Seabirding along the Humboldt Current
From Callao (Peru), along the coast of Chile, to Ushuaia  (Argentina)
Aboard the
'Polar Star'
3 November to 24 November 2004
A birding cruise organised by
and
This report is a précised version of a birding experience!
De Filippi's Petrel
(also called Masatierra Petrel)
- one of the Pterodroma genus 'wanted' on this trip!
A Personal Diary
Wednesday 3 November
….flew to Lima, Peru

Thursday 4 November
….birded the Pantanos de Villa. We took a walk along a marked trail to one of the watchtowers where we had a vantage point overlooking the pools. This was our first introduction to the birds of Peru - on the water Great Grebes, Neotropic Cormorants and Slate-coloured Coots whilst at the reed-edge Black-crowned Night-Herons and Puna Ibis. Many Black Vultures circled above us and whilst staring up Band-tailed and Grey-headed Gulls did a fly-past.
  
….outside the reserve along the beach road. We drove down to find two Peruvian Thick-knees right alongside the road. They were well camouflaged against the sandy ground but the views were brilliant. An unexpected bird on our first day!

….We drove to the port of Callao. In front of us, at the quay, was the Polar Star. She would be our home for the next 18 days. The Expedition Leader together with many of the staff welcomed us aboard. The ship cast off, our voyage was underway, we were going to sea….

Friday 5 November
The ‘early birders’ were out on the decks at 0600. We found that the bridge deck offered excellent forward visibility. The seabirds were appearing in numbers, with Peruvian Booby and Inca Terns in thousands over only a couple of hours. The desirable Peruvian Diving-Petrel was seen but the views, ‘small fluttering birds’, was not good in the available light. Two large all-dark storm-petrels, long-winged with an unusual ‘fluid’ flight, put in a distant appearance; they were Markham’s, but again, not good views this morning – we should see more of these on the journey south. As we approached the Ballestas Islands the seabird count was going even higher. Many boobies now were in view, being joined by Peruvian Pelicans and Guanay Cormorants.

We dropped anchor in a large bay where two large local speedboats came alongside to collect all the passengers for a trip to the Ballestas Islands, part of the Paracas National Reserve. We followed the coastline firstly, where a few migrant Whimbrels were found and American Oystercatchers were noisily displaying to each other.

The Ballestas Islands were a seabird city with all the associated noise and smell. Thousands of Peruvian Boobies were nesting, some with tiny chicks, Inca Terns were in uncountable numbers certainly more than 10,000, and additionally we saw three types of cormorants – the Guanay, Red-legged and Neotropic. We watched as South American Sea lions played in the surf that crashed against the rocks and Elliot's Storm-Petrels danced on the water. The experience was electrifying as tens of thousands of seabirds vied for their place in the conurbation.

….Our next excursion was to be in the zodiacs, mid-afternoon for two hours. For some this was to be the first time getting into a rubber boat bouncing on the sea, and the procedure was taken slowly.

We drove along the coastline of the Paracas peninsular. A local park ranger had to accompany us in one of the zodiacs. He was very strict, keeping the boats only to given areas, at set distance from the beaches. We saw Chilean Flamingos and many thousands of Black Skimmers, but in both cases were kept some way offshore. Luckily some of the skimmers flew out to fly over our heads. An Osprey was seen, perched on a solitary rock, and we had a very brief view of an Aplomado Falcon.

Back aboard and we lifted anchor to start sailing.
At the Ballestas Islands - left, Humboldt Penguin and right, Inca Tern with chick
Saturday 6 November
By 0600 the ship had already entered a large bay and soon the anchor had been dropped. A couple of Whimbrels flew past the ship to cross the bay and ahead a gathering of mixed gulls sat on a small jetty.

We left the ship after breakfast. At the jetty two buses waited to take us towards Nazca and the mysterious Nazca Lines. The birding here produced Cinereous Conebills, Hooded Siskin and we had good views of two Oasis Hummingbirds.

Sunday 7 November
Sunrise was at 0630. As I reached the upper deck a Snowy Egret looked decidedly out of place sitting on one of the zodiacs. The early morning seabirding was simply phenomenal! With a flat calm sea the birds could easily be seen at distance. The numbers of storm-petrels really surprised me; hundreds of Markham's Storm-Petrels were tallied and within an hour the first Ringed Storm-Petrel was seen, the count of this species was to exceed one thousand over the day! Salvin's Albatross started to appear, most being singles, that annoyingly flew away at the ship's approach - this species is not a ship-follower, like the 'Great' albatrosses. Many flocks of phalaropes were on the sea and others were flying past, some groups contained many hundreds of birds and of both species, Grey and Red-necked Phalarope.

After a hurried breakfast it was back on deck to see smart Swallow-tailed Gulls that looked like large Sabine's Gulls, followed shortly afterwards by Pomarine Skuas, then occasional terns added to the variety. We were out of sight of land, 28 miles from shore, when a juvenile Peregrine materialised from nowhere and was seen attacking storm-petrels - twice, at least, the strikes were successful. It would tear its prey on the wing to devour it. It circled the ship but was not seen to land.

Whales were well recorded also - dozens of Sperm Whales, even three Cuvier's Beaked Whales. These latter ‘small’ whales belong to the little known family, Ziphiidae. Dolphins were seen corralling fish, which in turn attracted the birds. Some feeding frenzies contained thousands of Sooty Shearwaters (more than 10,000 were logged today) and one further unusual sighting were the sea turtles. These were Olive Ridley Turtles and one at the surface even had an Arctic Tern hitching a ride on its back! This had been a very special day indeed for seabirding, one of the best!