4 Nov 2014

4 Nov 14 - Christmas Comes In Early

Having introduced the crew in the last Post, it is about time I introduced the other 11 punters on the trip as well as Chris Collins, our tour leader. I've deliberately left it to now as most of the photos I have of people were taken during the boat trip. I was lucky to be travelling with a great bunch on the tour & I will look forward to bumping into them on future Seabird trips in future years. Most of the group knew each other, having met on previous tours. I enjoyed the company of all of the group, so thanks to all for helping to make it an enjoyable trip. Given the size of the Braveheart, it wouldn't have been as much fun if we hadn't got on together.

The Wildwings trip was organised & lead well by Chris. He has a lot of experience with Seabirds in general & having lead a number of expeditions in the Pacific, has a lot of Pacific Seabird knowledge to impart. It was also good having Chris as the leader as this wasn't His first trip to islands & consequently He was familiar with each of the islands we landed on.
Chris Collins: Deep in conversation with Brian Gregory (on the right) on the long boat to Pitcairn
My cabin mate was Kim Capelle from Sweden. A great cabin companion. Kim has spent half His life sailing on his own boat in the Baltic, so was not affected by the sea conditions.
Kim Capelle: Kim using his Finn stick which gives away his Scandinavian roots
We had three couples on the trip. Richard & Bridget Lowe from Derbyshire, Allan Howatson & Janet Avery from Edinburgh and Tim & Anne Cooke from Hereford.
Richard & Bridget Lowe: They were on one of the pioneering Wildwings trips for Tuamotu Sandpiper in 1997 & so there were less Ticks for them than for most of us: but that didn't dampen their enthusiasm
Allan Howatson & Janet Avery: Janet looks like Janet is looking forward to getting on dry, stationary land
Tim & Anne Cooke: Enjoying the hotel on the final afternoon in Tahiti
The final four were Brian Gregory from Wolverhampton (see above photo with Chris), Steve Holloway from Norfolk, Martin Hale from Hong Kong & the only non European, Geoff Jones, from Melbourne, Australia.
Steve Holloway: Steve is a veteran of various Seabird tours over the years
Martin Hale: Martin was the only Birder I had met before when we were on the Heritage Expedition to the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands back in Oct 2001. It was good to catch up with Martin again
Geoff Jones: Sharing the bows with Allan. Throughout the trip, Geoff frequently tried this Kate Winslet location on the boat. A great guy & one of the real characters on the trip. Frequently, he lived up to his Australian roots & I thoroughly enjoyed his company. How he manages to handhold the lens throughout the trip, I don't know, especially as it has no strap
Finally, of course, there was myself: I rarely remember to get a photo of myself
The boat sailed later afternoon from Mangareva for about an hour until we reached one of the outer islands, Motu Teiko. This small island hosts a Seabird colony. Here we spent the last hour until it got dark watching the Common Noddies & Shearwaters as they came & went to their nests. Having flown so far South East from Tahiti, we had actually lost an hour of light in the process as the local time was an hour ahead of Tahiti time. We were to have another clock change the following day as the Pitcairn group were a further hour ahead of Mangareva (local time). There was a steady, but slow, arrival (& departure) of the all dark Christmas Island Shearwaters. We had excellent views as the Braveheart was able to holding station close to the island.
Motu Teiko: A Seabird breeding island on the edge of the outer island group
Motu Teiko: Richard photographing something. This looks really calm, it but doesn't reflect the reality of that first afternoon off Motu Teiko
Motu Teiko: A much more typical scenario as we tried picking out Shearwaters at the last minute, from the commoner Noddies. Note, how everybody is looking at different Birds in different directions. Matt is controlling the boat from the bridge roof (He clearly doesn't need a video games system, when he has these controls)
Motu Teiko: The boat got pretty close to the rocks on some occasions. It was reassuring to learn later in the trip, that the Braveheart has very good sonar equipment on board & that the islands are as steep underwater as they are above the surface
Not having tried photographing Seabirds at sea before, then it took me a while to work out suitable settings. The best settings were to photograph them in good daylight. But clearly that wasn't an option in the late afternoon gloom. The main camera settings that I tended to use were to over expose them by 2/3 or 1 stop. I had the focusing set on the Canon 7D to the [ ] setting, so there was a fairly broad focusing area. Trying to use the spot focusing was generally too difficult for me on a constantly moving boat. I also stuck with the AV settings, but others like Geoff preferred to do everything on manual (but he has been photographing Seabirds for many more years for me). But it was generally a case of taking some photos, checking them, tweeking the settings & trying again until the exposures were OK. Fortunately, we visited Motu Teiko again later in the trip for longer, so initially there was better light & I was more used to photographing Seabirds, by that point in the trip.
Christmas Island Shearwater: The early attempts were a failure. But finally this photo wasn't as bad. This is a monotypic species which is widespread in the Tropical Central Pacific
Much closer to dusk, smaller numbers of the smaller, black & white Tropical Shearwaters started arriving. This is a potential split from the nominate Tropical Shearwater which is found in the Mascarene Islands of the Indian Ocean. But that's academic for me at the moment, when this was a Tick.
Tropical Shearwater: This is the dichrous subspecies which occurs from Samoa to the Marquesas Islands. Other subspecies occur elsewhere in the Indian Ocean & the North Pacific Bonin Islands
Tropical Shearwater
Brown Booby: There were also a few Brown Boobies flying around. This is the plotus subspecies which occurs from the Red Sea, through the Indian Ocean to the Central Pacific. The other three subspecies occur in the Pacific or tropical Atlantic from the Southern US to Central America
Soon after dusk, we left the shelter of the islands & headed off for the 1.5 day journey to Pitcairn. It was a rough nice and like several on the boat, I wasn't enjoying the movement.