22 Jun 2018

12 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Fifteen: Gough Moorhen

The last Post covered my views of Tristan Thrush. After getting some quick views & photos, I was waiting for a gap between the arrival of new Birders to pop back to the viewing point in the bushes. However, before I got the chance to have another look, my Ozzy mate, Geoff Jones, arrived & asked to borrow my 100-400mm lens. I got left with his 500mm lens & 1.4 extender (which gave me the equivalent of over 1100mm as the Canon 7D has an internal magnification of 1.6 times). Clearly, I wasn't going to have a chance of getting any photos of the Tristan Thrush when it was only a couple of metres away with this big lens. About this time it dropped into the nearby gully & Geoff and an couple of other Birders followed it down into the gully. This had an immediate bonus as they disturbed a Gough Moorhen that had been quietly feeding there. It was great to see a Gough Moorhen properly, given the minimal views that we had the previous day. Even better was having Geoff's big lens when it broke cover.
Gough Moorhen: Initially it ran across the gully before attempting to hide behind this grassy tussock
Gough Moorhen: The ancestors are believed to have been the Southern African subspecies of Moorhen, rather than the Southern American subspecies of the recently split American Moorhen
Gough Moorhen: Note, the greenish legs. They have had to adapt to this long grassy habitat as there are few ponds on Tristan da Cunha
Gough Moorhen: An action shot as it broke cover along what looked to be a regular trackway
After seeing both Tristan Thrush & Gough Moorhen well, we were happy to wander back to the settlement in search of some food.
Walking back to the settlement
The local bus
A good numberplate TDC1
There was time to look around the settlement before & after a visit to the cafe, the site of some excellent chocolate cafe.
The excellent cafe was very popular
Poster of the view of the settlement
The island family tree
An old hut within the settlement
Most of the homes looked fairly modern
But some were older like this quaint small house
Our home in the distance
These flowers helped to make it look even prettier
Another view of the settlement: which is dominated by the high slopes above it
There were some nice edges to some of the gardens
The volcano erupted in 1961 & lava threatened to engulf the settlement: The lava flow is right next to the settlement
The latest lava flow: The UK government had to evacuate the islanders & they were housed in an old RAF camp in Calshot (which was alongside one of my ex-birding patches from my days of living in Southampton)
Another view of the latest lava flow: Most of the islanders returned in 1963
Time to head back to the quay
Antarctic Tern: On the quay. They have very large bills compared to Common Terns & Arctic Terns
Antarctic Tern: The apparent extent of the white forehead varied with the angle
Antarctic Tern: Flying around the Plancius
Antarctic Tern: A final flypast
Finally, we had to catch a zodiac back onto the Plancius. Leon's father, who was also the island copper, & three other locals joined us on the Plancius as we would not be allowed to land without guides on Nightingale. It was interesting hearing their commentary on the history & natural history of the two offshore islands. We sailed that evening for Nightingale Island.
One of the zodiacs heads back for another group of returning passengers
The harbour entrance
Yellow-nosed Albatross: Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross. This will be one of the final chances to see an Albatross
Yellow-nosed Albatross: Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross
Yellow-nosed Albatross: Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross. I saw 8 of the 15 species of Albatross recognised by Clements on the Odyssey
A brief view of one of the two peaks of Tristan da Cunha
Another night I didn't see the mythical green flash

21 Jun 2018

12 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Fifteen: Tristan Thrush

My mourning routine as I was waking up was to spend a minute or two trying to work out the movement of the Plancius, to try gauging how the sea conditions had changed since going to bed. It was not possible to do that this morning as the Plancius was just offshore of the settlement of Edinburgh of the Seven Seas on Tristan da Cunha & was relatively sheltered by the island. Once I was up, I could see there was still a bit of a swell on the sea, however, the crucial factor was the swell within the settlement harbour. Ultimately, we needed to wait for the official decision from the harbour master. Everybody was hoping we would be able to get ashore & Leon from the Expedition staff, must have been one of the keenest, given it was his home island. Finally, we heard that the harbour master had given us the OK & a scouting zodiac was sent in to the harbour to check out the landing.
Tristan da Cunha looked stunning first thing
Word came back it was OK & we were ready to go. A few people had opted for a walk up the volcano, so they were the first to be called to the zodiac deck. The Albatrosses group were next as it was their turn to get into the zodiacs first. As I was going nowhere fast, I headed off for a final cuppa. Thirty minutes later the Petrels group were finally called to the zodiac deck to disembark. The target for the Birders was to see a Tristan Thrush. We had been told the Tristan Thrushes were likely to be skulking in the bushes on the lower slopes alongside the road to the potato fields. Having 20 or 30 mainly European Birders in the Albatross group ahead of us, would help locate one by the time we were getting ashore.
Arjen brings another zodiac into the harbour
The following zodiac runs into the harbour
Leon (on the left) keeps an eye on the harbour
Having to wait for the previous zodiac to unload
This was our first dry landing
It is a pretty small harbour
Fishing boats ready to go to sea
Looking back into the harbour
After a short walk we reached the top of the hill & it flattened out
The settlement bus: Standing by to take visitors down to the potato fields a couple of miles away. I was looking forward to stretching the legs
We are officially in the Ascension, St Helena & Tristan da Cunha Overseas Territory
The most remote island in the world
The most remote gift shop: Although it wasn't a long walk to the gift shop in the cafe!
Proof I got ashore on Tristan da Cunha
Distances to some important locations: It was 1410 nautical miles from South Georgia & only 1343 nautical miles to our next stop at St Helena. The nearest mainland city is Cape Town at 1511 nautical miles
While we were waiting for some of the other Wildwings Birders to arrive on the zodiacs, we saw our first Butterflies for the Odyssey trip.
Southern Painted Lady: This very tatty individual was the first Butterfly I had seen since leaving Chile in late March
Southern Painted Lady: A better individual
Finally, all the Wildwings Birders were ashore & we started walking towards the potato fields. Although it wasn't long before the group were spaced out as not everybody was keeping up with the pace at the front.
The road to the potato fields
It all felt a bit like Craggy Island
We could see various small groups of Birders spread out & checking groups of bushes at the base of the hills. At one point, I saw a few Birders starting to move left rapidly, so reckoned there had been a shout for something interesting. We headed up across the grassy plain in that direction. It hadn't come to anything, by the time we got there. However, we were now in earshot of the CB radios. Quite a few of the European birders had CBs which was sorely missing from the Wildwings party.
The hillsides were very steep: The shallow grassy slopes were just a veneer of grass on top of old lava
Tristan Chook: Pity the Tristan Moorhens weren't as obliging
Very quickly a CB crackled saying that there was a Tristan Thrush in the bushes near a gully to our right. We had no idea of the distance given Birders were spread out along the base of the hillside. It turned out to be only 100 metres to our right & we were among the first to arrive.
The twitch is on: There was a very narrow path & a viewpoint for about three people to get views at a time
It wasn't an easy area to look into
Tristan Thrush: The initial views were of it feeding unconcerned about 2 metres in front of me
Tristan Thrush: I grabbed a few shots, before having to back out of the path to allow the next Birders in
I hung around on the hillside close to the Tristan Thrush site in the hope I would be able to get back in again. But, ended up directing the next few groups of Birders in, as little groups were constantly arriving. Eventually, Geoff Jones arrived & asked to swap lenses as my 100-400mm would be better than his 500mm & 1.4 converter. At that point, there was no point in trying to get in to see it again & soon after it flew from the close bushes into a deep gully. Geoff with my camera lens ended up disappearing into the gully, so I walked back down to join the relieved group of Birders.
Some happy Birders
The deep gully carried on for quite a distance down the hillside. Arriving Birders had to head back down hill to cross the gully, before carrying up the far hillside to look across for the Tristan Thrush.
The gully carried on for some distance before it was possible to cross
Some not so happy Birders
While others were still walking back from the potato fields
The potato fields: The Plancius bought some of the potatoes. They tasted a lot better than UK potatoes
Finally they were happy as well
Some happy Birders relaxing
We could see Inaccessible Island in the distance: It's 22 nautical miles to the South West of Tristan da Cunha
Geoff finally reappeared & gave me my camera lens back. I heard it was still possible to see on our side of the gully, but it involved a crawl under a couple of bushes. It was feeding in the open in the bottom of the valley. Not close, but nicely on view. Unfortunately, Rafa the Spanish photographer was also down there. Although he must have already got some of the best photos, he had to keep get closer & closer to the Tristan Thrush & ended up booting it back into the bushes. He had kept a fairly low profile in my eyes up to that point, but he now joined the list of the handful of punters on the Plancius who I had no time for. Another person with a big camera lens who had little concern for anything other than getting even better photos.
It was sitting on one of the branches in the overhanging tree
After a while it briefly moved back into my view: Frustratingly it quickly moved on, before flying out of view for our viewpoint
Time to start back to the settlement
Dark Sword-grass: This looked familiar when I saw it & sure enough checking the potential candidates it was a Dark Sword-grass which it a fairly common migrant Moth to the UK (which I have caught in my back garden)
Dark Sword-grass caterpillar