28 Mar 2018

28 Mar 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Daily Life At Sea

The first thing was to figure out on the Plancius was the best place to stand. One of the good things about the Plancius was the number of decks with good viewing positions which generally provided sufficient room for people to spread out depending on their wildlife priorities. With about 60 or so Birders on the Odyssey, I thought it would be cramped on deck: but that only became a real problem on a couple of occasions when all decks were closed except for the bridge wings, due to the extent the ship was rolling. In the early days when we were at sea in the cold Southern Oceans, I generally ended up on the very back of the fourth deck watching the wake. There was a good selection of Albatrosses, Shearwaters, Petrels & the occasional Storm-petrel following in the wake. It was generally out of the wind & fairly sheltered. The only problem was it was popular with other Birders & so finding a good position wasn't always easy. In the colder Southern Oceans, I was keen to stick with other Birders as I didn't want to miss any of the goodies & it was useful being able to swap notes on id of the trickier species, albeit the most tricky Prions & diving-petrels were often worked out from photos in the evenings.
The back of the fourth deck: It could get a lot busier than this (30 Mar 18)
The back of the third deck was also popular especially with the big lens boys: Chris Mills (left) & Phil Hansbro (red jacket) (8 Apr 18)
A bad time on the back of the fourth deck, but I'm off for a coffee break: Most people were good at not standing in front of others, but there were a few persistently selfish individuals who only cared about themselves. At the end of the day, we have all paid a lot to join the Plancius, however, I tried to move into good viewing places without blocking people who were already there (30 Mar 18)
Virtually all of the Dutch Birders were good & pleasant characters: But this guy, known only as "Little John" was a persistent offender for selfishly pushing in front of people at every opportunity if given half the chance. This was a habit that finally stopped at the start of the West African Pelagic when a fantastic wave wrote off his camera (I am now considering if there is a Birding God). Once his behaviour was recognised, then we were generally successful in ensuring he didn't push in front of us. Unfortunately, the wave didn't ruin the camera of his equally selfish wife who continued to do her bit to try pushing in, but was equally stopped (24 Apr 18)
Another good place was standing at the bows on calmer days. There was a bit of shelter from the wind here & it was good for close views of Shearwaters & Petrels trying to cross the bows & also for picking up Storm-petrels & Diving-petrels. There were also a number of forward looking decks which had the advance they were quickly accessible from the observation lounge, if there was a shout during a drinks break or lecture.
The front bows could be a popular position on calm days: I spent a fair bit of time here in the early & calmer parts of the trip until I discovered the bridge wings (31 Mar 18)
The front decks: The lowest deck is the fourth deck & the fifth deck is accessible from the observation lounge. The sixth deck is accessible from the fifth deck: this was always a good deck to head to in the event of a shout whilst I was in the observation lounge as I could quickly leave most of the non Birders behind & get a good viewing position (1 Apr 18) 
Another good place was the top deck. This was weather dependent & became particularly popular as we entered tropical & sunnier waters. However, it tended to roll most in the Southern Oceans.
An empty looking top deck in the Southern Oceans: It often had good numbers of people in the Tropical seas (30 Mar 18)
Chris Mills (from Norfolk) & Yorkshire Geoff: They have found a position out of wind on the top deck (30 Mar 18)
The side of the sixth deck (from the top deck): This was a good position to get out of the wind, but I wasn't particularly impressed as you lost views forward & aft & communication to other decks was limited (30 Mar 18)
The side of the sixth deck was better on the really hot days for keeping out of the sun: (27 Apr 18)
By the time we reached the Tropics, I discovered that the bridge wings worked best for me. By this point, there were a limited number of potential Seabird Ticks left for me. More significantly, there was a good selection of Cetaceans that were possible for us to see & I was very keen to focus on looking for the Cetaceans, whilst keeping an eye out for any Bird Ticks & other interesting Birds. Generally, the weather became more reasonable once we left the Southern Oceans, with lighter winds, albeit generally only on one side of the ship on windier days. The bridge wings were a good vantage point for looking forward & sideways, especially if right in the outer corner of the bridge wing. Due to the good views, it was a good overall position for Birds, as once we entered warmer waters there were generally few Seabirds trailing the ship.The bridge wings were probably the best place on the ship for viewing Cetaceans. With the advantage of radios to the front deck, there was also a reasonable chance of seeing Turtles as the dived, although the front deck was ultimately the best place for Turtles. It was also a good place for photographing Flying Fish, albeit again the front deck was ultimately the best location for photographing them.
A panoramic view from the starboard bridge wing: This shows the amount of sea visible from the corner of the bridge wing if it wasn't too cold or windy (although the ship obviously isn't U shaped as the panorama photo) (27 Apr 18)
Looking forward from the bridge wing: (27 Apr 18)
The Oceanwide Flag: This was an important flag to keep an eye on. It provided the best quick indication of wind direction & speed which quickly determined which side of the ship I would be spending my next few hours on
Initially, I was generally on the bridge wings from after breakfast to close to dusk, but I realised there were a number of good Cetacean sightings, pre-breakfast & during lunch. As a result, I switched to generally being on the bridge wings from soon around 06:30 to about 30 minutes before the end of the day (when the light was generally starting to go anyway). I generally spent around 11 hours on deck, excluding the brief drink breaks, with biscuits & sandwiches (made at breakfast) to keep me going. One of the problems was leaving the bridge wings, was some of the other birders might end up grabbing the best spots. That was fine if people at the front looked, but there were a ground of persistent offenders on the Odyssey who were keen to grab the best spot (when vacated), but rarely looked as they were too busy chatting. They expected the people behind them with poorer views to find them the Birds & Cetaceans (& didn't seem to have spotted the obvious flaw in their logic). At least when I was in one of the best viewing positions, I rarely stopped scanning & did pick up more than my fair share of Birds & Cetaceans. After A few days at the front of the bridge wing, then some people did appreciate what I was picking up & were good at reserving my place during quick loo/drink breaks.
One of the most essential pieces of Birding kit for long sessions on the bridge wings: Coffee
The other big advantage of the bridge wings was this was where the expedition staff were most likely to look from. There were two excellent Cetacean specialists in the Odyssey expedition: Marijke de Boer & Hans Verdaat. Marijke probably had the stronger knowledge of other sealife and was pretty good on Seabirds, whereas, Hans was the stronger Birder. Both were very good at sharing their Cetacean knowledge & I learnt a lot about Cetaceans from both of them. Glenn Overington also had a strong Cetacean knowledge from many years of leading Orca tours in Biscay & he was another great source of knowledge. Both Marijke & Hans worked as a team to recording all significant sightings with lat/long coordinates, so they could be submitted once they had wifi connectivity. We wouldn't have recorded the stunning total of 30 species of Cetaceans seen on the voyage without Marijke & Hans being on the expedition staff: this is approximately one third of the total number of Cetaceans. I left the Plancius with a much stronger desire to see more Cetaceans over the next few years. This could be an expensive addiction.
Marijke de Boer: Marijke was also carrying out quality testing on the cake that appeared at 16:00 daily. It was great that Marijke was able to stay on the Plancius all the way to Holland. She was the only member of the expedition crew with a good & relevant wildlife knowledge who could be on deck for large parts of the day during that leg of the voyage (21 Apr 18)
Hans Verdaat: All the expedition staff had to have good zodiac driving skills, as well as, their wildlife skills & being to present lectures. It was a real loss of Cetacean & Bird knowledge when Hans left at Cape Verde as the West African Pelagic failed to bring on any Dutch speaking expedition staff who were Birders, although there were a couple of non staff Birders (who also seemed to be paying punters) (Ascension Island 23 Apr 18)