29 Apr 2018

29 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Thirty One: Entering Western Palearctic Waters

Today was a day of mixed emotions as it was our last day at sea on the Atlantic Odyssey as tomorrow we would be just offshore from Praia at first light: Praia is on Santiago Island & is the capital of the Cape Verde Islands. Most of the passengers would be departing, including a number of good friends I had made over the last month. However, some of the Wildwings punters were staying on for the follow-on West African Pelagic, so I would still have some good company for the following two weeks. As a result of it being the last day, then there were a number of tedious admin tasks to complete such as settling bills with the Plancius & finalising the plans for our run ashore the following day. There was also the pleasant task of saying goodbyes to all the friends who were leaving. There was also the important discussion with Mike & Glenn of the top three annoying passengers over the last month, but we agreed to give awards to five passengers as there was such strong competition. Just one candidate failed to get into the top five passengers, along with a couple of others who put in a good effort. Thus, around a hundred had been pleasant to excellent company. I guess that is pretty good going after a month together. In addition, we were losing nearly all the Expedition staff & Doc Laura, the ship's medic: all of which had been excellent company & had been essential to making the trip a success. Only Marijke was staying on for the follow-on West African Pelagic. For the passengers, it had been a month at sea, but most if not all of the Expedition staff had been in Antarctica before we joined the Plancius. For some this final day was a chance to wind down as it was all over.
Belgium Birder Filiep was caught being a bit more relaxed that about his last day of Birding
Argentinian Seba & Christophe (right) sharing a mug of the South American drink mate: Seba had been the Expedition Leader and had done a sterling job behind the scenes to make the trip a success. Both were probably looking forward to the chance to return to their respective families
However, for many of the British & European Birders we crossed the two hundred nautical miles line to the Cape Verde Islands & thus we were in the WESTERN PALEARCTIC at first light. Around Cape Verde we were now in range of the next batch of Seabird Ticks: Cape Verde Shearwater, Boyd's Little Shearwater, Fea's Petrel & Cape Verde Storm-petrel. Additionally, a number of other Seabirds we had been watching for the last few days were now potential Western Palearctic Ticks. So, the keen Birders were aiming to make the most of the last day running into the Cape Verde Islands, albeit we would still be around ninety nautical miles from Praia at dusk. I take my Western Palearctic List semi-seriously and so the next couple of weeks had potential to add between fifteen & twenty Ticks including a number of far more serious World Ticks.
Cory's Shearwater: This is the borealis subspecies of Cory's Shearwater which is the Atlantic breeding subspecies. They have more extensive grey in the hand of the underwing. They are larger and heavier than Cape Verde Shearwaters & have a pale yellow bill with a dark subterminal band
Cory's Shearwater: Another view of the same individual
Cory's Shearwater: Another view of the same individual. They have paler secondaries compared to the primaries
Red-billed Tropicbird: This & Bulwer's Petrel were the two Western Palearctic Ticks seen during the day. I also saw my first Cape Verde Shearwater, but didn't manage to get any presentable photos
Frustratingly, the sea, which had been calm since leaving Ascension Island, had changed & the sea was distinctly choppy. This didn't help with trying to pick up Cetaceans on this final day at sea. I was also looking hard for Seabirds given the potential Ticks. I only managed to see & photograph Leach's Storm-petrels, but without good photos I would have been reluctant to identify a Cape Verde Storm-petrel this far out from Cape Verde from a Band-rumped Storm-petrel.
Short-finned Pilot Whale
Close to lunchtime we ran into a large pod of Short-finned Pilot Whales. We carried on as we had had a number of excellent encounters with Short-finned Pilot Whales over the previous few days. But there was time to grab a few photos before we were past the pod.
Short-finned Pilot Whale: A tail flipper of this diving individual
Short-finned Pilot Whale: This individual's tail flippers looked much thinner (but it is just the wrong angle to the camera)
Short-finned Pilot Whale: A spyhopping individual
The Short-finned Pilot Whales were accompanied by a small pod of Bottlenose Dolphins. Both the Pilot Whales species tend to be messy eaters, so perhaps the Bottlenose Dolphins were sticking with them for scraps.
Bottlenose Dolphin: A mere beginner compared to the Spinner Dolphins & Clymene Dolphins seen on recent days
I had the most frustrating near sighting of the Odyssey in the late morning. There was a Cetacean shout from the starboard side when I was on the port side. I quickly got across to the other deck & got put onto a distant breaching Beaked Whale. Several times I saw the splash, but I didn't see the Beaked Whale itself. Hans & Glenn did & their photos confirmed it was a True's Beaked Whale. This is one of the rarer Beaked Whales & it was very annoying to scrutinise my photos later & confirm I had missed it.
True's Beaked Whale splash: Given its rarity, then there is a fairly good chance this will be as close as I every get to a True's Beaked Whale
One of the main highlights of the day was seeing another Loggerhead Turtle.
Loggerhead Turtle: The initial view didn't give away too many identification features
Loggerhead Turtle: Flippers out, but no great help with identification
Loggerhead Turtle: Coming up for air
Loggerhead Turtle: A close up of the head pattern. There are two pairs of scales at the front of the head. This rules out Green Turtle which only has one long pair of scales. The head shape would be more pointed & thinner if it was a Hawksbill Turtle. The overall colouration makes it a Loggerhead Turtle & rules out Olive Ridley Turtle
Loggerhead Turtle: It's caught its breath & is off. Unfortunately, I failed to get any good photos of the scales on the shell
We also saw the first Jellyfish species.
Apparently this is a Medusa Jellyfish
This flag & buoys may indicate that a long liner fishing vessel has deployed miles of fishing lines in this area
There was a final farewell from the Captain & some celebratory drinks in the Observation lounge in late afternoon. But like a few other keen Birders, I skipped the offer so I could spend a bit more time on deck on the final afternoon. It had been a fantastic trip with 5 species of Penguins, 8 species of Albatross, 25 species of Shearwaters & Petrels, 6 species of Storm-petrels, 2 species of Tropicbirds, my final species of Frigatebird & 3 species of Boobies. Additionally, there were a number of other endemic species seen on the various islands we visited. The only landing or zodic cruise that we had hoped to make & didn't was to Nightingale Island in the Tristan da Cunha group. Very few people ever get the chance to land on or zodiac alongside Inaccessible Island, so I never expected that to be a possibility. Many Birders I know think that being away for a month on an expensive trip & coming back with only 22 World Ticks is not cost effective. However, this for me trip was more than just a chance to see a few Ticks. It was the overall experience of a Seabird extravaganza, along with 22 species of Cetaceans (nearly 25% of the total species), 4 of the 7 species of Sea Turtles, excellent memories of Whale Sharks, the days of Flying Fish & many other sealife. Additionally, there was the opportunity to spend some time visiting some of the most remote British Overseas Territories. All this with some great company & experienced Expedition staff. Overall, it was one of the best trips I have ever been on. I was not ready to come home yet. Fortunately, I wouldn't have to as I had another two weeks on the Plancius after we left Praia as we sailed back to Holland on the follow-on West African Pelagic.