rob Tizard diligently put several lists on eBird for every day we were at sea.

Finally, we started to get regular appearances of Galapagos Petrels.  Many avoided the boat, or were seen in poor light, but we got some good results eventually.

Galapagos Petrel - Pterodroma phaeopygia

Galapagos Petrel - Pterodroma phaeopygia

Galapagos Petrel - Pterodroma phaeopygia

Galapagos Petrel - Pterodroma phaeopygia

Galapagos Petrel - Pterodroma phaeopygia

Galapagos Shearwaters were seen with increasing regularity.  Always low and unobtrusive, these usually attracted notice as they were already passing the boat.

Galapagos Shearwater - Puffinus subalaris

A big pod of Short-finned Pilot whales provided our main cetacean excitement. There had been other sightings of whales and dolphins, but these Pilot Whales were right beside the boat at one stage.

One late-trip afternoon in the sunshine gave us a chance to improve our Storm-Petrel portfolios, and Elliot’s had started to re-appear by then.

Elliot's Storm-Petrel - Oceanites gracilis

Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma tethys

On our final run-in to Puerto Ayora we passed close to the west of Santa Fe (Barrington) Island, where we could see the nest cavities of Swallow-tailed Gulls. Close flypasts of rafting Galapagos Shearwaters were a photographic challenge.

Swallow-tailed Gull - Santa Fe Island

Galapagos Shearwater - Puffinus subalaris

Galapagos Shearwater - Puffinus subalaris

At last, Puerto Ayora. There was a whole range of seabirds in the harbour, from Elliot’s Storm-Petrels to Magnificent Frigatebirds….

Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galapagos
But the Galapagos Islands are another story.

Thanks again to Didier and Sopie Wattrelot of Yacht Sauvage for looking after us, and to Kirk Zufelt, Mike Danzenbaker, Geoff Jones and Rob Tizard for their entertaining company during the trip.

2 Jan 2018

Seabirding in the Humboldt Current - Part 1

Elliot's (White-vented) Storm-Petrel - Oceanites gracilis

The main reason for our trip to South America was a voyage scheduled from 23rd October to 16th November 2017 on Yacht Sauvage

Kirk Zufelt initiated and organised the trip.  The attraction of eastern pacific seabirds framed between two exotic locations was irresistible to us.  

Start: Port of Arica, north Chile

End: Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galapagos (Ecuador)

Our other companions were:

Inca Tern - Larosterna inca
BIF practice from the deck

Peruvian Pelican - Pelecanus thagus

While still in Arica Port we practised photographing Inca terns and - more easily - Peruvian Pelicans while we waited for the Chilean Immigration officials to chop our passports “Departed”.

El Morro, Arica

Exit formalities done, we had a fine view of the flag above “El Morro” lookout as we sailed away.

We saw Peruvian Boobies, Peruvian Diving Petrel and the very localised Peruvian Tern.

Peruvian Booby - Sula variegata

Peruvian Diving Petrel - Pelecanoides garnoti

Peruvian Tern - Sterna lorata

In late afternoon, about 12km from the coast, we came across a decaying sea lion carcass, attended by a flock of 25-30 Storm-Petrels (mostly Elliot’s but with a few Wilson’s among them). 

A single Northern Giant Petrel exemplified some extremes of tubenose size.

We drifted around near the Storm-Petrels, trying to get shots that didn’t show too much dead sea lion.  An alien presence was noted in the air - a Peregrine. It swooped towards us and took one of the SPs from the surface of the water. 

The Peregrine was so quick that that the other birds didn’t seem to notice that one of their number was missing.

And, forty minutes later, in the fading light, the Peregrine did it again.

We were 30km offshore at dawn the following day. Overcast and cool, the effect of the cold-water Humboldt current was keenly felt.  We had first views of Markham’s Storm-petrels and made our first sightings of Swallow-tailed Gulls as well as many Sooty Shearwaters. 

Sooty Shearwater - Puffinus griseus

Markham's Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma markhami

Temperatures on board were cool but comfortable, and we all settled into spending lots of time on deck.

Cockpit of Yacht Sauvage

Pink-footed Shearwater -Puffinus creatopus
Morning fog cleared around midday, a weather pattern often repeated during the trip.

Swallow-tailed Gull - Creagrus furcatus

Markham's Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma markhami

Markham's Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma markhami

There were terns, including Elegant, South American, Inca and Black, with regular  appearances of jaegers to harry them. (As we were in he Americas I’ve used “jaeger” rather than “skua” in the photo captions).

Long-tailed Jaeger - Stercorarius longicaudus

South American Tern - Sterna hirundinacea

Elegant Tern - Sterna elegans

Elegant Tern and Pomarine Jaeger

A daytime drip of menhaden fish oil meant that we were never without a  following of Storm-Petrels in the wake of the Sauvage, but which Storm-Petrel species were there did vary as the route progressed. We started out with mostly Elliot's but later there were more Wedge-rumped.

Hornbys (Ringed) Storm-petrels were encountered, but these never followed the boat.

Hornby's Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma hornbyi

Hornby's Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma hornbyi
Early in the trip, we found that off southern Peru there were some expected  southern ocean seabirds, including Black-browed and Bullers Albatrosses.

Buller's Albatross - Thalassarche bulleri

There were White-chinned Petrels showing varyingly small amounts of white chin.

White-chinned Petrel - Procellaria aequinoctialis

Of closer origin (islands off the mid-Chilean coast) we saw a few De Filippi’s (Masatierra) Petrels, our first pterodromas of the trip.

De Filippi's Petrel - Pterodroma defilippiana

De Filippi's Petrel - Pterodroma defilippiana

Black Storm-Petrels were noted 

Black Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma melania

and it was often the more wave-hugging flight pattern that distinguished their silhouettes from Markham’s.

Markham's Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma markhami
Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel - Oceanodroma tethys

We navigated toward seamounts with varying degrees of success.

Hawksbill sea turtle  - (Eretmochelys imbricata)

Large ships are always a hazard to navigation, but the presence of many Peruvian fishing boats on part of our route provided another reason for the ever-vigilant Didier to be careful.  

Eight days into our journey we had our first views of Waved Albatross, famously a breeding endemic of Espanola in the Galapagos, but they breed on Isla de la Plata near Guayaquil in mainland Ecuador, too.

Waved Albatross - Phoebastria irrorata

At the end of every busy day, everyone settled down in the cabin to edit their shots.

Some nights we found we had a following of Swallow-tailed gulls. Nocturnal hunters of squid, these birds have a bat-like rattling contact call. 

Swallow-tailed Gull - Creagrus furcatus

This shot was taken with a high ISO and thanks to Kirk Z. for the torch work.

Short-beaked Common Dolphin - Delphinus delphis

A large pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins provided some mid-voyage entertainment.

End of Part 1