25 Apr 2018

25 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Twenty Seven: A Family Set

It was a dramatic start to the day with a stunning dawn light on the first morning of our last five day leg of the Odyssey from Ascension Island to Cape Verde. Dawn looked to be more like a sunset, especially if the photo is underexposed a bit. The threatening clouds disappeared during the day & left us with air temperatures of 30 degrees C, with a sea temperature that was only slightly cooler.
Dawn on the Plancius
I was pleased I had got up early, as about 07:20 a shout went up for a Skua flying above the deck. Looking at it, I could see that it was a large Skua & immediately thought it might be a South Polar Skua given they often wander this far North. The only other likely candidate for a large Skua was a Bonxie. But it didn't look like a Bonxie on my initial views & it would have been a a very Southerly record for a Bonxie. There are Bonxie records as far South as Cape Verde & Senegal, but the Cape Verde Islands were still five days sailing away. I lifted the camera up to get some photos while it was close. Fortunately, the photos confirmed it was a dark phase South Polar Skua. I had finally seen my last Skua species. Based on Clements taxonomy, I have seen all the Skuas this year on either the trip to Estancia Harberton on the day before I joined the Plancius or on at least one day on the Plancius.
South Polar Skua: It was clearly a large, thickset Skua with a prominent while underwing flash
South Polar Skua: I was looking for a pale collar, but I couldn't see it on these initial views
South Polar Skua: Having checked us out, it quickly departed, whilst showing it bulky body & confirming the white wing flash was also prominent on the upperwing
South Polar Skua: Finally, a suggestion of a pale collar contrasting with the dark upperparts
South Polar Skua: A clearer view of the pale collar contrasting with the dark upperparts & strong white wing flashes
South Polar Skua: The collar wasn't as obvious when it briefly sat on the water
South Polar Skua: Whilst the photo isn't sharp, it does show that the South Polar Skua was a lot browner when the sun caught the body, but it doesn't have the warmer brown colours I normally expect for a Bonxie
This was only our third South Polar Skua sighting for the Odyssey. The first I missed as I wasn't on deck early enough on 31 Mar: The seasickness tablets were still leaving me sleepy in the early mornings at the time. The second Hans saw close to the Plancius on 21 Apr, while everybody was at breakfast. I was one of the first back on deck after breakfast & Hans & I had views of a large, but very distant, Skua which was most likely to have been the same individual on its final circling of the Plancius. But it was too far to be sure. So, I was pleased to have finally seen a South Polar Skua & completed the set of Skuas.
South Polar Skua: A final shot as it headed off. Overall, the South Polar Skua was on view for just five minutes & it was another example of why it was important to spent as much time on deck as possible
There was a reasonable selection of other Seabirds seen during the day, but few were seen close to the Plancius. My species list included three Cory's Shearwaters, a couple of Band-rumped Storm-petrels, as well as, at least forty Leach's Storm-petrels. There were also five Long-tailed Skuas, a couple each of Common Noddies & White-capped Noddies and several hundred Sooty Terns.
Leach's Storm-petrel
Leach's Storm-petrel: A second photo of the same individual
Leach's Storm-petrel: A final photo of the same individual
Leach's Storm-petrel: A second individual
Leach's Storm-petrel: A third individual