17 Mar 2018

17 Mar 18 - Chile: Arica Pelagic

When I was planning the Chile trip, I looked at options to include a pelagic. There was the possibility of a pelagic running from Valparaiso on my last day in Chile. However, the chances of seeing a Tick was low. A pelagic from one of the Northern Chilean ports looked better on paper, however, there were none running while I was in Chile. I tried sending emails to a couple of the pelagic tour company operators & one offered to see if they could arrange an extra pelagic if I proposed a date. I suggested 17 Mar 18 as that would be a Saturday & that gave the best chance of other Chilean Birders being available. To cut a long story short, I received an email a few weeks before I arrived in Chile, that a morning pelagic had been confirmed. I changed my plans for Northern Chile to squeeze in the pelagic. The boat was due to leave at 07:30 from the main pier in the docks. I arrived early & walked into the docks. I discovered that there was a small car park next to the pier & moved the car there, as it would be safer than parked on the streets. The main entrance to the docks was by the Rail Museum on Avenue Comandante San Martin. There is the entrance to the main port, but immediately to the right is an additional small road, leading to the small ferry pier & car park. It would be well worth a visit for any visiting Birder who doesn't have the chance to get out on a boat, but just wants to see the Gulls & other roosting Seabirds. There was a Scandinavian Birder who was living in Arica with his girlfriend, four Chilean Bird photographers & a local Birder who was the pelagic guide, who were on the pelagic. The light was poor as we were leaving the harbour, but there were a few thousand Gulls & Inca Terns roosting on the fishing boats, along with a couple of Night Herons. I only found out that the Night Herons were a local goodie, when discussing it with the Scandinavian Birder on the way back into port. They weren't on view when we returned & it would have been a Chilean Tick for him. Still he lived in Arica & had the chance to visit the port again.
One of many fishing boats about a mile out of the port
There was a mass of Grey Gulls, Franklin's Gulls & Inca Terns feeding around the fishing boats
Some South American Sealions along with Grey Gulls & Franklin's Gulls having their breakfast
Peruvian Pelicans with Grey Gulls & Franklin's Gulls
Peruvian Pelicans with Grey Gulls & Franklin's Gulls
Our boat wasn't large with seating for around twelve people, but there was enough room for us: One of the crew was on chumming duty for an hour when we were a few miles offshore
I had been expecting the sea to be choppy, but it was surprisingly calm given the next land is Queensland, Australia. There was still a fair of movement, given we were on a small boat, but I wasn't complaining.
Salvin's Shy Albatross: A few years ago, Shy Albatross was split into three species: Salvin's Shy Albatross, Chatham's Shy Albatross & White-capped Shy Albatross. I added the word Shy into the name to remind me of the relationship to the old taxonomy
Salvin's Shy Albatross: We saw this individual several times over a half hour period: photos from various fly pasts show the same moult patterns in the wings
Salvin's Shy Albatross
Salvin's Shy Albatross: They breed on Crozet Island in the Southern Indian Ocean as well as, Bounty Islands & Snares Island which are part of the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands. Outside of the breeding season they wander widely in the Southern Oceans & are the commonest Albatross after Black-browed Albatross in Chilean waters
Salvin's Shy Albatross: They can be separated from Chatham's Shy Albatross by their dull olive-brown bill with a yellow culmen & paler grey hood. There is often a small break in the black leading edge close to the base of the wing (which is just visible on the third photo) & white in the base of the primaries. They can be separated from White-capped Shy Albatross by their duller, duskier bill with dark mark at tip of lower mandible and duller yellowish culmen, pale grey hood & much less white in base of primaries. White-capped Shy Albatrosses have a white head & a pale bill without the black spot in adults, although it is shown by immatures
White-chinned Petrel: This is the commonest of the large all-dark Shearwaters & Petrels in Chilean waters
White-chinned Petrel: This is a typical White-chinned Petrel that doesn't appear to show a white chin. However, the bill is pale without a dark tip. The other potential species in Chilean waters is Westland Black Petrel which had a brighter yellow bill with a contrasting black tip
White-chinned Petrel: They breed on the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, various Southern Indian Ocean Islands & the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands
Pink-footed Shearwater: This is the common large white-bellied Shearwater in Chilean waters. The pink bill & feet help to confirm the identification
Pink-footed Shearwater: The breed on the Chilean Mocha Island & Juan Fernandez Islands & range widely in the Pacific
Pink-footed Shearwater
Pink-footed Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater: Sooty Shearwaters accounted for over 80% of the Tubenoses seen on the pelagic. It must the commonest Tubenose in Chilean waters, given there was a constant movement off Chiloe Island later in the trip
Sooty Shearwater: After its yawn, it was off
Sooty Shearwater: They breed in Southern Chile, the Falkland Islands, Tristan da Cunha, SE Australia & New Zealand & range widely in all Oceans, except the North Indian Ocean when not breeding
Sooty Shearwater
Peruvian Diving-petrel: This is the only Diving-petrel in Northern Chile so there are no identity problems
Peruvian Diving-petrel
Peruvian Diving-petrel
Elliot's Storm-petrel: This photo shows how good the seas were at times
Elliot's Storm-petrel: A crop from the previous photo. They are a bit smaller than a Wilson's Storm-petrel & have legs which extend beyond the tail. The white belly (when seen) is diagnostic
Elliot's Storm-petrel: This patch on the underwing also separates them from Wilson's Storm-petrels
Elliot's Storm-petrel: Apparently, they are more erratic in flight than Wilson's Storm-petrel, but I would have wanted to see them together to assess that feature
Elliot's Storm-petrel: The occur along the coast of Ecuador to central Chile & around the Galapagos Islands, but their breeding grounds are unknown
Peruvian Booby
Chilean Skua: This is the common large Skua around the Chilean coastline. We also had singles of Arctic Skua & Long-tailed Skua, both of which quickly passed by. The Arctic Skua got the others excited & I was initially worried I had misidentified it as an Arctic Skua. When I checked I found out they are uncommon Skuas in Chile. When something good was seen first by one of the others, there was the obvious shouts & pointing, following by cameras being raised. But everything was in Spanish, so I ended up having to work everything out myself & then confirm it with the guide once I had got some photos
Chilean Skua: Not the best of photos, but none of the Skuas hung around for long
As we started to return, we had a short sighting of some Dusky Dolphins. Unfortunately, they didn't want to linger.
Dusky Dolphin: This was the first of thirty one species of Cetaceans I was to see in 2018
Dusky Dolphin: They have a narrow white stripe from the rear side of the body curving up towards the dorsal fin
Dusky Dolphin: A close crop from the previous photo showing a better view of the thin white stripe
Dusky Dolphin: They have a falcate & pointed dorsal fin & this distinctive two-tone colouration
Dusky Dolphin: A close crop from the previous photo
Finally, it was time to return to the harbour. It had been a good morning's pelagic, but with a frustrating ending when I discovered that all the other Birders were being charged about fifty US dollars in local currency, whereas I was being charged an extra hundred US dollars. When I complained about the price, I received a response that it was similar price to what I would pay for a pelagic elsewhere in the world & I had agreed to it. But their emails & website didn't make it clear there was a different price for locals, including the Scandinavian Birder. If I booked onto a pelagic in the US, I wouldn't expect to pay three times the price for having a UK passport. The Scillies pelagics don't surcharge foreigners either & aren't as expensive either & I guess that's typical in many other countries with similar costs of living to the UK. If the cost of living in Chile was low, I would have understood, but it is broadly similar to UK costs for accommodation & food, with only fuel cheaper, due to the high fuel taxes in the UK. One of the Birders flew up specially from Santiago for the trip & three of the photographers had more expensive camera gear than my Canon 7D Mark II & 100-400mm Mark II lens. So, I think it was more a case of ripping the foreigner off by a tour company. While I appreciate there was some extra organisation to arrange an extra pelagic & guide, this can't have been too much work, given they regularly run pelagics from Arica. They clearly didn't make a loss on the trip, as they wouldn't have run it. So, while it was a good pelagic, this overcharging makes me serious think perhaps it would have been better to have had more time at Lauca & Putre.