4 May 2018

4 May 18 - West African Pelagic - Day Four: Sailing Through The Canary Islands

Today we left the deep ocean beds to pass through the Canary Islands. The original route would have taken us to the West of the Canary Islands. However, as we approached the islands, the Captain managed to get permission for us to follow the deep water channel with the islands of El Hierro & La Palma on our port side & La Gomera & Tenerife on the starboard side. This would be better for Seabirds & Cetaceans.
El Hierro: This is the most South Westerly of the Canary Islands
La Restinga on the southerly tip of El Hierro
The town of Taibique is located high above sea level on El Hierro
The island of La Palma lies to the North of El Hierro
Lighthouse at the Southerly end of La Palma
Santa Cruz on the Eastern side of La Palma
The Punta Cumplida lighthouse at the Northerly end of La Palma
To be honest, I wasn't expecting the Birds to provide the excitement during the day as the next potential Ticks were Zino's Petrels & Desertas Petrels in the waters around Madeira & the Desertas Islands. But there would be more opportunities for some photos during the day.
Colin Rogers having a few minutes downtime: Clearly, I wasn't the only person expecting the Birding to be a bit quiet
South African Sue Welman having an hours downtime
Anybody who has been seawatching from the land on the Canary Islands in the spring, will be used to seeing large numbers of Cory's Shearwaters. They are constantly flying past. Therefore, it wasn't surprising that the vast majority of the Seabirds seen were Cory's Shearwaters & I saw over a thousand during the day. I also saw around twenty Bulwer's Petrels & our only flock of seventeen Pomarine Skuas. The rest of the species that I saw were ones & twos of Manx Shearwaters, Leach's Storm-petrel, Bonxie & Yellow-legged Gull.
Cory's Shearwater: Not surprisingly, all the Cory's Shearwaters I photographed today were of the Atlantic breeding Cory's subspecies borealis
Cory's Shearwater: Another photo of the first individual
Cory's Shearwater: A final photo of the first individual
Cory's Shearwater: The black extending into the centre of the hand is indicative of the borealis subspecies on this second individual
Cory's Shearwater: The second individual
Cory's Shearwater: A final upperwing photo of the second individual
Cory's Shearwater: We disturbed large numbers of Cory's Shearwaters resting on the water, including these two
Bulwer's Petrel: I saw about twenty Bulwer's Petrels as we sailed between the islands
Pomarine Skua: A record photo of fifteen of the seventeen distant Pomarine Skuas that flew past the Plancius before breakfast. I only saw one other unphotographed individual on the Plancius on 28 Apr
Bonxie: This Skua flew past as we approached the island. After looking at photos & discussion, the conclusion was it was a tatty 1st Summer Bonxie (AKA Great Skua)
Yellow-legged Gull: A couple of adult Yellow-legged Gull of the nominate michahellis subspecies checked us out
I was hopeful that we would have some Cetacean interest during the day, due to the rapidly changing depths as we sailed through the islands. As we approached the islands we left the four kilometre deep plateau and sailed along a channel that would have varied between two to three kilometers deep. However, the seabed rose rapidly either side of the deep channel as we came within a few miles of the islands. The rapid changing depths would have created a lot of upwellings in the water & provided plenty of food & nutrients for microscopic life, Fish, Seabirds & Cetaceans. The first Cetaceans occurred before breakfast.
Short-finned Pilot Whale: This was our last Short-finned Pilot Whale on the Plancius. It was one of a small pod which appeared close to the Plancius
As we were watching the Short-finned Pilot Whales, a more distant blow was spotted on the starboard side.
Bryde's Whale: Bryde's Whales occur in all the tropical & subtropical oceans. The species is named after Norwegian Johan Bryde & should be pronounced as 'Brooder's Whale', not 'Bride's Whale'
Bryde's Whale: A dorsal fin appears to the right of the blow. This is clearly a large Whale, but Bryde's Whales can grow to 15 or 16 metres
Bryde's Whale: Bryde's Whales are a large Rorqual Whale. They have a tall & falcate dorsal fin & the main confusion species is the similar-sized Sei Whales which also have a similar shaped dorsal fin. Marijke confirmed the identification of these Bryde's Whales
Bryde's Whale: It slowly sank below the waves
Bryde's Whale: This has a different dorsal fin shape & looks to be a different individual. There were four in the party, although I only saw two of them. I can just see a fair bit of body in front of the dorsal fin
Bryde's Whale