18 August 2012 – the untickable lifer…
Another calm day at sea and Trevor was once again guiding a Zest for Birds pelagic trip (along with John Graham, Alvin Cope and Cliff Dorse as co-guides) out of Simon’s Town. We left into a very calm False Bay with a number of first timers on board and, as we travelled south towards Cape Point, the first of many Cape Gannets started making an appearance along with a handful of White-chinned Petrels. Once around the Point, the bird activity soon increased dramatically with Subantarctic Skuas, Sooty Shearwaters and the first Shy Albatrosses of the trip all putting in appearances. A small pod of Humpback Whales was also a welcome distraction.
We continued to head out deeper with a constant stream of birds coming past the boat. Most of the same species were seen regularly and well with new additions including Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Black-browed Albatross and our first Great Shearwater of the season.
We located a trawler in the distance and headed over towards her. Because of the lack of wind, most of the birds were just sitting on the water in her wake and not flying around as usual. Soon after arriving, we spotted a small pod of Long-finned Pilot Whales moving through and detoured to have a better look at them. Although the photographic opportunities were not great, we still managed to get some great views of these uncommonly seen animals.
As soon as the trawler starting hauling in her net, the activity increased dramatically and, over the course of the next hour or so, we enjoyed great views of most of the species already encountered as well as things like Southern Giant Petrel, Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross and hordes of glorious Pintado Petrels, always a highlight of any winter pelagic birding trip.
In between all of the excitement, the shout of “WHITE BACK!!” went up, a shout that always gets everyone on board very excited! What appeared to be a Wandering Albatross came into view and provided some reasonable fly bys as it showed off all of its features. However, there was something strange about this bird. It seemed small and compact and had fairly dark upperwings with an almost completely white tail (just a few black spots in the tail) – normally, a Wandering Albatross with so much black in the upperwing would have a mostly black tail! Discussions were held on board and, subsequently, photos were circulated to a number of experts around the world. It seems, based on comments received so far, that this bird is most likely to be a male Tristan Albatross, although it would seem that there is no definitive way to clinch this ID at the moment. Let’s hope that we can resolve this one way or the other for sure at some point in time. It would be a real shame to lose out on this bird, especially since it would be a lifer…:)
The trip back to Simon’s Town was pretty uneventful with no new species being recorded, but it was another great day out at sea enjoying what was on offer.