Atlantic Petrel Pterodroma incerta
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Wednesday 16 October
....Ascension Island could be seen on the radar at the bridge. We would sight land early afternoon. During the morning we tallied the first Ascension bird species; Sooty Terns together with lower numbers of White Terns and the occasional Masked Booby.
.... An Ascension Island Frigatebird, an island endemic, was seen with a feeding flock of Sooty Terns and both Black and Brown Noddies.
....Virtually all the passengers were on the decks to witness the avian metropolis of Boatswain Bird Island. Here on this small ‘rock’ maybe 45000 birds gather to breed, one of the Atlantic's seabird spectacles. Hundreds of Ascension Island Frigatebirds came to inspect the ship, to soar on the thermals and hang in the air over our heads. Lines of boobies, of three species, were streaming past. Around us, birds were in their thousands.
....the zodiacs were launched for the first time on the cruise. Soon all the passengers were motoring towards Boatswain Bird Island to experience the sight, sound and smell of a seabird colony close up. The cruise was around the leeward side. We drifted close, sometimes within touching distance of the rockface, where Black Noddies were as close as eight feet. Boobies were flying over our heads whilst White Terns skimmed the waves. A small school of Bottlenose Dolphins, probably part of an earlier group that welcomed us to the island, were inquisitive, surfacing next to the zodiacs as we made our return to the ship.
Thursday 17 October
....On Ascension Island an unbelievable 1300 cats had already been trapped or poisoned in a two-phase programme. It was due to these animals, plus rats, that the seabird colonies of the main island had disappeared. Already, this year, there is some evidence that boobies are nest prospecting again. The next project proposed is to eradicate the rats – this awaits the final budget approval but everyone believes the job having now started needs finishing. It may be that in a few years time Ascension will be rid of the two species that have all but wiped out the seabirds of the main island.
....a bus trip to the Wideawake Fair. 'Wideawake' being the local name for Sooty Terns, after their call, and 'Fair' being the name for a colony. At the height of the season there are 50,000 Sooty Terns here but they were nearing the end of the breeding cycle. Most chicks had fledged and were distinctive in an overall brown plumage quite different from the adults. The colony was still impressive however with thousands of birds still in residence, many rising and calling loudly as we approached. We stayed for half-hour and then with the cacophony of the tern colony still ringing in our ears we returned to the pier for transfer back to the ship.
Sunday 20 October
....three days out from Ascension and at 0615 we stood on the bridge wings and the upper deck to see the island of Saint Helena in front of us, shrouded in cloud.
....Our vehicle went to Deadwood Plain. This location has some 30% of the breeding population of the Saint Helena Plover. Soon we found four birds. They were larger than I expected, and at least one-quarter larger than their near relative, the Kittlitz's Plover. The bill and legs were noticeably longer also, even in proportion to their size. They were skittish (unusual for island species which are commonly tame) and would fly even on the opening of the minibus doors. I had read the opposite, that they rarely take to the air preferring to run, and even may slowly be losing the ability to fly. All our birds readily took flight.
Monday 21 October
....on our way to Tristan da Cunha and the South Atlantic.
....For birding, today we had reached ‘our’ doldrums! There was nothing to be seen by seawatching. After nine hours of looking I had the sum total of a single whale blow at six miles distance and a couple of flying fish. Very late afternoon Bill spotted two birds - the first lost immediately to view, and the second a storm-petrel but at distance.
Tuesday 22 October
....Soft-plumaged Petrels started to appear, becoming the ‘bird of the day’ reaching into double figures. Another new bird for the trip was Spectacled Petrel - this taxon is a recent split from White-chinned Petrel and is classified as Critically Endangered. It was very impressive with its white 'goggles' around the eyes.
....an intriguing sight was watching a Masked Booby chasing flying-fish. It would hover as normal then pursue at speed, diving and banking, changing direction to chase any fish put up by the ship.
Wednesday 23 October
....At the stern there was good birding; Spectacled Petrels were ever present and criss-crossing the wake all day, and a few Wilson's Storm-Petrels could always be guaranteed. A superb Great-winged Petrel inspected the boat and the view of this large Pterodroma couldn't have been better.
....A bonus was seeing a very large school of dolphins heading towards the ship. Even from afar the splashes indicated there were many hundreds of dolphins heading our way, seven hundred or more. They were Striped Dolphins and ignoring the ship they passed us and continued on their journey.
....an albatross was sighted!....a Yellow-nosed Albatross and it passed the bow to keep going into the distance.
....Another albatross species was seen late afternoon and this one uncommon in the Atlantic Ocean. It was a Shy Albatross, an immature bird with a very pale underwing and dark-tipped bill. It had a slightly hooded appearance, this particular bird probably the race/species steadi, a ‘White-capped Albatross’. Their status in the South Atlantic is really not known.
Thursday 24 October
....A Yellow-nosed Albatross at the stern was joined by two more in the late morning. Our first Wandering Albatross, an immature probably about four years old, also came in to the rear of the ship to dwarf the other albatrosses. Interestingly, the Spectacled Petrels of yesterday had all left the wake. From the bow a lone Great-winged Petrel and a number of Soft-plumaged Petrels were seen. Great Shearwaters regularly passed and Broad-billed Prions were in two's and three's.
....As the fog lifted we were to find some excellent birds. Atlantic Petrel was new, Broad-billed Prions were so close you could see the broad duck-like bills, Yellow-nosed Albatrosses passing close to the bow and the stern, good views of Little Shearwaters, and White-bellied Storm-Petrels - we were now into world-class birding.
Friday 25 October
....By 0600 we were dropping anchor off the remote island of Tristan da Cunha. This island is some 1600 nautical miles from Cape Town, 1750 from Brazil, 1300 from Saint Helena and 1450 from South Georgia. It is the remotest inhabited island on the planet.
....Dozens of Yellow-nosed Albatrosses and Sooty Albatrosses, and many Southern Giant Petrels were flying around the ship. Antarctic Terns, in breeding plumage, regularly flew overhead, and a single Southern Fulmar was seen, another new bird for the trip.
....The islanders we met were very friendly (though some did not appear at all and stayed indoors), they were proud yet quite shy. Here was a society of only 280 inhabitants that see very few visitors - the last passenger vessel at Tristan was in March of this year, seven months ago.