1 Apr 2018

1 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Four: At Sea From Ushuaia To South Georgia - A Promise Of An Early Morning Shag

Having spoken to one of my mates who was on the Odyssey two years ago, it sounds like there were many more serious Birders on our trip. I booked the trip through Wildwings who this year provided an excellent & proactive leader, Phil Hansbro, for the 24 Birders & 4 other punters who had booked through Wildwings. The Wildwings party was close to 30% of the passengers. There were several smaller groups of Dutch Birders with their own leaders & Phil also seemed to be talking to these guys. One of the proactive things Phil was doing was having regular discussions with the Expedition Leader, Seba, about how to maximise the Birding potential of the Odyssey. This was helped by the Expedition team also having a stronger wildlife background this year (compared to two years ago) & also wanting to see as much as possible on what sounds like will be the last Odyssey.
Phil Hansbro: A great leader who spent time checking everybody in the Wildwings party was happy, lobbied for improvements to the trip where realistic, fed back results & explanations to us where necessary, helped organised the trips ashore, ran a good log in the evening, knew his Birds, was on deck a lot helping everybody get onto the Birds & happy to enjoy a social time in the evening after all other tasks had been taken care off. One of the many characters on the Odyssey who helped to make it such a good trip. Thanks mate (St Helena on 18 Apr 18)
One of the first successes Phil & the Expedition team had was getting a route & speed change agreed with the ship's skipper so that we would be at the Shag Rocks at dawn. These are a group of isolated rocks which are 150 miles West of South Georgia. Normally, the Odyssey tends to miss the Shag Rocks as the ship passes them in the dark or significant fog on this stretch of the route causes visibility problems which hasn't warranted the diversion.
Shag Rocks: First light over the Shag Rocks
Shag Rocks: What I had initially taken to be a lighthouse (at a distance) was a rock stack
As the name suggests, the Shag Rocks are a breeding ground for the endemic South Georgia Shag which is restricted to South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands & South Orkney Islands. We saw South Georgia Shags daily around South Georgia so other Odyssey trips have not missed out on seeing them by sailing past the Shag Rocks. However, the chance to visit this large breeding colony was eagerly anticipated, even if it meant a pre-dawn alarm call. We knew we would only get an hour or so around the rocks before we had to continue towards South Georgia, so worth getting up early.
Shag Rocks
Shag Rocks
Shag Rocks
South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands are one of the 14 British Overseas Territories. The South Orkney islands have been claimed by both the UK (in 1908) & Argentina (1925), but as the islands lie only 375 miles off the Antarctic coastline, they are covered by the Antarctic Treaty which puts all territorial claims on hold.
Shag Rocks: The rocks were covered by breeding South Georgia Shags. It doesn't look like there is much free spaces
As it started to get light, the first South Georgia Shags starting flying off the rocks to get a close look at the Plancius.
South Georgia Shag: One of the first curious visitors to the Plancius
South Georgia Shag: There were often several flying around the ship to check us out
South Georgia Shag: Another close pass
South Georgia Shag: Some authorities have lumped South Georgia Shag in with Imperial Shag of the South American mainland
South Georgia Shag: All the Shags I photographed are immatures. Adults should have blue eyes & a yellow wattle just above the bill
South Georgia Shag
South Georgia Shag
South Georgia Shag: Some just wouldn't keep their distance
South Georgia Shag: Most of the close individuals were over our heads, so good to see this one over the water
South Georgia Shag: Finally, one on the water as we were leaving
The Seabird activity continued as we sailed away, until we got lured into breakfast. This morning's visit had been an excellent bonus for us.
Shag Rocks: Unfortunately, the Shag Rocks are disappearing into the distance as the light improves