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ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

Flock to Marion, South Africa and the Southern Oceans, January-February 2022. (1 Viewer)

Sounds amazing. Have you been to the region before Jos or are a lot of these new to you?
I've spent about 3.5 years in southern Africa over various trips, so not many new bird species on land are possible, but doing butterflies now :)

As for pelagics, done them off Cape Town before, but this is the first deep sea pelagic, so plenty of new birds.
26 January. Flock to Marion, Day Three.

6.00 am, position 42°31'40.6"S 27°56'28.2"E, 1290 km south-west of Cape Town, sea calm, skies more or less clear, rain storm to the south. A sight to behold coming onto deck, mass flocks of Salvin's Prions alongside the boat, seemingly hundreds present, several Soft-plumaged Petrels too, plus a few Great-winged Petrels and White-chinned Petrels, one Wandering Albatross, one Brown Skua. Top stuff for the next hour or so, truly a prion alleyway - immense numbers of Salvin's Prions near constantly moving past, numerous Soft-plumaged Petrels, Great-winged Petrels and White-chinned Petrels in their midst, along with two more Wandering Albatrosses and one Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross. Top birds however, close to the starboard side, were two fabulous Black-bellied Storm Petrels, one White-bellied Storm Petrel and a Little Shearwater.

Missed a couple of Sooty Albatrosses while concentrating on the storm petrels, then popped in for breakfast at 8.30. After stuffing it down, the first bird when back on deck was my first ever Sooty Albatross! A magnificent bird indeed. Another shortly after, along with continuing streams of the Salvin's Prions. By late morning, these were in their thousands either side of the boat, smaller numbers of Antarctic Prions and, unseen by me, Broad-billed Prions.

Stepped back into the restaurant at midday, returned to the deck to a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross in the ship's wake! Amazing … Sooty Albatross after breakfast, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross after lunch. A spell of high cloud at this moment, still Soft-plumaged Petrels passing, but the number of Salvin's Prions had now for the first time this day reduced to a relative trickle, one Little Shearwater off starboard. Sea depth 5200 m, air temperature 17 C and water temperature 16 C.

In now warm sunshine, a relative lull for about three hours from 1 pm (though considerably enlivened by two juvenile Wandering Albatrosses), then an absolute mega of an evening - a sign of our steady progression southward, things were just getting better and better. Not enough for just Salvin's Prions and Soft-plumaged Petrels to once again increase in numbers, but so too loads and loads of other seabirds, not least at least ten Wandering Albatrosses, eight Sooty Albatrosses, two Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses and one Grey-headed Albatross! At the other end of the size scale, both Black-bellied Storm Petrel and White-bellied Storm Petrels, perhaps as many as 35 Little Shearwaters (though presumably some of these were Sub-Antarctic Shearwater). Also one Southern Giant Petrel and one distant White-headed Petrel.

By 7.00 pm, the sun was beginning to set on another amazing day, no less than five Wandering Albatrosses were zigzagging around the boat, a lone Great Shearwater did a fly-by. With arrival in the Marion Island area next morning, the day ended with quite some anticipation.
Decks at the bow were a little more crowded, but not excessively. Most folk had balconies too, perfect for seawatching in total peace and quiet.

A fantastic array of seabirds - brilliant see so many birds available from the stability of a big cruise ship


27 January. Flock of Marion, Day Four.

5.00 am, position 46°01'26.3"S 36°18'28.9"E, approximately 2000 km south-west of Cape Town, 150 km from the Prince Edward Islands, water depth 2900 m, water temperature 19 C. Surrounded by multiple Wandering Albatrosses and several Sooty Albatrosses and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, it was a sight to see. Numerous White-chinned Petrels and Great-winged Petrels too, plus a couple of White-headed Petrels and one Brown Skua. And this was just the start - in seas chockablock with birds, the whole day was unbelievable - from dawn till dusk, nonstop Wandering Albatrosses on view, often ten or twenty at a time, and many dozens hyper-elegant Sooty Albatrosses. As we headed for the Prince Edward Islands, it was a dizzying array of birds, I was simply left in awe - as well as the albatrosses, Soft-plumaged Petrels galore, streams of Salvin's Prions and a few less common species too, more notably a Blue Petrel and a White-headed Petrel.

At 10.00 am, the rising rock stacks of Prince Edward lay visible 12 nautical miles to our portside. Water depth 2000 m, water temperature had dropped to 12 C, we were now in penguin territory ...and indeed soon the shout went out, 'penguin to the side of the boat'. Porpoising away, one Macaroni Penguin, magical. The ripple of excitement across the boat for the next hour or so was palpable as calls of birds just echoed across the deck, numerous more Macaroni Penguins, some in flocks of up to eight, two simply superb Pale-mantled Sooty Albatrosses, a Grey-headed Albatross, many Black-bellied Storm Petrels and several Grey-backed Storm Petrels. Among the many Salvin's Prions, several shouts of Fairy Prions too, these usually needing photographic evidence to confirm ...it would be afternoon however before I got to see one. In the meantime though, royalty on the waters - after quite a number of Macaroni Penguins, a pod of six King Penguins sitting on the sea, diving then resurfacing in all their yellow and black glory, truly one of the highlights of the day.

Our route took us on the 12 nautical mile line around the two islands, slowly skirting the east of Prince Edward and Marion Island, looping south and then up the western side. Permission to go closer than 12 nautical miles had been denied, thereby chances of Crozet Shag, Kerguelen Tern, and Lesser Sheathbill were effectively zero, but this did not detract from the experience - we were waters almost never visited by people and just a handful of kilometres from the breeding grounds of 350,000 assorted pairs of penguins and 7000 pairs of albatrosses.

Throughout the day, as well as the never ending mass of Wandering and Sooty Albatrosses , there were also a regular sprinkling of Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, a couple more Grey-headed Albatrosses and, remarkably, another four Pale-mantled Sooty Albatrosses. Through the afternoon, several more Brown Skuas, numerous Black-bellied Storm Petrels, a few Grey-backed Storm Petrels, three identifiable Common Diving-Petrels (and several unidentifiable, perhaps South Georgian) and, on the penguin front, simply superb stuff with the day's personal tally rising to about 25 King Penguins, 60 Macaroni Penguins and three Southern Rockhopper Penguins. Somewhere in the midst of this, two Blue Whales surfaced on the opposite side of the boat, though I do have to confess I was too engrossed in a bunch of King Penguins and did not cross to see them!

Rounding the southern side of Marion, by now past 4 pm, it was time for the 'roaring 40s' to remind of their presence - winds suddenly whipping up, overcast skies throwing in some drizzle. In almost no time at all, winds of 90-100 km/hr were adding considerable chop to the seas. Magical, this was albatross weather - as we on deck huddled for shelter, Wandering Albatrosses played the winds and waves to perfection, great soaring arcs, often towering above the boat. Salvin's Prions and Black-bellied Storm Petrels seemed not to notice the winds at all, Soft-plumaged Petrels simply went bonkers, rising off the waves in great looping arcs high into the sky.

And so ended a most memorable birding day
In my experience seawatching, this huge shiops, for stuff like albatrosses and other seabirds, should be actually better places than smaller or even ice-breakers.
I envy you, that was a trip I wanted to do! ;)
28 January. Flock to Marion, Day Five.

With severe storms to the south, and overnight winds at our location already 140 km/hr, ideas of pushing 100 km further into sub-Antarctic waters were abandoned and instead we would head for the warmer waters a hundred kilometres west of Durban. With a major cyclone battering Mozambique in recent days, the hope was that it would push sub-tropical seabirds into these waters, perhaps a frigatebird or tropicbird.

So it was, we were already 300 km north-east of the Prince Edward Islands at 5.00 am. At what a difference, a feel of empty seas with no albatrosses or prions immediately in view. Over the next two hours, just one Wandering Albatross, along with a scattering of Soft-plumaged Petrels, occasional Great-winged Petrels and Salvin's Prions and a Black-bellied Storm Petrel and a Little Shearwater. Decided to have breakfast.

The remainder of the morning was in a much similar vein, travelling in waters slowly rising from 16 C to 19 C, Soft-plumaged Petrels and Great-winged Petrels enjoying the breezy conditions, several Salvin's Prions, one more Wandering Albatross, two Sooty Albatrosses, another Black-bellied Storm Petrel, not a lot more.

By midday, it had got even quieter and, as winds picked up and a spell of drizzle making all but the stern quite unpleasant, the vast majority of birders vanished into the ship's interior. I stuck it out on the back of the ship and, though quiet in comparison to the day before, this was well rewarded - among regular Soft-plumaged Petrels and Great-winged Petrels, at least 14 Little Shearwater types early on, perhaps 20 Black-bellied Storm Petrels and both Sooty Albatross and Wandering Albatross. With the swell increasing and winds strong, Black-bellied Storm Petrels were beginning to tower high into sky right above the boat ...looked like Little Swifts!

Began to get significantly better from about 3.00 pm, a whole stack of Wandering Albatrosses appearing around the boat, many at very close range. And so stayed the rest of the afternoon, one of the 'Wandering Albatrosses' coming right in against the boat and then rising above the stern. Looked distinct enough to start conversation, many photos taken by the small number of birders present, then perusal by the seabird experts ... verdict, Tristan Albatross! Mega record - the northernmost of the Wandering group, this species is critically endangered, the population of 2000 or so pairs breeds mostly on Gough Island some 5000 km to the west. To put into context, though this bird was in international waters, there exist only seven records in South African waters, almost all detected by satellite tracking. Anyhow, as the bird drifted off, news trickled through the boat, a lot more birders appeared on deck. To the relief of many, it reappeared an hour later and then proceeded to follow the boat till dusk! In their company, three Wandering Albatrosses and one Yellow-nosed Albatross.

What an end to a quiet day!
29 January. Flock to Marion, Day Six.

Still heading north over deep canyon water. At sun up, amazingly we had another Tristan Albatross in the wake, pretty much a replica of the day before's bird! Stayed with the boat a good hour or so, doing great loops off towards the horizon now and then, repeatedly returning to the wake. Two Tristan Albatrosses in just a few hour! Other than this however, the birding was quiet, occasional Soft-plumaged Petrels and Great-winged Petrels knocking about, a young Wandering Albatross also appearing now and then.

And then it went totally dead! Plus or minus, from 9.00 through to end of day, as we travelled through deep but gradually warming waters, the seas were basically devoid of birds, occasional Great-winged Petrels, a handful of White-chinned Petrels, two Soft-plumaged Petrels, several Wandering Albatrosses, one Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and that was that. Cuvier's Beaked Whales surfaced twice, a single and pod of three, but otherwise it was essentially sunbathing time till evening!

As a final punch to the day, however, a little bit of drama before sunset - as a precursor, a gentle uptick of birds moving past, a couple of Wandering Albatrosses and a string of Sooty Shearwaters, but then a sudden shout 'Tropical Shearwater!' And indeed there were, two birds catching the evening sun a treat - like mini Manxs, two Tropical Shearwaters flying level with the ship, but slowly moving away. Essentially a species of the tropical Indian Ocean, these are rare visitors to waters so far south, all of the limited number of records inevitably off the KwaZulu coast. Perhaps the cyclone if the days previous had done its job.
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