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


  1. Amazing sequence with the Peregrine, John, to say nothing of the rest of your pictures. For once I can have at least a sense of what you were enjoying, having made a day long pelagic into the Humboldt Current.

    1. Hi David, Yes - plenty of birds out there....

  2. Looks fantastic John. I'm so jealous.............

    1. Thanks, Stu - it was a "once in a lifetime" opportunity to go.

  3. I can only mirror The other comments. I have been to, Isla de la Plata off the coast of Ecuador. Wrong time of year to see the albatross, but lots of interesting things.

    1. John,
      Isla de la Plata looks well a visit..... According to the guidebook, Sir Francis Drake hid a hoard of silver there....so I'll take a shovel with me !

  4. Great stuff and pictures! I have seen Tizard's observations from south of the Galapagos in the eBird review queue for a while now so really looking forward to seeing photos of the rarities (for Ecuador/Galapagos).

    1. Thanks for your comment, Roger - it's a reminder to me that I need to mention Rob Tizards eBird diligence in the main text !

  5. Brilliant photos, hope to get out there one day!

    1. Thanks for the comment - that area - or at least the mid-ocean parts - is still very underwatched.

  6. Thanks for the informative trip report and the great photos. Gives me an idea of the excitement of a multi-day Humbolt pelagic trip!

    1. Thanks, Jim ! Changes in the weather and different birds on show made every day different.

  7. Thanks, Debra - I imagine some of these birds would cause excitement in Monterey Bay !