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Pelagic Boat Trip - Sagres, Portugal - 06 Oct 2021 (1 Viewer)


Well-known member
Dear All, let me share a brief report on the pelagic trip my wife and I took in early October near Sagres, Portugal. This was our first trip to the “southwesternmost” tip of Europe, and while birding was not the main theme of our journey, having a pelagic boat trip was too good an opportunity to miss.

We did not have to spend much time deciding what pelagic tour operator to go with – Mar Ilimitado is the clear favorite based on numerous reviews, so we went with them (and were quite satisfied at the end). We booked roughly 2 weeks in advance.

While most Mar Ilimitado pelagic trips feature a rubber/inflatable boat, ours was on a “yacht” (more like a small two-deck vacation motor boat). This probably made the trip a bit more comfortable (although I really have no other experience to compare with). There were 9 guests on the boat plus the boat captain and the guide. Both the captain and the guide, named Sara, were very knowledgeable about the seabirds we saw and made every effort to point out new sightings to the birding guests.

Just as we left Sagres harbor we started seeing our first shearwaters, mostly Cory’s Shearwaters, but also a single Sooty and, more importantly, a single Balearic Shearwater that passed 20 meters in front of the boat at high speed. Balearic shearwaters are best observed near the shore and this was our only sighting of that local specialty on that trip.

After about 40-50 mins we reached our target location in the open ocean – only to find the place completely empty! Just as was I was starting to get a bit worried, the crew deployed the chum – and it made wonders quite promptly. No more than 5 minutes passed when we noticed the first storm petrels, and soon were able to identify Wilson’s Storm Petrels among the more numerous European Storm Petrels. This was my first pelagic and I found it quite challenging to be able to discern between the two species in real-life conditions, especially given that the ocean was a bit rough and the yacht was rocking all the time. Having said that, with a bit of practice I did start to notice the difference between the white patches on the upperwing of Wilson’s against the more bright white flashes on the underwing of the European. I do not think that the longer legs or the bigger size of Wilson’s is easy to pick up “in live action” unless you have had some prior experience with these birds. Takeaway – making tons of pictures will probably give you the best certainty :)

Cory’s shearwaters and Yellow-legged Gulls soon followed the storm petrels, and not long after that two Great Skuas appeared as well, harassing both the gulls and the shearwaters while giving us great views in the process.

We then moved on to our next location and barely managed to arrive there when we noticed a Great Shearwater! Together with Wilson’s Storm petrel this was our biggest target for that trip – so there was quite a bit of jubilation on the boat after that sighting :) Amazingly the bird was peacefully swaying on the waves no more than 10 meters from the boat!

We then moved to our final location where we spotted another Great Shearwater as soon as we arrived! That location must have been particularly rich in fish, and among the numerous Northern Gannets we observed Great, Cory’s and Sooty Shearwaters plus a pod of Common Dolphins. Fully satisfied we turned back and headed for the shore.

Conclusion – a great pelagic trip with some very nice sightings, and I would highly recommend it!


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Well-known member
I've done several Mar Ilimitado pelagic trips in recent years, including RIBs and the cabin cruiser, and agree 100% with Shumi's recommendation.

As I understand it, once you get past the first week in October the chances of Wilson's storm-petrel decline significantly. Last time I did the trip in 2019 I think it was the second week, and we only had European. We've only had great shearwater one trip out of about 4, although we had fantastic close-up views.

The RIB trips cover more ground and therefore better chance of a range of species, but the yacht / cabin cruiser is certainly more comfortable - although Shumi's trip list is impressive with everything you'd expect to see; I think I've only added grey phalarope (on one occasion) on the trips I've done.


Well-known member
Nice report, i may give it a go if/when i return to Sagres. Any more pics of that Great Skua?
Sure, I have plenty of pics and the bird was fairly close on a number of occasions. This is the same individual as in the picture above. Do let me know in case some different angle would be helpful - I will look for it among my pictures


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Well-known member
And this is the other bird we saw there. It does look different from the first one, but I am not very familiar with Great Skua plumages/moults - this was the first time I saw this bird in real life. Are both of these individuals adult birds?


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Well-known member
The second bird is consistent with an adult great skua in moult. The first continues to give south polar vibes. Worth posting on the ID forum for a more expert analysis than mine!



Well-known member
The second bird is consistent with an adult great skua in moult. The first continues to give south polar vibes. Worth posting on the ID forum for a more expert analysis than mine!

Could you pls advise what kind of ID forum you have in mind?

I have so far posted the pics in the Skuas and Jaegers of the World on facebook.


Well-known member
Well, it is a Great Skua after all :) I quote the reply from a gentleman named Daniel Lopez Velasco that i received in the Skuas of the World facebook group. The reply appears to be pretty exhaustive and, in my view, settles the matter.

"It’s a Great Skua. With a primary score of 50 - all primaries fully grown, no signs of moult - in October the bird can only be a juvenile GS or an adult (2cy+) south polar. The overall fresh and crisp plumage, with pale tips to all wing coverts and primary coverts, brown underwing coverts, obvious gingery tones to the back and scapulars as well as upperwint, etc… all confirm the ID as juvenile GS."
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