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.


  1. I can't help but to say what fantastic photos of the pelagic birds you have here and as always. Keep em coming. Best regards.

  2. Fantastic pics.

    Wonder how many seabird species you've photographed now? Must be pretty much most of them now, no?

  3. Some really great photos! What an amazing voyage.