16 Apr 2018

16 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Eighteen: At Sea From Tristan Da Cunha To St Helena - Mantas & More Flying Fish

The third full day at sea been Tristan da Cunha and St Helena had been an excellent day for Cetaceans with a pod of Strap-toothed Beaked Whales, a close old male Blainville's Beaked Whale (which I saw, but failed to get any photos of) & a lone Dwarf Pygmy Whale. However, in between it was another good day for Flying Fish, albeit I didn't see as many Small Clearwings as seen on the previous day. But I did managed to photograph three new species of Flying Fish.
Geoff has gone full blown Bush Tucker Man today to keep the sun off while chasing Flying Fish: He has the strong Ozzie accent to go with the look
On the previous day I had seen a couple of Four-winged Flying Fish, but I failed to get a photo of these common & large Flying Fish. The Small Clearwings were around 6 inches long & only had two wings. The Four-winged Flying Fish were about a foot long, had two long forewings & two smaller rear wings. Four-winged Flying Fish were distinctive as they had sooty grey forewings with an off white trailing edge to the forewings. They look similar to the Necromancer that Steve Howell covers in the identification pdf guide to Flying Fish. However, it seems that Howell's Necromancers are probably a related species, rather than the Four-winged Flying Fish (Hirundichthys affinis).
Four-winged Flying Fish (Hirundichthys affinis): They were about a foot long, with sooty grey wings & an obvious off white trailing edge to the forewings. The small hindwings are clear & the lower tail is black
I saw Four-winged Flying Fish on most days from today until the final day at sea before Cape Verde. On some days I saw several hundred Four-winged Flying Fish. The IUCN Red List describes them as occurring from the Gulf of Mexico & Eastern Caribbean to the Gulf Stream & off the African coast from Mauritania to Angola.
Four-winged Flying Fish (Hirundichthys affinis): Generally, they appeared on their own, although it wasn't unusual for a few others to be seen soon after
Four-winged Flying Fish (Hirundichthys affinis): They tended to make several glides, with the tail re-entering the water to get another kick for the next glide. They often changed directions between glides. The overall glide could last over 30 seconds & the distance travelled could be up to about 60 - 80 metres
Four-winged Flying Fish (Hirundichthys affinis): They are quite good at being able to change direction by how they angled their forewings & tail
I also saw a couple of other less common species of Flying Fish including this superb Bandwing Flying Fish which was another foot long, four-winged Flying Fish.
Bandwing Flying Fish (Cheilopogon exsiliens): I only saw a few of these good looking Flying Fish which showed a pale wing band. I have been able to get an identification thanks to the internet. They range from about 25 degrees South to Cape Verde in the Atlantic & therefore aren't covered by Howell's identification PDF. This species was also photographed by Graham Ekins on the Plancius in 2012 between Tristan da Cunha & St Helena
Bandwing Flying Fish (Cheilopogon exsiliens): A more distant view of the same individual. They are about a foot long & look superficially similar to the Four-winged Flying Fish, but have this noticeable pale wing bar
Bandwing Flying Fish (Cheilopogon exsiliens): A pity this wasn't sharp, but it does show how they can flick their tail to gain lift to keep gliding
Bandwing Flying Fish (Cheilopogon exsiliens): This was another individual which showed an extreme pale wing bar
The other new species was Atlantic Flying Fish. This was another foot long, four-winged Flying Fish. It looks to similar to Bar-tailed Clearwing covered in Howell's identification PDF, but Atlantic Flying Fish is restricted to the Atlantic & so Bar-tailed Clearwing must be another related species.
Atlantic Flying Fish (Cheilopogon melanurus): This seemed a scarce species along our route. I only saw them on three days on both sides of St Helena
Atlantic Flying Fish (Cheilopogon melanurus): This is a large four-winged Flying Fish with clear wings with obvious veins & a dark tail. According to the IUCN Red List they are a common species occurring in the Gulf Stream in the Western Atlantic, as well as off Brazil & from Senegal to Angola
Atlantic Flying Fish (Cheilopogon melanurus): A series of tail flicks to get some fresh momentum
Atlantic Flying Fish (Cheilopogon melanurus): Just getting clear of the water
Atlantic Flying Fish (Cheilopogon melanurus): Take off for another glide
We also saw quite a few Small Clearwings which the other common species of Flying Fish that I saw most days until the last full day at sea before the Cape Verde islands.
Small Clearwing (Exocoetus volitans): They curve the forewings on take off
Small Clearwing (Exocoetus volitans): Once in glide, the forewings are flattened
Small Clearwing (Exocoetus volitans): Another taking off
Some of the Birders & Bird photographers on the Plancius might have been unimpressed with these Flying Fish as they were only Fish. I certainly didn't share that view. We got told as we got closer to St Helena that Flying Fish were one of the favourite foods of Red-footed Boobies & sometimes Red-footed Boobies would try to keep up with the Plancius, as the Plancius ended up flushing Flying Fish. I later saw this on a couple of occasions & this was something that made even the most focused Bird photographer appreciate the Flying Fish a little bit. 
Small Clearwing (Exocoetus volitans): This individual shows the pink central stripe that Steve Howell mentioned as a feature of Small Clearwings. It wasn't particularly clear on the individuals photographed on the previous day
Finally, it's time for a larger species of Fish. In the late afternoon we saw a set of confusing fins on the surface & there were still there when they passed the Plancius about 30 metres off the starboard side. I was struggling to get my head around what they were, but there was a shout (probably from Marijke or Hans) that there were a mating pair of Manta Rays. This initially left me just as confused as I've been lucky to scuba dive in Micronesia & see several Manta Rays passing over head. They were much bigger than the individuals were were watching on the Plancius. However, as there is more than one species of Manta Rays and perhaps this was one of the smaller species.
Manta Ray sp.: This was the first confusing view of a single pale tipped fin
Manta Ray sp.: It suddenly became very confusing as 3 fins appeared
Manta Ray sp.: Back to two fins
Manta Ray sp.: An obvious fin & a less obvious one
Manta Ray sp.: They were now a lot closer & while I was struggling to figure out what I was seeing at the time, looking at the photos now it was fairly obvious they were some sort of Manta Ray or something similar. But it is easier to figure this out without having an image on the camera constantly flashing
Manta Ray sp.: Note, the orange underwing in the previous photo is purely a paler grey underwing which was catching the strong orange glow from the setting sun (this photo was taken less than a second after the previous photo)
Manta Ray sp.
Manta Ray sp.: The underwing colours look a bit more realistic in this photo
It was a perfect evening to hang around on deck for the sunset & the mythical green flash. This time I thought I would also try capturing the green flash with the camera. Well both I & the camera failed to see a green flash. However, it was a great sunset.
Sunset: Supposedly, you aren't meant to look at the sun until the very last moment
Sunset: Well maybe I'll need to look on another night for the green flash. Although most days only had light cloud it was rare that there was no cloud on the horizon at sunset