11 July 2018

"Atlantic Odyssey 2018" - Part 3 To Gough Island

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. 


  1. Just an amazing series of images, John, of birds many of us will never see. I hope they rid Gough Island of those mice. There is no limit to the way we can imperil wildlife is there?

    1. Hi David,
      it's true - when it comes to imperilling wildlife, our ingenuity knows no bounds...

  2. Amazing shots again John. You've nailed pelagic BIF work down to a fine art........

    1. Thanks Stu - actually the 500mm and 1.4x combo has been pretty useful, and the 1DX II is a saviour in poor-light conditions !

  3. John & Jemi, your photographs are amazing. Well done doesn't quite do it.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Jim ! As usual many, many shots have been discarded - the joy of digital ....

  4. Many thanks for sharing these John. Happy memories of a great trip

    1. Hi Geoff, Thanks for commenting; - things fell into place well for us, didn't they ?

      We had a good Expedition Team and a lot of very keen birders on the trip.