31 Mar 2018

31 Mar 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Three: At Sea From Ushuaia To South Georgia

I was out on deck earlier this morning as I had seen the ship's doc & switched to a seasickness patch. This had the advantage of providing a steady dose of the anti-seasickness drug lasting three days, rather than having to take a tablet when I woke up & then doze for some time to allow the tablet to kick in. The only downsides were ensuring I didn't lose the patch in the shower & I no longer had an excuse for a lie-in. The rear of the fourth deck 4 was busy with Seabirds as usual, but several Skuas had come & gone, including a South Polar Skua: the only Skua I still needed.
Brown Skua: This Brown Skua wasn't a substitute for a South Polar Skua. Brown Skuas are heavier & more uniform in colouration compared to Chilean Skuas, which are a bit lighter built (whilst still a large Skua) & have a capped appearance which contrasts with a rusty face, breast & underparts (see the Chilean Skua photo from the Beagle Channel)
Brown Skua: Brown Skua taxonomy is another tricky area with 3 subspecies recognised by Clements: Falklands (antarticus) which occurs in Patagonia, Falklands & South Georgia, Subantarctic (lonbergi) which is predominately around the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands & Tristan (hamiltoni) which occurs in the Tristan Da Cunha and Gough Islands. The subspecies are not easy to separate, but on range this would be expected to be a Falklands Brown Skua
Apart from the Skuas, the day was largely a set of similar species to those seen on the previous day. However, the Storm-petrels had changed with the first Wilson's and Black-bellied Storm-petrels putting in an appearance, along with Subantarctic Little Shearwaters & my first Atlantic Petrels.
Wandering Albatross: Subadult Snowy. Adults have more white in the inner wing & the black is restricted to the central tail feathers
Wandering Albatross: Subadult Snowy. The underwing of the same near individual
Wandering Albatross: Subadult Snowy. The brown in the cap & the reduced extend of white in the wing suggests this is a younger individual than the last individual
Wandering Albatross: Subadult Snowy. Another photo of the last individual
Soft-plumaged Petrel
Soft-plumaged Petrel: I like this atmospheric photo
Antarctic Prion
Antarctic Prion: The same individual
Grey Petrel: An overexposed photo of a Grey Petrel. I was finding it hard to get the exposure correct for the pale Prions & Petrels. Eventually, I was advised to change the camera to spot metering on the subject, rather than the whole image & this helped. One of the advantages of the Odyssey was being able to talk to a number of different photographers & pick up improvements to my camera settings
White-chinned Petrel
Subantarctic Little Shearwater: The Southern Ocean Subantarctic Little Shearwater is now split from Boyd's Little Shearwater & Baroli's Little Shearwaters of the North Atlantic, as well as, the recently split Little Shearwater of Northern New Zealand and Norfolk & Lord Howe Islands
Subantarctic Little Shearwater: They have blue-greyish upperparts compared to the black upperparts of the North Atlantic species
Subantarctic Little Shearwater: This is presumed to be the widespread elegans subspecies, which breeds on Tristan Da Cunha & Gough Island, as well as, the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands. It has been recently split from the other subspecies which breed in islands off parts of New Zealand's North Island (haurakiensis), the Kermadec Islands (kermadecensis), Norfolk & Lord Howe Islands (assimilis) & off South West Australia (tunneyi) and are known as Little Shearwater
Black-bellied Storm-petrel: This is the nominate tropica subspecies which breeds on Subantarctic islands throughout the colder Southern Oceans
Black-bellied Storm-petrel: One of the great things about the Odyssey was having Bob Flood on board who is one of the leading Seabird experts. Bob gave a superb talk on the Odyssey on separating Black-bellied Storm-petrels from White-bellied Storm-petrels. This is far from straight-forward as some Black-bellied populations can have white-bellies (there is more to come on this subject as we get into the Tropics)
Black-bellied Storm-petrel: All the six individuals photographed today were all straight-forward to identify as they had clearly visible black-bellies. This wasn't the case as we headed into the Tropics
Black-bellied Storm-petrel
Black-bellied Storm-petrel

30 Mar 2018

30 Mar 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Two: At Sea From Ushuaia To South Georgia

One of the things about the Plancius is her normal speed is around 11 - 12 knots when sea conditions allow. Therefore, we would travel around 275 nautical miles in a 24 hr period. South Georgia is around 1100 nautical miles from Ushuaia, so we were expecting to be at sea for four days. Anybody taking a trip on ships like the Plancius has to be happy to spend a fair bit of time looking at sea. Travelling at 12 nautical miles an hour doesn't sound a lot, it is only about 14 miles an hour. But travelling that steadily means Seabirds can often keep up with that speed & thus spend longer in the wake or speed up and cross the bows. A faster cruise ship would not have that advantage. When we got to the calmer Tropics we were often able to pick up Cetaceans at over a nautical mile ahead of us, with large Whale blows at greater distances. But that was only about 5 minutes sailing away. If they were only surfacing occasionally, we could quickly lose them as we sometimes misjudged where they would re-reappear relative to our position. Even when we were watching Cetaceans on the surface, then we passed them all too quickly, unless a decision was made that we would stop the ship & slowly approach them.
The Southern Ocean seas: The weather had deteriorated overnight, but it wasn't too bad in the morning.
By lunchtime, the Plancius had started rolling more significantly & all the decks, apart from the bridge wings were closed. This wasn't great as the more hardy Birders were all trying to pack into a small area, not helped by the limited handholds when the rolling got worse. Having footwear with a good grip was essential for the next two weeks while we were at sea. It wasn't feasible to try using the camera at this point, given the number of Birders & the sea state. In the end, I carried on birding from the comfort & warmth of a chair by the window in the observation lounge: which was surprisingly OK.
Grey-headed Albatross: Adult. My favourite Albatross
Grey-headed Albatross: Grey-headed Albatrosses are circumpolar & occur North as far as about 35 South, although we only saw them on the crossing from Ushuaia to South Georgia
Kerguelen Petrel: My first Kerguelen Petrel. I saw a few most days we were at sea in the Southern Oceans with the last seen as we approached Gough Island
Antarctic Prion: I saw them daily on the crossing from Ushuaia to South Georgia. These are presumably the South Georgian banksi subspecies (although to be certain you need to see one with a spray can in the foot)
Antarctic Prion: The same individual. The darker grey chest patch, the heavier bill & a stronger M on the upperparts help to separate this species from the Slender-billed Prion (see the Post for Day One at Sea from Ushuaia to South Georgia)
White-chinned Petrel: This was a fairly common Petrel seen in the colder Southern Oceans with the last ones that I saw being as we approached Gough Island
White-chinned Petrel: Not as sharp as I would like, but very atmospheric
South American Sealion: I was surprised to see this individual so far out to sea which I think is a South American Sealion rather than one of the Fur Seals

29 Mar 2018

29 Mar 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day One: At Sea From Ushuaia To South Georgia

I hadn't had a lot of sleep in the three nights I was in Ushuaia & coupled with the effects of the seasickness tablets (which makes me sleepy) & a rocky first night, I ended up skipping breakfast & having a long lie in. It was good to catch up on the lost sleep. More importantly I had survived the first night without feeling seasick & this was to be my first long boat trip without any problems with seasickness. Once I got on deck I found I had missed a few Seabirds, but no Ticks: & all species I saw later that afternoon. A number of the other Wildwings Birders had been checking out the back of the fourth deck & so I spent the next few hours there. We had a fairly strong swell and it was one of the more stable locations. Later in the afternoon, the swell moderated & we spent more time at the bows. There was a good selection of Southern Ocean Seabirds on the first afternoon which included the following species:-
Black-browed Albatross: Subadult. A familiar face from the Beagle Channel. The bill looks like an adult bill, but the lack of a strong black eyebrow suggests it is still a subadult. Anybody who wants to look at aging properly can have a more detailed read of the excellent North Atlantic Seabirds: Albatrosses & Fulmarine Petrels by Bob Flood & Ashley Fisher
Royal Albatross: Adult. Albatross taxonomy is not agreed by all authorities & currently Clements lumps the two Royal Albatrosses: this is the Southern Royal Albatross
Royal Albatross: Adult. Another Southern Royal individual
Royal Albatross: This is the head of the second individual. Both subspecies of Royal Albatrosses have a dark line in the pink bill, which Wandering Albatrosses do not show
Wandering Albatross: Again Wandering Albatross taxonomy is not agreed & Clements treats the distinct populations as subspecies. This is an Adult Snowy Albatross
Wandering Albatross: A close up of the head of this individual shows the all pink bill. Seem to remember somebody on the Odyssey saying that Wandering Albatrosses have a different head & neck shape & the yellow-brown colouration on the sides of the neck is a salt staining (which Royal Albatrosses do not show)
Wandering Albatross: I'm constantly amazed at how much information you can get from photos that is not possible to see in the field: this individual is ringed
Wandering Albatross: Subadult. The aging of Wandering Albatrosses is hard & further complicated by the various subspecies. I will stick to Subadult. The feet extend more prominently in flight compared to Royal Albatrosses
Wandering Albatross: The underwing of the same individual
Diving-petrel sp.: I'm posting these photos for comment. The photos were taken in early afternoon on the first day after leaving Ushuaia. We were probably about 100 nautical miles off the East coast of Argentina
Diving-petrel sp.: I originally wondered if the apparent white collar might suggest this was a Megallanic Diving-petrel, but I now think it's a photo effect magnifying a pale eyebrow & ear coverts & is more likely to be a Common Diving-petrel. But I don't think it can be safely regarded as anything other than Diving-petrel sp.
Diving-petrel sp.: All photos are of the same individual
Diving-petrel sp.
Cape Petrel: One of the most instantly recognisable Petrels of the Southern Ocean
Cape Petrel
Cape Petrel: This and the previous two photos are a different individual to the final photo
Cape Petrel: This individual looks like the nominate subspecies. The australe subspecies breeds on the New Zealand Subantarctic islands & is darker than this individual on the wings & has heavier spots on the rump. However, Bob Flood & Ashley Fisher in the North Atlantic Seabirds: Albatrosses & Fulmarine Petrels book state that there is considerable variation within the populations & so many should be considered as intermediate
Soft-plumaged Petrel: One of my favourite Petrels from the Southern Ocean
Soft-plumaged Petrel: Fortunately, we regularly saw Soft-plumaged Petrels in the South Atlantic & this really helped me get my eye in for when we entered Pterodroma waters during the West African Pelagic
Soft-plumaged Petrel
Soft-plumaged Petrel
Soft-plumaged Petrel
Soft-plumaged Petrel: They are really good at getting into these unusual postures
Soft-plumaged Petrel
Slender-billed Prion: The Slender-billed Prion photos are all from the same individual
Slender-billed Prion: I think Prions are one of the most difficult Seabird groups around to identify. Superficially, they all fairly similar & lighting can change their overall colouration as you follow an individual flying around the ship
Slender-billed Prion
Slender-billed Prion
Great Shearwater: The first of many we were to see in the Southern Ocean
Grey-backed Storm-petrel: I saw at least 15 of these distinctive Storm-petrels. We quickly got good to scanning the small patches of floating weed, as the Grey-backed Storm-petrels were sometimes sitting on this weed. A pity the photos aren't better
Grey-backed Storm-petrel: This is a circumpolar species which occurs as far North as 35 South (i.e. roughly as far North as Buenos Aires)
It was a good start to the trip with good light for photography. However, I now have over 20,000 photos from the Odyssey to sort through so it's going to be some time before I get to the 7,000 or so from the West African Pelagic.