21 July 2018

"Atlantic Odyssey 2018" - Part 4

Tristan Island group

Spectacled Petrel (Procellaria conspicillata) - breeds on the Tristan Island group

"Edinburgh of the Seven Seas"

A pre-landing briefing by Expedition Leader Sebastian Arrebola had laid out some of the options available to us on Tristan Da Cunha.

There was a hike to part of the site of the 1961 lava flows which caused the island to be evacuated.  Fine views of the settlement were promised.

The other outing involved a 3-4 km trip (with varied transport options )  to Tristan’s “Potato Patches” where the curious visitor could see, well, the place this staple of the Tristan Islanders’ diet is grown. 

Edinburgh of the Seven Seas

Edinburgh of the Seven Seas
The PC brigade haven't caught up with historical place names here yet.....

Everybody at their own pace.....
It was made clear, too, that the Tristan Thrush might be sighted on the slopes above the road.  Most of us headed slowly up the single-track road toward the potato patches, because that was the way to go. Weather conditions were cool and sunny.

The bushes are thrush habitat
Martin Berg from the expedition staff followed the edge of the scrub-line on Tristan’s steep hillsides.  Previous experience told him this was the habitat to find the sought-after Tristan thrush.  After a couple of false starts a bird was found in some scrub beside a ravine.

A bird to look up to...
We were not the first to arrive, and there was already quite a gathering of birders at the foot of the spur where the bird was.  The bird was unafraid of us, and had been showing well. Some scrambling through bushes combined with crumbly ground meant that I left my camera, which had been swinging like a saxophone, in the meadow below. 

These shots (with 7D2 and 100-400mm) are Jemi’s.

Tristan Thrush - Nesocicla eremita

Tristan Thrush - Nesocicla eremita

Some people opted for a more sensible climb to a ridgeline behind us.

A boot makes a fine monopod

A bonus bird was a close Gough Moorhen.  Introduced on Tristan, all the birds are descended from just eight released.  Having seen both birds well we headed back down the road well-pleased with our morning.

Gough Moorhen - Gallinula comeri

Settlement view

"The Rectory"

Crayfish boat, Tristan Da cunha

The tristanensis race of Antarctic Tern posed for photos on the harbour breakwater before we left. It looked like they were having a good breeding year.

Antarctic Tern - Sterna vittata tristanensis

Antarctic Tern - Sterna vittata tristanensis

Tristan has a well-organised and welcoming Post office/Souvenir shop and cafe.  Two mugs of tea and a Crayfish sandwich went down very well. Here's the island's official website.

The "Potato Patches" from the sea

"White-bellied" Black-bellied Storm-Petrel
We sailed away in bright evening sunshine.  We saw Great-winged Petrels only when it was almost dark.

Great-winged Petrel - Pterodroma macroptera

The next morning we were anchored off Nightingale Island.  We had several Tristan Islanders on board to act as island guides, but the winds were such that we couldn’t land on Nightingale, to the disappointment of many.

Nightingale Island
We navigated round the island at a safe distance from the rocky foreshores and people with finer eyesight than mine tried to identify bird shapes in the scrub on the hillsides.
Nightingale Island
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - Thalassarche chlororhynchos

Nightingale Island

Later we learned that “Inaccessible” Island isn’t called that for nothing.  So we generally admired its  Inaccessibility when we might rather have admired its'  Rail.  The Plancius is averaging one landing every ten visits, and may be doing better than some other ships.

Inaccessible Island

Inaccessible Island rock formation
Spectacled Petrel (Procellaria conspicillata)
Spectacled Petrel (Procellaria conspicillata)

Tristan Skua - Catharacta (a.) hamiltoni

Soft-plumaged Petrel - Pterodroma mollis

Soft-plumaged Petrel - Pterodroma mollis
Later we dropped off our guides/hosts at Edinburgh on Tristan and headed further north.

In bright light and warming seas we encountered some Common Dolphins and Jemi got these shots.

Common Dolphin - Delphinus delphis

Common Dolphin - Delphinus delphis

We were able to sample the famous Tristan Crayfish, made all the more tasty by the Plancius Head Chef’s report that he had bartered a supply of them for whisky. (The "exchange rate" was not disclosed..)

Tristan Rock Lobster

We were heading for St Helena, last earthly abode of Napoleon Bonaparte, and present earthly domain of the world’s oldest animal.

18 July 2018

Terns from the Tap Mun Island Ferry - July 2018

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

A couple of days ago (16th July 2018), I got the ferry from Ma Liu Shui to Wong Shek Pier in Sai Kung.

Tap Mun Island

Tap Mun Island

It’s a four-hour round trip in the sheltered waters of Tolo Harbour.  The boat calls at the western side of Tap Mun Island.  On the seaward side, on rocky islets in Mirs Bay, three species of tern - Bridled, Black-naped and Roseate breed.

The tern numbers are monitored on a monthly basis by AFCD and HKBWS, and breeding success or otherwise noted.  Typhoons are a big natural hazard, and made-made ones can include disturbance on the islets by fishermen or inconsiderate day-trippers.

Roseate Tern - Sterna dougallii

Roseate Tern - Sterna dougallii

Roseate Tern - Sterna dougallii

Roseate Tern - Sterna dougallii

The terns hunt in the comparatively sheltered waters the ferry passes through, and are attracted to the boat because the propellers - when the ferry is under way - can disturb small fish.

In the wake
I only got two species of tern close enough to photograph, but it was good fun.

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

When a sprat is caught the tern zips back low over the water towards its' nest site, a couple of kilometres away.

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

Leg flagging is a new part of the monitoring effort this summer.  

11 July 2018

"Atlantic Odyssey 2018" - Part 3

To Gough Island and beyond

Broad-billed Prion - Pachyptila vittata

The waters close to South Georgia gave us a last chance to get to grips with separating South Georgia and Common Diving Petrels.  Here then is my modest contribution. On the right-hand (Common D-P) bird, note bigger bill, less grey wash on the face, extended feet and a bit of a "saddlebag".

The South Georgian D-P (left) has clearer "tramlines" down the back, no trailing feet, and see two shots of single D-P below.
South Georgian (left) and Common (right) Diving-Petrels

South Georgian Diving-Petrel - Pelecanoides georgicus (Same bird as left, above)

South Georgian Diving-Petrel - Pelecanoides georgicus (As above)

More days passed in the windy South Atlantic, but there was a constant presence of tubenoses to keep the birders and photographers occupied. Here we form a diagonal line across deck three, just back from a strong gale.

Oceanwide Expeditions had been making rumblings about this being the last “Atlantic Odyssey” and so we weren’t the only punters to have decided “It’s now or never…” prior to booking.  This meant that, for the first time in years, the Plancius was mostly full on her voyage back towards Europe.

Among the passengers was Bob Flood, who - as well as a willingness to dispense seabird identification wisdom on deck - gave a presentation in the lounge on the finer points of separating White-bellied and Black-bellied and "White-bellied Black-bellied" Storm Petrels at sea.  As someone else commented "He gave us confidence that we could all do it too..."

We settled into spending plenty of the daylight hours on deck, with observers at the front, rear and on the bridge wings.  There were several walkie-talkies in use by different groups of passengers, as well as input from the Expedition staff.

We were confident that if anything “good” turned up everyone would know about it quickly.

Giant-Petrel and Black-browed Albatross

Soft-plumaged Petrel - Pterodroma mollis

Atlantic Petrel - Pterodroma incerta

"White-bellied" Black-bellied Storm-Petrel - Fregetta tropica

Subantarctic Little Shearwater - Puffinus elegans
Subantarctic Little Shearwater - Puffinus elegans

Broad-billed Prion - Pachyptila vittata

Atlantic Petrel - Pterodroma incerta

White-headed Petrel Pterodroma lessonii and Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus

Spectacled Petrel - Procellaria conspicillata

Sooty Albatross - Phoebetria fusca

Southern Giant-Petrels and BB S-Ps

Great Shearwater - Puffinus gravis

Sooty Shearwater - Puffinus griseus and Great Shearwater - Puffinus gravis

Shy Albatross - Thalassarche cauta

With thirty people booking through “Wildwings” , a Birdquest group and about thirty mostly Dutch birders on board this left a couple of dozen non-birding passengers who were mainly focussed on visiting the remote Atlantic islands on our itinerary.

Spectacled Petrel and Great Shearwater - "Race you back to Gough !"
Gough Island is 350km south of Tristan Da Cunha, and according to Birdlife’s “Endemic bird Areas of the World” 2,800km from South Africa and 3,200km from South America.

I think we can all agree Gough is remote.  Uninhabited by humans apart from the scientists at a research station, huge numbers of seabirds breed there, including many of the birds we had seen in the previous few days, such as Sooty Albatross, Spectacled Petrel, Great Shearwater and Broad-billed Prion.

Even more birds would breed there but - (wouldn’t you know it ?) - introduced mice pose a hazard to many of the breeding birds.  An eight-million pound eradication programme has been approved.

We arrived in late afternoon on April 9th when the skies were clear, but there was a fearsome wind, even shorter-lensed cameras were hard to keep steady.  

Gough Island in view

A sea covered in Prions

The silhouettes of returning seabirds stood out against the yellowing haze as the sun set. I had to butt the 500mm lens against various parts of the ship to keep it steady.

Gough Island

Gough Island

Cloudy the next morning, but calmer, we did a Zodiac Cruise off the shore of Gough (landing is forbidden for tourists).

Searching for the Gough Bunting...
A Gough bunting was spotted on a rock on the foreshore.  An unusual spot for a passerine, but I quote from the Birdlife Datazone fact sheet… “This species is seriously threatened by introduced mouse predation, which has forced the population to use suboptimal habitat.”

Gough Bunting - Rowettia goughensis
Northern Rockhopper Penguins - Eudyptes mosleyi

Sub-Antarctic Fur Seal - Arctocephalus tropicalis

Rough seas off Gough, later in the day 

Tristan Albatross - Diomedea dabbenena

"White-bellied" Black-bellied Storm-Petrel - Fregetta tropica

A day-and-a-bit of sailing brought us to the lee side of Tristan Da Cunha, where  we saw more Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, and Black-bellied Storm-Petrels like the one above. A Zodiac cruise was arranged with a view to getting closer views of the resident birds.

Watch the birdie
There were plenty of birds in view from the back deck, and the weather seemed to be calming down.

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - Thalassarche chlororynchos

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - Thalassarche chlororynchos

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross - Thalassarche chlororynchos

The "Island Tickers" were getting restive, too - Tristan's settlement - Edinburgh of the Seven Seas - was just around the corner.