24 Apr 2020

White-throated Needletails (Hirundapus caudacutus)

A rainy day in April seemed like it could be good for avian migrants, and sight of a single Chinese Sparrowhawk told me that I’d basically got the right idea.

But it wasn’t until I got to Tsim Bei Tsui (overlooking Deep Bay) that the rain grew more steady.

Some circling House Swifts made me look up, and slicing past them was a single Needletail.

Later I counted forty-two birds - kettling like raptors over the helipad at Tsim Bei Tsui.

I spent an hour there.  When the rain got heavy one or two would come low enough to photograph, but when the rain eased, up they went again.

White-throated Needletail is a scarce passage migrant in Hong Kong, with most sightings being of fewer than ten individuals, although 120 were sighted (at Shek Kong) as recently as 2016.

20 Apr 2020

Little Curlew (Numenius minutus)

Little Curlew (Numenius minutus)

Sunday, 19th April 2020

News came via a WhatsApp birding group that a Little Curlew was parading around a small flooded paddy field in Long Valley.

These long-distance migrants are recorded less-than-annually in Hong Kong, due to lack of open grassland habitat here.

This confiding individual was feeding among emergent grass stems, taking caddis-fly larvae as far as I could see.

I was one of about a dozen photographers enjoying the show.

Apologies to anyone who is wondering where the three Chile seabird posts went.  They seemed to be affected by some kind of virus, with some pictures replaced by grey “No Entry” signs.  

This post is partly an experiment to see if the problem persists. 

17 Apr 2020

Robinson Crusoe Islands - a south Chile Seabirding Voyage, February/March 2020 - Part 3

Masatierra (DeFilippi’s) Petrel - Pterodroma defilippiana

We approached Robinson Crusoe Island shortly after daybreak, and anchored near the only settlement (San Juan Bautista). 

Robinson Crusoe Island

San Juan Bautista

We had a few hours ashore.  Our main interest was an endemic hummingbird - the Juan Fernandez Firecrown.  A nature trail called the “Ruta Touristica Plazoleta El Yunque” was the designated place to go and look  for them.   

Juan Fernandez Firecrown - Sephanoides fernandensis

Also, the hummers were feeding on exotic flowers in the settlement’s yards and gardens. 

We saw our first JF Firecrowns in Cabbage Trees set in a playground called “Los Angelitos” within view of the seafront. Then found more on Lord Anson road towards the Plazoleta.

“Sauvage” at anchor, Robinson Crusoe Island
Firecrown success was toasted with the local brew.

Moored overnight, we left San Juan Bautista harbour in the morning with a complement of mosquitoes that hid in nooks and crannies on the Sauvage and took several days to clear.

Isla Robinson Crusoe was known as “Mas-a-tierra” from the time of its’ discovery, and DeFilippi’s Petrel is also known as Masatierra Petrel because, obviously, they breed on the island, or rocky islets close offshore.

Masatierra (DeFilippi’s) Petrel - Pterodroma defilippiana

Masatierra (DeFilippi’s) Petrel - Pterodroma defilippiana

At this stage we had a procession of inquisitive DeFilippi’s Petrels making an appearance.  More than the two Selkirk-breeding pterodromas (Juan Fernandez, Stejnegers) they were ready to come close to the rear of the boat, presenting a challenge to get them in the camera frame.

Masatierra (DeFilippi’s) Petrel - Pterodroma defilippiana
Most of the time during the voyage we had trailed a drip of Menhaden Fish Oil, which tended to attract storm-petrels at the very least.  Kirk and Didier spent ages during the voyage warming the oil, which was too viscous to flow freely in the cool conditions most mornings.  

White-bellied Storm-Petrel - Fregatta grallaria

The fish oil slick, put out with Robinson Crusoe Island still in view, proved useful again, attracting up to 30 White-bellied Storm-Petrels at a time. Sometimes they came  close to rear of the boat.  The race of Juan Fernandez breeding W-B S-Ps is “segethi”.

White-bellied Storm-Petrel - Fregatta grallaria

White-bellied Storm-Petrel - Fregatta grallaria

White-bellied Storm-Petrel - Fregatta grallaria

White-bellied Storm-Petrel - Fregatta grallaria

A passing Masked Booby was a trip first. 

Masked Booby - Sula dactylatra

More “warm water” (relative to the Humboldt Current, that is) species noted were Swallow-tailed Gull (which breed in the Galapagos Islands more than 3000 km to the north) and Red-billed Tropicbird.

Swallow-tailed Gull - Creagrus furcatus

In the late afternoon a series of whale “blows” was seen, but we didn’t manage to see any actual cetaceans. Here’s one I actually did see on another afternoon.  Large and pale, possibly Blue Whale, but I would like to have seen it better of course !

Closer to the mainland we were back in the cooler Humboldt current, with a steady procession of mostly northbound Sooty Shearwaters. 

Other Albatrosses seen included Black-browed, Wandering and Salvin’s, but few came close to the boat.  Also seen were several “Pacific” Albatrosses, a potential split from Buller’s. 

Black-browed Albatross - Thalassarche melanophris 

Black-browed Albatross - Thalassarche melanophris (immature)

Salvin's Albatross - Thalassarche salvini

Around this time we disturbed a Waved Albatross, sitting on the water.  

Waved Albatross - Phoebastria irrorata

At around 30 degrees south this equatorial breeder must have been close to a new “southerly” record ?

(Edited:18 Apr 20 - Waved Albatrosses have been seen on trips out of Valparaiso, about 400km south of this point !)

The trip drawing to a close, we spent the late afternoon of March 9th in the Humboldt Current photographing an obliging horde of “Wilson’s Complex”-type Storm-Petrels.  These mostly had very little white in the wings and body.

Wilson’s-type Storm-Petrel - Oceanites xxxxxx

Wilson’s-type Storm-Petrel - Oceanites xxxxxx

Wilson’s-type Storm-Petrel - Oceanites xxxxxx
Wilson’s-type Storm-Petrel - Oceanites xxxxxx

Wilson’s-type Storm-Petrel - Oceanites xxxxxx

And we still weren’t finished with White-bellied Storm-petrels, more were seen on the western side of the Humboldt Current, but still a long way from Robinson Crusoe their presumed home island.

White-bellied Storm-Petrel - Fregatta grallaria

White-bellied Storm-Petrel - Fregatta grallaria

White-bellied Storm-Petrel - Fregatta grallaria

Cruising near the coast we encountered up to 100 Peruvian Diving-Petrels in an afternoon, sometimes in groups of 12 - 15 birds including some unable or unwilling to fly, perhaps a sign that this Endangered species must be breeding not very far away.

Peruvian Diving-Petrel - Pelecanoides garnoti

Peruvian Diving-Petrel - Pelecanoides garnoti

Peruvian Diving-Petrel - Pelecanoides garnoti

A penultimate night was spent in Bahia Tongoy.  In the morning we watched the birds around the nets of the local sardine-fishing fleet, mainly pelicans, gulls and cormorants.  A succession of Diving-Petrels was again seen, mostly heading south.

Last port-of-call

Our final destination was Las Herraduras Yacht Club in Coquimbo, about 450km north of Santiago.  

"Cross of the Third Millennium" - Coquimbo

The bay had many birds including adult and juvenile Inca Terns. 

Inca Tern - Larosterna inca

Another “admin day” on March 12th included catching-up with Coronavirus news on the Internet and getting tickets for the 11:00hrs Pullman Bus back to Santiago the following day.  We enjoyed a final dinner on Sauvage, and bags packed said our “Au Revoirs” to Didier and Sophie the following morning.

While we were sailing the carefree southern seas it seemed that the world had changed. We were lucky to finish when we did. Despite national borders closing and flights being cancelled everyone just managed to get away, including the Wattrelots on board the Sauvage.


Thanks to Didier and Sophie for looking after us, and to Kirk, Colin and Mike for their entertaining and stimulating company on the voyage.

11 Apr 2020

Robinson Crusoe Islands - a south Chile Seabirding Voyage, February/March 2020 Part 2

Part 2 - Across the Humboldt Current

We followed an outgoing tide at the north of Chiloe Island westwards into the open Pacific ocean.

White-chinned Petrel - Procellaria aequinoctialis

The waves got rougher but it stayed sunny most of the day. There were encounters with Giant Petrels, White-chinned Petrels, and Chilean Skua. 

Sooty Shearwater - Puffinus griseus  

Giant Petrel sp. - Macronectes

Chilean Skua - Stercorarius chilensis

In late afternoon, Oceanites... (Wilson’s complex) Storm-Petrels appeared in the wake.  Possibly Pincoya (but these are not known to go out into the Humboldt Current) OR “Fuegian” (but perhaps with too much white in the wings...)

Birding was relatively slow and the rougher conditions were a challenge. The bigger albatrosses stayed away until late in the day....

Northern Royal Albatross - Diomedea sanfordi

Northern Royal Albatross - Diomedea sanfordi
Soft light and less contrast made good conditions for photography..... 

Southern Royal Albatross - Diomedea epomophora

Southern Royal Albatross - Diomedea epomophora
On subsequent days, it clouded over somewhat, but the winds and waves still suited gliding seabirds. 

Black-browed Albatross - Thalassarche melanophrys

Wandering Albatross - Diomedea exulans - juv.

Wandering Albatross - Diomedea exulans - juv.

We had originally planned to move north up the Humboldt Current, but with high winds closer to the coast, we sailed on a more north-westerly bearing, taking us directly towards the Juan Fernandez Islands, and farther out to sea.  

Giant Petrel sp. - Macronectes

A 3-4 metre swell from the southwest made for ever-changing seascapes, a backdrop for the DeFilippi’s Petrels we started to encounter. 

DeFilippi’s Petrel - Pterodroma defilippiana

DeFilippi’s Petrel - Pterodroma defilippiana

A couple of days later, numbers of Juan Fernandez Petrels started to increase the closer we got to the Juan Fernandez Islands. 

Juan Fernandez Petrel - Pterodroma externa

Juan Fernandez Petrel - Pterodroma externa

Juan Fernandez Petrel - Pterodroma externa

....and we noted our first Stejneger’s Petrels, too.  They were obviously smaller, and  flappier in flight than the larger and longer-winged JF Petrels.

Stejneger's Petrel - Pterodroma longirostris

Stejneger's Petrel - Pterodroma longirostris

We were to get plenty of practice identifying this triumvirate of pterodromas in the following days.

Stejneger's Petrel - Pterodroma longirostris

Stejneger's Petrel - Pterodroma longirostris

A well-marked but distant Chatham Albatross was the highlight of our fifth evening at sea.

Juan Fernandez Islands


Named after a Spanish explorer who sighted them in 1574, the original Spanish names of the two main JF islands meant “Farther from the mainland” (Mas-a-fuera) and “Closer to the mainland” (Mas-a-tierra).  The latter was where Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk was cast away between 1704 and 1709. “Robinson Crusoe” was the novel by Daniel Defoe based on Selkirk’s experiences.  

In 1966 the Chilean Government re-branded Mas-a-tierra as Robinson Crusoe Island, and visitors today can get a boat from the main settlement to view the cave Selkirk lived in. Confusingly, the Chileans also re-named Mas-a-fuera as Alexander Selkirk Island (“Isla Alejandro Selkirk”), but there is no evidence Selkirk himself was ever there.

Travelogue ends..

Birds again

On 29th February we had Mas-a-fuera/Selkirk Island in sight, as we woke to find a Juan Fernandez Petrel stowaway. Didier had found four in the rear cockpit overnight, the birds lending new meaning to the phrase “poop deck”. 

One had found its’ way into the main cabin. 

Juan Fernandez Petrel - Pterodroma externa

It was gently shown the exit.

We spent the day cruising with Isla Alejandro Selkirk in view. 

Juan Fernandez Petrels seemed to outnumber the smaller Stejnegers’ about fifty-to-one, even though both species breed on the island.  And, this close to Selkirk, DeFilippi’s Petrels were virtually absent.  

Juan Fernandez Petrel - Pterodroma externa

Juan Fernandez Petrel - Pterodroma externa

Juan Fernandez Petrel - Pterodroma externa

Juan Fernandez Petrel - Pterodroma externa

Juan Fernandez Petrel - Pterodroma externa
March 1st was another pterodroma photo practice day, with a Manx Shearwater (one of three seen on the trip) found sitting on the water late in the day. 

Manx Shearwater - Puffinus puffinus

In overcast but calm conditions we motored around Isla Alejandro Selkirk, 

In the late afternoon we headed east, away from Isla Alejandro Selkirk and towards Isla Robinson Crusoe, over the horizon about 90 miles away. 

In calm seas and soft light we tried to improve our images of Juan Fernandez Petrels and Stejnegers’ Petrels as they flew past us back towards their home island. 

Stejneger's Petrel - Pterodroma longirostris

We had a landing scheduled on Robinson Crusoe Island the following day.

End of Part 2