13 October 2012 – birding with an icon…
Trevor joined a Zest for Birds pelagic trip again today as a guide (co-guiding with John Graham, Barrie Rose and Alvin Cope) but, what made today’s trip extra special was that we also had a very special guest on board in the form of Hadoram Shirahai. When it comes to seabirding around the world, there are few names more synonymous with this than that of Hadoram Shirahai. Arguably one of the world’s best seabirders and author to what many people consider to be the bible of Southern Ocean wildlife (A complete guide to Antarctic Wildlife), this Israeli born ornithologist, who now resides in Switzerland, spends most of his time travelling the world’s oceans to study and photograph seabirds and marine mammals and has rediscovered more seabirds at sea that were initially thought to probably be extinct than any other person alive! He is a huge hero of mine with what he has managed to achieve over the years in terms of seabirds and is also an incredibly talented photographer (you only need to looks at one of his books to see this!). Hadoram is one of the few people in the world that can claim to have seen every living taxa of seabird on the planet! A true privilege to be able to bird with one of the world’s best in his favourite habitat…
Heading down False Bay, the birding was pretty quiet with just a few Cape Gannets, the odd White-chinned Petrel and a single Pomarine Skua, but several Southern Right and Humpback Whales added to the excitement build up. Once around Cape Point, we came across a large group of birds (mostly Cape Gannets and Cape Cormorants) feeding on anchovies but there were also a few Sooty Shearwaters and White-chinned Petrels thrown in for good measure and a Bryde’s Whale also put in a quick appearance.
We continued to head further out picking up the first Shy Albatrosses and Great Shearwaters of the trip and, before long, we picked up a trawler on the radar and headed off in her direction. The trip of about 8 nautical miles to the trawler had us constantly searching for additional species and we soon added Black-browed Albatross, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Pintado Petrel and Subantarctic Skua.
Arriving at the trawler, we were faced with large numbers of birds and started working through them. Many of the same species already seen earlier were encountered again along with the likes of Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Atlantic and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses and, eventually, our main target for this time of the year that most passengers wanted to see, a handful of Black-bellied Storm Petrels. These birds are only available for a very short window period in Autumn and again in Spring as they pass through our waters with the middle 2 weeks of October probably being the most reliable to see them.
As we were about to leave the trawler, John suddenly bellowed out “WHITE BACK!” and we quickly turned to see a large albatross disappearing off into the distance. We decided to turn around and head off to where it seemed to have gone and, a few minutes later, we located it sitting on the water alongside some Shy Albatrosses. This bird was a small and compact individual with a small bill and heavily vermiculated markings on its plumage. It was certainly a Wandering-type Albatross, but looked very good for being a possible Tristan Albatross. Once again, frustration set in as it is one of those things that is extremely difficult to pin down for sure. Could this be the second time in just a couple of months that I am missing out on nailing a Tristan Albatross for sure. We’ll just have to wait and see!
The trip back to Simon’s Town was relatively quiet apart from a brief Manx Shearwater, but the real enjoyment came when we encountered several large pods of Long-beaked Common Dolphins which came over to visit the boat. At one point, we estimated that there were well over 1000 animals in the water around us, an absolutely stunning end to another great day at sea. And, of course, the fact that Hadoram was so impressed with the trip that he said it was one of the best one day commercial pelagic trips he had ever done anywhere in the world was just the cherry on the top…:)