21 Apr 2018

21 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Twenty Three: At Sea From St Helena To Ascension Island (Back At Sea)

Having left St Helena the Plancius was back to the 'at sea' routine. The most obvious sign was the morning wake up call wasn't until about 15 minutes before breakfast at 08:00. I was typically up around or soon after dawn so I typically had an hour or so on deck before breakfast. Additionally, there was often a Happy Hour in late afternoon which many of the passengers enjoyed. The prospect of any new Seabirds Ticks had now receded until we were closer to Ascension Island. But, it was worth being on deck as there were still chances of interesting Cetaceans, Sea Turtles, Sharks & Flying Fish. It was to be a shorter period at sea as it was only 2.5 days of sailing between the two islands. It proved to be a busy & hot day on deck with an air temperature on deck of 26C at breakfast time, which had increased to 33C by lunchtime.
Belgium Birders Olivier & Filiep flank Expedition staff member Hans
Taiwanese Longliner Yuh Yeou No 666: We were not pleased to see this longliner. The Expedition staff went away to check the exact position in case the longliner was inside the 200 nautical mile limit of the St Helena waters
The morning started in a frustrating way. After spending some time on deck before breakfast, I went down to grab a leisurely breakfast. I was the first back on the top deck only to find Hans had seen a South Polar Skua. It had appeared twice around the ship. Even more galling we quickly picked up a distant large Skua again off the starboard side. It was most likely the final pass of the South Polar Skua, but it never came closer to clinch the identification. I was going to have to keep waiting to see my last Skua species. But we did see the first Long-tailed Skuas of the Odyssey & they gave better views.
Long-tailed Skua: Adult. With this clean-cut black cap & pale lower face & breast this must surely be a Long-tailed Skua
Long-tailed Skua: Adult. As it took off then the long tail was obvious & confirmed the identify beyond doubt
Long-tailed Skua: Adult. An upperwing shot showing the pale grey-brown secondaries & secondary coverts
Long-tailed Skua: Adult. Another adult from later in the afternoon
Long-tailed Skua: Adult
Overall, the Birding was fairly quiet. I only saw a couple of dozen individuals of seven species despite being on deck for around ten hours. But what I did see were species that were more typical of the South Western corner of the Atlantic Western Palearctic, although we wouldn't get to the Western Pacific boundary until 29 Apr 18. There were a few Bulwer's Petrels. I had seen a handful around St Helena & failed to get any photos. The only photos I managed to get today were in really harsh light, but at least the photos are identifiable.
Bulwer's Petrel: They are small Petrels, with long, narrow, pointed wings and a long, narrow, pointed tail
Bulwer's Petrel: This photos shows the secondary coverts are paler than the primaries
Bulwer's Petrel: Confirmation of how long & thin the wings are
Bulwer's Petrel: A fairly typical angled shape of a Bulwer's Petrel as it turns: they are very acrobatic in flight & generally keep low to the water's surface
Cory's Shearwater: This is the borealis subspecies which breed on the Atlantic islands of the Azores, Madeira, Canaries & Berlenga Islands (which lie off the Lisbon coast)
Cory's Shearwater: Another view of the same individual
Cory's Shearwater: The same individual. The white would extend further into the hand if this had been a Mediterranean Island breeding Scopoli's Shearwater (the nominate subspecies of Cory's Shearwater)
We were seeing Flying Fish throughout the day. But they were mainly Small Clearwings & a few Four-winged Flying Fish.
Four-winged Flying Fish
In the early evening we passed some of the most atmospheric clouds I've seen. Fortunately, we missed the rain squall.
Rain clouds
Sunset: The skies had changed 45 minutes later to produce another dramatic sunset
Sean Browne, John Shemilt & Chris Mills taking the Happy Hour approach to Birding
While the Seabirds had been OK, the Cetaceans were superb throughout the day. However, I will cover the Cetaceans in subsequent Posts.