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

KC Foggin

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29 January. Flock to Marion, Day Six.

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.
I wouldn't call it a punch but perhaps a kiss & a hug :)
 

Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
Europe
Did you see any non-ispecific-d large "wandering like"?
The nature of this group, certain identification of some individuals was not possible. Within this group, identification still seems to rely on a suite of details, and this best done by looking at photographs ... some individuals showed some characters of Tristan for example, but were deemed "probably Wandering". All dramatic birds however 👍
 

Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
Europe
30 January. Flock to Marion, Day Seven.

5.00 am, dawn on the final full day at sea, sub-tropical waters 400 km south of Durban, 2000 m depth, water temperature 25 C, distinct warmth to the air. Good start to the morning, quite a few Cory's Shearwaters milling, a couple of Tropical Shearwaters early on, still Great-winged Petrels, one Brown Skua, one Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross.

After a long quiet from 9.00 am, relieved only by occasional Cory's Shearwaters and Great-winged Petrels and a big pod of Striped Dolphins mid-morning, things once improved from about 2pm, with large rafts of Cory's Shearwaters appearing, then suddenly a flock of about ten Sooty Terns above one of the flocks of actively feeding Cory's Shearwaters. That woke the boat up, another tropical species for the trip! And then oy transpired what the birds were being attracted by - vast shoals of Flying Squids! I'd never even heard of a Flying Squid, but there they were, like little aliens sailing out of the water in perfect unison!

In the same general area, a pod of about 30 Rough-nosed Dolphins and a group of eight Beaked Whales. Thereafter, till sunset, things remained moderately good with regular small flocks of Sooty Terns, quite a few Cory's Shearwaters and, unusual for such warm waters, still a Wandering Albatross. A pleasant end to the final full day.
 
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Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
Europe
31 January. Flock to Marion, Day Eight.

5.00, a mere 60 km off Durban. Hot, sunny, calm seas. And not a single bird to be seen! In the three hours to port, total bird count remained exactly at that, zero.

So, entering Durban, the pelagic trip basically over, a few coastal birds ended the trip, a handful of Grey-headed Gulls, a couple of Crested Terns. Flock to Marion over, truly an amazing number of fabulous birds seen since leaving Cape Town, was an honour to be in their waters.
 

Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
Europe
Next up, part B - a few days in KwaZulu followed by a couple of weeks in and around Kruger National Park. From albatrosses and giant petrels, the focus here would switch primarily to butterflies, though certain moggies and other mammal goodies did get involved quite a lot.
 

Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
Europe
Part B. Butterflies in KwaZulu, 1 - 2 February 2022.

Having completed the pelagic trip in Durban, I decided to extend my trip a little by spending a couple of days focussing on butterflies in coastal KwaZulu, before moving over to Kruger National Park for a couple of weeks.

Though still a month off the peak of the butterfly season in this part of the world, I did nonetheless spend two full days in the superbly lush surroundings of Mtunzini, both in gardens on the edge of town and in the Umlalazi National Park. In dripping greenery, it was a paradise for big tropical swallowtails and allies, plus quite a few more discreet species such as assorted blues and skippers. Exceptionally hot and sunny, it was not however a very easy task to see all of these butterflies - not only was the humidity energy sapping, but many of the big butterflies were canopy specialists or simply never settled, views usually being of high speed flashes of blue, black and green as the desired butterfly sailed past. Similar story at the other end, many of the smaller species were also exceptionally active in the heat and rarely landed for long, and if they did invariably in the shade.

Nevertheless, though numbers were lower than I had expected, a good bunch of species were seen, including big and colourfuls such Citrus Swallowtail, Narrow Green-banded Swallowtail, Small Striped Swallowtail and Angola White Lady, along with the more exotic sounding Zulu Shadefire, Lilac-breasted Black-eye and White-barred Telchinia.

In total, 33 species positively identified:

African Plain Tiger -10
Novice - 2
Black-haired Bush Brown - 3
Zulu Shadefire - 1
Black-based Acraea - 2
White-barred Telchinia - 2
African Leopard - 10+
Brown Pansy - 4
Dark Blue Pansy - 8
Purple Brown Hairstreak - 1
Coastal Hairstreak - 2
Lilac-based Black-eye - 1
Black-striped Ciliate Blue - 10+
Common Geranium Bronze - 3
Common Zebra Blue - 2
Velvet-spotted Babul Blue - 15+
Topaz Babul Blue - 1
Natal Babul Blue - 1
Tiny Grass Blue - 4
African Grass Blue - 2
African Clover Blue - 2
Cambridge Vagrant - 2
African Caper White - 1
Southern Veined Arab - 2
African Wood White - 2
Eastern Dotted Border - 1
Broad-bordered Grass Yellow - 25+
Citrus Swallowtail - 15+
Narrow Green-banded Swallowtail - 10+
Angola White Lady - 1
Small Striped Swallowtail - 1
Lesser Horned Swift - 1
Black-branded Swift - 1

Being in such a wildlife hotspot, a few non-butterflies also intruded, most notably abundant Woolly-necked Storks, one Livingstone's Turaco, both Grey-headed Kingfisher and Malachite Kingfisher and the localised White-eared Barbet, plus Red Duiker and Common Zebra. A quick visit to Hluhluwe National Park also added further mammals, including African Elephants, mother and calf White Rhino, abundant Nyala and assorted others such as Waterbuck and Impala.

With that, however, I was eager to move on - Hazyview and Kruger calling, so on a whim, I called it quits on the second afternoon and embarked on the 670 km drive to Hazyview, a mere stone’s throw from the western edge of Kruger.
 
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