adult female Tristan Albatross Diomedea [exulans] dabbenena
A Seabirding Adventure
'The Lost Islands of the Atlantic Ocean'
8 October - 8 November 2002
written by Tony Pym
This is an abridged version of a report sent to those who came on this 32-day cruise, travelling from Tenerife in the Canary Islands south to the Cape Verde Islands, Ascension Island, Saint Helena, Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island and then west across the south Atlantic to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.
This was a fabulous trip for seabirds and cetaceans, with 40 species of Procellarid - the 'tubenoses' - and 15 species of cetaceans (including Pygmy Sperm Whale and the rarely seen Shepherd's Beaked Whale).
Here are excerpts, some of the highlights, from the diary which is then followed by the birdlist for the trip:
Tuesday 8 October
....Almost immediately we saw the first seabird, and one that would be common on this first leg down to the Cape Verde Islands - Cory's Shearwater. We had only been underway less than three quarters of an hour when ahead of the ship there was quite a commotion on the water. There were splashes and my immediate thought was 'dolphins' but then there were a few quite distinct blows - these were Sperm Whales! Just as I suspected, in amongst them were indeed dolphins. As we approached we could see it was herd of Sperm Whales, logging on the surface. This was really a magical view as there were at least ten animals in the group. The size of individual whales identified them as females, known as cows, with some calves in amongst them. Large bulbous heads were poking from the water, 'spy hopping', so as to look around. The Captain turned the ship to slowly drift, without engines, close to the group. Literally they were just off the bow and we could look down on these impressive leviathans. The dolphins were swimming between them. There were Striped Dolphins, and later I could make out Atlantic White-sided Dolphins within the group. The Sperm Whales were not feeding but simply lazing.
....Cory's Shearwaters were becoming regular, and then we saw some new birds. Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, often called Madeiran Storm-Petrel - four were seen and one, picked up by George, came across the bow close enough to see all the distinct field-marks for this species. Our first Little Shearwaters came into view, but not such good views today as they were at distance. I was sure we would be seeing more of this species.
....Wally saw a cetacean that was leaping clear of the sea. I couldn't believe my eyes when I looked to see the distinct blunt head of a Pygmy Sperm Whale as it continued breaching. As we watched this tiny whale breached maybe ten times. This is an uncommon genus, Kogia, seen rarely at sea.
Wednesday 9 October
....the first White-faced Storm-Petrel was seen well, literally next to the bow. Band-rumped Storm-Petrels built up during the day becoming more common in the afternoon - we ended the day with a high count of thirty-seven. A few Little Shearwaters were seen, better views than yesterday, and our first Red-billed Tropicbird was actually some way north of the main breeding site on Cape Verde.
Thursday 10 October
....the first of the Cape Verde Shearwaters, a recent split from Cory's but quite different really. Bulwer's Petrels would just occasionally come across the bow, always low to the water, and with their characteristic buoyant, erratic and twisting flight. Today we saw a total of eleven Cape Verde, or Fea's Petrels - this was the opportunity to see the dynamic flight of this, one of the Pterodroma genus or gad-fly petrels, in readiness for more of this enigmatic group.
....George saw a large turtle, on description undoubtedly a Leatherback and later in the day picked out a shark, the position and size of the dorsal fin would put this one at about twelve feet long.
Friday 11 October
....a few of the group had seen two pods of Short-finned Pilot Whales when I arrived at the forward deck.
....(Santiago, Cape Verde) In the rain a kestrel flew past the ship's lounge window. This is a very interesting form recognised as a species by some taxonomists as Alexander's Kestrel. It was certainly very different from Eurasian Kestrel to which others treat it as a subspecies.
....Here a flock of the endemic Alexander's Swifts were over a small valley, flying low beneath the rain clouds.
....a flock of Iago Sparrows - a Cape Verde endemic, and frankly, a species I was not expecting to see - and a lone Spectacled Warbler was seen bathing in a rain puddle. The second stop had small flocks of Bar-tailed Larks and Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks, including some very smart males of the latter. We put the ’scope onto a male kestrel and commented amongst ourselves that here was a bird with banding over the entire mantle - can this really be a Eurasian Kestrel? Maybe the split is warranted.
....our group opted for a bird walk to a plateau close to the airport. Again the area was chosen at random but it was thought it might hold some of the desert species. This proved an excellent choice for birds. The rain had stopped, at last, but it was still cool - I don't believe we could have walked this ‘mini-desert’ if it had been a typical Cape Verde day as it simply would have been too hot. The prize was Cream-coloured Courser, at least fifteen of these superb birds, and then to find Hoopoe Larks, which according to the only book published on Cape Verde birds is not found on this particular island! Also there were a few Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks and Bar-tailed Desert Larks that we could observe.
Saturday 12 October
....this was ‘Bulwer's Petrel Day’ with a tally of fourteen. Occasional sightings of storm-petrels kept our attention focussed and a couple of skuas came close, to inspect the ship.
....good cetacean sightings during the day, which included three Cuvier’s Beaked Whales, a pod of Short-finned Pilot Whales, and, just as we were about to call it a day, a school of at least seventy Striped Dolphins came to the ship to ride the bow waves.
Sunday 13 October
....we had excellent views of a large Green Turtle that swam close to our starboard.
....landbirds that rested awhile on the ship, as our position was 480 miles from any land. A Garden Warbler landed on one of the lifeboats and three wagtails flew around the ship trying to come aboard. Certainly one was a young Yellow Wagtail. John separately saw a Grey Wagtail. Even a Whimbrel passed close to inspect us but this one moved on quickly.
....a few Great and Arctic Skuas went past the ship; all seemed determined and were purposefully flying south migrating to their winter quarters.
Monday 14 October
....a couple of Arctic Terns passed the ship on their way south. A large flock of ‘grey coloured waders’ proved to be phalaropes but were too distant for specific identification.
Tuesday 15 October
....at the bridge wings, a juvenile Long-tailed Skua passed our position. There were hundreds of flying fish lifting off from the front of the ship and a few passengers naturally were still mistaking these for birds. Another new species for the trip was White-bellied Storm-Petrel. We saw three birds, here at the northern edge of their range.
....On three occasions large clouds of birds were in the far distance, on the horizon virtually, but our thoughts were confirmed later in the day when we had one flock directly ahead of us. These were Sooty Terns, and one flock was certainly more than four hundred in number. Two Arctic Skuas were seen to be harassing a Sooty that finally gave up its hard-earned fish to the muggers.